Trinidad and Tobago
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    Profile

    Trinidad and Tobago

    Capital

    Port of Spain

    Gross domestic product (GDP)

    USD 24,269.71 million

    Income group

    High income

    Population

    1,394,973

    Area

    5,130 km²

    Geography type

    Island

    4.94

    Criminality score

    91st of 193 countries

    19th of 35 countries in Americas

    4th of 13 countries in Caribbean

    Criminal market

    4.25

    Human trafficking

    6.00

    Human smuggling

    4.00

    Arms trafficking

    6.00

    Flora crimes

    1.00

    Fauna crimes

    2.00

    Non-renewable resource crimes

    2.00

    Heroin trade

    3.00

    Cocaine trade

    7.50

    Cannabis trade

    7.00

    Synthetic drug trade

    4.00

    Criminal actors

    5.63

    Mafia-style groups

    6.00

    Criminal networks

    5.00

    State-embedded actors

    5.00

    Foreign actors

    6.50

    5.21

    Resilience score

    76th of 193 countries

    14th of 35 countries in Americas

    6th of 13 countries in Caribbean

    Political leadership and governance

    5.00

    Government transparency and accountability

    5.00

    International cooperation

    6.50

    National policies and laws

    7.00

    Judicial system and detention

    3.50

    Law enforcement

    5.50

    Territorial integrity

    5.00

    Anti-money laundering

    6.00

    Economic regulatory capacity

    4.00

    Victim and witness support

    5.00

    Prevention

    5.00

    Non-state actors

    5.00

    5.21 5.63 4.25 5.21 5.63 4.25

    5.21

    Resilience score

    76th of 193 countries

    14th of 35 countries in Americas

    6th of 13 countries in Caribbean

    Political leadership and governance

    5.00

    Government transparency and accountability

    5.00

    International cooperation

    6.50

    National policies and laws

    7.00

    Judicial system and detention

    3.50

    Law enforcement

    5.50

    Territorial integrity

    5.00

    Anti-money laundering

    6.00

    Economic regulatory capacity

    4.00

    Victim and witness support

    5.00

    Prevention

    5.00

    Non-state actors

    5.00

    Analysis

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    People

    Human trafficking is not pervasive across Trinidad and Tobago, but is of concern because the country is a source, transit and destination for trafficking victims. The market is largely driven by local demand and has mostly foreign actors – Chinese groups and, since recently, Venezuelan nationals – involved in exploiting victims in private businesses. Along with Trinidadian and Tobagonian, women and girls from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Columbia are vulnerable to sexual exploitation in brothels and clubs in the country. Economic migrants from the Caribbean and Asia are also at risk of exploitation in domestic servitude and/or forced labour in the retail sector. Additionally, the sheer volume of vessels going through Trinidad and Tobago’s territorial waters increases the risk of forced labour in the fishing industry, and many trafficked boys are coerced into selling drugs. Corruption among police and immigration officials in relation to human trafficking exists, but its extent is unknown.

    There is no evidence of a significant human-smuggling market in Trinidad and Tobago. However, due to the current economic and political climate in Venezuela, thousands of Venezuelan citizens have tried to irregularly cross the border into Trinidad and Tobago. Although the country is not always the final destination for Venezuelans, the proximity and porosity of its borders make it a key transit point. Human smuggling routes are often disjointed and form part of other crime networks, including those involving vessels that cross the channel carrying both irregular Venezuelan migrants and contraband. In case irregular migrants are unable to pay smugglers, they may be pushed into forced labour and/or sexual exploitation.

    Trade

    Trinidad and Tobago is a substantial trafficking destination for the regional arms-trafficking market, with most weapons coming from the US. Notably, the political and economic crisis in Venezuela is believed to have further exacerbated Trinidad and Tobago’s arms-trafficking market. In general, illegal arms are shipped along with drugs and are often used as payment in drug deals. Illegitimate cargo is regularly concealed with the help of corrupt officials. The illicit arms market is also associated with the rising levels of gun violence in Trinidad and Tobago. Due to the evolution of gangs in the country, there has been an increase in gang-on-gang violence using sophisticated, fully automatic high-powered firearms smuggled to Trinidad and Tobago from either the US or Canada. An observed decrease in prices of some illicit firearms probably indicates an oversupply.

    Environment

    There is no indication of a flora crimes market in Trinidad and Tobago and, although parrots and monkeys are reportedly trafficked from Venezuela through Trinidad and Tobago on to Europe, there is no information to suggest the presence of a significant fauna-crimes market. Similarly, gold appears to be smuggled from Venezuela into Trinidad and Tobago, where local companies in Port of Spain offer charter flights to ship it to destination markets.

    Drugs

    The heroin trade is rather limited in Trinidad and Tobago, which serves mostly as a destination country. Nevertheless, local gangs are allegedly involved in the distribution of heroin and the country is increasingly being used as a transit point for heroin deliveries. Importantly, the presumed growth is attributed to Venezuelan migrants in Trinidad and Tobago looking to ‘pay the bills’ through engaging in the drug trade. While high levels of violence and corruption are associated with cocaine trafficking, heroin-specific data remains limited. Conversely, cocaine trafficking is quite significant in the country, with foreign actors exercising influence over the market. The country lies along one of the world’s most significant cocaine corridors, which conditions Trinidad and Tobago’s role as a transit country for South American cocaine bound for the US and Europe. Although to a lesser extent, a domestic cocaine market exists as well. The well-established cargo routes between Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Venezuela facilitates the cocaine trade, with drugs being concealed in legitimate cargo vessels, from where they are handed over to smaller local vessels at sea or delivered to specific drop-off locations in the region. The northern port of Chaguaramas, the largest yacht marina in the Caribbean, is an important hub for the illicit trade, as yachts there have been used to stash cocaine from Venezuela before selling and moving it to Europe via yachts or by air. Notably, Trinidad and Tobago is a significant point of transit for cocaine shipped to other eastern Caribbean islands. The country has, however, refused entry of yachts since the coronavirus pandemic began, which has reportedly displaced much of the cocaine trafficking to Grenada.

    While Trinidad and Tobago is mostly a waypoint for cannabis coming from South America and destined for the US and Europe, a large and increasing domestic market exists as well. Cannabis shipments primarily arrive in the country from Venezuela, St Vincent and Guyana via small boats or cargo vessels at legal ports of entry. In addition, information suggests that cargo ships are offloading cannabis to smaller vessels at sea. Gangs in the country also allegedly collaborate with counterparts from St Vincent to traffic cannabis, and are now believed to provide supplies for cannabis cultivation, while Vincentians may provide land and labour in return for shared profits of cannabis distribution. Notably, illegal importation and sale of marijuana seeds from the US and Canada, mostly via courier, have increased since 2019. Corruption is reportedly rampant, with police and customs officials often accepting bribes, while the market is observed to drive the increase in violent crime and gun culture. Consumption of synthetic drugs in Trinidad and Tobago is relatively small and limited to the Chinese community, although synthetic drug-use among students is a growing concern. The influx of Chinese nationals into the country also seems to correlate with an increase in the import and use of ketamine. Criminal gangs are believed to control the synthetic-drug market, and there has been an increase in the variety of pills available since 2018.

    Criminal Actors

    Trinidad and Tobago’s strategic position is believed to appeal to transnational criminal groups, especially those engaged in trafficking drugs to the US, Canada and Europe. Foreign actors, however, tend not to have a permanent presence in the country. Over recent years, many Venezuelan criminal groups have migrated to Trinidad and Tobago, with the most well-known being the Evander gang, also known as the Deltano Liberation Front. Corruption in Trinidad and Tobago is rampant and state-embedded actors reportedly facilitate organized-crime activities. Despite such allegations, however, there is no evidence of state-embedded actors being directly involved in criminality.

    Information suggests that there are between 95 and 102 criminal networks in Trinidad and Tobago, totalling between 1 200 and 1 300 individuals. Criminal networks tend to be small, with either no or limited links to transnational organizations or political influence. Such groups are involved primarily in drug trafficking, although it is alleged that they also engage in arms trafficking and fraud. The majority of these networks are concentrated in the Port of Spain, but a strong presence has been observed in impoverished communities in urban areas as well. Besides criminal networks, mafia-style structures also operate in the Port of Spain, especially around Laventille. The latter hold substantial control over poor and urban areas around the city. With more than 600 members, Jamaat al Muslimeen, led by Yasin Abu Bakr, is believed to be the most well-known mafia structure in the country. It is allegedly involved in drug and arms trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, money laundering and human smuggling. In general, mafia-style structures are reportedly highly violent, while some of their leaders double up as ‘community leaders’ striving towards political power, which could be perceived as a way of infiltrating legitimate state structures.

    Leadership and governance

    Despite criminal structures providing security, welfare and even education in some areas, authorities in Trinidad and Tobago have taken a strong stance against organized crime, and criminal structures do not appear to be influencing the democratic process. In addition, the country is rather stable, having made substantive progress in reducing vulnerability to conflict and collapse. The perception of corruption is relatively high and challenges with the adherence and implementation of anti-corruption measures remain. However, the legislative framework guiding access to information is well grounded.

    Trinidad and Tobago is party to most international treaties and conventions pertaining to organized crime and authorities have reportedly established proper collaboration channels with counterparts in the area of anti-organized crime, and anti-drug trafficking in particular. Cooperation occurs via the transnational organized crime unit (TOCU) within the Ministry of National Security and INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in the Port of Spain. Trinidad and Tobago has a fairly strong legal framework that addresses all forms of organized crime activities, stipulating policies for the investigation, arrest, prosecution, adjudication and punishment of criminals. The country’s legislation regarding precursor chemicals for synthetic drugs, however, needs to be updated. Trinidad and Tobago made an important step in decriminalizing the cultivation and possession of small quantities of cannabis in 2019, but the impact remains to be seen.

    Criminal justice and security

    Trinidad and Tobago’s judicial system is generally independent, but widely perceived as underfunded, weak and inefficient. Allegedly, the judiciary is somewhat influenced by political pressure and corruption. The prison system also faces significant challenges, including overcrowding, corruption and abuse, although there is no evidence to suggest criminal actors are able to exert control over prisons. There are organized-crime-specific law-enforcement units in the country – the TOCU, which has an excellent reputation for integrity and professionalism, and the organized crime, narcotics and firearms bureau. On the other hand, many law-enforcement officials are accused of excessive use of force and some have faced allegations of close links with gang leaders. Additionally, members of the armed forces and customs officials have been accused of facilitating trafficking and smuggling of drugs, weapons and humans. The country’s highly porous borders, along with its proximity to South American drug markets and excellent transport links to other Caribbean countries and to Europe, render it very susceptible to trafficking flows. The country’s border control has been further compromised by the Venezuelan crisis. Among the agencies responsible for policing Trinidad and Tobago’s borders are the customs agency and the coastguard. While staffing is reportedly an issue with the former, lessening the agency’s effectiveness, the coastguard is technically well equipped and has its own intelligence and analysis unit, allowing it to function accordingly.

    Economic and financial environment

    Trinidad and Tobago’s relatively stable economy, developed financial system and geographic position render it vulnerable to money-laundering operations. Despite the country criminalizing money laundering and establishing a financial intelligence unit to enforce regulations for the prevention and control of money laundering, terrorism financing and the forfeiture of illicitly derived assets, Trinidad and Tobago still rates poorly by a range of standards. Thus, in 2018 the EU put Trinidad and Tobago on its money-laundering blacklist due to issues related to transparency. Since then, however, the country has made substantial efforts to address the shortfalls of its anti-money laundering regime. Businesses in the country operate largely free from criminal activities. Nevertheless, criminal organizations have been active in extortion rackets and are also known to extort contractors carrying out public works projects.

    Civil society and social protection

    Trinidad and Tobago has a fairly robust framework in place to grant support to victims of modern slavery, providing for adequate relocation and protection measures. Its witness protection programme is also excellent and has been recognized as one of the safest in the region. Non-state actors also play a significant role in victim and witness support, with several NGOs providing shelter and other social services to adult and child victims of trafficking, as well as to drug users and drug offenders set to be released from prison. A number of NGOs also work towards reducing violence and crime in vulnerable populations, while Trinidad and Tobago’s Citizen Security Programme seeks to achieve that through police reform, community-based prevention strategies and strengthening the country’s Ministry of National Security and police services. Media freedom is well established in the country, although certain pieces of legislation, including those pertaining to whistle-blower and data protection, as well as cybercrime, may negatively impact the media landscape.

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    The criminal markets score is represented by the pyramid base size and the criminal actors score is represented by the pyramid height, on a scale ranging from 1 to 10. The resilience score is represented by the panel height, which can be identified by the side of the panel.

    This report was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State.

    ENACT is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Institute for Security Studies and INTERPOL, in affiliation with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

    The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.