Interview with Brig Gen Kenrick Maharaj, Trinidad and Tobago Chief of Defense Staff
By Dialogo December 27, 2011
The theme of the 2012 Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), sponsored jointly by the United States Southern Command and St. Kitts and Nevis, was Regional Information Sharing: to Combat Transnational Organized Crime and Assist Foreign Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response. But other hot topics such as information sharing, youth violence, high rates of crime and violence in the region, illegal gun ownership and an outgrowth of the drug trade were also discussed amongst several of the attending regional Chiefs of Defense, other military personnel and civilians. Below is Diálogo’s interview with the Chief of Defense Staff of Trinidad & Tobago, Brigadier General Kenrick Maharaj, who originally spoke to Diálogo in February, during CANSEC 2011.
Diálogo – During our interview in February, you said that the main concern regarding security and defense in Trinidad and Tobago was the fact that the drugs were passing through the country, but the weapons were being left behind and gangs were being established. What’s happened from then to now?
Brig Gen Kenrick Maharaj – The most significant event that took place since our last discussion was the state of emergency that was recently completed in Trinidad and Tobago and this is where we combine our military and police efforts and target those key criminals. We were able to retrieve a number of weapons, ranging from automatic rifles to handguns, off the national landscape, and hopefully we can sustain those efforts in the post state of emergency time in Trinidad and Tobago by continuing to collaborate closely with the police and a robust intelligence effort, and to ensure that we continue to target where these illegal funds actually go once they cross our borders and move within the boundaries of our country.
Diálogo – Back then you said the Jamaican model was one to emulate…
Brig Gen Kenrick Maharaj – And that depends on what part of the model you are recalling, because one of my strong interests in speaking with Gen. Anderson [Jamaican Chief of Defense] was really captured in a philosophical line that he used with me, and that is: “cooperation between the defense force and the police resides not in our similarities but in our differences, and it’s really what each partner brings to the table.” In terms of national security or in terms of the national security architecture, we do the business of border security well because we have the air/land/maritime assets. We are really focusing our resources on those outer concentric circles of defense where you try to be more preemptive rather than reactive in treating with the illicit trafficking of drugs, persons, and weapons. So it’s really the best fit in terms of the military supporting the police, and I am confident in my continued collaboration with my own colleague, the Commissioner of Police back in Trinidad, that we continue to roll out military in that manner.
Diálogo – How do the Armed Forces participate in these efforts in Trinidad & Tobago. Is it a mandate?
Brig Gen Kenrick Maharaj – It’s a combination. It’s a strategic appreciation of the national security environment and we still work primarily in support of law enforcement. The commissioner of police has primacy. He leads the planning, and I can boast that today we are now part of that planning process. In previous years, our support was based simply on the request of the police. They wanted to operate in a hot spot or in any rural or urban part of the republic and we would simply put resources and support. But today we engage in joint operational planning, and that results in us placing the right resources at the right place and the right time for the right purpose, so it’s really the optimization of the limited resources that we have, both in the military and the police.
Diálogo – Talking about limited resources and sharing information, are transnational crime organizations something Trinidad and Tobago is focusing on?
Brig Gen Kenrick Maharaj – We all appreciate only all too well that we can’t do this business of national security alone, and so we rely on regional partners and international partners. And we have had many experiences in the recent past such as the Cricket World Cup, which was a major security event and we had a robust national security apparatus designed which involved and included regional and international partners. During the 5th Summit of the Americas… during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in November 2009… these are all major international events that demanded we collaborate closely with our international partners. That is a strategic environment so it is timeless, it’s not strictly dependent on whether or not we’re going to have a specific event, but we see ourselves engaging in the long term, to continue to build a very robust regional security architecture, because our borders – if I were to tell you in all honesty, if I’m to define national security in terms of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, that is better defined in the context of regional security. If my borders are strengthened, and the borders of Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, remain relatively weak, then my borders are inherently weakened in that regard. So it is really in our own interest to treat these security concerns in a more regional context rather than the restrictive context within our own borders.