In Search of a Common Shield
By Dialogo January 16, 2013
Interview with Brigadier General Kenrick Maharaj, Chief of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Staff
Shootings between gangs and drug trafficking vendettas in Trinidad and Tobago, home to the most joyous carnival in the Caribbean, forced the government to declare a state of emergency during the summer of 2011. Still, from that unfortunate event came about an unprecedented link between the country’s Police and Defense Forces, both of which worked together to put an end to a crisis that was draining the island nation.
A year-and-a-half after the emergency in Trinidad, is the Military still collaborating with the Police to avoid another episode like the one in 2011? During an interview granted to Diálogo during the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), in December 2012, Brigadier General Kenrick Maharaj, Chief of Defense of Trinidad and Tobago, answered these and other questions about regional cooperation in the security realm.
Diálogo: Last year, during CANSEC 2012 in St. Kitts and Nevis, we had the opportunity to speak to you about the security and defense challenges faced by Trinidad and Tobago. What’s new in the security and defense panorama of your country?
Brigadier General Kenrick Maharaj: What was significant over the last year was the change in the leadership of the Ministry of National Security, and the new minister, the Honorable Jack Warner, brought some new perspectives to the national security landscape in terms of his leadership style and his priorities. We have had to engage some additional rules and responsibilities to further our support to agencies within Trinidad. The new minister has placed to a higher level the importance of social interventions. So, in support of the Police, we have been engaged over the last few months in treating with some of the social issues and some of the high risk communities in Trinidad and Tobago, more so in Trinidad, with our targeted efforts on the youth. It has been interesting to actually have a new engagement that speaks to one aspect of crime prevention.
Diálogo: During the state of emergency in Trinidad, in 2011, the Defence and the Police Forces worked together. Have you continued with that model of cooperation?
Brig. Gen. Maharaj: I must admit to you, without having to be politically incorrect, that the relationship between the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and the Defence Force is an excellent one. There is really an open forum for discussions on any issue as opposed to 10 years ago when there was a clash of cultures in the way the Military did business versus the way the Police did business. We understand each other better now than we did previously, which makes for a more amicable relationship not just at the executive level, but at the ground level. There is a greater level of comfort working side by side in joint patrols, mobile patrols or foot patrols.
Diálogo: How do you manage to work together without overstepping your boundaries?
Brig. Gen. Maharaj: We had to craft very robust rules of engagement coming out from the experience of the state of emergency we had between August and December last year [in 2011]. My legal officer at the Defence Force has been very engaged in crafting rules of engagement and ensuring that there is a level of accountability and transparency in the way in which business is done by the Defence Force in support of the Police. And I want to extend that to include our involvement in social programs, since working with civilians requires a different type of engagement.
Notwithstanding the fact that we have put more resources into social programs, the Defence Force has done well maintaining the security posture in the air and maritime environments, so our border security is not compromised in terms of allocation of resources, understanding the nature of the national security environment today and our commitments to the region as well. It is not just about Trinidad & Tobago. Thankfully we are now utilizing all of our air assets; the four Augusta-Westland 139 helicopters that were recently acquired are now all operational. They do maritime surveillance, search and rescue… The land force continues to be engaged within borders and all the other efforts that I already outlined. And our Coast Guard continues to grow. Our Coast Guard is in the process of acquiring long-range patrol vessels and is doing extensive repairs to our interceptors. We are now in the process of acquiring new engines and acquiring long-range patrol vessels so that we can provide support in the region, as well as that deterrence in our exclusive economic zone and in our littoral waters in general.
Diálogo: Are you working with other countries in the Caribbean to create that common shield to protect each other against transnational organized crime and other threats?
Brig. Gen. Maharaj: While we are a small island-state in general, there are some islands that are smaller than others, and they have limited resources. Trinidad and Tobago is one of the strong economies, and therefore we have greater capabilities. So far collaboration is about getting the best bang for the buck, in regards to the available resources. Trinidad and Tobago has had to take the lead there so our coastal surveillance has been extended up to Saint Lucia. We have radar coverage in Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and what is already installed in Trinidad and Tobago. Generally speaking, the CARICOM member states relate very well. It is just that we have a challenge with respect to resource availability. While Trinidad appreciates the assistance it gets from international partners, as well as from regional neighbors and partners, we do have to understand and appreciate the levels of capabilities that exist within the region, and provide the type of assistance that will ensure that generally speaking, the shield that we seek to establish in the region is on the basis of mutual support, and who has the resources to help in that regard.
Diálogo: How would you say is the relationship between the Trinidad & Tobago Defence Force and the United States Military?
Brig. Gen. Maharaj: We have many years of a strong friendship with the United States, with Canada, and the United Kingdom, with international partners. Over the 50 years of our independence that relationship has only strengthened, we have crafted many mechanisms for corporation. During the 2007 Cricket World Cup, which I tend to describe as a precipitating event, a number of legislative instruments were crafted to strengthen regional collaboration and to extend far beyond the regional collaboration between the CARICOM region, and with the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, just to name three international partners. I don’t want to remove France and other countries from that discussion because they are all partners, as far as Australia, South Africa… they are all very strong security partners of ours and we intend to continue to move from strength to strength in that regard.
Diálogo: During one of your interventions at CANSEC 2013 you mentioned the importance of looking at the model created for the security of the Cricket World Cup in 2007 that took place in venues over several Caribbean countries. Can you please elaborate on that?
Brig. Gen. Maharaj: I will preach the gospel of the Cricket World Cup of 2007 until I die. The legacy that came out of the Cricket World Cup, not all of those benefits remain today. At the end of the event those pieces of legislation were shelved. I do hope that sometime in the future we review those pieces of legislation because that is what constituted the success story of the Cricket World Cup of 2007. It was a willingness of the region to come up with some common agreements on how we treat regional security. So, that precipitating event that the Cricket World Cup 2007 was, mobilized regional, unified regional support. I would really like to see the spirit of that commitment return to the table. It must not necessarily be restricted to only an event, it must become part of the landscape, part of a thought that defines who we are in the context of the region. If we need to re-craft legislation to support or strengthen cooperation and collaboration, then so be it. If we have to draft new memorandums of understanding, no problem. So the residual effects of that success story live with me, and will continue to live with me until I die, as a citizen of the region, more so than a citizen of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Diálogo: How do you see the spirit of collaboration among the countries participating at CANSEC?
Brig. Gen. Maharaj: As Mr. Francis Forbes [interim Executive Director of CARICOM IMPACS] said during the conference, there are idiosyncrasies that reside within the region, but that does not mean that we don’t have the conditions to continue the mutually respectful engagement. Those conditions are there, and the region does have a history of cooperation, so we rely on our very friendly partners, we are communicating to ensure that we can convert that into the success that we can achieve on any issue of regional importance.