Authorities in Trinidad say they have no choice but to impose a limited state of emergency to cope with a significant spike in murders, armed robberies and other deviant behavior and stem a runaway crime rate that has bedeviled successive administrations and governments in the country in the past two decades.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced new measures under emergency rule at the beginning of this week, saying law-abiding citizens have no reason to fear. She said armed law enforcers will target a number of “crime hot spots” in the oil- and gas rich-twin island republic with Tobago in the coming days.
Mere hours after the announcement, police got the better of three gunmen in a district east of the capital, Port of Spain, on Monday, killing two of them in a shootout at a horse racing shop the three had brazenly attacked.
Police seized two fully loaded high-powered rifles and handguns and arrested the third gunman when he tried to blend in with staff as bullets flew in both directions.
The Caribbean bloc’s richest nation has been in the throes of a serious crime wave in recent decades, with authorities citing easy access to drugs and weapons from South America as part of the reason for the heavily armed gangs that stage daring daylight robberies, like the one that ended in blood and death on Monday. Venezuela is a mere seven miles from Trinidad, the most southerly country of the Caribbean islands chain.
“I understand the exercise being carried out across the country may create concern among the population, but I do want to assure citizens that there is no need for anxiety. The plan to take back our streets has been well thought out and carried out with precision,” said Persad-Bissessar.
The move followed 11 murders in 48 hours over the weekend and trails several similar spikes in recent years. The number of murders over the last decade has reached beyond 400.
The emergency rule has had very negative effects on various aspects of life in the twin islands, with nightlife being severely curtailed and pushing the Muslim community to ask for amendments to the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, as it is affecting Islamic prayer schedules during the holy month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, incoming night flights have also been affected. American Airlines cancelled two flights Monday night, and other carriers say they will adjust their schedules.