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Experts warn of guns for food trade with Venezuela

Published: 
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Arms and ammunition seized by police that are believed to have been brought into T&T from Venezuela.

Eight-five per cent of the murders in T&T are gun-related, according to figures from the T&T Police Service (TTPS).

There were 420 murders in 2015, 403 murders in 2014, 407 murders in 2013, 379 murders in 2012, and 352 murders in 2011 out of a population of approximately 1.3 million people. The detection rate for murder was 13.6 per cent for 2015, a decrease from 16.1 per cent in 2014, according to records from the TTPS. 

And despite the seizure of 691 firearms in 2015, the proliferation of illegal guns continues to fuel the drug trade, gang wars and killings in this country. 

Two members of the Protective Services were killed on Tuesday—29-year-old Special Reserve Police Constable Jason Cyril John was shot while heading to his Five Rivers, Arouca, home, and Defence Force Corporal Jerry Leacock was shot and killed by four men who entered his Jacob Hill, Wallerfield, home.

On Thursday, Sgt Ricardo Morris, who works at the Belmont Police Station, was shot multiple times in Sea Lots with a high-powered AR-15 rifle. Meanwhile, security forces were placed on a heightened state of alertness on Tuesday following alleged threats to attack malls by Isis this weekend.

According to security experts, guns and ammunition smuggled from the South Western peninsula is not a recent phenomenon. T&T’s porous borders coupled with the economic crisis in neighbouring Venezuela further exacerbate the situation for arms and drug smuggling. 

The fear is that with the grave shortage of food and other supplies in Venezuela one could expect guns being exchanged for food and supplies on a larger scale. When the Sunday Guardian visited the peninsula a week ago, people in the area were tight-lipped about smuggling. Critics said the US$50 million in food that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will buy from T&T was likely to last only a few weeks among a population of 30 million people, and that desperation could step in and further fuel the gun trade. 

Several security experts, former executive director of the National Operations Centre (NOC) Garvin Heerah, Florida International University Prof Anthony Maingot, firearms weapon specialist Paul-Daniel Nahous and President of the Confederation of Hunters’ Associations for Conservation of T&T (Chactt), Buddie Miller, are concerned that with the current economic, political and social turmoil in Venezuela, the food for guns trade between T&T and the mainland may escalate and portions of the Guardia Nacional’s stockpile of high-powered Chinese AK-47s, Russian AK-103 assault rifles and Dragunov sniper rifles can reach T&T’s criminal elements. 

Heerah noted, however, that guns were not only coming from Venezuela and Latin America but also North America.

In an email communication with the Sunday Guardian on Thursday, Caribbean and South American security expert Prof Maingot, who is based at Florida International University in Miami, USA, said the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez regime distributed tens of thousands of Chinese AK-47 assault rifles to their partisans “and much of this was now for sale by the Guardia Nacional which had been thoroughly corrupted.” 

He said as far back as 1972, “I did a study on the T&T-Venezuela relations in the Orinoco area and I was convinced that smuggling was a major and historical part of their lifestyle. 

“It was only a matter of time before scotch gave way to marijuana then to cocaine. 

“In the drug trade, guns are a major part of the exchange for the simple reason that they cannot be counterfeited.” 

Maingot said although most of the large-scale cocaine trafficking was now done by small planes and luxury yachts, there is still much guns-for-cocaine trade occurring in the areas of Cedros and Icacos and the islands of the Bocas. 

He said the Gulf of Paria had become one big drugs/guns mart. 

‘Soldiers selling their weapons for money’
Certified police sniper and firearms weapon specialist Paul-Daniel Nahous, meanwhile, said what was occurring in Venezuela is similar to what happened to the former Soviet Union when it dissolved and former states such as Ukraine broke away in 1991. 

Some of the former Soviet Union weapons were sold off legally, but many slipped through the cracks and onto the black market. Some military commanders sold off entire military installations and poorly paid soldiers “lost” their weapons selling them also.  

In 2006 Venezuela bought 100,000 Russian AK-103 rifles, 5,000 Dragunov sniper rifles and the manufacturing licence and equipment for domestic production. Nahous said Chavez, a former paratrooper, chose the AK-103 assault rifle which fires the heavier 7.62x39 calibre ammunition with a range of 500 metres because of its stopping power.

The Dragunov sniper rifle uses 7.62x54 ammunition, is extremely reliable in all conditions, from snow to heat and sand in the Middle Eastern desert and designed for heavy use. The maximum range of the Dragunov semiautomatic rifle with an optical sight is 1,300 metres. He said the scary part was getting a fully automatic rifle for a few loaves of bread and some packs of toilet paper.

Nahous said the danger that these rifles posed was that the gangs here would know how to operate them, as the mechanics were similar to the Kalashnikov rifle variants in the country. He said the ammunition for the AK-103 was available and also the same as that of the AK-47s flooding the gang areas in T&T.

Nahous said the AK-103 can fire in single shot or fully automatic, it was over-effective in penetration, capable of punching through buildings, vehicles and body armour.

Miller: Every type of weapon going into Cedros and Icacos from Venezuela
Miller, who is part of the hunters’ group, said guns have always been coming into the country from the South Western peninsula.  He said illegal hunters were mainly interested in the cartridges and shotguns from Venezuela, as licensed hunters were only legally allowed 100 shotgun cartridges per year.

If a hunter was shooting ducks in the swamp, he