There may now be a new and valid explanation as to why there are so many high powered weapons on the streets in Trinidad, how they are ending up in the hands of violent gangsters and why 2022 may be a record year for murders in the island nation.
Reports emerging this week frighteningly indicate that more than 19,000 of 23,000 shipping containers which came from abroad this year bearing merchandise had breezed through the customs and law enforcement system because the state scanners were not working. They were not searched.
Additionally, there is a dire shortage of customs officers to manually rummage through the containers so many are being sent out of the system without checks for weapons and other illegal items.
This much came out of a parliamentary hearing this week involving top government officials including Police Chief McDonald Jacob, Customs head Vidyah Marcial and others.
One very important vignette that popped out of the hearing is that authorities will have to dispel the belief that gofast boats from across the Gulf of Paria in nearby Venezuela are not the source for the majority of guns smuggled into the island. Most come from the US and other destinations, some even making it in boxes from courier services like FedEx. “We have a whole list of different locations in relation to the FedEx where it has been breached in relation to the courier service. There are some other minor ones but the main one we have identified is FedEx,” Jacob said.”
However he said that most illegal firearms come into TT through official ports of entry and come from the US, unlike the belief held by the police until recently that weapons mainly came from Venezuela by small boats on lonely beaches at night. Most firearms are coming through legal ports of entry,” he said.
He pointed to arms shipments from Baltimore, Georgia and Texas as main areas of concern.
The hearings are being held as the country is on course for a record breaking year for murders. Police have already counted 555 killings at the start of this month already, easily beating the 2008 figure of 530.
This has led to calls this week for Security Minister Fitz Hinds to be fired or replaced as the situation is spiraling out of control. In one bloody weekend recently, police were forced to probe 14 murders.
The lawmakers were told that cops have seized 116 sub-machine guns and rifles of the 626 weapons taken off the streets this year so far.
Lawmaker Paul Richards noted that police had seized a total of 28,000 guns between 2017-22.
“It takes a lot of time and energy to mop up all these guns. It takes a tremendous amount of effort because as you said, 87 per cent of murders, the tool is firearms. I don’t feel good about it at all, “the chief said.
Similarly shaken up by the revelations, the local manufacturers association called for immediate redress
“Traditionally, TTMA has lobbied for greater efficiency on the port and has, in the past, welcomed the introduction of scanners to aid in this efficiency. The reports of these scanners not working are concerning and its negative impact on the ease of doing business cannot be denied,” President Tricia Coosal stated.