The Latin American and Caribbean region is no stranger to corruption, bad decisions and organized crime. However sometimes, a member of this community takes things to a new level that risks both damaging and redefining its long term image and future prospects. In this case we’re talking about the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. A nation rich in oil and considerably industrialized for a Caribbean territory, it still finds itself lagging behind, even compared to its far less resource endowed and smaller neighbours.
What on earth has happened? From declining corruption and economic competitiveness ratings to sickly growth rates, recession and now absurd manifestations of organized crime. Things have gotten to such a point that its gone from being known as the hemisphere’s largest per-capita source of ISIS recruits to a potential haven for terrorists and domestic terrorism. In fact, just prior to carnival there, the media was abuzz as police announced raids aimed at capturing perpetrators aiming to ‘disrupt’ carnival festivities via ‘unusual crime’. As if to fuel speculation, things were kept intentionally vague and no explanation as to what ‘unusual’ crime entailed was given.
That is, until numerous embassies such as the US and UK’s put out travel warnings for their citizens with the former outright stating that a terror attack had been planned. Once the story made international news, local media was quick to follow with acknowledging the reality. Islamists had planned multiple terror attacks that would have likely culminated with one on the local US embassy. However, due to intervention from the US armed forces and FBI serving as a guiding hand, local authorities, perhaps for the first time ever, became aware of terrorist elements teeming on their own soil.
Likely, reports from sources both local and foreign as to Trinidad’s growing number of Islamists and ISIS supporters didn’t cue them in years prior . Indeed, state entities actually did deny these things as fraudulent claims, even when numerous Trinidadians appeared in documentaries from outlets such as Al Jazeera and Nat Geo. Here we saw them openly boasting of their allegiances and noting that they did have attacks in store in the event they ever wanted to deliver a message. In light of this it has been quite telling that, short of law enforcement, state entities and even the political opposition were practically silent as things unfolded and remain so. Perhaps the national anti-terror strategy involves pretending hard enough until it goes away?
Unfortunately not, as placation seems to be involved as well. Indeed, to acknowledge just how established and ingrained TT (Trinidad and Tobago’s) Islamist elements are is to acknowledge that it is also linked to the nation’s thriving organized crime and by extension, state elements. These range from the ‘economic’ activity of Islamist gangs to the obvious business and private enterprise backers that must exist. Training, recruitment and the expenses of travel to the other side of the world is no cheap affair. To unravel this problem means unraveling elements within reputable as well as influential business, religious and state institutions. Once more, as with any major or useful action ever occurring be they economic or social, change may have to come at the behest or direct action of Uncle Sam or some other international power.
We see a similar paradigm play out elsewhere as well. Murder rates are gradually on the rise and despite more and more police raids yielding seizures of an increasingly larger selection of drugs and guns with many foreigners now involved, things seem to only be spiraling out of control more. With Venezuela imploding on itself with each passing day, it is no surprise that the murder and narco capital’s illicit activity would spill over to its island neighbour. Trinidad and Tobago has long been known as a hive for trafficking and money laundering as data from sources such as the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report indicates.
Where other nations are swiftly condemning Venezuela’s socialist government for the unraveling of its democratic, judicial and economic institutions, TT has instead seen fit to both defend these events and seek out greater economic ties. This despite it being well known that Venezuela’s government is deeply entrenched in organized crime. Clearly its own corruption and criminogenic based elements would lucratively benefit from these developments. This should shock no one as TT is one of the regional nations first in line to defend Venezuela where others condemn its increasingly totalitarian nature.
In fact, it seems as though TT is content with mimicking Venezuela’s failed economic policies. These range from managing a foreign exchange crisis with more punitive currency controls to stubbornly propping up indebted, unproductive, overstaffed and corruption ridden state owned companies and other socialist initiatives. The former policy has only served to create a thriving US currency black market while numerous legitimate businesses suffer. The state believes punishing economic activity in the interest of ‘conserving’ reserves rather than trying to generate more or operate according to markets is wise. The latter approach has only served to increase debt and waste in an environment where stifled prospects for growth means more and more layoffs or closed businesses.
As such, it appears the government of TT is content with punishing consumers, restricting greater access to goods and making it a painstaking affair to conduct business. Unless of course one is part of a handful of private entities well established and entrenched with those in power. Then, benefits at the behest of state entities such as contracts among others come with ease. This all sounds eerily familiar to the conduct of its next door neighbour. Thus, we should not be surprised if we see crime and human development follow suit in due course, particularly if the twin island republic commits fully to its current path. Until then, the ‘wicked capitalists’ shall be resisted, the oligarchs shall benefit and the drugs, guns and profits of organized criminals shall flow. All at the expense of the average citizen.