Hinds: Ministry better equipped to deal with drug crime

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds speaks on his ministry’s role in the fight against illicit drug consumption and trafficking, during a year-in-review forum hosted by the ministry’s National Drug Council, at Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s on Wednesday. – Andrew Gioannetti

OF THE 605 murders in TT reported for 2022 – the highest number recorded for one year – about two-fifths have been attributed by police to gangs primarily financed and fuelled by the illicit drug trade.

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds expressed concern about the proportion of murders linked to gang activity when he spoke at the year-in-review forum hosted by the National Drug Council, a unit of the Ministry of National Security , at Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s, on Wednesday.

“We are improving,” Hinds declared, however, as he boasted of the ministry’s strengthened collaborations with all arms of national security, as well as recent regional and international developments to tackle illicit industry in TT, since he took over the portfolio in April, 2021

Hinds highlighted his ministry’s agreement with China for the construction of a new forensic sciences centre in St Joseph, one he said will be six to seven times larger, with increased functions and capacities, including the testing of new illicit drugs on the black market.

“(I am aware) that much (gang) activity centres around the fight for turf (and) the fight for the hearts and minds of our children, as they seek to maximise profit and gain influence in different parts of our society … Like you, it pains me greatly when I read the statistics or from my own personal experience as I walk the streets of my own constituency and communities across TT as I assessed the hard and cold detrimental impact of dangerous drugs on our communities and our people on a whole.

“I view the issue of drug trafficking and its consumption as some of the most troubling issues facing our society, not just because of the criminal activity that it generates but because it continues to rob many of our people of a simple human good, of realising one’s fullest potential.

“It often robs many of us of our very humanity.”

Hinds said, since taking office he has made a point of “(working) closely with all of the divisions and agencies under (the ministry’s) purview to provide the policy direction and the resources that (all agencies) must have in order to effectively carry out their mandates – all of this aimed at maintaining a safe and secure TT.”

The minister said TT has particular battles in the drug trade, which, fortunately, he said, does not include manufacturing of drugs.

“While our law enforcement officers in TT continue in their efforts to seize large quantities of drugs and guns that surround and protect them, it must again be noted that TT is not a manufacturing hub.

“We continue, as the PS (deputy Permanent Secretary Sintra Maharaj) said a while ago, to be a trafficking hub for narcotics that come from neighbouring South and Central America on its way through this region to the US, to Africa, to Europe and indeed of the world.”

He recalled that in January last year, authorities seized over 12 kilogrammes or over $8.5 million worth of ketamine at a house in Trincity occupied by four Chinese nationals, who were arrested.

Ketamine, a controlled drug, is used primarily by veterinarians to induce anaesthesia in large animals, but also on the black market for illicit personal use, and worse, to sedate unknowing victims.

One man was reportedly charged in that matter, while the three others were deemed to have been in TT illegally.

“During a search of the premises, I am informed by the police commissioner, officers found and seized approximately 201 glass vials. I suspect this what it is sold in…

“It wasn’t too long before that, (the government) went to the Parliament and we had that particular drug listed in the drug schedule as one of the dangerous drugs, it only being recently determined to be such in TT.”

Referring to the Trincity bust, Hinds said, “The old adage holds true: where there is a demand there is a supply and we have to realise that these substances which are the tools of the very organised international crime network, we have to understand that the world’s law enforcement fraternity has been grappling with these matters for many, many decades, and the fight will, the fight must, continue.”

He said, at the MONS, “The highest priority … is that of our border security, recognising we are a twin-island state, with a few legal ports but substantially more illegal points of entry, that we have the responsibility to protect and to cover.

“Once (drugs and weapons) get past our border security apparatus, then we have a duty to mop it up, take it out the hands of those who want to destroy your children, and those who use firearms to so do.

Community intervention, he said, is another strategy, “in building trust with the population,” as well as the “continued profesionalisation of the TT Police Service.”

Hinds said, “And, of course, regional and international cooperation … is so necessary so we can access best practices, and recognising the international implications of this, work with our partners in the spirit of cooperation since we all have the basically the same problem.”

The MONS has focused on strengthening TT’s borders, Hinds said, “through building capacity, particularly through the TT Defence Force, the police service and the Immigration Division, each holding specific responsibilities …

“I can tell you today that our coastal radar system is 100 per cent operational, functional and serving quite well,” he said.

“The US Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau (ATF) … has supported the Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (Impacs) as it strengthens capacity and policies to counter the illicit trafficking of firearms in the Caribbean region.”

The government, he said, appreciates the continued presence of the US ATF in Port of Spain, to help stem firearm trafficking.

The Ministry, Hinds said, has not only provided support for agencies under its purview but implemented tangible programmes to deal with other sides of the problem, including the local demand for drugs.

“As a result, I am very happy to know that the National Drug Council is leading the charge in identifying the new drugs that are appearing internationally, and once it’s happening anywhere in the world, it is happening in TT.

“Working closely with the Forensic Sciences Centre … and recent seizures of different kinds of tablets containing MDMA (ecstasy), has been gaining our attention, as we try to protect young people in particular and all of our citizens.

“We have experienced notable successes via programmes and initiatives geared toward improving our human resource capacities,” Hinds added, as well as improving the lives and standard of living of our citizens.

“Internal upgrades are constantly ongoing and training is provided to improve the efficiency of all of our personnel and to boost our delivery effort and standard.

“Law enforcement,” he said, “gives the assurance that it will continue to work, guided by the National Drug Council, and all the other streams of information available to it.

Hinds said the ministry has explored, among other things, drug demand reduction programmes, alternatives to incarceration for people dependant on drugs, proportional sentencing for drug-related offences, and “stringent” money-laundering policies.