US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said the assassination of a leading attorney in Trinidad and Tobago was orchestrated by a transnational drug organization, pointing to the presence of high-level organized crime on the island nation.
Speaking via teleconference from Washington DC on June 24, Brownfield told Caribbean media that the assassination of former special prosecutor Dana Seetahal was a "well planned and orchestrated hit" by an "international criminal organization" with a presence in Trinidad and Tobago, reported Caribbean 360.
"This was a carefully planned operation," said Brownfield, who is responsible for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in the US Department of State. "And there is only one kind of entity that does contract murders of this sort of degree of sensitivity and that is organized crime."
Brownfield also pointed to the link between the increased use of the Caribbean region as a transit point for US-bound drugs and a rise in murders and violence in the region, including Trinidad and Tobago, reported the Jamaica Observer.
Seetahal, who had previously worked with US authorities, was shot and killed in her car on May 4 in the country's capital, Port-of-Spain. No one has been charged with her murder.
InSight Crime Analysis
Brownfield has warned that drug trafficking routes are shifting from Central America to the Caribbean in response to increased interdiction efforts in the isthmus. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the amount of US-bound cocaine trafficked through the Caribbean has more than tripled over the last five years and Trinidad and Tobago has become a popular transshipment point.
A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) study on global homicide in 2011 (pdf) found that shifts in the drug trade had contributed to increasing homicide rates in the Caribbean.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Caribbean
In Trinidad and Tobago, the homicide rate rose nearly 400 percent between 2000 and 2010. The number of gangs currently exceeds 100 in a country with under 1.3 million people, and an increase in violence has led government authorities to announce that security forces would receive additional weapons and international police training to fight crime.
If Brownfield's assertions are true, Seetahal's murder could signal the increasing power of criminal groups operating in Trinidad and Tobago. Other Latin American countries, such as Mexico, have seen criminal groups target state officials as they become increasingly sophisticated and increasingly brazen.