Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar using measure to dismantle gangs and combat narco-traffickers whose violence has created problems nationwide.
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has extended a state of emergency until December in an effort to dismantle gangs and combat narco-traffickers whose violence has engulfed the country.
The state of emergency establishes a curfew from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. in six high-crime areas and empowers police to arrest suspects and seize property without warrants. Police have established checkpoints on highways throughout the Caribbean nation.
Persad-Bissessar initially declared a state of emergency on Aug. 21, following a two-day crime spree in which 11 were killed. On Sept. 4, Parliament extended the prime minister’s declaration three months by a vote of 29-10.
The state of emergency was enacted because the government feared a “criminal uprising of untold proportions,” Persad-Bissessar said. “Rest assured, the crisis has been averted.”
Local media outlets reported that the government was concerned a South American drug gang planned to carry out a widespread murder spree in the country, in response to law enforcement agents’ seizing a shipment of narcotics worth US$22 million at the Piarco airport on Aug. 19.
Officials also highlighted the rising crime rate in recent years.
In the past decade, the murder rate has increased almost fourfold. Through the first eight months of 2011, the country of roughly 1.3 million has been home to 236 murders, according to police statistics.
The country’s murder rate spiked in 2008 when 550 homicides were reported; last year it was 485, the police said. Those numbers give the country one of the highest homicide rates in the Caribbean.
In the first days of the state of emergency, police said they were detaining about four suspects hourly. Through its first weeks, the state of emergency resulted in 1,356 arrests, including 420 for alleged gang involvement and 33 on murder charges.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said dismantling the gangs is key to reducing crime.
Gang activity has worsened in recent years and illicit weapons trafficking has proliferated, said Francis Forbes, interim executive director of the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security.
“There is clearly a link between the crime rates and the number of small weapons that are available to criminal groups,” he said. “Getting weapons off the streets is integral to the process of reducing crime.”
A World Bank study of guns and crimes states Trinidad and Tobago is in the middle of a hemispheric weapons and narcotics trade. Many weapons are illegally smuggled from South and Central America.
“Weapons manufactured or otherwise available in South America are smuggled through Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana to Trinidad and Tobago via fishing vessels and private pleasure boats,” the study concludes. “Weapons from the United States and Canada are transported southward in the shipping proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs.”
Police said they discovered a cache of 15 high-powered weapons and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition wrapped in plastic and newspapers in a forested area in the early morning hours on Sept. 8.
It was the largest weapons seizure since the state of emergency began.