In the common imagination, some countries are synonymous with beauty, and such are they. Yet because of their geographic location, they become places of transit for the business of organized crime. Trinidad and Tobago, an island off the coast of Venezuela, faces several problems related to organized crime, ranging from human trafficking to the trafficking of exotic animals that threaten the natural beauty of the place. From across the Atlantic Ocean, Jenny Constantine helps us understanding these particular dynamics. Her career has seen her in Law Enforcement for 18 years, and she has experience investigating organized criminal activities, teaching investigative techniques to Law enforcement officers and researching organized crime.
What is the meaning of the word Organized Crime in Trinidad and Tobago, what kind of danger does it really represent?
“In Trinidad and Tobago, organized crime is associated with mainly drugs, firearms and wildlife trafficking. Trinidad and Tobago has no official definition of ‘organized crime’. Most likely because the activities are dynamic and constantly evolving therefore a specific definition can be problematic for legislative and law enforcement purposes. In terms of the danger it presents, since organized crimes are a set of continuously evolving dangerous opportunities, they seriously threaten the citizens’ health, safety, and security, hence the result of increased firearm crimes committed yearly. It can also endanger the economic stability of the Country. Law enforcement agencies have been adapting to the shifts in criminality by identifying the trends and creating new units with trained personnel to investigate the crimes, drafting new laws in response to contemporary developments and creating partnerships with external law enforcement agencies and bilateral agreements with governments to counter these crimes”.
One of the major concerns is obviously due to the proximity with Venezuela, which according to various analyses, could lead to the increase of organized crime with all of South America.
“With the present continuing economic crisis in Venezuela, there has been a noticeable increase in particular types of organized criminal activities such as firearms, drugs, wildlife and human trafficking and human smuggling. Most of these organized criminal activities originate from countries such as Colombia (e.g., drugs via Venezuela, firearms) and Venezuela (source of human smuggling, drugs, firearms, wildlife and human trafficking). Trinidad and Tobago offers a unique position as its location is ideal as a trans-shipment point for lucrative markets in Europe and North America. No official study has been done to determine if the economic situation in Venezuela has led to an increase in organized crime in Trinidad and Tobago. I have started research on that topic, but restrictions due to Covid 19 have stalled its progress. I hope to complete it in the near future”.
Human trafficking is the enslavement of many women for sexual exploitation, and it is one of the most delicate fronts. Why has Trinidad acquired the label of sexual tourism destination, and how to fight this phenomenon?
“Trinidad and Tobago is not considered a sex tourism destination by any means. I strongly believe that one poorly researched media report may have contributed to that notion. No valid, reliable research has shown that persons willingly travel to Trinidad and Tobago for sex tourism, such as in some Asian countries. When police operations are carried out, mostly locals or a small number of immigrants who are resident in the Country are the clients who are detained in those raids. The demand for women from Latin countries in the sex industry in Trinidad and Tobago is rooted in colonial persuasions of beauty – fairer skin, generally different features than local women. Since the Venezuelan economic crisis began, there have been a number of Venezuelan women and girls who have been ‘rescued’ from enslavement for sexual exploitation. Both local and Venezuelan nationals have been charged for the offence of human trafficking. To combat these crimes, the authorities have enacted a law – The Trafficking in Persons Act Chapter 12:10. Additionally, different law enforcement units under the Ministry of National Security were mandated to investigate and bring the perpetrators before the courts to answer for these crimes. Collaboration for investigating these crimes is also facilitated with regional and international law enforcement bodies and Central Authorities if needed”.
Another front is the fight against piracy. The sea that separates you from the mainland with Venezuela is obviously prey to the control of drug traffickers who want to defend their routes.
“The vulnerability of offshore fishermen to crime and criminality is a harsh reality. There used to be reports of both robbery (closer to shore) and piracy at sea on the Southern peninsula of Trinidad. However, the reports were mainly of desperate Venezuelan fishermen and small-time criminals who committed these crimes hoping to make money through extortion through kidnapping for ransom, theft of boat engines and other materials to resell or barter to make money. Unfortunately, the problem is becoming more and more serious as borders can be easily breached. The areas are intermittently patrolled by the police, so there is a real risk of being caught there”.
Another field of criminality is the trade of protected animal species, one of the less-discussed topics in general, on which criminality generates important earnings. What is the current situation?
“The trade in Wildlife has seen significant increases since the development of the economic crisis in Venezuela coupled with increased demand by an unsuspecting public and pet shop owners. Most persons do not understand that the activity is detrimental to health and safety. It is also not viewed as a real crime. There has been an increase in awareness campaigns from nonprofit organizations such as Nurture Nature that highlight the danger of the trade to the public. Coast Guard and Game Wardens have had several successful interdictions at sea of both wildlife and domestic animals (such as cows, goats, chicken and dogs) which smugglers attempted to bring in. There has also been great collaboration between both civil society and law enforcement that have resulted in seizures on land of wildlife and the arrest of persons who were in possession of the animals. Perpetrators have been charged, found guilty and then fined or imprisoned. The fight against wildlife trafficking is slow and steady at the moment”.
How do you see the next security challenges for Trinidad and Tobago, and what is really needed to counter these criminal realities and make the population safe?
“In the future, I strongly believe the security challenges for Trinidad and Tobago will be 1) an increase of cyber-criminal activities and 2) efficiently and effectively securing the maritime borders. Firstly, with the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic, more activities have shifted online, creating ideal opportunities for cybercriminals to take advantage of. Criminals are using end-to-end encryption communications to plan and execute crimes. It is an issue for law enforcement agencies not only in Trinidad and Tobago but worldwide. A possible solution to this will be contemporary training and development in advanced technologies along with the procurement of the necessary equipment to manage the impending cyber-crime activities. The second issue is the security of the maritime borders. The repeated breaches of the Country’s borders have indicated that more needs to be done to protect the citizens’ health, safety, and security. To counter these activities, there must first be a whole government approach and willingness to identify and resolve the issues that cause the breaches and encourage criminality. It can be followed by more strategic and collaborative law enforcement strategies. Collaboration amongst agencies is important to protect the borders”.