Sunday, February 25, 2018

Strike two against Monos 6

Express editorial logo424

Mark Fraser

The good news is that the conviction of six cocaine traffickers and gun runners arrested at Monos in 2005 has stood the test of appeal, and that the culprits’ only remaining hope now is for some reduction in their life sentences.

The bust by police and Coast Guard forces, that caught two Trinidadians and four Venezuelans in possession of 1,749 kilos of cocaine, seven guns and enough ammunition, was celebrated by the then National Security Minister as an accomplishment of advanced law enforcement under his watch. Nearly a decade later, high-volume cocaine transshipment continues in various ways, undetected, through Trinidad and Tobago. From all appearances, guns keep abundantly being hustled across T&T’s porous borders. That the splashy 2005 interdiction at Monos proved to be just a one-off lucky strike suggests itself as the regrettable conclusion to be drawn from an episode that failed to become a learnable moment in discovering the origin and intended destination of a cocaine cargo then valued at $700 million.

In sentencing the six, Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon had expressed regret that questions left unanswered after relatively slap-dash investigation “facilitated the escape of the big fish”. The not-so-good news, then, is that the small-timers will rot in jail, while their employers, organisers, agents and accomplices in T&T and abroad, of large-scale drug trafficking, remain free to derive multi-million-dollar profits and to thumb their noses at the helpless incapacities of T&T law enforcers.

Clearly the walls between the small-timers who risk being caught red-handed and those who hire them to do the dirty work are infinitely more solid than the borders around our islands. The big fish seem to operate so far beyond the radar that even those who risk their lives and their freedom doing their nefarious bidding don’t seem to know who they are.

Ultimately, however, the best means of tracking them down is to follow the money. This is why this nation must commit itself to strengthening every institution with the capacity for forensic auditing and fighting money laundering while deepening the international relationships that help to track and locate money stashed abroad.

The Court of Appeal’s confirmation of the conviction of the Monos 6 is reason for confidence in our institutional ability to take the fight to drug traffickers. Public cynicism has been running high, especially since the US bust of the shipment of cocaine in tins of orange juice from Trinidad. The fact that no one has yet been brought to account and that the authorities in T&T seem completely out of the loop on this one has only increased the general pessimism.

The reality is that for every one trafficker that is jailed, many others escape, lengthening the odds for big and small fish alike. Far too many busts are allowed to peter out on a cold trail, such as the relatively recent shipment of marijuana found inside a shipment of chicken imported by a company in Central Trinidad.

These failures make yesterday’s Appeal Court upholding of the conviction of the Monos 6 a genuine triumph, not only for the legal system but for all T&T.