Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s $63 billion budget which “seeks to re-establish fiscal discipline” came as no surprise to political analysts Dr Bishnu Ragoonath and Dr Maukesh Basdeo.
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Kamla on US cocaine bust: We had a hand
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says this country was able to make the $644 million cocaine bust with the help of allies. The drugs left T&T in juice cans seized in Norfolk, Virginia, last month.
Persad-Bissessar, who spoke on the issue when she arrived at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa) in Port-of-Spain, for the launch of a National Week of Prayer, yesterday, said she was “fortified” when SM Jaleel was able to show the cans were counterfeit. SM Jaleel pointed out that the shade of green on the labels of the cans in which the cocaine was shipped was different to their cans. The prime minister declined comment on the actual investigation of the cocaine bust.
“The matter is under investigation and very sensitive and it would be inappropriate to comment,” she said, although she said that every nation would have issues with narco-trafficking. She said her government is working with Customs and Excise and the relevant ministries to deal with the scourge of illegal drugs in the country.
She said the installation of two port scanners, purchased through grant funding at a cost of $25 million each, has begun. The scanners arrived in T&T on December 26, 2013. Two others are expected to arrive in June. Persad-Bissessar referred to an article in the Sunday Guardian which stated that the Mexican drug cartel’s strategy was to use the Caribbean to move drugs, not only to West Africa and Europe, but also to the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada.
“It has been known for a long time this country is a trans-shipment point for drugs,” Persad-Bissessar said.
University of the West Indies (UWI) criminology lecturer Daurius Figueira said the cocaine bust suggests that T&T has been infiltrated by the Mexican drug cartel. He said: “That shipment has all the hallmarks of a Mexican drug cartel operation. Its fingerprints are all over it. That is the wake-up call for T&T. The Mexican cartels have already infiltrated the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Eastern Caribbean, Belize, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos islands, US Virgin Islands. It’s T&T’s time now, and Jamaica’s turn is next.”
Persad-Bissessar said she supported National Security Minister Gary Griffith’s gag order on the matter until the situation is locked down. “With such sensitive matters, information should be released only on a need-to-know basis. I think it (the gag order) is a good strategy,” Persad-Bissessar said. Griffith said investigations into the bust are ongoing and said he had informed all investigators, local and abroad, that information was to be released only on a need-to-know basis. He said not even Government ministers need to know.
Griffith said local intelligence is working closely with the US Drug Enforcement Administration on the matter. Persad-Bissessar, who will attend the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States tomorrow, said she plans to raise the issues of narco-trafficking trade and regional security at that meeting.
Last month, US Customs and Border Protection officers discovered the 732 pounds of cocaine concealed in cans of fruit juice in a 20-foot container during an inspection. The shipment was destined for New York.
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