By Phillip Edward Alexander
Following on the almost billion dollar drug bust found a few years ago in the hull of a yacht bound for Spain outfitted in Trinidad and Tobago, the $600 million worth of cocaine intercepted at Monos down the islands for which a handful of small fry are spending life in prison, and the soft drink that killed a foreign national 'accidentally' in the branded bottle of a company now in the international spotlight once again as another of its brands are found to contain 730 pounds of narcotics, I turn my attention to the drug trade in Trinidad and Tobago.
Phillip Edward Alexander is a social and political activist, a feature writer and columnist, the founder of the Jericho Project and the chairman of the Citizen's Union of Trinidad and Tobago
At a local car dealership in San Juan, a shipping container was opened and millions of dollars worth of drugs literally fell out onto the floor. A container full of chicken was opened on the port and found to contain again millions of dollars worth of drugs for which no one has been arrested and, on the heels of both of those discoveries, I ask why has it not become mandatory that all shipping containers be unstuffed on the port? A surgeon in east Trinidad has removed drugs from the stomach of a drug mule without reporting the matter to the police, and from what can be gleaned from the sanitized media stories, both surgeon and mule are still free to continue plying their trade. What is to become of this?
The sad reality is that many people in this country already know who the drug dealers and money launderers are; the people who have built virtual tropical kingdoms in full glare of the inconsistency of their income and almost daring us to challenge their lawlessness, but who can? In a society where most people are readily bribed and corrupted over the smallest of things, who is supposed to bell this cat? And what could be that person's motive in a population again notorious for standing with the bad guy, in seeking naked self interest over any notion of a national one?
What has become of all the drug busts in the past mentioned above and others? Instead of the satisfaction of seeing the guilty prosecuted, the public has been left to feed on rumours.
Where the rubber meets the road is, while there may be a few 'captains' of the national drug industry living large, for the local drug trade to be as effective and as successful as it has been one has to accept that it is properly set up and staffed. From banking sanitizers to public officials who make problems 'go away', from business deals and political wheels that facilitate the divestment of narco-dollars, to the elected officials who, beholden to the campaign dollars that facilitated them office, are now themselves part of the problem. Where would we start? At the top where the drug lords live? At the bottom where foot soldiers fight for turf? In the middle where the mechanics of the drug trade go to work, where the decisions are made as to how to move it, how to get paid for it, how to 'clean the money', who to bribe and who to kill?
We the people can either accept this state of affairs or we can get involved, but that decision has to be made as a national one. Unless the drug kingpins can be unmasked, investigated, arrested, charged, effectively prosecuted and jailed for the destruction that their criminal enterprise has wrought on this society there is no sense in discussing this further. And no matter how many little black boys we jail for the 'bottom of the pole' crimes, no dent will be made in the lawlessness that plagues our nation until the term 'every creed and race finds an equal place' refers also to our justice system.
Unfortunately (and it is not my intention to cast aspersions at the honest and decent among us), because of the sheer size and scope of the drug problem emanating from Trinidad and Tobago and compounded by our woefully bad interdiction and prosecution rate, we are forced to base all premises on the assumption that our entire system is compromised. Any attempt to clean up the place will be frustrated if one link in the chain is broken by incompetence or corruption and sometimes the solution is as simple as admitting that we cannot handle a problem ourselves, that we need help.
It my position that that assistance must be sought far beyond our shores and that any solution to this problem lies in international agreements that involves the extradition of suspected drug dealers to be tried in other jurisdictions. And while I fully expect certain highly paid advocates to make this an 'independent nation' issue and speak from a position of national pride, how can we be having a national pride discussion when, for all intents and purposes, this country is an acknowledged narco-state? What is there to be proud of in that?
Our next steps should include turning responsibility of the policing of our borders (where drug interdiction is concerned) over to international assistance with the creation of a maritime 'stop and search' policy for all craft, the establishment of an inter-agency drug task force that includes Customs & Excise, an anti-drug unit within the TTPS to investigate and bring to conclusion all drug related matters, a revenue monitoring authority to identify disproportional wealth and a specially appointed drug crimes prosecutor charged with dealing only with drug related crimes.
Customs should be given a far greater role and should be encouraged to 'licence' and police all so established licensed fishing ports, in the setting up offices everywhere water craft touches land whether for pleasure or otherwise and the unstuffing of all shipping containers on the nation’s ports as a totally preventative measure.
Clearly we have choices, choices as to how to deal with the current drug problem, how to prevent it in the future, and in investigating those who may have been part of it in the past and in bringing them to justice.
The real question is do we the people possess the national will for such choices.