The ‘Black Squad’ in St Vincent: Fact or fairy tale?

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By Caribbean News Now contributor

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — Following the recent evacuation by the US government of 23 Peace Corps volunteers from St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) at short notice due to a “specific safety reason”, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves last week denied allegations that their safety was threatened by what is said to be a modern-day equivalent of Eric Gairy’s infamous paramilitary “Mongoose Gang” in neighbouring Grenada.

The Mongoose Gang was a private army or militia that operated from 1970 to 1979 under the control of Sir Eric Gairy, the premier and later prime minister of Grenada. Officially, Mongoose Gang members were called Special Reserve Police or Volunteer Constables.

The Mongoose Gang was responsible for silencing critics, breaking up demonstrations and murdering opponents of the Gairy regime, and has often been compared to Haiti’s Tonton Macoute, a similar special operations unit within the Haitian paramilitary force created in 1959 by dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Notwithstanding Gonsalves’ denials, the existence of a paramilitary branch of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF), officially called the Special Services Unit (SSU) or Rapid Response Unit (RRU) but otherwise known as the Black Squad, has been reported and debated in Caribbean News Now archives since at least 2008.

However, an indication of its existence appears to have been given by acting commissioner of police Colin John on local radio two weeks ago.

“There are some police officers within the [RSVGPF] who are involved in activities unbecoming of the oath and expectations of their positions,” John said.

According to one local source, Gonsalves, who is also the national security minister, got the idea of the Black Squad from the Cuban Avispas Negras (Black Wasps), the elite forces of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Members of the Black Squad dress in an all-black uniform with the word ‘Police’ written on their backs and on caps, with no name tags, no rank tags, and no other visible identification.

Suspicions of the political use of the Black Squad are reinforced by its appearance at polling stations, collecting the ballot boxes and taking them where they can be opened and counted, leading to allegations of vote tampering.

The following is a brief summary of online reports about the Black Squad. Readers will no doubt contribute their own additional experiences.

2002

• According to Assistant Superintendent of Police Eric Browne, the Black Squad was formed to deal mainly with emergency police matters.

2008

• Gonsalves announced that the size of the Black Squad would be doubled because it is the only division in the police services that the people are afraid of, interpreted by many to mean that the country will be governed through fear, using the Black Squad to intimidate citizens;

• The Black Squad is reported as “omnipresent at all public functions”, heavily armed with openly displayed M16 automatic rifles;

• Two teenagers were arrested and spent 12 hours in police custody during which they were badly beaten, leaving one in a coma for seven days;

• “Vincentians very worried and concerned over the extreme behaviour” of the Black Squad towards citizens. “Many are arrogant, overly aggressive and run around the capital openly displaying M16 automatic rifles”;

• President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA), Nicole Sylvester, told US embassy officials that she has been followed by police and received death threats;

• According to US embassy officials, it is not clear what it would take for Gonsalves to subordinate himself to rule of law.

2009

• In a striking parallel to Saint Lucia’s Operation Restore Confidence, which ultimately led to the ongoing imposition of sanctions by the US, during Operation Vincy Pac police shot and killed three men;

• An SVGHRA representative stated that police brutality is a problem, particularly in cases when suspects have been questioned and detained. The SVGHA representative reported that cases of civilians shot by police or sustaining serious injuries, such as broken bones, have occurred;

• Three people, including a Barbadian, were shot to death by the Black Squad. SVGHRA president, Nicole Sylvester, alleged that police brutality is being carried out with reckless abandon in the country and called on the commissioner of police to act swiftly to address the problem. Sylvester said that police brutality is alive and well and said that the police have not been taking the complaints that are brought to their attention seriously. She said that her organisation has received no less than 30 complaints of police brutality in recent months. She said that she has photographs and medical certificates to support her contention.

2011

• Black Squad members shot and killed an escaped prisoner;

2013

• A team of Black Squad members “ripped down the gates” to land belonging to a local businessman who had run afoul of the Gonsalves regime;

• The Black Squad turned up at the bankrupt Buccament Bay Resort to control and frighten employees and contractors who were seeking their wages and money owed to them by the developer, Harlequin.

2014

• A 49-year-old woman died in hospital one day after the Black Squad raided her home;

2015

• A local tattoo artist was threatened and assaulted by two females, one of whom he alleged was a member of the Black Squad. After he filed a complaint with the police, eight members of the Black Squad turned up at his place of business, saying they had received a complaint about him and had come to pick him up;

2018

• Comment on cruisecritic.com: “St Vincent wasn’t particularly appealing… especially after seeing the Black Squad (government militia who ride around in the back of a truck with submachine guns)”;

• A resident told Caribbean News Now that his house had been broken into by the police Black Squad: “My interpretation is that the police are so incompetent and desperate (because of political pressure to clamp down on violent crime) that they are madly dashing from pillar to post to at least seem to be doing something.” The same individual also described details of three apparent extra-judicial murders in SVG by security forces: “There was never any investigation, formal or otherwise, as far as I know, of any of these three killings. I have to assume there were others of which I am unaware.”

As reported previously, the reports of extra-judicial killings may represent the real nub of the issue so far as the US is concerned and the experience of Saint Lucia is instructive in this respect.

In 2013, Saint Lucia was restricted by the terms of the Leahy Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA), commonly referred to as the “Leahy Law”, from receiving security-related assistance from the United States as a result of “credible evidence of extrajudicial killings of 17 people in 2010-2011” by the island’s security forces. The US Department of State suspended assistance to the local police force and cancelled the visas of a number of senior police officers, denying them travel to the US.

Five years later, this is still an issue successive governments in Saint Lucia have been unable to come to grips with.

In SVG, if the Black Squad is indeed fact not “fairy tale”, the question remains what is the chain of command in relation to its activities.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I have long heard about extra-judical killings of wanted persons in St. Vincent. Four of these are:

    1. https://www.iwnsvg.com/2011/12/13/slain-escaped-prisoner-had-murdered-dentists-gun-police-say/ (The unarmed wanted man was reported to be exiting the window of the van in the Mt. Wynne and shot dead by a policewoman as he was fleeing.)

    2. https://www.iwnsvg.com/2016/12/21/man-dies-after-being-shot-by-police/ (In another story, his girlfriend claimed that this wanted man, a habitual but not violent or dangerous thief was unarmed and seeking shelter under a neighbouring house.)

    3. https://www.iwnsvg.com/2013/05/14/prisoner-was-in-handcuffs-moments-before-police-shot-and-killed-him-journalist/

    4. There was a homicide in the town of Layou on the leeward coast of the mainland several years ago reported by the media that I can’t find a link to in which a man on the run (who may have escaped custody or imprisonment) with the last name of “Vincent” exited his aunt’s house allegedly with his hands up but was still executed by the black squad.

    I have to assume there are other extra-judicial murders like this. To the best of my knowledge, unlike the United States, Canada, and other progressive countries, not a single police officer in backward little St. Vincent has ever been charged, let alone convicted, of manslaughter.

    To be sure, St. Vincent is far from being the most dangerous or lawless place in the Caribbean, but the selection, training, diligence, intelligence, professionalism, and competence of the police is rock bottom.

    I beg Vincentian readers to post their own experience or knowledge of police brutality here or send it to the editor of CNN. It is hard for the media in St. Vincent to report on these issues for fear that they themselves will fall victim to the dreaded Black Squad.

  2. This Black “THUG” Squad operated under the chain of command of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves for decades, murdering and terrorizing innocent St. Vincent citizens and Gonsalves’ political opponents and enemies. Their lengthy resume is consistent with what has been reported to several intelligence agencies operating in the region.

  3. I do not know if there have ever been any political killings in Saint Vincent. I have heard from a number of people about extra-judicial killings. The killing of Els King, an opposition supporter was very suspicious to say the least! I can say that I was roughed-up by the Port Police in Saint Vincent although I was not guilty of nor suspected of any crime. It occurred apparently because of mere disrespect on the part of a cabal of blood-related police. From what I see, some of the police get promotions based not only on who they are related to but also on how brutal and disrespectful they are. When I was in Law Enforcement in the USA that would never have happened. The police in Saint Vincent have a very long way to go. First they need to root-out all the corruption in the force, then they need to undergo extensive proper training. As far as the Black Squad is concerned, they should be the best trained instead of just a group operating under different standards and privileges that do not fall under the laws the rest of us are governed by. In the USA many police are far worse than those in Saint Vincent but we should not copy that just because of a “wanna be” attitude.

  4. I was in St. Vincent in 2015 at a camp i organize for local children, when a black vehicle with men in black drove up and parked a few feet away from me. They sat in their vehicle looking at us. Although i thought it odd for this vehicle to come off the main and just park there, It was not until after they drove off one of the children mentioned black squad, that i realized who they were. It is no secret that i am a big critic of the regime and i felt it was attempt to intimidate me.

  5. Reading musing and reflecting on this above statement; “According to US embassy officials, it is not clear what it would take for Gonsalves to subordinate himself to rule of law” it brings to mind the way of all dictators and despots.

    It is a known fact that despots and dictators by their very nature never subordinate themselves to their country’s rule of law. Rule of law as seen by them, are for the minions in the state and not for the state’s ruler of which they are.

    Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, former President of Iraq from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003, never subordinated himself to his country’s rule of law. It was also then observed that Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, former Libyan dictator, commonly known as Colonel Gaddafi never did so either.

    Joseph Stalin the former Soviet dictator of Georgian ethnicity, who ruled the now collapsed Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, never did and nor did Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini the 27th Prime Minister of Italy and its dictator. Mussolini was the leader of the National Fascist Party, and he never did care much for the rule of law of the land there and nor did Adolf Hitler his friend, the German politician, demagogue, leader of the Nazi Party and who rose to power in Germany as Chancellor in 1933 and Führer in 1934, he never did care much for the German national law either.

    It is in the very nature of grubby dictators, never to subordinate themselves to their country’s rule of law, but rather to subjugate all other inhabitants to their diktats or dictates. Tyrants and despots care very little for the rule of Law. Law are for others and not for them!

    Ralph Gonsalves is just yet another in a long line of grubby dictators the world has known. He no doubt learnt his state craft from friend Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, that former Cuban communist and also from another former friend, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, that now dead Venezuelan, another once wannabe dictator who was President of Venezuela from 1999 to 2013.

    Dictators always need enforcers like our infamous “Black Squad” whom they either reward with increased status or additional “relative” wealth. Yet despite all of their verbose macho machinations, most dictators often come to a very sticky end.

    Joseph Stalin, Fidel Alejandro Castro, and Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, may have been very lucky to have escaped their public’s retributions, however such fortunate luck, were not to be had by either, Mussolini, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler nor Saddam Hussein.

  6. To the editor and to the contributor who writes about the parallel of the black squad to the Mongoose Gang, and the latter to the Tonton Macoute. You clearly either don’t read the comments submitted, or you don’t bother to adjust and incorporate any corrections to your misconceptions. Why bother?

    Editor’s note: Tell Wikipedia that: “The Mongoose Gang has often been compared to the Tonton Macoute of Haiti.”

  7. What I always found disturbing was the comment by Ralph E Gonsalves “we will hunt them down until they exist no more”. Such comments give encouragement to the police in all departments including, in particular, the Black Squad, which most rightly or wrongly consider a political squad under the direct control of Gonsalves.

    Have the readers considered what ‘exist no more means”? it simply means dead!

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