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COCAINE WAR LOOMS

By ANDRE BAGOO Tuesday, August 26 2014

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THE REGION, including Trinidad and Tobago, must now brace itself for a likely return to the dreaded “Cocaine Cowboy” days — a virtual war among drug traffickers — Francis Forbes, the executive director of Caricom’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (Impacs) warned yesterday. Forbes warned that trafficking in drugs, guns and ammunition – accompanied by money-laundering – are set to get worse unless effective control measures are implemented.

In a speech at the opening of a trainers’ workshop, held at the new offices of Impacs at Keate Street, Port-of-Spain, Forbes called on communities to take steps to deal with crime and to say, “enough is enough”.

Speaking with reporters after the event, Forbes also warned that the human trafficking problem remains “significant”, while Impacs officials classed Trinidad and Tobago as a country with a relatively higher level of activity in that regard.

“Unless effective control measures are vigorously implemented by all, things will only get worse,” Forbes said in his speech. He noted Colombia, Mexico and the United States (US) have been successful – through the Merida Initiative – in bringing about a decline in arms crimes, including homicides. However, this now poses a threat to Caricom.

“Even as those countries bask in their success, Caricom must now shift into high gear in view of warnings from senior US official sources that we should again brace ourselves for the likely return of the dreaded Cocaine Cowboy days,” Forbes said. “As it was in those days the pattern remains the same; trafficking in drugs, guns and ammunition accompanied by money laundering are inseparable commodities for organised crime. And the effects are, as usual, very devastating.”

Forbes noted that the period known as the days of the “Cocaine Cowboys” saw Colombia appearing to be at war with itself as the Cali Cartel and the Medellin Cartel battled each other for supremacy of the drug trade, resulting in significant loss of innocent lives in that country.

Members of law enforcement, judges and prosecutors were specifically targeted for brutal assassination almost on a monthly basis, he observed. To local communities, Forbes said security must be the business of all.

“I encourage community leaders and citizens generally to step forward and join in the fight against crime,” he said. “Let me remind you that no criminal entity or enterprise can survive when communities say enough is enough. Ultimately security must be seen as everyone’s business.”

On the issue of human trafficking, Forbes later told reporters, “There is a significant trafficking problem in the region and we see persons trafficked into the region. Recently, some five nationals were picked up and charged within the context of illegal trafficking. Of course there have been denials since then. But we understand what is happening and illegal trafficking in persons is a very very serious issue in Caricom.”

Hayden Exeter, chief operations officer of the Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre, said Trinidad and Tobago is a node country, showing higher than average levels of activity.

“While the region is not seen as a source region, what we are is a heavy transit region,” Exeter said. “What we also notice is that there are several node countries where you would find a higher level of activity. In particular, Trinidad and Tobago being one of them and you will find that the traffic flows both ways for Trinidad. You would have coming from the South American mainland and also from smaller Caricom countries or Central American countries, in Trinidad’s case.”

From 2010 to 2013, 16,000 firearms were seized, Exeter said. However, this represented only a proportion of the trade, with a total turnover estimated at about 24,000.

Yesterday’s Impacs event was scheduled to be a precursor to a workshop focused on the International Small Arms Control Standards Assessment Tool. Those in attendance included: Dr Patrick McCarthy, Coordinator of the ISACS Inter-Agency Support Unit of the United Nations; Himayu Shiotani, Project Manager and Researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research; Folade Mutota, executive director of the Caribbean Coalition for Development and Reduction of Armed Violence.

Also in attendance for the start of the three-day workshop were officials of: the Police Service, Defence Force, Strategic Service Agency and the Trinidad and Tobago Forensic Science Centre. Other representatives included the United Nations Institute of Disarmament Affairs, ISACS Inter-Agency Support Unit, Caricom Impacs, Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre (RIFC), Regional Security Systems (RSS), and the Caribbean Coalition for Development & the Reduction of Armed Violence.

Minister of National Security Gary Griffith did not immediately return calls and messages yesterday.

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