Manning has tackled these problems head-on -- claiming he will build "Fortress Trinidad and Tobago," buying helicopters and summoning his security forces. But, unfortunately, the Port of Spain government helps stoke the drug trade and the gangs. The country's annual per capita GDP has risen from about $11,000 to $18,800 in the past decade due to strong exports of natural gas and steel. Still, unemployment remains high, and to create jobs, the government spends about $400 million per year on make-work projects. The bulk of this money is ultimately funneled to gang leaders, who administer "grants" and distribute "salaries." Indeed, corruption -- always a problem in the country -- is reaching new heights. According to several security analysts, a damning unofficial study carried out by the government in 2009 suggested that almost 90 percent of police officers were regularly involved in illegal activities. Those pursuits ranged from running and selling drugs, to colluding with gangs by renting out weapons to criminals, to performing extralegal killings.
Plus, despite Manning's saber rattling, Trinidad and Tobago's security teams have not been terribly effective. Trinidad's security forces have never intercepted a cocaine-carrying fast boat or made a significant bust. In 2005, officers did impound a shipment of cocaine said to be worth $800 million. But this find was accidental. Late one night, officers investigating suspicious lights on a deserted beach literally tripped over the contraband.
Senior intelligence officials cite the lack of arrests as proof that claims that major cartels operate in their country are mistaken. They claim the allegations are the invention of local muckracking reporters. Residents and workers on offshore oil rigs near those drug channels disagree. According to one foreign oil worker, so many fast boats cruise toward Trinidad's sheltered coves that "It's like the Normandy invasion." A few years ago, Trinidad purchased a sophisticated new 360-degree radar system. According to one senior official, the government has yet to turn it on. Another analyst disputes this, saying the problem is that too few staff members understand how to use the radar technology.
Thus, whether or not Manning is effective in protecting Trinidad and Tobago from drugs and guns from overseas, it is clear he needs just as badly to tackle problems at home. To do so, he needs help -- and international supervision. A coalition of governments -- including the United States and Britain, whose navies patrol the region -- should step in to help patrol the lane between Trinidad and Venezuela. Training should also be supplied to Trinidad's Coast Guard so it can vigorously pursue smugglers. With its new navy, the largest in the English-speaking Caribbean, Trinidad may be able to fill a real void in detecting cocaine smuggling. But it has to secure its own borders first and purge its security forces of corrupt members. Until Trinidad gets serious about this, the United States should disinvite the country from regional security dialogues. With its wealth and strategic location, Trinidad and Tobago is a natural partner. Yet these countries would be wise to make sure that they do not let the fox guard the henhouse.