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US State Department:100 criminal gangs in T&T

Friday, March 17, 2017
A police officer on patrol at Block 8 Laventille, notorious for clashes between rival gangs. PHOTO: MICHEAL BRUCE

This country’s high murder rate continues to be driven primarily by gang and drug-related activities and a study has shown there are more than 100 gangs operating in T&T, according to the US State Department’s 2017 crime and safety report.

North East and Central Trinidad showed the highest murder rates in last year and the report, released earlier this week, says crime is the principal threat to visitors with most being crimes of opportunity.

T&T was described as is a major trans-shipment point for illicit drugs and drug-related crimes was described as a significant contributor to crime.

“T&T Police Service 2016 crime statistics show a 1.4 per cent increase in overall serious criminal activity compared to 2015. Violent crime remains a major concern for local security services and the general population,” the report said.

“In Trinidad, the majority of violent crimes (homicides, kidnappings, assaults, robberies, sexual assaults) are gang/drug-related or domestic in nature.

“The Government faces numerous challenges in its effort to reduce crime, including an over-burdened legal system, bureaucratic resistance to change, unemployment in marginal areas, disenfranchised youth, the negative influence of gangs, drugs, weapons and an economic recession.”

The report said almost 81 per cent of the 2016 murders were committed with firearms, highlighting the problem of imported and often illegal weapons and firearms smuggling.

“Drug trafficking and gang-related activities continue to fuel the demand for illegal weapons. In 2016, murders occurred in a more widespread area than 2015, when most murders were concentrated in a few urban areas.

“In 2016, the Northern Division, which includes the cities of Arima and Tunapuna, reported the highest number of murders at 124. The Central Division, which includes Chaguanas and Enterprise, reported 79 murders in 2016. Port-of-Spain and the Southern Division reported 61 and 55 murders in 2016, respectively.

The report continued: “A significant, growing portion is attributed to the influence of gangs, illegal narcotics and firearms. Most reported crimes occur within Port-of-Spain and San Fernando, with Arima and Central Trinidad contributing heavily to 2016 crime statistics.

“According to several sources, including the 2012 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Caribbean Human Development Report and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs 2013 report entitled Gangs Are The New Law In Urban Trinidad & Tobago, approximately 100 criminal gangs were identified in T&T.

“These gangs, as well as other organisations, were linked to crimes including weapons smuggling, fraud, and other organised criminal activities.”

Since the 1990 failed coup attempt, the report stated, “Jamaat al-Muslimeen and its leaders have focused on Islamic education and a number of business ventures and have been linked to serious crimes (murder).”

Crimes in Tobago affecting tourists were noted as murder, home invasion, petty theft, swindling, fraud and theft from hotel rooms.

“Several violent home invasions targeted well-to-do homes and villas sometimes rented to tourists.”

The US warned visitors not to resist robbery attempts since statistics showed they were likely to be injured or even killed. Night travel should be avoided other than on major highways, it also recommended.

“Hitch-hikers are usually swindlers and can be threatening. Criminals are also known to follow travellers from the airport to their destination. There are relatively high numbers of traffic fatalities from speeding and drunk-driving.”

Apart from warning against Beetham, Laventille, Sea Lots and other areas, the report said: “The Beetham Highway is dangerous in the event of broken-down vehicles … there are regular incidents of persons running out into the road or throwing debris at cars to cause accidents and force cars to stop.

“A group of accomplices descends upon accident victims, robbing them of valuables, and often violently assaulting them, even if they’re compliant.”


The report said T&T experiences periodic demonstrations by labour unions over salary negotiations, tax structures and other issues involving public resources or government operations.

“The disruption of utility services as a result of industrial action, group protests and non-violent demonstrations by labour organisations remains a concern.”

While Port-of-Spain was assessed as a low-threat location for political violence affecting US Government interests, the report said significant problems exist regarding protection or enforcement of intellectual property rights.

“T&T’s lax enforcement means wrongdoing will likely only be uncovered by the content owner. Private companies are hesitant to pursue intellectual property claims in T&T because of the small market size and reputation for having a slow legal system. Companies say customs officers are hesitant to search containers, even with significant evidence that counterfeit products are present.

“A US company reported counterfeit products to T&T officials, but the alleged infringing products were pulled from shelves hours before an inspection, suggesting collusion between law enforcement and the seller of the counterfeit goods.”

The report added that T&T’s medical care is “significantly below US standards for treatment of serious injuries and illness, with limited access to supplies and medications…physicians and nurses have been known to go on strike, causing strain on public and private medical services. Ambulance service is often extremely limited in response time.”


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