Caricom collaborates with USA –Fresh focus on prosecuting gun-runners

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The flags of Caricom member states are raised duriing a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniverary of the Treaty of Chaguaramas at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre on July 4. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE –

After preliminary discussions with the US State Department’s office of Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions, Caricom IMPACS (Implementation Agency for Crime and Security) will now focus more on prosecuting all involved the illegal trafficking of guns as opposed to just seizures.

There continues to be great concern over this by Caribbean governments, with most of the firearms being traced back to the US.

In June, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced that a new division was created within the Department of Justice (DOJ) – Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions – to assist in combating this.

Then during his July visit to TT, US State Secretary Anthony Blinken announced US prosecutor Michael Ben’Ary was appointed the division’s co-ordinator.

Asked for an update on what has been done since, the DOJ’s office – via e-mail – told Newsday it “(does) not have anything publicly available to provide beyond the announcement at this time.”

However, the department was also expected to collaborate with Caricom IMPACS. IMPACS’ executive director Michael Jones told Sunday Newsday he “had discussions” about the collaboration on November 3.

He said the partnership had been “a repeated call” by Caricom and he is thankful it has now been achieved.

While the seizure of illegal firearms destined for the Caribbean is important, Jones said, “What success would look like, for us, would be to identify and successfully prosecute all of those persons (sic) (people) who are or were involved from the purchasing done abroad, facilitating the shipment along the way, to those receiving them in our respective home states.”

In its April 2023 report, Caricom IMPACS reported that US customs seized 520 factory-built firearms from 2016-2021, and the TT police service seized 4,087 from 2017-2021.

Jones said this sort of illegal trade mostly occurs along the eastern sea border and as far west as Texas. Ben’Ary, he said, will overlook such cases with Caribbean involvement.

“…Which essentially coincides with where our diaspora tends to inhabit or be located.”

He said the US is faster than the Caribbean region at prosecuting this type of crime.

“There are 93 US attorneys across (that) country and when these cases happen, (Ben’Ary) would identify the particular US attorney to take this or that particular case as a priority given the political sensitivities concerning the issue.”

Jones added that Ben’Ary “intends to visit as many of the Caribbean countries as possible” – both Caricom and non-Caricom members.

A US Embassy spokesperson told Sunday Newsday via e-mail the US and the Caribbean prioritise disrupting the trafficking of illegal firearms – “an important aspect of our co-operation to address rising levels of crime and violence in the region.

“US law enforcement and border security agencies and the Department of State work with Caribbean counterparts and regional institutions to build Caribbean capacity to detect and interdict illegally-trafficked firearms and ammunition, and promote co-ordination and information sharing between law enforcement and border security agencies.”

The spokesperson said in September that HSI (Homeland Security Investigations), Joint Task force East, and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) initiated “Operation Hammerhead” along with Caricom IMPACS.

“To date, Operation Hammerhead reviewed 211,061 Caribbean-bound exports, referred 1,924 with some level of risk (tiered system), and supported eight firearms trafficking investigations.”

It added, “During Operation Hammerhead’s time frame – 48 pistols, ten rifles, ten magazines, four revolvers, and 3,371 rounds of ammunition have been seized in/destined for the Caribbean.”

Newsday tried to contact Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds, as well as Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood Christopher but all calls and messages went unanswered.