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High profile murder rocks the region

5/8/2014, 11:05 a.m.
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A series of emergency meetings are being held across Trinidad following the murder of one of the country’s most prominent citizens and apolitical attorneys. That high officials of her ilk are no longer immune from heavily armed killers roaming the southern Caribbean island is causing mayhem, fear and anxiety.

Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, 58, was returning home from a city casino late Friday when her path was blocked by two vehicles. The occupants of one opened fire on the attorney, killing her on the spot and throwing the oil- and gas-rich republic with Tobago into a state of national mourning.

The island just off Venezuela has been wracked by an average of 450 murders per year for most of the past decade. Police say there is a thriving drug and smuggling trade operation between Trinidad and Venezuela, with just seven miles separating the two geographically.

Police have recorded over 160 murders for the year so far, placing the murder rate on a path to being one of the bloodiest on record if the trend holds true.

Seetahal was widely respected in her native Trinidad and across the regional trade bloc, viewed as an attorney and largely neutral political legal commentator. She had been hired by governments around the trade bloc to sit on commissions of inquiry and other probes, mostly because many of the region’s current senior state prosecutors and attorneys general had been law students of hers at the University of the West Indies Trinidad campus.

Until Friday night, the victims of most murders are either people in the business community being killed by armed robberies or gangsters involved in turf wars.

As an indication of the level of respect Seetahal had commanded across racial and political lines, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who faces general elections exactly a year from now and who heaped pressure on the previous government for failing to deal with the burgeoning violent crime, convened emergency security meetings and offered $600,000 for information leading to the arrest of Seetahal’s killers.

She said Seetahal’s assassination was a direct attack on the judiciary, and “therefore it goes far into the functioning of our country, nation and people.”

Some courts suspended sittings this week to allow her colleague attorneys to grieve while the state has offered free security details to magistrates, judges, prosecutors and attorneys involved in high profile cases linked to gangsters. Meanwhile, heads of government from various nations sent sympathy messages and urged authorities to find her killers.

As proof of the level of fear her murder has driven into the judiciary, the Express newspaper quoted Senior Magistrate Lucina Cardenas-Ragoonanan as expressing real fear for her life.

“I will be honest with you, I said to my husband [Sunday] morning I do not feel [like going] to work [Monday] morning. I do not feel safe to go. I feel that maybe it is me next. I am scared, I am scared, and I do not know if it is that this particular incident is something isolated, but it is not, you know, it has hit the heart of justice and administration in this country.”