Mon | Apr 6, 2020

Editorial | Impunity in guns-for-drug trade

Published:Wednesday | February 12, 2020 | 12:20 AM

Jamaica’s law-enforcement authorities should explain their seeming inability to catch, and prosecute, anyone in the notorious guns-for-drugs trade between Jamaica and Haiti, which appears to be heavily concentrated at Old Harbour Bay, on this island’s south coast. Maybe they – National Security Minister Horace Chang, police chief Antony Anderson, and Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) Chief of Staff Rocky Meade – have a good case to make.

Whatever that argument is, it could hardly be that their intelligence network is unable to penetrate the criminal syndicates involved in the enterprise, or that they can’t convert raw intelligence into hard evidence that would be useful in a court of law. The reporting by this newspaper would seem to challenge that assumption. Unless we were to question the competence of the experts.

At least three-quarters of Jamaica’s more than 1,000 annual homicides are committed with guns, most of which are imported illegally. Indeed, by Dr Chang’s estimate, based on intelligence, which he shared with the House last August, around 200 uncustomed guns find their way into Jamaica monthly. The rough maths says that it is at least 2,400 a year, compared to the annual average seizure of 745 illegal firearms over the last three years. In other words, illegal guns flow into Jamaica more than three times faster than they are taken off the streets.

Most of these guns originate in the United States, with a large proportion of them coming via Haiti in an arrangement where Jamaican fishermen barter drugs, mostly marijuana and cocaine, for the weapons. While this trade is conducted from upwards of 140 beaches, coves, and inlets along the island’s coasts, it has been an open secret for years, confirmed by the police, that Old Harbour is the epicentre of the business.

“Who we need to catch is not the man who they use to shoot people, (it’s)…the man who is organising this,” Dr Chang remarked when the JDF Coast Guard intercepted a boat with nearly 2,000 kilograms of cocaine off the island’s southeast coast six months ago. Some of that cocaine, it has been speculated, might have been destined for Haiti under the barter arrangement.

QUITE BAFFLING

It baffles us that, over the years, no one, neither the brains behind the business, who Dr Chang wants to target, nor their intermediaries, or the line operators, is caught by the Jamaican authorities bringing guns back from Haiti. We, though, acknowledge the periodic reports of Jamaican fishermen, in go-fast boats, being intercepted by the US Coast Guard attempting to ferry drugs to Haiti.

Our bafflement is deepened by the relative ease with which this newspaper’s reporters were able to find someone, even though retiring, who is engaged in the guns-for-drugs trade and was willing to talk in detail about the structural and operational elements of the business. Moreover, residents of the Old Harbour Bay area are fully aware of the nature of the trade, and of the dangers which it poses for their community. Many people are fearful.

Admittedly, the person interviewed by The Gleaner is exiting the business, in part because of the improved maritime surveillance technologies being employed by the security forces, which will make it more difficult for him to operate and, therefore, easier to be caught. But that doesn’t suffice as to why the traffickers seem able, up to now, to operate with impunity – almost.

Maybe there is something that we are missing, which the public should know if they are to have confidence in the security forces. It is not sufficient for the police to say, as did Senior Superintendant Clive Blair, the head of the St Catherine South Division, that “we are aware of the guns-for-drugs trade, and we are actively dealing with it”.