Commentary By Irwin Barry
Special To CaribWorldNews
CaribWorldNews, PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Tues. Jan. 25, 2010: While the country of Trinidad and Tobago licked its wounds and began the process of rebuilding, through the 1990s, tentacles of the South American drug trade reached across the waters and took root.
Trinidad and Tobago at the nearest point is a mere nine miles away from Venezuela; a few minutes by speed boats and fishing pirogues which traverse the Gulf of Paria. The country was suddenly plagued with desperate swarms of cocaine addicts. Petty thefts and break-ins increased exponentially, and then came gangland gunfights and assassinations in broad daylight, kidnappings and dead bodies either left where they had fallen or found in shallow graves.
Among the dead are several Unemployed Relief Project foremen. Over the years, organized criminals have been skimming millions of dollars in state funds via an unending chain of ghost gangs, fictitious names added to the payroll to which money is paid. In one brazen incident, the names of several American celebrities, including Mike Tyson and Jennifer Lopez, were submitted for payment.
A key person in making this happen is the project foreman who validates the names on the lists for payments. Those who have been killed are believed to have put up resistance to the corruption or were simply usurped by gunfire.
These alarming developments could not happen at a worse time. During those lean years of the 1990s several government institutions found themselves lacking resources. Hospitals were in need of medical supplies and bed space; police, the military and fire services valiantly trying to function in broken down stations, short of manpower, equipment and vehicles.
Local courts are clogged with close to half a million cases waiting to be heard; the long delays allowing criminals out on bail or their associates to intimidate witnesses or kill them outright. Some of these murders are ordered from behind the walls of the nation`s prisons where gangsters are provided with cell phones and other contraband by corrupt prison staff.
By 2002 a ray of light appeared at the end of this very dark tunnel. Natural gas prices increased substantially on the world market and coincided with discoveries of viable gas fields off the east coast of Trinidad. As if not learning from the first experience, one government minister in charge of the energy industries announced that a `tidal wave` of cash was heading for Trinidad and Tobago.
Another boom was on; this time with natural gas the new lifeguard rescuing the economy. A consortium of multinational energy corporations set about exploiting and monetizing this gas. In a few short years Trinidad and Tobago became the largest exporter of natural gas to the east coast of the United States amounting to 75 percent.
Abandoned dreams have been rekindled. A yet to be defined development plan called Vision 2020 is supposed to take the nation to first world status by the said year. As the billions roll in, a slew of government initiatives have either started or came on stream. Some of these projects are controversial and have raised the ire of the population.
Advances have been made, especially in education. More schools are been built and as they become available, the shift system which provided so much opportunities for predators and promiscuity is been phased out. There are a number of technical-vocational training programs aimed at providing highly skilled workers for the industries. Tertiary education which was out of the reach of many due to high cost is now paid for by the state for nationals who qualify.
There is a concern, 75 percent of the university population is young women; in contrast, young men are under-performing. Most of them are interested in finding work and earning their own dollars after secondary school. Others have fallen `through the cracks` and are attracted to the glitter of fast cars, `bling,` and money of the underworld.
During the lean years criminals took the upper hand; guns and gangs proliferated throughout the country. Billions of dollars are now been spent by the ministry of national security on: vehicles and equipment; on police surveillance airships, helicopters and offshore patrol vessels; on forensics and elite squads; all seemingly to no avail. Forty-six persons were killed by the police in 2009; added to the 506 murdered; yet the gangs keep growing.
The village of old once truncated the problem of crime at the toddler stage. Its replacement, government and private housing estates have thrust thousands of strangers together to form communities. Neighbors no longer correct other neighbor`s children; some grandparents are now in their thirties and forties, still learning from life and its mistakes, they have little to pass on to those in their charge. Among the young men gone astray, the new rites of passage involve owning and using a gun to kill someone and fathering children they will not live to see grow up.
Trinidad and Tobago`s problem is money; too much of it and too fast. Over two hundred billion dollars passed through the economy in the past six years. Somehow this wealth has created an uncaring lawless society where almost everyone is looking out for their share of the gas and oil pie. Criminals are taking theirs by force. This has driven a large proportion of citizens to live with trepidation behind burglar-proof bars. Those who can afford it have retreated to high priced, gated communities scattered on the islands; protected by: monitored closed-circuit TV, electronic sensors, razor wire, vicious dogs and armed guards, provided by more than five hundred security firms which have mushroomed all over the country since the 1970s.
This is a bittersweet rags to riches, back to rags, back to riches story. With the world economy in turmoil, gas prices down and local reserves on the decline, Trinidad and Tobago must solve its crime problems now or be completely overrun in the next cycle.
EDITOR`S NOTE: The writer, Irwin Barry, is a fifty-three year old father of two girls, lifelong participant in carnival; former co- bandleader and costume designer of Jouvert band `Mudders on the loose` and a full-time audio-visual technician. Part one of this article was published Monday at: http://www.caribbeanworldnews.com/middle_top_news_detail.php?mid=3092