AS BARBADOS’ HOMICIDE RATE climbs and Trinidad and Tobago’s, along with Jamaica’s, goes through the roof, the inevitable question arises: where are the guns coming from?
After all, guns aren’t made in Barbados or anywhere in CARICOM. When Prime Minister Mia Mottley was asked the question in New York, she showed remarkable diplomatic restraint in New York recently, but declined to answer.
“It’s not an issue I am going to deal with today,” she told the Barbados Naiton at the Barbados Government diplomatic offices in Manhattan, where three CARICOM leaders – Timothy Harris, chairman of the regional grouping and Prime Minister of St Kitts-nevis; Dr Keith Rowley, Trinidad and Tobago’s leader, and Mottley, held back-to-back meetings with delegations from the various UN regions on the hot button issue of Venezuela and how to solve the looming nightmare in the South American country.
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, a country which, according to law enforcement authorities in Port of
Spain, is being victimised by the unceasing flow of Venezuelan guns across the narrow waterway separating Venezuela and the CARICOM republic, took a different stance and for good reason.
He spoke firmly about the issue of guns, crime and homicides in the Caribbean, saying the region had every reason to be deeply worried about what was happening in Venezuela and its impact on the region’s economy and crime.
“Just remember that Trinidad and Tobago at one point is three miles apart from Venezuela and at another point we are seven miles apart. We are Venezuela’s closest neighbour across the Caribbean Sea. We have a personal interest in this matter,” said Rowley, as he took time out from a CARICOM diplomatic initiative designed to forestall any foreign intervention in the Bolivarian Republic to explain why he had joined the CARICOM mission on Venezuela.
Like Mottley and Harris, Rowley insisted that CARICOM has every reason to fear a worsening economic and social situation in Venezuela that would trigger a nightmare in the rest of the Caribbean. That’s where the guns, murders and other acts of violence come in.
Barbados has recorded nine homicides, many of them involving guns, in the first month of the new year, triggering an outcry and a demand for action by the new Government, which has instituted joint police/soldier patrols to curb gun violence. (fifth from left)
Rowley’s assessment was clear: “Those guns aren’t going to flow any less if the situation worsens” in Venezuela, he said. “It would become worse for us. We took almost a thousand guns off the street of Trinidad last year and we still had a record number of murders in Trinidad. The guns are still freely available. So any instability in Venezuela is a security threat to Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean by extension. Social dislocation in Venezuela and the Caribbean is a threat to the economies of all the
He said Venezuela was a source of many, if not most of the guns that are being used in murders, armed robberies and violent crime: “we know that, no questions asked”.
That was why CARICOM was “integrally interested and involved in this matter” of the evolving international crisis over Venezuela. It also explained why Barbados, St Kitts-nevis, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada were present on the diplomatic mission that made the rounds at the UN and held extensive briefings with representatives of the European, Latin America, the African Union and other regional groupings at the UN, warning that a crisis in Venezuela could turn out to be disastrous for the Caribbean.
But Rowley wasn’t alone in speaking out about the impact of Venezuelan guns on the escalating crime situation in the region.
Dangerous for region
Harris, the CARICOM chairman, said he “was profoundly concerned about” the steady flow of guns into the Caribbean from Venezuela.
“Even before the Caribbean region had become one of the more violent regions, if you were to look at gun-related homicides and therefore any event that can lead to an increase of unlicensed firearms in our region would be dangerous for our region,” he said.
“When you have a situation where persons in Venezuela have access to arms and ammunition and, given the imperative of survival, would find themselves trading in illegal arms and weapons that can create a crisis situation for us in the region.
“All of us in the region, without exception, are suffering from gang and gun-related violence,” complained Harris. “In Jamaica, just last year, they had several, not one, state of emergencies in order to arrest that. In Trinidad and Tobago we have had that crime problem for a long time. In Barbados, it was a particular challenge which has arisen in the first quarter of the year [nine homicides]. In St Kitts-nevis we have to rely on the RSS [Regional Security System]. Dominica has had challenges and so has St Lucia.
Abreast of situation
“In that context we want a reduction in the guns [coming out of Venezuela and elsewhere]. That’s why we are also so concerned about instability in Venezuela. Dislocation in the economy and the society and what that portends for the peace and orderly development of our region” weigh heavily in people’s minds.
“The current situation is volatile and keeps evolving,” said Harris. “Our position has to be sufficiently agile and we have to keep abreast of the situation as they occur.
We are not supportive of any form of intervention in Venezuela.”
Law enforcement officials have said that the deteriorating economic situation in Venezuela had made guns easy to purchase and with wide unpatrolled waterways in the Caribbean, it was easy to smuggle them in the region.
In some areas, a gun can be purchased in Venezuela for a can of corned beef and then resold in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago or St Lucia for a tidy profit,” he said.