Sunday 30th April, 2006

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Crime foreign aid vs local self-help

The T&T police, notoriously lacking in credit and honour in their own country, have received rare and generous commendation from the US authorities.

It does not subscribe to the International Criminal Court, but especially since it declared war on terror, the US has found its ways to project an internationalist interest in fighting crime.

This American approach is highlighted when US citizens are somehow involved, or when US territory has been used or targeted for use in criminal activities. T&T citizens are serving time in Stateside prisons for drug trafficking into the US and gun running from the US.

The T&T authorities have co-operated with the implementation of this US policy, and have indeed shown enthusiasm in exporting, as it were, the problem of difficult, expensive and time-consuming local prosecutions.

Facing the prospect of preliminary inquiries, legal challenges, trials and appeals dragging on interminably in the local courts, T&T authorities are increasingly inclined to take the easy way out. That way is to accede to the Americans’ request to let them handle it.

Local authorities may even be prompting the US to get involved, as a means of axing the Gordian knot they see in making some charges stick in the courts here, and in reasonable time.

Now, the US authorities are “actively seeking the extradition of the individuals allegedly involved” in the kidnapping and murder in T&T last year of war veteran Ballram “Balo” Maharaj.

The US Embassy, asserting this interest, also commended the investigators whose work has produced 11 suspects accused of the Maharaj kidnap and murder.

Local authorities are no doubt content to accept the praise. It had earlier been reported, however, that US agents had helped in the sleuthing that led to the arrests.

But it is in the interest both of the US and its local counterparts to accustom the public to the reality of international co-operation in crime fighting and law enforcement or, more narrowly, of close collaboration with the US.

That the internationalisation of crime fighting is rapidly advancing is by now well established in T&T. Like Jamaica, Guyana, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, this country has sought and received from better-resourced allies assistance in training, investigation and even in the “transformation” of the T&T police service.

Though long self-governing, Caribbean countries are still not self-sufficient in critical resources and systems to undergird their legal and judicial independence.

After nearly two decades, T&T continues to rely on forensic accounting services of the Canadian Robert Lindquist for the untangling of allegedly criminal wheeling and dealing.

In an era of crime globalisation, no country can pretend to total self-reliance, nor can it disdain the potential value of foreign co-operation. In T&T, however, the availability of foreign help operates actually to discourage the development of indigenous crime-fighting and prosecuting resources.

To the extent it remains possible to import US experts to investigate mystery bomb blasts in Port-of-Spain, and to export knotty cases for trial abroad, the urgency is undercut to sharpen local investigative capacity and make the courts more productive.

Though appreciative of critical inputs brought to bear, Caribbean countries cannot overlook that the US, in particular, is itself equally a part of the problem and part of the solution.

Large-scale criminal deportations by the US unquestionably boost regional crime resources of experience and expertise.

Without reviewing and reversing the criminal deportation policy, the gains of international co-operation in crime fighting stand only to be continually undermined, and even reduced to naught. The T&T and regional authorities should miss no opportunity forcefully to make this case to their US counterparts.


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