Monday, January 22, 2018

Something's stirring out there...


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Last month it was Tobago. Last week it was the whitewash defeat of the Tillman Thomas government in Grenada, then the narrow electoral victory of the government in Barbados.

That ferment of the Caribbean people may be enough for observers to sight a trend—one that should be disquieting for other regional governments.

Every Caribbean politician might be now alert and agitated, demanding that their backroom strategic teams turn on the lights, because there is something stirring out there.

Last weekend it may have been doubly uncomfortable for our Prime Minister as she returned from Haiti to face a powderkeg, rather a ghost gang, branded the "New Flying Squad".

It is another of those situations, chiselled by the National Security Minister, that has now caused us to look again at what we first called "mis-steps" but which is, in fact, part of his normal behaviour pattern.

Let us view the facts from the Government's side: (a) the National Security Minister, on his appointment last year, announced his intention to re-introduce a "sanitised Flying Squad"; (b) according to TV-6 on Friday evening, Mr Warner informed the PM, who commented publicly that the initiative was then up to Mr Warner; (c) Garvin Heerah, Director of National Security Operations, followed up by organising eight vehicles for "the ghost gang"; (d) Mr Heerah could not be found last week because he left for Argentina; (e) Minister Warner claims he is unaware that his Director had travelled to Argentina; (f) the acting Police Commissioner claims that he has no knowledge of the squad's existence; (g) the PM also claims that she, too, has no knowledge that it existed.

From the New Flying Squad comes a different tale. Now "sanitised", its spokesman, former Inspector Mervyn Cordner, says: (a) that for six months, he headed the 75-man squad, lodged at Arouca on the premises of a security company, paying a $200,000 monthly rental and that the National Security Ministry also supplied computers and office equipment; (b) his request was for a $180 million budget; (c) all the squad's operations were conducted based on alleged verbal assurances of Minister Warner; (d) in its intelligence-gathering, the squad identified the "dons" of crime, assisted the police in solving six murders, and passed further information to various police divisions.

So successful were Mr Cordner's operations that his unauthorised 75-man squad functioned secretly for six months and neither the PM, as head of the National Security Council, Minister Warner, nor the acting CoP had any intelligence on its existence.

It also caught all our key security agencies—the SIA, the Special Branch, the Attorney General's Squad, the Defence Force Intelligence Unit, Customs & Excise—asleep. No agent within their fold, not even the Police Divisions which reportedly received crime information from the squad, were aware of its existence.

Last month, Mr Cordner claims he disbanded the squad, handing back the cars, computers and equipment, but no mention was made of arms. Questions linger. Was the 75-man squad provided with arms?

And what of the $1.2 million rental bill? Who owns the security firm in Arouca? Was the rental bill paid?

The existence of an unauthorised, possibly armed squad, secretly funded by the Ministry of National Security, raises frightening possibilities for citizens.

To me last week, the news paralleled the 1986 "Iran-Contra" scandal during Ronald Reagan's administration in which his National Security Council secretly funded a special squad to pass arms to Iran. The discovery resulted finally in the indictment of the then US Defence Secretary and 14 government officials.

Later, I recalled the stories of similar squads in the Caribbean, secretly-funded "to fight crime", such as the Mongoose Gang in Grenada, and the Tonton Macoute, "with dark shades and powerful guns", in Papa Doc's Haiti.

The PM's response could have been anticipated; every problem is passed on to someone else, hoping that later it would be solved through spin and public obfuscation. So she asked Mr Warner for a report—"himself to investigate himself"—with the expectation that public attention will be shifted.

Meanwhile she throws another, misconceived crime solution into the mayhem—plans to give 1,000 soldiers the powers of arrest—another light-headed strategy, mouthed by Mr Warner from his crime solution playbook.

But has the PM really given much thought to that solution? Does she realise that she is creating a platform for the rise of the military, as a possible political force in Trinidad and Tobago?

Military regimes have made and remade governments. Just look at the recent experiences in Pakistan, Egypt, and then Latin America and post-colonial Africa.

Prime Minister, please consider fully the incendiary consequences of 1,000 men, trained for combat, being asked to impose order in this overheated country.

Remember, there is a lot stirring out there.

* Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in communication and