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Emergency measures yield results in Trinidad

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 9/7/2011, 4:31 p.m.

A few weeks after authorities placed the main island of Trinidad under emergency rule and locked down several criminal hotspots, officials say the new measures are yielding major results. Several veteran gang leaders are in detention, caches of arms have been seized and a murder rate of one every 36 hours has been reduced to only two since the crackdown began in earnest earlier this month.

But even as it continues, police say they are beefing up security around Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan after photographs of the two leaders with Xs scrawled on them were found in an apartment rented by alleged gang leader Selwyn "Robocop" Alexis when it was raided last week.

The Express newspaper reported that the prime minister was unaware that security officials suspected Alexis, who is suspected of murder and was found in possession of two unregistered cars with fake license plates, was hatching an assassination plot.

Still, Persad-Bissessar said, "Every wanted person arrested is of significance to me, whether it be Robocop or any other. I applaud the efforts of our law enforcement officers in finding and apprehending this much sought-after individual. This is yet another indication that the measures being deployed are in the national interest."

Meanwhile, authorities say they are so happy with the peace and calm that has resulted from the nightly curfew and the extra powers granted to law enforcement agencies that the governing party will approach parliament to extend it for several more weeks. This will allow them to permanently cripple the gangs that helped the country record one of the highest proportionate murder rates on the globe.

Support for the measures has been generally favorable, with many pointing to the gains Jamaican police were able to make when enforcement agencies went after the most wanted man, Christopher "Dudus" Coke a year ago.

Coke was wanted by American authorities for international drug trafficking and other alleged crimes. His arrest sparked major gunfights in his innercity neighborhood that killed more than 70 people and gave police and the military the excuse they needed to dismantle the gangs. He pleaded guilty as charged in New York last week and will be sentenced in December to 23 years in prison.

Back in Trinidad, the head of the government said the action was forced by intelligence the cabinet had received suggesting tough measures be implemented to avert a major spike in gun and other crimes.

"On the basis of what we knew, while this was certainly neither the time nor option we wished to pursue, in defense of our very democracy and in the interest of all Trinidad and Tobago, we took the only course of action that any responsible government could have taken at the time," Persad-Bissessar said.

Trinidad is a major supplier of ethanol and natural gas to the United States and is one of its major trading partners.