The security situation continues to erode in Trinidad and Tobago as the island nation struggles to combat organized crime fueled by the drug trade and deterioration in nearby Venezuela is feeding fears of an influx of firearms.
Following the killing of three police officers in separate incidents during the last week of May, the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reported that the number of homicides increased to 420 in 2015 from 403 murders a year earlier. The report said that 85 percent of the 2015 homicides were perpetrated by firearms.
Authorities only confiscated 691 weapons in 2015, the Guardian reported, and only cleared 13.6 percent of reported homicides. The report blamed the violence on illegal guns in the hands of gangs and drug traffickers.
The Guardian cited experts who warned that the deteriorating economic and security situation in neighboring Venezuela could flood the local market with even more illegal guns. Only 15 kms and the Bocas del Dragon straits separate the island's southern peninsula from Venezuela's northern coast, making for a porous border that facilitates trafficking in both weapons and drugs.
Dr. Anthony P. Maingot, a regional security expert at Florida International University, told the Guardian that the southern peninsula has become one large market for drugs and firearms. He expressed particular concern regarding the thousands of AK-47s owned by the "thoroughly corrupted" Guardia Nacional in Venezuela, and the possibility of those and other weapons reaching Trinidad and Tobago as Venezuela continues to face institutional deterioration.
The report also cited local weapons expert Paul-Daniel Nahous, saying the scary scenario involved "getting a fully automatic rifle for a few loaves of bread and some packs of toilet paper."
InSight Crime Analysis
Homicide rates have risen in Trinidad and Tobago in conjunction with an increase in criminal organizations moving drugs through the Caribbean. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has attributed a shift in trafficking to stepped up interdiction efforts in Central America. It is also not uncommon for the government of Trinidad and Tobago to blame Venezuela for crime issues on the island nation.
That so many of the homicides are attributed to gun violence is certainly a cause for alarm. The 85 percent figure far outstrips the global average of 50 percent and is well above the Latin American average of 75 percent, as reported by the Igarapé Institute. The same report notes that most of the weapons reaching Latin America come from the United States and Brazil, both legally and illegally. In 2014, the ATF (pdf) traced a number of firearms recovered on the island nation and found 46% originated from the United States.
The additional threat of an increase in the flow of weapons from Venezuela as a result of the rapidly deteriorating economic and social situation there can only make things worse for this small neighboring country increasingly threatened by gangs and organized crime.