The Government does plenty for Laventille. People have
Cepep, houses, water, cable, sports facilities, trade workshops,
music, cookery classes, Best Village. Vanity has them shooting.
The boys want a car with big music, big guns, bling.
If its a war of guns, the police will lose. Lack of
amenities isnt the problem. Nor is the absence of jobs.
Its about upward mobility. Money.
Author of Freakoconomics, Stephen Levitt has analysed the
economics of a cocaine-selling street gang in Chicago. Stephen
Levitt believes any street gang operates like a franchise
of McDonalds or KFC. The hierarchy is flat. At the top
is the local gang leader. Below him, three people: the accountant,
the adviser and an enforcer/human relations man.
In the next tier there are the soldiers, the men working behind
Finally, there are hangers-on, young, inexperienced tag-alongs.
Levitt found the local gang leader made ten times more than
he would in regular employment. The three middle managers
made more than minimum wage.
The foot soldiers made less than minimum wage. Most live at
home and work part-time in regular employment, in addition
to being members of gangs to survive.
Apply this to Trinidad and Tobago. Interviews suggest this
scenario: The young boys who are getting shot cant afford
bling. They are wearing rubber slippers, living in shacks.
They are the foot soldiers and hanger-ons.
In the early 1990s, when URP was expanding, leaders
of the programme gained control of up to five gangs.
With this government contract, instead of 20 street soldiers,
he could employ 50 more with URP money. He still paid them
less than minimum wage, because he is taking his cut.
Like any businessman with an excess of labour, he looks to
expand. In this case, the territory where he can sell drugs.
Unfortunately, that territory is occupied by someone just
like him who also has a URP contract, and is looking to expand.
Because these are criminal activities, this isnt easy.
You cant buy them out, cant compete and sell better
goods. So you invade their territory and hold it. Thats
where the guns come in. The number of guns available is a
reflection of demand.
The men who in the past smuggled whiskey will bring guns.
Its just business.
Whats in it for the young boys from the age of 15? The
answer is simple. With their lack of educational qualifications
they will be stuck in a minimum-wage system for the rest of
So they make a rational choice for themselves. Keep one foot
in the formal system such as URP, with a reasonable income,
live at home, and stay in the gang, in the hopes of rising
to be a gang leader, and making ten times more than minimum
The odds are high for a wage hike, since he is just competing
with 35 people, most of whom will die on the job, compared
to a formal economy where the possibility of rising without
education is zero.
In times of war, the pay goes up. War is not the interest
of the top man, since sales of drugs drop, but it is in the
interest of the shooters to keep war going.
The riskier the venture, the greater the pay. The more shooters
attack rival gangs the more likely the boss man will make
you a senior man in that territory.
The more you kill, the more social rank and power you have
amongst your peers. More pay brings girls, fancy cars, music,
bling. A power they would never have otherwise.
Unless the Government can quickly educate thousands of semi-literate
young men countrywide, with the hope of being powerful in
the formal economy, our 90-strong, mostly illiterate gangs
will continue to mushroom, flourish and kill in cold blood.