Probe Coast Guard shooting

Probe Coast Guard shooting Express Editorial
The shooting incident involving the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard which resulted in the killing of a baby and injury to his mother demands a full and independent enquiry.


Comment from Kian

I am deeply disturbed by the reporting of the Coast Guard actions against the Venezuelan boat that caused the death of an infant.

As a nation, we need to understand our constitution, institutions and the purpose of their existence and operations. The constitution allows a government (run by politicians), the Judiciary (run by qualified judges, magistrates etc), armed services (army, coast guard, police, air & sea support). The armed services are NOT civilian controlled. In the case of the Army and Coast Guard, they represent our line of defense against armed insurrection, enemy invasion and border patrol.

Border patrol by its nature is NOT a humanitarian operation, even though there are occasions when in the course of their duties they may undertake missions such as the rescue of individuals and search for missing people and bodies. The operation mission of the Coast Guard described by the media is, by its nature MILITARY. Not rescue, not humanitarian.

That means that force might and could be inevitable. Again, the action described by the media (the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the country) is NOT a mission of mercy. To make matters worse, the Pilot of the boat engaged in an offensive action by attempting to ram into the Coast Guard’s ship. The re-action of the Coast Guard MUST be military in nature, against the perpetrators. It is therefore valid and within its right to defend itself against piracy and aggression. As an ex-military person, I am appalled to see the extent of the media persecuting the actions of the military without an official report on the incident.

It is unfortunate that a child became a casualty of the operation. But it is damning to hear the comments coming out of the mouths of politicians and civilian officials. To me, it shows a sign of ignorance of people who regard themselves as ‘learned’ and ‘servants of the people’. I felt compelled to add my piece to this reporting because it seems like the civil part of our population has gone on a course that is contrary to the purposes for which we serve. While the Coast Guard may humanly regret the result of their operation. They were within their rights and the law to defend the country against perpetrators regardless of how they look or how old they might be. That is the OATH the military takes.

I have heard comments emanating from public figures to the nature that the action should be treated as criminal – RUBBISH!!!! It is a defensive operation that occasioned the death of a helpless infant and for that, we ALL should express our heartfelt sorrow. The accusations especially by the politicians and public officials are STUPID because they Monty know how to differentiate a civilian operation from a military operation.

I just felt compelled to make this observation because people’s comments are all over the place as though the Coast Guard went out on a police operation to intimidate the oncoming boat.

The media need to do a better job of informing the population when incidents like this occur. The military always does a post-mortem on operations such as this one and there will be a report. But I hate when ill-informed politicians make ill-informed statements.

9 thoughts on “Probe Coast Guard shooting”

  1. This is an Express report.
    THE SHOOTING death of a Venezuelan baby on Saturday night shines an appalling light on operational standards in the TT Coast Guard as well as on this country’s record when it comes to the treatment of illegal immigrants.

    It goes without saying that a thorough and independent investigation must take place. However, such a probe may not be enough. The damage has already been done.

    Before Saturday, this country’s reputation when it came to the treatment of children and women immigrants was already severely compromised. Our authorities have had little qualms in separating families and dealing with cases extra-judicially, often conducting deportations in defiance of court proceedings and via dangerous routes at sea.

    Officials have often been aware of, or indeed sanctioned, many such operations, with humanitarian concerns frequently trumped by base immigration rhetoric. This situation has created a feeling that there is a sense of deliberate defiance to the rule of law and international norms.

    In relation to Saturday’s incident, the Coast Guard claims the intercepted vessel attempted to evade capture. At the same time, it claims the same vessel tried to ram the Coast Guard vessel. Warning shots were fired. Shots were aimed at the engine. Bullets struck a nine-month-old baby and his mother. The baby is now dead and the mother in a hospital bed.

    It was not known if there were illegal immigrants on board.

    All of these claims will inevitably raise red flags.

    The public is by now very familiar with stories of officers claiming to have come under fire before firing their own shots. Such claims are often contradicted by eyewitnesses or members of a community who attest to abuse of power.

    One report has already stated the vessel on Saturday was simply attempting to turn around. What is clear is that it was not unreasonable to assume such a vessel had people in it.

    Even if we take the Coast Guard’s claim of acting in self-defence as the plain truth, there are still very serious questions about whether this use of force was proportionate. An investigation is needed which takes into account the claims not only of the Coast Guard but also those on board the vessel at the time.

    Ironically, the diplomatic fallout from the incident has managed to do the seemingly impossible: unite Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his rival Juan Guaido in their opprobrium.

    The Prime Minister’s attempt to placate Venezuelan authorities on Sunday by speaking with Mr Maduro’s Vice President (and wife) Delcy Rodríguez clearly did not prevent Mr Maduro from publicly calling out TT a day later.

    There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul, the late, great Nelson Mandela once said, than the way it treats its children.

    Saturday’s death, following well-publicised acts of violence against children as well as so many young people going missing in TT, is yet another sign that something is terribly wrong in our country. Even the Venezuelans are discovering this.

  2. Deeply troubled waters Newsday Editorial
    THE SHOOTING death of a Venezuelan baby on Saturday night shines an appalling light on operational standards in the TT Coast Guard as well as on this country’s record when it comes to the treatment of illegal immigrants.

    Politicisation of a migrant tragedy Guardian Editorial
    While investigations are being conducted into the unfortunate encounter between a Venezuelan vessel loaded with migrants and an interceptor from the T&T Coast Guard on Saturday night, it is unseemly for politicians in this country to get into a tit-for-tat over the issue.
    First, there was the use of the word “murder” by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar as she put a particular spin on how Ya Elvis Santoyo Sarabia died in the arms of his mother, Darielvis Sarabia. In doing so, she appeared to be buying into a narrative already being spread by Venezuela’s opposition and media about what transpired on Saturday night in the Gulf of Paria.
    And it certainly did not help that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not resist the urge to respond to his political rival. However, his insistence that it was an accident draws a conclusion not yet arrived at by the teams from the T&T Police Service (TTPS) and the T&T Coast Guard (TTCG) investigating the incident

    Pointless political duel Express Editorial
    In a sensitive situation that demands highly responsible discourse, our national leaders are choosing to engage in pointless political duelling that serves neither justice nor diplomacy.

  3. Why is ‘Express’ ignoring Maduro’s narco-trafficking charges? Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
    Please permit me to respond to your editorial entitled “Pointless political duel”, published yesterday.
    I strongly object to your assertion that my use of the term “narco-trafficking regime” to describe the authoritarian government run by Nicolás Maduro to be “insulting” and “not in the national interest”.

    Not so, Kamla Express Editorial
    In the same way that manslaughter is not to be confused with murder, indictment is not to be confused with conviction.

    1. When politicians vie for leadership of our country we must take note of the words they otter in the competitive atmosphere to gain popular favor. If we are to take seriously the the position taken by the Opposition Leader, who is vying for leadership of this country, two things are troubling: (1) As the Official Leader of the Opposition she is of the view that “murder” was committed by the Coast Guard during the official duties carried out in protecting our national borders. (2) She has put herself on record as the Official Opposition Leader of Trinidad and Tobago, a sovereign nation, that she fully support of the United States characterization of the Leader of Venezuela’s Government as a “narco trafficking regime”. I wish to ask Ms Bissessar, if she as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago would take these same exact positions?

      Just from a casual point of view, using the word “murder” to describe the unfortunate death of a child by the country’s security forces during an official defensive exercise is at least careless, unlawful and unwise. When the military is sent out ‘to defend’ our country casualties may occur. I have NEVER heard any responsible person describe military action taken in defense of their country as “murder”. To use such term, especially by one vying for leadership of the same forces she hopes to lead, CANNOT in good conscience be considered patriotic. As someone with a background in law, it is ill-considered to use that term to describe the death. For ‘murder’ to be accepted there MUST be ‘intent’ – basic law.

      Venezuela is a neighboring country that shares close borders with us. The United States is three thousand miles away. We in Trinidad have ‘a democracy’ while they have something else. It might be called a dictatorship or autocracy and the leader may or may not be engaged in narco dealing. But it is NOT in our interest or political interest to bluntly make such callous statements. Regardless on its type of government, we4 should strive to be and act as neighbors to Venezuela. We do not have to like its policies, but as neighbors we will from time to time have to ask neighborly favors of each other (diplomatically). As a small country, we do not have the military prowess or clout to deter the visions of that country, so why create such a vexing argument?

      I think if Ms Bissessar were to re-examine her statements, she would find that someone holding the position she does and intending to lead, should be more tactful in the use of language to describe your next-door neighbor country.

  4. My contention remains that the emphasis on the outcome of the incident is all that the media is focused on. A lot of information is missing. Why was the Coast Guard intervening?
    What is the role of the Coast Guard? What prompted the engagement with the boat in question? Who authorized the operation? Did the media seek clarification of the incident from the officials at the Coast Guard? Why is the concentration ONLY on the death of the child and no mention is made of the purpose of the ship carrying the passengers? Most of what have been put in publication are opinions of the outcome. Is national security important or NOT? One gets the impression from reading these stories that Our Coast Guard was ‘out of place’ and acted like badass police rather than a responsible nation security agent defending the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. We live by a constitution, we ought to obey our national laws and regulations, as the frontline to protecting our borders, it is the right of our military (Coast Guard, Air Guard or Army) to protect us from internal, foreign or enemy aggression, be it mild or aggressive.
    Again, no one is contending that the outcome is not regrettable – it is, but where is the official report? Has the media approached Coast Guard command to get their views of the incident? Yet they gave the Opposition Leader leader more than ten minutes to air her views to the public without even mentioning one word of official comment from the military. Does the incident than the military. Is that responsible reporting? Anyone with commonsense will view this as bias.

    An objective view of the reporting, will find that the media is lacking in the protocol they attach to reporting serious incidents regarding nation security and diplomacy. There is much more to this story than the death of an innocent infant. The cause of death has everything to do with what conspired by the actions of the adults than the loss. This is where I find the media lacking in its publication of a very serious matter.

  5. One wonders why the Coast Guard , like most law enforcement agencies in times of crisis , has not called a press conference to report on this incident.
    The Prime Minister should not be the spokesperson for the Coast Guard. It is political interference which raises suspicions and mistrust.
    The government does not instruct or explain the actions of the law enforcement agencies in most democracies. Well, T&T is a different place.

  6. Statement 1.
    “One wonders why the Coast Guard , like most law enforcement agencies in times of crisis , has not called a press conference to report on this incident.”

    Statement 2.
    “The Prime Minister should not be the spokesperson for the Coast Guard. It is political interference which raises suspicions and mistrust.”

    Statement 3.
    “The government does not instruct or explain the actions of the law enforcement agencies in most democracies. Well, T&T is a different place.”

    Although we accept and express ourselves as a government designed and operating as a democracy, many of us have our own ideas of what constitutes a vision of what democracy is. Most democracies are run and operated by a constitution. Within that constitution many laws, regulations, treaties are made and enacted to satisfy the operating principles of the constitution. We get into trouble when there is a deviation of those principles.
    Some deviations result in coups, maladministration, corruption, dictatorships and one-man-rule. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago WE OPERATE AS A DEMOCRACY. That means each entity of government supported institutions operate with different laws and rules, but the responsibility ALWAYS
    remain in the hands of politicians (the government). IN our case, the operating head is the Prime Minister (a politician). Let me reiterate what the role of the military is. Unlike most institutions of government, the military’s role is different. It is the ONLY institution that asks its members to take an oath to DEFEND the country against friends and foes alike. It defends against enemies both foreign and domestic. It defends in war and in peace. Functionally, it operates under the auspices of the government in question (whatever form it takes). That means whatever happens, the head of government (civilian and politician) bears the ultimate responsibility.

    While we are all governed by the constitution and laws of the country. The military adhere to specific laws enacted by the Defense Act of 1962. That’s the primary laws the Army, Coast Guard, Air Defense and other military agencies respond to.
    The Coast Guard DOES NOT OWE the country an explanation.
    The Prime Minister ‘may invite’ the head of the military to engage in an explanation but the responsibility of explaining actions of the military lies with the Prime Minister (the head of government). It is the same reason why when major killings in big cities of the U.S, the Mayor of the City almost always head the delegation of explainers, that might include the police commissioner or heads of military agencies to explain incidents of actions taken.

    The answer to statement number is YES. The Prime Minister is the legitimate spokesman for any actions taken by the military because he (or she) is the head of government and the military is under NO OBLIGATION to explain military exercises to the civilian public. That can only be done by the government. If the Coast Guard were to come out on its own to explain its operation on a defensive exercise at the borders of the country, Court Marshall can be a consequence because thats not their legitimate role.

    To answer statement number three. IT DEPENDS!!!!!
    The military may take COVERT action or OVERT action. Covert actions are usually lead with a high degree of sensibility and confidentiality. The military, in conjunction with government determines what is covert and what may be considered overt.
    A lot of sensibilities may instruct what the population needs to know (or not know).

    Every member of society CANNOT BE PRIME MINISTER. That is why we elect a government to run the country. Case in point.
    When Kenny Maharaj was due to retire as head of the Defense Force in accordance with the age requirement of the Defense Act of 1962, the then Prime Minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar, ordered that he be given an extra year (in contradiction of the Defense Act ) to command the military. She acted acted (rightly or wrongly) as head of the government. The action that she took was in contravention of military law and practice.

    In summary, democracy is not a spectator sport. We may or may not like the play called by the coach(the head of government), but he calls the shots (rightly or wrongly). And it is our democratic right to agree or disagree with the action.

  7. Really!
    I was under the distinct that the Commander in chief of the Military of T&T is the President , Paula Mae-Weeks?
    As the expert on this matter , I defer to you, Kian.
    I stand corrected.

    1. It is with good reason I never mentioned the President of Trinidad and Tobago. Her official position within the Government is that of ‘president’, which is a non-elected and purely ceremonial role. Her role is dictated by the constructs set aside by the constitution. Her role can be likened to that of the Queen in Britain. While ALL government stationery and official government Letters carry the official authority “On Her Majesty’s Service” in England, she plays no operative role.
      The same goes for our president. She CANNOT instruct the military how to act, unless it is done with the consent of the Prime Minster or Minister of National Security.

      When we disregard national security or treat it as political acumen, we run the risk of hurting ourselves, our community and our country. Take the recent ‘Blackout’ for example. There is not a person, place or thing that did not get affected negatively by it.
      Yet, the media continues not to allow the responsible agencies to investigate without political interruptions. There is always a role for politics in all matters of national importance. But it must not be seen as obstructive to the solutions that MUST be solved by experts first, then reported to the public. This is NOT a UNC or PNM or MSJ or COP issue. It is an issue that affects every single one of us, so we MUST respect the authority of those with the expertise to find out what went wrong. There is NOT a single politician that I know who have that expertise, so we must therefore allow them the comfort of executing their knowledge and report with solutions, so that a recurrence will not occur.
      That is responsible management and the politicians should not believe that they alone have the nation’s business at heart.

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