Trinidad and Tobago has been on the receiving end of the illegal firearms trade for decades.
Due to its geographic location at the southern end of the Caribbean archipelago, just a few miles off the Southern American coast, T&T has long served as a transhipment point, and increasingly in recent years, as a final destination in the trafficking of drugs, guns and humans.
Like many of our Caricom neighbours to the north, including Jamaica and Haiti, our streets are being flooded with deadly weapons smuggled from extra-regional sources, with the United States the main source of this illegal supply.
This has aggravated already serious crime problems and enabled drug gangs to the degree that it threatens the stability of the entire region.
Haiti, the poorest country in the region, has been steadily descending into chaos and political turmoil since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021. Over the past few months, an influx of sophisticated and high-calibre firearms and ammunition from the US has been directly linked to the dramatic upsurge in criminal gang activity there.
The US is also the main source of the weapons driving the escalation in gang-related violence across T&T.
Neighbouring islands previously untouched by the drugs and weapons scourge are now reporting increased gun violence.
In response to this unprecedented wave of mayhem, the efforts of individual law enforcement agencies have proven to be inadequate.
The best efforts of the T&T Police Service to seize illegal firearms have been of little or no effect. A few dozen seizures barely make a dent in the flood of illegal weapons smuggled through legal ports and various points along the country’s porous borders.
A united regional approach offers the best chance at eradicating this weapon scourge before it gets worse.
While the US government has indicated that disrupting illicit firearms trafficking in the Caribbean is “a shared priority,” Caricom needs to be seen and heard in this matter, not simply lobbying for support but also pooling resources and expertise in what is a monumental battle against the traffickers.
Efforts under the auspices of the Caribbean Firearms Roadmap – developed in collaboration with the Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (Impacs) and the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean – should be ramped up in response to this worsening crisis.
Cooperation is vital to success in this battle, so Caricom should give favourable consideration to the invitation to join Mexico in its legal fight to hold US gun manufacturers and distributors responsible for the violence and bloodshed across the region.
According to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, T&T is actively considering Mexico’s request “to test the legality of those who make those weapons of war that are destroying our societies.”
Dr Rowley is correct in calling for Caricom to speak with one voice to the US on this critical matter.
The US, which never hesitates to warn its citizens against visiting parts of this region because of the high levels of crime, must do much more to prevent guns from entering the Caribbean.