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Wednesday, December 11, 2013
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US agency on spiralling T&T crime: Gangs Stronger Than Government
A major think tank based in Washington, DC, believes gangs are the “new war” in T&T, a report on Caribbean 360 said yesterday. It added that recent incidents of intense violence in the country have also drawn international attention to the “rampant gang problem” in the country.
Caribbean 360 said a report by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) yesterday noted that regardless of size, all forms of gangs in T&T were more pervasive than those to be found in developed nations and have now become societal institutions that go beyond social purposes, “and are coming to resemble governments in and of themselves.”
It also charged that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been unable to effectively deal with gang activity, adding that legislation passed by the People’s Partnership Government to fight crime, such as the Anti-Gang Act, “has proven to be ineffective.” “As it now stands, gangs have a stronger hold on the Trinidadian population than its government does,” the organisation said.
COHA cited the September 11, 2013 incident in which Michael Piper’s severed head was discovered on Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain. Police have remained clueless as to the motive for his death. COHA, however, has theorised this is a movement towards a form of violence used in South American countries.
“There is now a trend towards this so-called ‘South American method of warfare,’ in which beheadings and other extreme forms of violence are the norm in dealing with rival gangs and in which only 14.3 per cent of T&T’s youth is confident in its satisfaction with the police force,” COHA said. It said the Government’s recent decision to “simply amp up the police force” is not likely to hinder the persistent gang presence.
“Violence is a serious problem in the islands, but targeting this alone will not make an effective reform,” it said, adding that “gangs in T&T, specifically in high-risk areas, like east Port-of-Spain, including Laventille, have become so institutionalised that they pose a threat to—and even control in some cases—T&T’s crucial infrastructures.”
COHA said in T&T and Jamaica, gangs have a “very unusual and ultimately far more dangerous effect on their surrounding areas.” Claiming T&T had more than 100 gangs, COHA said in the absence of an adequate legal system, gangs “outsource their justice in situations as trivial as parents disciplining their children.”
Responding to the findings of the report yesterday, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said for far too long, gangs have been allowed to build their clientele to the extent where they have acquired “certain streets and blocks which they consider their own.” “We have created a monster and we are the ones who need to destroy it,” Griffith said in a telephone interview.
“I am not at all surprised. When I first took this position I realised one of the biggest problems we have is gang activity and we cannot continue to sit idly by and continue to bury our head in the sand and think that giving out these contracts is going to stop criminal activity...it is just the opposite.”
Asked to specify who the “we” referred to, since his comment referred to a recent promise he made to stop the practice of state contracts being given to gang leaders, Griffith said previous governments, as this problem stemmed from the days of the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP). Saying the Government needed to do a proper audit of the social projects, Griffith said these programmes have become an avenue for mass misappropriation of funds which are filtered into the hands of gang leaders.
“So where the plan was to have these projects reduce crime, it has in fact been increasing crime,” Griffith added. He said a new anti-crime measure expected to be rolled out within the coming weeks was an initiative, headed by him, in which people would be urged to pass on information about gangs and other criminal activities.
“Anybody who feels they have proper information to bring down these individuals, I am providing an avenue for them which I personally would be co-ordinating. I am asking the country to trust me on this,” Griffith urged.
Result of poor decisions
Public relations officer for the PNM Faris Al-Rawi said yesterday the COHA’s report was especially tragic, as T&T was “wrestling” to diversify its economy through tourism and trade. He also criticised the PP Government for dumping anti-crime measures implemented by the previous administration. “The PNM has cautioned the Government and people of T&T on umpteen occasions as to the deleterious effect of the Government’s wilful dismantling of national security systems and services,” Al Rawi said.
“In particular, we have been at pains to demand a replacement of the Anti-Gang Unit of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T (Sautt), which the Government wilfully and recklessly threw out on 2010.” This move, he added, has resulted in an “exponential growth” in criminal gang activity, particularly in east Port-of-Spain. Saying the country has been faced with “gory news of decapitations gangland-style” Al-Rawi said these killings have become the centre stage of serious reports of international partners.
“This government, with four ministers of national security prior to Mr Griffith, has yet to account for the consequences of its actions and more particularily of its statement of a realistic and clearly articulated crime plan of T&T,” Al-Rawi added. He said Griffith had a “mountain” on his plate and seemed to have little assistance from the Government given recent statements made by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
Al-Rawi called upon Persad-Bissessar to step forward and take charge of the country’s national security systems in a fashion that “will demonstrate capability and inspire confidence in the people.”
what is coha
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) is a Washington, DC-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded in 1975. It was established to “promote the common interests of the Western hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive US policies towards Latin America.” —Source Wikipedia
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