For more than a decade, security officials and successive governments in Trinidad have blamed the smuggling of guns from across the Gulf with Venezuela for the major spike in gun and other forms of violent crimes.
The coast guard and police beefed up patrols across the seven-mile waterway with the South American mainland, but police were still encountering hardened criminals with a range of high-powered weapons and handguns.
Now the situation is becoming much clearer in the wake of a parliamentary hearing in the past week that shed new light on where the guns are actually coming from.
Police Chief McDonald Jacob and senior customs officials told the house hearing that guns are heading into the twin-island federation with Tobago from a range of American states, including Florida and Texas. Only about 5% are being whisked across from Venezuela.
More importantly, lawmakers appeared to have heard for the first time that of the 23,000 containers that have been imported into Trinidad this year, more than 19,000 were not electronically scanned because the machines have long stopped working. This is where enforcement officials are placing their focus, because they firmly believe that gangsters are easily accessing weapons sent by contacts in North America.
As well, the house was told, there is a dire shortage of customs officers to manually rummage through the containers, so many are being sent out of the system without checks for weapons and other concerns.
“We have a whole list of different locations in relation to FedEx where it has been breached in relation to the courier service. There are some other minor ones, but the main one we have identified is FedEx,” Jacob said.
Jacob pointed to arms shipments from Baltimore, Georgia and Texas as main areas of concern.
“It takes a lot of energy to mop up all these guns. It takes a tremendous amount of effort because…[in] 87% of murders, the tool is firearms. I don’t feel good about it at all,” the chief said.
As 2022 comes to a close, it appears that the nation will see a record-breaking year for murders, with more than 550 in a population of 1.3 million people. With more than three weeks left in this year, officials fear that the final tally could end up closer to 600, easily beating out the 530 back in 2008.
Similarly shaken up by the revelations, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) called for immediate redress.
“Traditionally, TTMA has lobbied for greater efficiency [in] the port and has, in the past, welcomed the introduction of scanners to aid in this efficiency. The reports of these scanners not working are concerning and its negative impact on the ease of doing business cannot be denied,” TTMA President Tricia Coosal said.