In what could be described as a reprise of the Robin Hood practices of former Jamaican drug lord Christopher Dudus Coke or Pablo Escobar, the former head of the dangerous Medellín drug cartel in Columbia, a local pastor and social worker is contending that some of the worst gang members here are also assisting the needy with some of their very basic needs.
This is why, Roger Husbands of Empowerment International Ministries said, police are having a hard time getting a grip of the crime situation in many of the trouble spots.
“Some of these gangs even take care of some people in districts as well. Don’t let us shut our eyes on that because there are some people who are paid . . . they are given money by gang men to pay their bills – light bills, food bills – to keep their mouths closed,” Husbands told Barbados TODAY.
“That is why when police come to arrest a person or something happens, people are vex and want to fight because they are being taken care of by gangs.”
This is similar to what transpired in Jamaica where Coke, described by the United States at the time as one of the world’s most dangerous drug lords, was revered by people in the West Kingston slum of Tivoli Gardens, where he provided residents with services and protection.
“He made sure I stayed out of trouble and paid for my schooling. He was even going to pay for me to go to pilot school,” one teenager told the BBC in 2012, two years after he was extradited to the US where he was jailed for 23 years on drugs charges, after a bloody mission by lawmen to capture him.
Some 60 people, some of them women, are believed to have died trying to prevent his arrest.
In Columbia, Pablo Escobar was leader of the Medellín Cartel which at one point controlled as much as 80 per cent of the international cocaine trade.
While he waged a violent war against the authorities, ordering the assassination of countless individuals, including police officers, journalists, and politicians, he was also well known for investing large sums of his fortune in charitable public works, including the construction of schools, sports fields and housing developments for the urban poor. Therefore, he too was regarded in Colombia as a local Robin Hood. Husbands did not suggest that the situation is the same here, but he said he had begun to notice a similar pattern.
“I am not saying that it is all over Barbados, but we are seeing it in small pockets. I will say again, we are having a big problem with gangs in this small nation of ours, and a lot of our young fellas and young girls are not going towards the academic areas. They are coming out of school and going onto the blocks,” he said.
Husbands, the director of Drug Education and Counselling Services (DECS), painted a troubling picture of the gang situation here, contending that they were changing their method of operation, with some merging to form super gangs.
He described encounters with young gang members who say they were in a state of war, hence the number of illegal guns on the streets, he said.
“As one young man said to me, ‘we gotta carry de guns because the issue is that there is war and wherever there is war you gotta take a gun’. They don’t want at the end of the day to get shoot. They prefer to shoot the person first. Right now, within the gangs, districts and communities you are finding a lot of young people coming to the place where they are defending themselves. That’s why they carry the weapons.
“That’s why they carry the knives [and so on] . . . so that if anybody comes around them from another territory that they have a war against that they would use the weapon. In so far as some children who have to come here [DECS] for counselling do not want to come to town because they have war with some people in the town area. We have a situation in Barbados that needs addressing,” he stressed.
Following the Kadooment Day shooting along Spring Garden Highway that left 20-year-old Taried Junior Rock of 3rd Avenue, Chapman Land, St Michael dead and 18 others injured, Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith had said that there were 16 gangs operating in the Black Rock, St Michael area alone.
The country has been experiencing a wave of crime, with 25 murders so far this year, 21 of which were gun related.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on Sunday promised “a suite of legislative and other measures” to combat the rising crime, but gave no details.