The murder rate in Trinidad for much of the past decade has topped more than 400 per year and violent crime has had such a debilitating effect on politics on the island nation that Opposition Leader Keith Rowley said it had much to do with the heavy defeat of the then People’s National Movement (PNM) in the 2010 general elections, and predicts that a similar fate awaits Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her cabinet with less than two years left for fresh polls.
By the middle of this week, police had recorded a staggering 19 murders in seven days for this year; a figure which has sent alarm bells through a society that has already lived through two coup attempts, gangland violence of various types and other forms of unrest in recent years. And up to press time, police were also investigating reports of yet another gun murder near a taxi stand in the Arima area east of Port of Spain, the capital.
Clearly shaken up by the string of murders of infants, the elderly and the young and able-bodied, Persad-Bissessar called a meeting of her national security team to read the proverbial riot act and to indicate that no more excuses will be accepted by responsible ministers and other top officials in the sector.
“I have made clear to each member of the NSC that they would be held personally accountable for any further failure to keep the peace and protect our citizens. And so once in charge, the respective arms of the respective security services, they must perform. No shades of grey, no excuses, no apologies. The government and people of Trinidad and Tobago are demanding results now. “Having given these mandates and effectively removed any room for excuses, I will myself be very closely monitoring and actively following the progress made by each arm of the protective and security services,” she said.
The call to action came days after fellow Cabinet Minister Rodger Samuel called for a resumption of death-by-hanging for violent criminals, as he argued that it is possibly the only solution left to deter criminals. The head of government, however, said that there is division in Cabinet and in other halls of power as to whether hanging would serve as a deterrent in addition to the various levels of appeal criminals have at their disposal to delay executions.
To deal with the situation, the police administration has cancelled vacation time for officers at every level and plans to deploy additional vehicles and intelligence officers to get a handle on crime.
Violent crime has led to a ‘musical chair’ of sorts for security ministers in the past 10 years with at least six serving in the capacity. Each had vowed to crush it only to be relieved on their appointments in a matter of months. Current boss Gary Griffith has to take note.
As an indication of how serious the situation is, Keith Rowley, the man touting himself as the prime minister-in-waiting not only predicts the fall of the government at the hands of crime but also said it had brought down the PNM at the mid-2010 polls.
“I can’t recall any time in this country a bloodbath taking place like this week,” Rowley said, attributing the party’s heavy defeat to runaway murders. “The main issue was the PNM’s failure to reduce the violent crime,” he said.
Persad-Bissessar says: ” Our nation has seen an unprecedented spike in violence and murder. This spike occurred despite increasing efforts in focusing resources, implementation, modified equipment, new technology and police visibility.”