Last update: 05-Dec-2013 3:57 pm
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Illegal drug trade mars Cedros beauty
Cedros is known for its pristine beaches and sprawling coconut estates, but amidst this natural beauty is a dark scourge. The area is one of the entry points for drugs, weapons and other illegal items. Agriculture, once the lifeblood of the community, has been stagnant for more than two decades and unemployment is estimated to be at 40 per cent. While the drug trade flourishes, traditional Cedros activities such as fish net repairs, weaving, rope splicing and coconut husking are fast becoming extinct.
Bumpy gravel tracks wind through neglected agricultural estates and to picturesque beaches at Fullerton, Icacos and Green Hill where boatloads of illegal drugs regularly arrive under the cover of night. Frederick Ramjohn, 73, who lives in Bonasse, has witnessed the decline of his village over the years. He remembers the old days when Cedros was a hub of activity is worried that it is in danger of becoming a ghost town. Ramjohn said he has tried teaching young people in the village to weave and repair nets.
“These young people don’t want to learn. They think this work is too hard. They prefer to get easy money,” he said. “Only six of us left now and when we die, there will be nobody else who can fix nets.” He said drugs had taken hold of the young people. “These dealers even selling drugs to young girls who are still in school,” he said. Steffan Faria, of St Marie’s Village said the few who try to make an honest living thorough fishing are facing competition from oil companies.
Holding up an oil stained net, he said, “I have three children to mind but I cannot work right now because of the soiled nets. They promised to pay us for our losses but we still waiting.” Marlon Singh, a fisherman for more than 12 years complained about frequent theft of his fishing equipment. He said there is no proper storage facilities for engines and nets. “They need to have a co-operative where we can store our possessions,” Singh said.
Problems facing Cedros
President of the Granville Village Council Shankar Teeluchsingh said neglect of the area’s dairy industry, decline of the once lucrative coconut industry and underdevelopment of the fishing industry are some of the problems facing Cedros. He is calling for a revival of the area’s agriculture sector.
“Proposals have been made to work with the Ministry of Food Production and other stakeholders to revitalise the cocoa and coconut industries by negotiating with the land owners to create employment using the Unemployment Relief Programme,” Teeluchsingh said. He recommended development of small industries based on the by-products from coconut—the fibre, oil production, and coconut water.
Teeluchsingh also suggested that Cedros’ unique salt water lagoon be converted into a shrimp and fish farm.
Llyod O Connor, who owns and operates L&N General Contractors, said Cedros was ripe for tourism because of its close proximity to Venezuela. He wants Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz to organise tours between Icacos and Venezuela to boost domestic and regional tourism. “A boat leaves from Cedros to Venezuela every Wednesday. I believe the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be more active knowing that our Venezuelan neighbours are so close,” O Connor said.
He also recommended dialogue between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Venezuela. “Right now our security complex is a port of entry and we have various private operators departing from the Cedros port to various parts of Venezuela. If we can have something that is marketable, it will create some sort of employment and bring benefit to both countries,” O Connor said. He said the local water taxi could be used to ferry passengers.
Teeluchsingh said many Cedros residents had a good knowledge of the Venezuelan coastline and could serve as tour guides. In addition, the beaches at Granville, Chatham, St Anns, Columbus Bay, Icacos and Green Hill can be developed and a board walk could be constructed at Bonasse. “A lot of our tourism assets and opportunities are lost because of lack of proper preservation and care,” he said.
Senior lecturer in economics at the University of the West Indies Dr Roger Hosein said there must be investment in the southwestern peninsula. He said companies should invest in programmes to boost economic development as part of their corporate social responsibility.
Porous borders in T&T
A senior police source said there were many access points where drugs are being brought in at Cedros but there is no co-operation from villagers, so successful raids are few. The officer said there was also limited resources. “The police cannot do it by ourselves. We need help,” the officer said. Last year, former national security minister Jack Warner said T&T’s borders are among the most porous in the world. He said out of 148 ports in the country, 119 ports were totally unguarded.
Warner had announced plans for eight Coast Guard bases to strengthen the country’s coastal security system but those did not materialise during his time at the ministry.
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