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Drug haul exposes economy

Newsday Editorial

What is the value of the illegal economy in Trinidad and Tobago? The question assumes particular significance in light of two major drug busts over the past week. The first, in Central Trinidad, netted illegal drugs with a street value of $500 million. The second, on Monos island, had a street value of $700 million.

This kind of money has all kinds of implications for the countryís crime rate, as well as official corruption. If we assume that these two hauls represent regular traffic, and that several more such shipments have passed through this country undetected, then it is reasonable to say that Trinidad and Tobago has an underground economy worth several billion dollars annually.

If this is so, then the gang warfare that has now become a common feature in our society is quite understandable. The young men killing one another are not just mindless psychopaths, but casualties in a battle for significant resources. Moreover, this conflict is not over drug money alone. It appears that the State has also contributed to the situation by its mishandling the largesse of the Unemployment Relief Programme.

Both drugs and the URP came up in the latest round of gang warfare in the Diego Martin area. The police, who apparently do have intelligence on gang activities, had predicted that the murder of gang leader Glenroy Charles, aka Abdul Malick, would result in reprisals. According to the report by Samuel McKnight in last Mondayís Newsday, 27-year-old Malick, a member of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, controlled gangs from Maraval to Petit Valley. It was because of his control that those areas had fewer robberies and murders than other areas with similar demographics. This does not mean that the area had less crime per se - Malickís control undoubtedly rested on his disbursement of drug profits and, perhaps, URP monies.

This fits what little is known about the sociology of criminal gangs. The gangs are operated like a business. Malick might have been equivalent to a senior manager. The corner drug dealer is akin to a retailer, while the gunmen are the security who protect the shipments. But the crucial aspect of the comparison is this - just as business people donít want war because it disrupts commerce, so too gang leaders donít want battles over turf because it cuts profits.

If this is so, it leads to a disturbing conclusion - that a basic reason that Laventille has been a hotbed of murderous activities, while Diego Martin has not, is because Laventille does not have strong gang leaders. It also means that areas which are part of the drug trans-shipment industry in Trinidad - these inevitably being mostly poor and urban - are eventually going to be subject to murderous reprisals as gang leaders are killed out.

The solution, obviously, is not to help gang leaders - or, as some now call them, "community leaders" - to become more powerful, but to cut the heart out of the drug trade. It is also becoming apparent that something has to be done about the URP. Only if the authorities take action to make both unprofitable, and to give the young men involved other options, will we reduce the violent crime and murders in our country.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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