Jack Warner Doesn't Want the World to Know About Trinidad's Drug Murders
Jack Warner used to be the Vice President of that long-standing harbourer of the corrupt, FIFA, but he resigned last year when he was accused of bribing some Caribbean football officials. Because the fact that he was caught on video doing so apparently means absolutely nothing, Warner was then appointed as Trinidad and Tobago's National Security Minister.
Mr Warner's most recent minor whoopsie-daisy came when he ordered Trinidadian police to stop releasing murder statistics, because he claims that reports of violence encourage people to commit more crime. And, presumably, because a murder happening every 17 hours (on average) doesn't make a Security Minister look particularly good at his job.
Most of the violence is committed by the hordes of drug smugglers who use Trinidad and Tobago as a go-between as they leave South America on their way to Europe and North America. The smugglers bring guns to protect their drugs, but leave without them, selling them on the streets to anyone with the right amount of cash and an overwhelming desire to kill another human.
Seyi Rhodes, a documentary-maker who we spoke to a while ago about Nigeria's millionaire preachers, made a film about Trinidad and Tobago's massive murder rates last year. Seyi visited while an 11PM curfew was in place in the capital city Port of Spain, and witnessed police making multiple arrests on murder suspects. I called him up to get his opinion on Jack Warner's crafty little plan.
Seyi during his trip to Trinidad, standing in front of five men who had just been arrested.
VICE: Hey Seyi. So you went when the curfew had just been introduced. What was the atmosphere on the streets like?
Seyi Rhodes: Hi Jamie. Things were pretty normal in the day, except for the huge rush to get things done before the curfew time. It definitely annoyed everyone who runs night-time businesses, but because it was done at a time that didn't affect Christmas or Carnival, and was only implemented for a short while, it didn't really get to the stage where people were kicking off about it.
The police had the right to go into anyone’s house whenever they wanted and arrest them. Was there any evidence that that was making the situation worse at all?
Yeah, a lot of people definitely found it antagonistic. Trinidad is a very split society and the borders of the curfew were quite carefully defined to regulate the poorer areas, so people in those areas obviously found it very intrusive. Another issue with that, which a lot of people raised at the time, is that they were only addressing the lower level criminals and not focusing on anyone at the top.
What do you personally think about this order from Jack Warner?
Well, for a start, I don't think it's going to work. I think the police almost instantly ignored it. The police have been told to withhold statistics in the past, too, so it's something that gets brought up quite often, but it never really works. Also, Trinidadian politics are very rhetorical; there are lots of flourishes and plenty of people having tantrums in the press, so I think this is just a passing thing. Plus, it's very difficult to get a law like that through. I think the only thing it will really do is put more pressure and scrutiny on the stats. And rightly so, because they're quite shocking.
One of the guns Seyi saw on his trip. Firearms are easy to get a hold of on the streets of Trinidad and account for around three quarters of all murders there.
Do you think there's any basis at all in what he's saying. Do the facts fuel a self-fulfilling prophecy at all?
No, I don't think so. When there are more murders, gang members are aware that there are more murders and that there are more people getting away with it. Releasing the figures just makes the middles classes aware.
Yeah. Do you think this is just going to dent politicians' reputations more?
Well, Trinidadians are a pretty cynical bunch at the best of times, so I don't think this is going to help the relationship between the politicians and their people very much. A lot of opinions about the politicians are tied up in conspiracy theories – who's in league with who, which politician is in which drug smuggler's pocket – blah, blah, blah.
Sure. Did you form any opinion on what might help solve the crisis while you were out there?
That's a really tough one. Drug smuggling isn’t something that can be controlled very easily, but I think it’s something that they should be focusing on. It's basically impossible to stop drugs from being smuggled through the country, but a much stronger approach from the legal perspective would help.
Locking people up rather than letting them go and not showing anyone the statistics?
Yeah, if people were being given proper punishments, it would at least show that Trinidad isn’t a country where people can get away with this sort of thing,
But that's going to take a while.
Yeah, it's so wound up in the society there now. Also, Trinidad is one of those countries where there’s a lot of competition between the different arms of government – so, between the police and the politicians in charge of the police, for example. If egos could be left out of it, I think that would make a huge difference.
Like, with the curfew, police didn't really know what they were doing and the courts thought it was a load of rubbish and were more focused on not affecting people's rights, so the lack of coordination meant it never really worked. If they can coordinate better, it might actually make some sort of difference.
Okay. Thanks, Seyi!
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