By Raffique Shah
May 18, 2014
Last Friday, according to news reports, rumours of an imminent coup triggered a virtual self-evacuation of Port of Spain, leading to the early closure of some businesses and traffic jams on roads leading out of the capital city.
Now, the minister had nothing to do with the prank call or Internet posting that prompted the panic. However, two weeks ago, in the wake of the murder of Dana Seetahal, Griffith announced that the country was on “orange alert”. Before that, no one, maybe not even the security forces, knew that there existed a colour-coded system of threats to national security.
Even if the National Security Council instituted such codes, why alert the public to them? And what in Dana’s murder posed a threat to national security? As far as we know, the killers did not follow up their clinical hit with threats or attempts on the lives of other judicial or state officials.
Such alarmist language served only to make people jittery.
Even as he assures the nation that “another 1990 (attempted coup) will not happen under my watch”, Griffith is undermining the very confidence among the population that he seeks to instil.
Again, according to recent reports, the minister is quoted as confirming that Cabinet has purchased 20 armoured SUVs and 15 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) for the security forces. What madness is this? Who advised Cabinet to spend US $50 million (my estimate) on war-zone equipment that we do not need?
Is Cabinet convinced that the crime situation in Trinidad has reached the levels of violence that are commonplace in Kabul, Baghdad or Belfast?
APCs are fearsome-looking military vehicles. They resemble tanks, only they do not carry guns as huge as the 120 mm pack howitzer. They are usually armed with 360-degrees, swivel-mounted medium machine guns that pack immense firepower. They carry eight to ten troops, who are protected by armour from rifle and machine gun fire.
One APC, operating with full fire and force in a crime “hot spot” like John John or Bagatelle, can literally level a cluster of maybe 100 houses, killing or maiming hundreds of people, in, say, fifteen minutes. Is that what we want to see in this country?
I know there are many who would respond with a resounding, “Yes!” With crime being endemic, and violence rising to almost epidemic proportions, the majority of people want an end to it—by any means necessary.
But trust me, as someone who trained with APCs, tanks, helicopter gunships and such powerful armaments, you don’t want to go there. There is no turning back, no return to normality once you militarise a country with such firepower.
Look, I am fed up with the crime and criminals and I want to see some semblance of sanity in my country. Our problem in fighting crime is not a lack of firepower—Minister Griffith knows that. Our weakness is in gathering and utilising intelligence, in tracking and trapping the perpetrators, and in bringing them to justice swiftly.
Allow me to do a mini-balance sheet of current firepower. The criminals are armed mostly with semi-automatic pistols that they use indiscriminately. They don’t shoot a victim with two or three rounds: they fire 20 to 30…they empty their magazines. This suggests not only are they poor shots (invariably, they shoot from point blank range), but they must have vast supplies of ammunition.
The police have found a few rifles (mainly AK-47s and AR-15s), and a few sub-machine guns (Uzis, Tech-9s). There is no evidence that these weapons have been used routinely by criminals.
In contrast, the police are armed with the best pistols, sub-machine guns and rifles, which they are trained to use. The armed forces have all of the above plus light and medium machine guns, anti-tank weapons, grenades, mortars and explosives.
In other words, our law-enforcement and other agencies far out-man and out-gun the criminals. They do not need armoured vehicles or APCs as additional firepower. What they need is accurate intelligence that will enable them to identify the culprits and go after them with their current firepower—either bringing them in or taking them out.
Clearly, the weak link in fighting crime is, and has always been, poor gathering of intelligence and the reluctance of agencies so commissioned to share information. I had thought that with the advent of the National Operations Centre, equipped as it is with the most advanced technology, the criminals’ long run would come to an end.
Two weeks after Dana’s death, I feel less confident. Worse, with Minister Griffith’s alarmist actions, I wonder if we might be entering a new phase of the war, this time with camouflage-coloured APCs rumbling through our streets, with heavy, indiscriminate fire pouring from real weapons of war.
Little wonder there is disquiet among the populace, and there are rumours of war. As a presumably competent Sandhurst-trained officer, Captain Griffith must take the tactical high ground from where he can strike effectively and decisively against the enemy…end of story.