Saturday, February 24, 2018

Caught in the middle

So concerned was he about leaks in the $644 million drug bust investigation that National Security Minister Gary Griffith last Wednesday told Newsday he had instructed that not even his fellow cabinet colleagues should be given any information. As he imposed his information blackout on the ongoing matter conducted, in the main, by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Minister elaborated:

“This is a law enforcement matter. We want to ensure there are no leaks, and nobody could cover for anybody, and I have given certain instructions not to release any information, pertaining to this investigation, including Ministers and government officials.”

On Thursday, the Minister elaborated to the Express: “We want to ensure that no other ministers in the Cabinet know what we are doing…because we don’t want them to tip off someone who might be a friend of these people then they disappear. We want to ensure the highest level of confidentially in this investigation.”

By Friday morning, the Minister was quoted in radio newscasts disowning his statements. Possibly stung by either a rebuke from the Prime Minister, or the responses of his cabinet colleagues, the Minister attempted to distance himself — not from the Newsday report — but from the Express statement.

With his foot stuffed deeply down in his mouth, Minister Griffith attempted to explain that his information blackout was necessary because Trinbagonians “talked too much”.

Griffith’s case may have been on stronger ground, however, had he cited, as example, the statement of his cabinet colleague, Trade Minister Vasant Bharath, who after a single meeting with the local manufacturers on Monday, clearly “talked too much”. The minister decided, quite arbitrarily, that the company, SM Jaleel, was not involved in any way in the ongoing investigation.

Griffith’s case could have been stronger still if he had given, as an example, the list of Government ministers who were among the 900 guests at the lavish wedding of Ish Galbaransingh’s son in Tobago on January 4.

In accepting the invitation, these ministers chose to ignore the fact that Galbaransingh faces 95 fraud charges in the US, and only continues to fight an extradition battle because the State’s winning legal team was changed. Remember also, the Attorney General decided against appealing the High Court judgment that he was not to be extradited to the US.

The Minister spoke of the disappearance and deaths of State witnesses. His case may have been strengthened further if he had pointed to the recent killing of State witness Ricaldo Sanchez in Palo Seco.

The $644 million drug bust investigation has taken various twists with journalists doing some good investigative work, so far. But none questioned how the cocaine arrived in Trinidad to be packaged into juice tins.

No one so far has questioned the importation of citrus concentrate from Belize.

The Caribbean has been described as being affected by “a slow, and bloody, shift in the drug trade”.

As US law enforcement tightens America’s south-west borders, traffickers have shifted their distribution network to points throughout the Caribbean.

“We’re definitely starting to see a shift into the Caribbean,” Michael Vigil, special agent in charge of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s Caribbean division told The Baltimore Sun newspaper last week.

Last year, more cocaine entered the US through the Caribbean than across the border with Mexico, US law enforcement officials told the paper.

They say Mexican traffickers have also become more powerful and the Colombians — the world’s major suppliers of illegal drugs — are trying to avoid a Mexican stranglehold.

The Americans estimate that some 500 tonnes of cocaine arrive annually on their shores from Colombia, which grows about 60 per cent of the world’s coca and handles about 90 per cent of coca’s refined product, cocaine.

In the early 1990s, Colombian traffickers were smuggling almost 70 per cent of their cocaine through the south-west US border, the DEA says.

“Last year, of the 500 tonnes, US officials say, drug-flow estimates show that about 54 per cent was destined for the south-west border and 43 per cent through the Caribbean. Now some drug-trafficking experts say the percentage today is much closer to 50-50,” the paper reported.

How has the UNC-led government responded to this shift? The Prime Minister said she was “so advised” that the drug battle was to be fought on land, so her government placed no strategic emphasis on border patrols.

As such, plans for the offshore patrol vessels were cancelled, and the intelligence-gathering agency, SAUTT, was dismantled.

Minister Griffith now talks about getting vessels from Colombia, and on Friday showed off his National Operations Centre.

Add to this, the Financial Intelligence Unit reported that there were $1.1 billion in “suspicious”, and $284 million in “questionable” transactions in recent times.

What does this all mean? We, in T&T, are caught in the centre—facilitating a portion of the 50 per cent of the drugs entering the US. Could this explain, in part, the killings of 2014?

* Keith Subero, a former

Express news editor, has

since followed a career in

communication and management