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Major US Drug Bust Forces Trinidad & Tobago to Confront Parallel Economy

Late last week, news broke that a shipment containing over 700 pounds of cocaine, with a street value of US $100 million, was intercepted by US Customers and Border Patrol officials in Norfolk, Virginia. The contraband was hidden among juice cans which were being exported from Trinidad and Tobago.

Since the revelation, officers from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have arrived en masse on the island to investigate the matter; local authorities are cooperating and the company whose products were used to conceal the cocaine maintains that the shipment did not originate from their factory.

The case is already rife with contradictions: US authorities maintain the bust was a cold hit, while Trinidad and Tobago's Minister of National Security has suggested there was a tip-off. His latest statements on the matter appear aimed at convincing the local population that the “big fish” will be caught; the DEA, according to reports, also seems intent on making arrests.

Bloggers and social media users are looking on with interest. Diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch couldn't quite swallow what the Minister of National Security was saying when it came to the alleged tip-off:

Now, you’d wonder why, in this day and age of rapid information disbursement and verification, why someone like Griffith…would bother to lie. I can only assume that they think the typical Rock Crawler is a functional fool.

Phillip Edward Alexander, who blogs at Plain Talk, began his post by reminding people of the many recent drug busts on the island:

Following on the almost billion dollar drug bust found a few years ago in the hull of a yacht bound for Spain outfitted in T&T, the six hundred million dollars worth of cocaine intercepted at Monos down the islands for which a handful of small fries are spending life in prison, and the soft drink that killed a foreign national ‘accidentally’ in the branded bottle of a Company now in the international spotlight once again as another of its brands are found to contain seven hundred and thirty pounds of narcotics, I turn my attention to the drug trade in Trinidad & Tobago.

At a local car dealership in San Juan a shipping container was opened and millions of dollars worth of drugs literally fell out onto the floor. A container full of chicken was opened on the port and found to contain again millions of dollars worth of drugs for which no one has been arrested, and, on the heels of both of those discoveries I ask, why has it not become mandatory that all shipping containers be unstuffed on the port? A surgeon in east Trinidad has removed drugs from the stomach of a drug mule without reporting the matter to the police, and from what can be gleaned from the sanitized media stories, both surgeon and mule are still free to continue plying their trade. What is to become of this?

He discussed the issue of corruption in society:

In a society where most people are readily bribed and corrupted over the smallest of things, who is supposed to bell this cat? And what could be that person's motive in a population again notorious for standing with the bad guy, in seeking naked self interest over any notion of a national one?

Where would we start? At the top where the drug lords live? At the bottom where foot soldiers fight for turf? In the middle where the mechanics of the drug trade goes to work?

He also placed some responsibility on the shoulders of the judicial system:

Because of the sheer size and scope of the drug problem emanating from T&T and compounded by our woefully bad interdiction and prosecution rate, we are forced to base all premises on the assumption that our entire system is compromised. Any attempt to clean up the place will be frustrated if one link in the chain is broken by incompetence or corruption and sometimes the solution is as simple as admitting that we cannot handle a problem ourselves, that we need help.

He also offered suggestions as to how to deal with the problem, but questioned whether the country had the “national will for such choices”:

Our next steps should include turning responsibility of the policing of our borders…over to international assistance with the creation of a maritime ‘stop and search’ policy for all craft, the establishment of an inter-agency drug task force that includes Customs & Excise, an anti-drug unit within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service to investigate and bring to conclusion all drug related matters, a Revenue Monitoring Authority to identify disproportional wealth and a specially appointed Drug Crimes Prosecutor charged with dealing only with drug related crimes.

Customs should be given a far greater role and should be encouraged to ‘license’ and police all so established licensed fishing ports, in the setting up offices everywhere water craft land…and the unstuffing of all shipping containers on the nation's ports as a totally preventative measure.

Twitter didn't have much commentary on the topic, save for this tweet by Kamsha Maharaj, inresponse to a question from @BBCWorld asking “What made you say ‘wow’ on social media today?”:

On Facebook, by comparison, the bust seemed to be all that people were discussing. The Trinidad Express Newspapers Facebook page attracted a barrage of commentary, with most users of the social network expressing a lack of confidence in the Minister of National Security and the protective forces that operate underneath him.

Craig Shand added:

Min of Trade explaining that cargo leaving Trinidad is (as a rule) not scanned or examined for illegal goods/products. This as it's a well documented fact that Trinidad is a known transshipment point for drugs, guns, illegal goods and people – human trafficking. Shame bloody shame on the minister for being so cavalier about this reality and shame on every past administration for theirs not being the last that this was a reality. Don't we owe it to the region to do better don't we owe it to the world to fight the evil that is illicit trade…Don't we owe it to ourselves to do the right thing instead of turning a convenient blind eye. Maybe I'm idealistic, maybe I'm just a Trini that expects too must from his government…Maybe I'm just damn fed up.

When Trinidadians get fed up, they turn to humour – so naturally, the memes were the next to appear, like these two, which were posted on the Facebook page Meanwhile in T&T:

godfather

calcium

As investigations continue, the online community is sure to keep a close eye on developments.

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