There are many pieces to our drugs, guns and corruption puzzle. A review of various documentaries about the drugs trade in the wider Caribbean region can show us what the finished puzzle may look like, and therefore, why it is not being solved.
Interviewed gang leaders admitted to bribing: customs officials, police, judges, and politicians. Bribes were paid to guarantee the uninterrupted flow of guns and drugs and to frustrate any investigation if someone was caught.
Gang leaders normally employed assassins to kill those who did not cooperate. They also tended to care for the poor in their communities. Sometimes, the US pressured the Governments to arrest gang leaders. If those next in line were also arrested or killed, the leadership void was sometimes filled by assassins. When assassins became gang leaders, no one was safe.
How close to the edge are we in Barbados? With the pieces kept conveniently jumbled, the true picture has always remained speculative. We now have 30 years of jumbled evidence to assemble.
When the gangs were fighting for turf in Barbados during the 1987-1994 DLP administration, former Prime Minister Sandiford declared that there were no gangs in Barbados. The following BLP administration (1994 – 2008) acknowledged that there were gangs, but noted that there were simply killing each other.
After some gruesome murders, legislation for illegal guns was passed. We were told that convicted persons would receive 25-year sentences for possession of an illegal gun or bullet. Soon after that announcement, a person was convicted of a gun offence and received a comparable ‘slap-on-the-wrist’.
In 2008, former Prime Minister Arthur revealed that he left an FBI report on his desk for the new Prime Minister. Former Prime Minister Stuart claimed that he never saw it on his desk.
In 2008, Barbados reported to the OAS that we had 150 gangs, with 4,000 members. For comparison, in 2010 the Jamaican police reported they had 268 gangs with 3,900 members. That same year, the Bajan Reporter published a shocking report of how gangs recruited our school children.
In 2017, Small Arms Survey found that 1,675 guns were used by the Barbados military, and 2,000 by the police. The number of unlawfully held guns was estimated at 7,000.
In 2017, the DLP reported that gang leaders were operating without fear of prosecution in Barbados. They noted that kidnappings, executions, drug trafficking, and legitimate businesses were part of their normal activities. They further noted that prominent members of Barbados society were linked to the importation of illegal guns.
In 2017, the DLP proposed anti-gang legislation, with gang members being liable for 20 years imprisonment, and gang leaders, 25 years. In 2018, the new BLP administration decided not to pursue anti-gang legislation, noting that it will only be used as a last resort.
In 2019, former BLP politician, Atherley, revealed in Parliament, that politicians had connections to gang leaders.
In 2020, the BLP passed an Integrity in Public Life Bill that contained glaring loopholes to protect persons who supposedly received bribes. For example, section 65.4 states: “An inquiry or investigation shall not be commenced after two years from the date on which the person involved ceased to be a public official.”
The increasing number of unrestrained shootings in Barbados suggests that whatever restraining influence ‘prominent members of Barbados society’ had, has faded. If we are on a similar trend as the wider Caribbean, then it appears that bribes have already been paid, and the uncontrollable sicarios or assassins have taken control of some gangs.
For the past 20 years, after every shooting that the media gave prominence, we got the same tough political talk, and no meaningful action. We have now come to a very familiar junction – to jumble or not to jumble.
The BLP recently announced that we are paying a UK law firm to go on a fishing expedition – to look for corruption in Barbados. This suggests that we have chosen to jumble.
We can easily ask the FBI for a copy of their 2008 report – at no cost. We can also ask them for an updated version. Perhaps it is time to ask why we have not done this simple thing for the past 12 years. We have foolishly courted disaster for the past 30 years, and they do not tolerate break-ups.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at [email protected].