Gail Alexander and Joel Julien
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Challenges facing T&T in curbing drug trade
WASHINGTON—The United States says corruption, lack of sustainability of government funded programmes as well as gaps in legislative and organisational implementation continue to be challenges facing Trinidad and Tobago in its efforts to curb the trafficking and use of illegal narcotics.
The US Department of State in its just released “2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report” notes that the location of the oil-rich twin island republic, porous borders, and direct transportation routes to Europe, West Africa, Canada and the United States make it an ideal location for cocaine and marijuana transshipment.
Washington said that marijuana is produced in Trinidad and Tobago and is the most widely used drug domestically, but other drugs, including cocaine, heroin, solvents, pharmaceuticals, and ecstasy, are also available. It said interdiction efforts are robust and continuing and though overall seizures in 2013 increased from 2012, the Trinidad and Tobago government continues to struggle to coordinate and adequately fund its counternarcotics efforts.
“Rehabilitation facilities are insufficient and under- resourced to meet local demand for treatment. Lack of sustainability of government funded programmes, particularly in the area of demand reduction, corruption, and gaps in legislative and organisational implementation remain challenges to the country’s efforts to curb the trafficking and use of illegal narcotics.”
Washington said that while the country continues to demonstrate a high level of commitment to drug control by fostering bilateral cooperation and intelligence sharing with countries of origin, transit and destination, “there is continuing distrust within and between units of law enforcement, the military, and the intelligence community preventing effective information sharing and collaboration.
“Strict adherence to rigid and often outdated methodologies by mid-level officials, as well as restrictive decision making systems that do not empower functionaries, limit the ability of these critical organisations to innovate and keep pace with highly flexible criminal organisations. “Even with increases to the national security budget in 2013, counternarcotics units continue to lack sufficient specialised equipment and personnel, and regularly request support from international donors,” the report noted.
Washington said marijuana is the only known locally-produced illicit drug and that production is concentrated in small farms in the heavily forested, mountainous regions. It said local producers compete with imports from St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Guyana, and Venezuela and that other illicit drugs–primarily cocaine, but also small amounts of heroin and ecstasy– are trafficked through the country by transnational organised crime groups operating in Trinidad and Tobago.
“There has been an increase in Jamaican nationals within Trinidad and Tobago bartering shipments of marijuana for cocaine for re-export. In addition, increased government eradication efforts have driven up the local price of marijuana, causing some traffickers to shift their focus from cocaine to marijuana. “ Washington said law enforcement entities in Port-of-Spain seized 110.6 kilogrammes of cocaine and 3.7 metric tonnes of marijuana between January and September, 2013.
“Approximately 328,600 mature marijuana trees were also destroyed during this period. Higher seizure rates could indicate increased efforts by and a greater ability of law enforcement officers to detect trafficking.
“It may also indicate an increase in the volume of product being trafficked through Trinidad and Tobago, which would be consistent with reports that project an increase in trafficking through the Caribbean as a result of counternarcotics efforts in Central America and Mexico,” the report said, noting, however, that prosecution and conviction rates for narcotics offenses are low. “While 4,027 people were arrested for possession and another 468 for trafficking in 2013, only 58 small scale traffickers were convicted during the year.”
Washington said the entities and individuals working to combat narcotics in Trinidad and Tobago face considerable institutional challenges that impede their effectiveness.
“Senior leaders have not been successful in translating political will to combat trafficking into operational effectiveness. To raise conviction rates and deter traffickers, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago should implement reforms to expedite prosecutions, revise outdated laws and standard operating procedures, and establish an evidence-based criminal justice system,” it added.
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