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Research Report

No Other Life: Gangs, Guns, and Governance in Trinidad and Tobago

Dorn Townsend
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2009
Published by: Small Arms Survey
Pages: 55

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-8)
  2. (pp. 9-10)
  3. (pp. 12-12)
  4. (pp. 13-13)
  5. (pp. 14-14)
  6. (pp. 15-16)
  7. (pp. 17-20)

    In late April 2009, Sean ‘Bill’ Francis, 41—community activist, government contractor, mediator, ‘nefarious gang-leader’ (Kowlessar, 2009b), and suspected criminal mastermind—was gunned down while drinking beer near his home in the Morvant community east of Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago (T & T).² He was shot 50 times.³

    Such violent deaths are not all that unusual. By one count, currently in T & T (with a population of 1.3 million), every 17 hours someone is murdered (Heeralal, 2008b). Most victims die from gunshot injuries. Yet this count obscures just how concentrated much of the violence is....

  8. (pp. 21-26)

    As T & T entered the 21st century, it was widely perceived as a haven of relative stability in the Caribbean. That is no longer the case. The scene is not so much a ‘war zone’ as a ‘wild west’, and it is no exaggeration to say that poor urban areas of Trinidad in particular have become magnets for lawlessness as rival gangs vie for control of the territory where drugs are sold. Whereas in 1998 the country saw 98 murders in absolute terms, by 2008 that number had climbed to 550.⁶ According to police statistics, firearms were used in 437...

  9. (pp. 27-34)

    Overwhelmingly, the violence is occurring among the country’s poor, urban, African rather than its Indian or Caucasian residents. Primarily, city blacks are the victims.

    According to Maguire et al. (2008, p. 60), higher homicide rates are evident in 7 of the country’s 71 police station districts. The greatest danger has been in the Besson Street police station district in the suburb of Laventille. This old, congested area is mainly made up of one- and two-storey dwellings. The terrain is quite hilly and the roads are narrow. Some areas have no sewers or pipeborne water except that from community taps located...

  10. (pp. 35-36)

    While some parts of T & T’s police perform admirably, such as the Repeat Offenders Task Force, numerous interviewees say that elements of the police force operate in ways similar to those of gangs, i.e. they operate drug corners, control the inflow of drugs, undertake large robberies, and commit extralegal murders. As of September 2009, 29 police were under suspension and 249 were facing formal criminal charges,42 out of a total force of about 6,500.

    Getting solid information on this situation is difficult and so much of what is related has to be acknowledged as hearsay. And yet there have been...

  11. (pp. 37-39)

    To survive, the main sources of income for gangs is the selling of marijuana and cocaine to neighbours who are users.45 Usually, this income is supplemented by cashing in on government contracts from the federal URP (Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 2008). Gangs typically thrive as hands-on completers of URP’s small-scale public works programmes.

    Another income-generating method is that gangs are permitted to greatly magnify the personnel needed to perform tasks such as lawn-mowing, cleaning up, and construction. Jobs that might require the efforts of only two or three labourers can be paid for as if 20 people had been employed....

  12. (pp. 40-47)

    Some of the following discussion on attempts to control the drug trade may seem tangential to a report on guns and gangs in T & T. However, law enforcement authorities point to a strong connection between the smuggling of guns and the smuggling of drugs, and the one problem is said to fuel the other (Booth and Forero, 2009)..

    In response to intense pressure from the US government, South American drug cartels have reportedly had to diversify their supply routes and methods. One example is the introduction by Colombian drug cartels of home-made submarines to ship drugs to North American coasts...

  13. (pp. 48-50)

    According to editors, newspaper circulation is climbing as readers strive to keep track of the havoc taking place around them. However, in the press, there is debate over whether gang disturbances ought to be covered at all. Some argue that front-page coverage glorifies and even champions criminal behaviour. Others maintain that the role of the press is to reflect what is happening in society. As such, the press is a force for change towards a less violenceafflicted and gun-ridden society. In a sense, it is helping to build a momentum for a civic order that would give greater security to...

  14. (pp. 51-52)
  15. (pp. 53-55)