Trinidad & Tobago: Guns here to stay


Eastern Port of Spain has been labeled as ’among the most dangerous places on the planet’ by an international research body that tracks the growth of small arms and crime.

In its report dated December 31, 2009, the Small Arms Survey of Switzerland explored the rise of criminal gangs and gangster-styled killings in Trinidad and Tobago and concluded the country’s gun problems were not going to go away. The 53-page report is entitled “No Other Life-Gangs, Guns and Governance in Trinidad and Tobago.”

It opens with the tale of known gangster and sometimes political golden boy Sean “Bill” Francis who was gunned down last year, his body riddled with 50 bullets. This section of the report, says the author, Dorn Townsend, is meant to “set the scene.”

Townsend paints a grim picture of a wealthy but corrupt, segregated and generally “out-of-its-league” island nation that appears to be falling before even reaching grace.

Stating in the paper’s executive summary that gun-related homicides have increased 1,000-fold in the last decade, Townsend goes on in the next chapter to recall at the start of the 21st century, T&T was pegged to be the jewel of the Caribbean, a haven of relative stability.

“That is no longer the case,” he said. The report is based on information garnered from various local sources, including the media, police, university professors and non-governmental organizations.

“This 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 territory where drugs are sold,” the report said.

Townsend said the explosion of this type of crime occurred during a period of unparalleled economic development and that up to the 2008/2009 economic downturn, T&T enjoyed one of the steadiest economic growth rates in the world.
“Overwhelmingly,” Townsend stated, “the violence is occurring among the country’s poor, urban, African rather that its Indian or Caucasian residents. Primarily, city blacks are the victims.”

The report refers to or focuses, in several instances, on places known locally as hot spots, such as Laventille and Gonzales, and mentions efforts by legitimate community and church leaders to bring peace to these areas.
Yet, Townsend stated: “T&T’s society though small in size is significantly complex, such that as a variety of forces stand arrayed against efforts at improvement.”

Exploring the alleged and known relationships between political leaders and gang leaders, Townsend stated, “Also arrayed, or covertly arrayed, against such pressures for stability are the leaders of political parties who cultivate goodwill with gangs.”

Townsend concluded: “The above progressive and retrogressive forces are only suggestive of what is unfolding with regard to gangs and guns in T&T. Other markers of the problems may be brought to the fore. In turn, concerned stakeholders may develop a viable strategy for peace while controlling elements of the violent status quo.

“In any event, the nation’s problems with guns is not going to go away. Steps by the government to bolster law enforcement and curb smuggling are hobbled by a worsening of civic attitudes, ie citizens are downright cynical about the ability of the State to reverse the mayhem caused by guns and gangs.”

The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Developmental Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

It was established in 1999 and is supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairsn while being sustained by contributions from the governments of Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK.

The project’s objective is, among others, to serve as the principal source of public information on all aspects of small arms and armed violence, as a resource centre for governments, policy-makers, researchers and activists, to monitor national and international initiatives (governmental and non) on small arms.