Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cadiz: Govt continues to struggle with counter-narcotics efforts


NOT OPTIMISTIC: Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz

Mark Fraser

Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz believes the People’s Partnership Government is being taken to task for no arrests of “big fish” following the discovery of 732 pounds of liquid cocaine in Trinidad Orange and Grapefruit juice tins at the Port of Norfolk in Virginia, United States on December 20 last year.

The estimated street value of the drugs was US$100 million. 

The shipment originated from Trinidad and Tobago.

The US Customs and Border Protection area port director made the discovery public on January 18. 

It was followed by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers coming to Trinidad to pursue the case as well as public promises by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to extradite guilty parties and a commitment by National Security Minister Gary Griffith to put the big fish behind bars.

However, there’s been no arrest to date.

“I don’t know where it is,” said Cadiz on the status of the investigation during an interview with the Sunday Express last week.

“I would think in investigations like these you have to be very careful about what you’re doing so you can actually prosecute and convict people. You don’t want to go with some airy-fairy case where people can actually slip through the cracks.”

Cadiz is doubtful that the case has disappeared or the trail has grown cold.

“This thing happening in a foreign jurisdiction. I would assume that the same way people are saying that nothing is happening in Trinidad, they would say is nothing happening in the other jurisdiction,” he said.

Questioned whether the case has gone quiet because a Government Minister could be involved, Cadiz dismissively responded: “How many Cabinet ministers were dismissed? How many do you know in previous administrations were dismissed? To say this administration is sitting down is by no means the situation. The juice cocaine was found. Even if T&T was lax in their approach, that other jurisdiction is not going to be lax. And therefore to say in T&T, because it’s a friend (that could be involved) it’s going to die, I doubt that very much.”

When the Sunday Express pointed out that as Minister of Transport, he could be held accountable should there be another big bust, he responded: “Every time they find a big bust, that’s a positive, not a negative.”

In September 2011, $30 million in compressed marijuana was discovered in frozen chicken in a refrigerated container at the Point Lisas port.

To date, no one has been arrested in that case and no scanner installed at that port.

“The country is taking the Partnership to task for the juice can cocaine and the frozen chicken. The fact is that both were found,” he said.

Sunday Express: “What about the ones that they haven’t found?”

“Over decades, there has been mismanagement in some of the security areas or not enough management. We recognise in no small way we have a job to do. This whole illegal drug trade, it’s not about guys in boats. This is a serious business. This is a multibillion dollar business that has all kinds of brains dealing with it,” he explained.

“The fact is that the illegal drug trade did not just happen like that. These are people who sit down and plan every move. And hence the reason only a fraction of the cocaine going into the US is found. The US has every imaginable technology at its disposal and yet still they have a major problem dealing with it,” he observed.

Cadiz said a scanner is now being installed at the Port of Port of Spain to thoroughly check containers on entry and exit as well as a K9 unit. Another scanner will be installed at the Port of Point Lisas and mobile scanners will be used in Chaguaramas.

Sunday Express: “Why weren’t scanners in place given that T&T is a transshipment hub?”

“I am surprised by many things,” he said. “You can always ask why it was not done before. The fact is that it is being done now.”

But Cadiz is not optimistic that it will curb the drug trade. 

He explained that when one avenue is blocked, another avenue is open.

“Venezuela is only seven miles from here. You can swim to Venezuela.

“You’re not going to be able to have eyes and ears and locking down the marine borders 100 per cent. It just physically can’t happen. People will use a submarine. You just have to make life very difficult for them. The container scanners are part of the fix,” he said.

The US Department of State Narcotics Controls Report for 2014 noted that T&T’s porous borders make it an ideal location for cocaine and marijuana transshipment.

“Interdiction efforts are robust and continuing. Though overall seizures in 2013 increased from 2012, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago continues to struggle to coordinate and adequately fund its counter narcotics efforts,” the report noted.

But Cadiz contended that T&T’s borders are not so porous that anyone can just walk through here. 

“We need to understand that every single day, the people who are going to do the human trafficking, the illegal drug trafficking, the importation of arms finds all kinds of ways and means. You have to be constantly monitoring ensuring that you are on top of your game. My responsibility is to make sure nothing comes through the airports or ports,” said Cadiz.