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In the jaws of the drug trade

In the jaws of the drug trade

In the space of the past three months, cocaine valued at an estimated quarter-billion dollars has landed in Trinidad.

In May, the police intercepted a massive shipment of 168 kilogrammes of cocaine in Chaguaramas with an estimated value of $234 million. Then last week, a bag with 36 packets of cocaine washed ashore on the western side of bpTT’s Guayaguayare compound. The police estimated its street value to be over $21 million and believe the find was part of a much larger shipment. There have been reports that other packets of cocaine as well as US currency were found in nearby waters around the same time by individuals who kept them.

Apart from the trail of bloodshed and mayhem that usually follows the seizure of a drug shipment by the police, we should all be bothered by Trinidad’s enduring attraction to South American drug traffickers and our country’s reputation as an easily accessed transshipment point for feeding the unquenchable demand for drugs in the US and Europe.

This trade has been going on for so long—about 50 years—that it is now so deeply embedded in the very fabric of the society that the question of securing the country from its nefarious impacts is not even on the agenda. Yet, just considering the infrastructure required to sustain this trade over so many years, and to keep the island as a viable safe harbour along the shipment route, should clue us in to how deep in the grip of the narco-trade our country is.

Its impact on T&T society, economics and politics has been profound and yet it remains one of the least discussed, investigated and researched areas, Daurius Figueira being a rare bird in this respect.

The trade in cocaine and other hard drugs has not only devastated lives through addiction and even death; it is the single most powerful factor responsible for the development and expansion of criminal gangs and the unstoppable inflow of illegal guns into the country. It has also fuelled the growth of an underground economy connected to the above-ground economy by money-laundering intermediaries and corrupted the political system by the purchase of influence through secret financing of political campaigns with untraceable money. Perhaps we will never know the extent to which the drug trade has weakened our institutions and impeded the progress of T&T in fulfilling the potential it so clearly has.

Our failure has been the inability to mount a serious response against the drug trade, including its armed minions whose weaponry now rival those of the protective services, and its big fish with empires too big to fail when considered against the overall health of the economy.

The choices that governments make and people accept are the best indicator of a country’s priorities. It says a lot about our national priorities that in an ocean awash with floating packages of cocaine and multi-million-dollar shipments of drugs, border security may be our weakest link.

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