A Trinidad crime boss and his 600-strong gang are reportedly behind a recent flare up of violence on the island as they compete with rivals for lucrative government contracts, highlighting the deep penetration of gangs into Caribbean civic life.
The unnamed gang leader, linked to controversial Muslim organization Jamaat al Muslimeen, controls 21 "clips" (local gang factions) -- some of which are exclusively Muslim -- operating in the troubled eastern and southern parts of the capital, Port of Spain, reported the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian.
According to an anonymous source consulted by the newspaper, a recent escalation in violence in eastern Port of Spain is being driven by the battle for community development contracts. Earlier this week 90 people were detained in police raids on the area, following six gang-related homicides within 24 hours.
From January to mid-August 2013, Port of Spain saw 236 homicides, reported the Trinidad Express.
InSight Crime Analysis
The links between gang activity and Jamaat al Muslimeen have existed for decades in Trinidad and Tobago, with this current leader characterized as the heir to Michael Guerra, a prominent crime boss and member of the Islamic organization who was assassinated in 2003.
Jamaat al Muslimeen is known to be involved in criminal activities but has also operated in the political realm, and was responsible for an attempted coup in 1990. Its members have also benefitted from government schemes, with Guerra reported to have earned up to $23,000 per month from an unemployment relief program.
The ability of criminal organizations to win contracts for community work seems to be related not only to corruption but also from government efforts to award such schemes to "community leaders." Throughout the Caribbean, the lines between criminal groups and community organizations are often blurred. In the absence of an effective state presence, such groups can be the only source of effective justice and social services for the communities where they operate, and as a result crime bosses themselves become a form of community leader.