Jamaica, Trinidad Battle Violence as Drug Smuggling Plagues Caribbean
By Dialogo January 09, 2012
The Caribbean’s reputation as a world-famous vacation paradise is increasingly being sullied by a violent wave of drug smuggling, kidnapping and murder — especially in the region’s two largest English-speaking countries: Jamaica and the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
In August, Trinidad’s prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, declared a limited state of emergency after 11 people were killed in four days. She attributed the killings to narcotics seizures and expressed grave concern that drug gangs are using Trinidad as a transshipment point for South American cocaine heading to Europe and the United States.
The state of emergency was extended in September and finally lifted Dec. 5. But the nation of 1.3 million remains beset by drug-related crime and violence, with at least 15 murders occurring since the state of emergency ended and more than 350 homicides reported for all of 2011.
Trinidadian leaders worry that their country is becoming a major transshipment point for South American cocaine destined for Europe and the United States — as well as a significant hub for arms smuggling and money laundering. Its location only seven miles off the Venezuelan coast and its well-developed banking and transportation infrastructure make it a convenient destination for a wide range of illegal activities.
UNODC: Jamaica’s murder rate is world’s fourth highest
Meanwhile, Jamaica — a leading international tourist destination — also suffers the ravages of the illegal drug trade. In 2010, Jamaica had a homicide rate of 52 per 100,000, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. That made it the fourth most-violent country in the world after Honduras, El Salvador and Cote d’Ivoire, although Jamaica’s homicide rate plunged last year following a crackdown by the island’s former prime minister, Bruce Golding.
The high-profile case of Kingston drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, described as one of the world's most dangerous drug dealers, made headlines as international authorities waged an all-out manhunt for him. The hunt ended with Coke’s arrest in June 2010, but only after a confrontation that killed 73 civilians and three security officers over four days of fighting. The Coke case also prompted Jamaican authorities to issue a temporary state of emergency.
But Golding’s handling of a 2009 U.S. extradition request for Coke cost his Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) an election victory late last month — returning Portia Simpson Miller’s center-left People’s National Party (PNP) to power for the first time since 2007.
“Other security and economic problems in Jamaica may have helped turned voters back to the PNP. Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the Caribbean, on an island of just under 3 million people. Joblessness and a listless economy were other top issues,” suggested a Jan. 4 editorial in the online Pan-American Post. “
The question now is whether with such a strong majority in Congress, the PNP will have the gravitas to institute serious policy changes,” the article said. “Previously, when Congress was more closely divided, it was more difficult to push legislation through. Now it will be tougher for the PNP to blame Labor Party opposition, if Jamaica does not start seeing improvements in security or the economy soon.”
Trinidad fears deteriorating security situation
In fact, drugs flow freely not only from Trinidad and Jamaica into the United States, but also between the two Caribbean islands. “We have been seeing the movement of drugs including cocaine into Jamaica from Trinidad,” Linval Bailey, vice-president of security for the Port Authority of Jamaica, told the Trinidad Express in December, adding that 8 percent of the cocaine seized in Jamaica during 2010 came from Trinidad.
He explained that in decades past, interdiction successes in the Caribbean, coupled with a changing dynamic between Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers, led to a shift in transit routes toward Mexico and Central America. Now, interdiction efforts in Mexico and South America are having the reverse effect.
Trinidad’s attorney general, Anand Ramlogan, said the temporary state of emergency that ended in December was necessary after intelligence revealed an “immediate threat and endangerment of public safety.”
“Innocent citizens could have lost their lives had we not declared a state of emergency and taken swift and immediate action,” he said. “When the state of emergency was declared … it was in response to intelligence received from the security agencies which we cannot share with the population but which I can assure you we averted a crisis.”
Ramlogan added that the measure had stopped “a further $100 million of cocaine coming into the country on a weekly basis.” Newsday, one of Trinidad’s major newspapers, endorsed the state of emergency, as did the Trinidad Guardian.
In an editorial, Newsday said the emergency declaration could be temporarily bad for business, but that “this will prove in the medium and long term a relatively small price to pay if the recently imposed state of emergency has the desired impact in the battle against crime.”
With 638 miles of coastline, over 100 unmonitored airstrips and an open ocean for speedboats, Jamaica is considered a key transit location for illegal narcotics, transported either via way stations located on the coast or moved up to the Bahamas, and then directly to U.S. and European markets.
"Not only is Jamaica an important pitstop for the trafficking of Colombian cocaine, South American heroin and Mexican marijuana, but it is also the Caribbean’s leading producer and exporter of marijuana,” according to a report by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
“As corruption and organized crime have become a serious impediment to judicial efforts aimed to curb the flow of illegal substances and laundered funds, Jamaican officials are working closely with their U.S. counterparts to initiate and fortify counter-drug legislation and procedures in hopes of cutting illegal narcotic-related activities on the island,” the COHA report concluded.