Trinidad has become a failed narco petro gang state (Part One)

“The gangs of Trinidad & Tobago have infiltrated the official government and created an alternative administration—at least in urban centers—of violence and strict order, lacking any semblance of ethics or ability to address welfare.

Trinidad has become a failed narco petro gang state (Part One)
Photo :Ramdath Jagessar

The last item in my trio of bad are the gang members who have taken over most of the urban areas in the country, yes, all 2,484 of them, up sharply from the 1,619 in 147 gangs we noted at the end of 2015. 

A 2013 media report said openly that gangs are the new law in urban Trinidad and Tobago https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/gangs-are-the-new-law-in-urban-trinidad-tobago/. Things have gotten worse since then. 

That 2013 report spells it out in grim detail “All forms of gangs in Trinidad are more pervasive than those to be found in developed nations and have now become societal institutions that go beyond social purposes, and are coming to resemble governments in and of themselves.

“The gangs of Trinidad & Tobago have infiltrated the official government and created an alternative administration—at least in urban centers—of violence and strict order, lacking any semblance of ethics or ability to address welfare.

“Unemployment welfare is just one example of a larger trend, where competition for development contracts causes a spike in inter-gang violence.” 

Another report, this time from 2015 states, “The growth of the gangs, particularly in the north and west-urban corridor of the country, concentrated on the greater Port of Spain area, has been fueled in part by the role of the gangs in a range of revenue-producing activities.

“One counter-intuitive source of activity for both Islamic and other gangs has been obtaining construction contracts, or otherwise obtaining employment in government infrastructure and social services programs.

“Beyond government projects, drug trafficking and local sales have been an important source of gang revenues.”

The evidence for the control of gangs in urban areas is overwhelming, but strangely there don’t seem to be corresponding gangs in rural areas. Could it be that the presence of mostly Indians in rural areas and black people in urban areas has something to do with it? Why is it that built up areas like Chaguanas, Princes Town, Debe-Penal, San Juan-Barataria, Curepe-St Augustine, full of Indians don’t appear to have such nasty gangs like Laventille, Diego Martin, Arouca and other heavy Afro centric neighbourhoods? Good research territory for any enterprising socialist, but I doubt any in Trinidad will touch that hot potato. 

But back in the urban areas we have accelerated murders and gun violence, gangs openly controlling URP and other make work projects, guns everywhere, gangs controlling criminal activity in their territories and simply executing any interlopers or competition. I’ve noted the emergence of professional hit men cold bloodedly and calmly executing people and making no attempt to cover their faces. 

I see a lone gunman walking up to four men liming by the corner and firing a handgun at men scattering in all directions, killing three and wounding the fourth. It takes a pro to do that. I see an orange vendor at the roadside being executed at eight o’clock in the morning with 40 shots being fired at him. I see a 15 year old boy being killed and his cellphone taken and say you don’t need to kill a kid to get a cellphone. A young drug runner being killed as a lesson for others, maybe. I see a killer shooting up a car, killing two people and then calmly walking away. I see a couple found dead in their car at the side of the road and ask why didn’t the killer take the car and sell it to a chop shop for $10,000 at least. These all seem like executions to me, done by professionals who know their business.  

Most scary is the reported division of some urban areas into warring territories where a person can be killed for simply walking on the government road into another gang’s territory. I remember seeing a BBC television story where a man from East Dry River told the incredulous reporter that he would be killed if he ventured into opposition territory 200 metres away. 

I said to myself that makes no sense on the surface. Why would I kill someone just for walking onto my street? But then I remembered that if my gang controlled that turf, I would not welcome that stranger coming to sell drugs in my territory. I wouldn’t want him coming to get protection from businesses in my territory. I wouldn’t want him thinking he could get the government contract for URP make-work in my turf. I wouldn’t want him pimping the hookers living in my turf. I wouldn’t want him trying to take dealer’s cut in gambling in my turf. I wouldn’t shoot the stranger just because he was wearing the wrong colour jersey. I would shoot him because there was solid liquid cash involved and he wasn’t coming to take any of mine. 

If this kind of gang activity is going on over large parts of the country, if the drug trade is out of control, if the police can’t or won’t make any headway, if the local government structures are being controlled by dark forces, if some political forces are encouraging and benefitting from the nonsense, if the once dominant petroleum economy is taking the eight count, if the average citizen sees no hope, good old TT is indeed a failed narco petro gang state.

I will say to my fellow Trinis and Tobagonese still living in the land of the humming bird what my old headmaster used to say, “This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you!” 

Writing this column, I mean. Something not so good has happened to Trinidad and Tobago, and is happening today. It’s something many Trinis can’t see and don’t want to see, and it’s hard to blame them. But reality is not helped by lies, especially lies to yourself. 

Trinidad and Tobago, you have a problem. Correction, Trinidad and Tobago, we have a problem. First step is recognizing that we have a problem and we need help, and the next step is creating a solution and applying it no matter how intense the pain. There isn’t a lot of time to spare.