Friday, December 15, 2017

Norfolk bust promises drug trade turnaround

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Mark Fraser

 The dawning of 2014 brought a deepening of despair over the upsurge in unsolved murders, notably assassination-type hits associated with death squads.   

Murders, classed as “gang-related” or “drug-related”, or both, belong to the old narrative locating T&T as a transshipment point in the international drug trade. That narrative came vividly to the fore last week as T&T was named as the port of origin of a $644 million cocaine shipment intercepted by US Customs at Norfolk, Virginia.

Suddenly, a T&T story of murders and drug trafficking was commanding international prime-time attention. Moreover, the reports implicated the brand of an identified local manufacturer and leading exporter.

A new low was hit. T&T image’s was being bloodied by an upsurge of killings. Meanwhile, with even more damaging long-term potential, T&T’s manufacturing sector stood in danger of being linked with transnational crime.

The gravity of such implications prompted a ramping-up of rhetoric by National Security Minister Gary Griffith. “Regardless of who it is, or how high it goes, I can assure you that I will do all I can to ensure that the persons are brought to justice,” he vowed.

The assurance of active involvement by US law enforcers underlay Mr Griffith’s confidence, and encouraged trust in successful investigation of the Norfolk cocaine shipment. Citing combined efforts by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and T&T intelligence agencies, he said: “There is joint communication and collaboration between the US intelligence agencies and ours.”

T&T is accordingly encouraged to hope for a more effective outcome than had occurred in August 2005, when a $700 million cocaine bust took place on Monos Island. The judge, who later sentenced those caught in the act and convicted, observed that the bust had begun and ended at Monos.  No discernible effort had been made to discover the makers of the deal, and the post-Monos destination of the shipment.

 Apart from 1,749 kilogrammes of cocaine, the Police/Coast Guard Monos operation had netted only such culprits as could be characterised as “small fish”.  

Not so, this time, Mr Griffith has vowed: “The days of picking up the more junior person…, while allowing the ‘big fish’ to continue to get away are over.” 

Already, investigations appear to suggest that the export manufacturer whose products contained the Norfolk cocaine might have been an unwitting dupe. With a US DEA expeditionary force deployed to boost local  investigative resources, reports have isolated specific accountability, such as in T&T Customs, and pointed to the alleged involvement of local business entities.  

For once, international collaboration may make up for the relative underdevelopment of local investigators and prosecutors. The Norfolk bust, then, could promise  the start of something new. And the early-2014 new low in T&T crimefighting could just prove to be the darkest hour before dawn.