Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Venezuela joins Haiti and US as region's major illegal guns supplier

Published:Thursday | June 8, 2017 | 6:00 AMJason Cross
Professor Anthony Clayton,

Economic crises in Venezuela may propel that country to the position of one of the Caribbean's largest supplier of illegal guns and ammunition, along with Haiti and the United States of America, says Anthony Clayton, professor of Caribbean sustainable development at the Univer-sity of the West Indies.

"It is not just the (illegal gun) trade with Haiti or the import of weapons from the United States. There is going to be a third major source of supply into the Caribbean region and that is Venezuela," Clayton told The Gleaner yesterday.

Clayton said that Venezuela has more guns per person than any country in the Western Hemisphere, a deliberate move by former President Hugo Ch·vez.

Now that the economy is suffering immensely, those arms are being sold rapidly to facilitate basic survival.

"The problem we are facing is, because with Venezuela's economic collapse, there is now evidence of weapons flooding out of Venezuela, initially into Trinidad, but which will come percolating through the Caribbean. Venezuela has got more guns per person than almost any other country in the (western) hemisphere, including the United States."

"This is partly due to former President Ch·vez's policy of arming the militias. Now, with the economy collapsing, a lot of them are selling their weapons and they are selling them for groceries, pharmaceuticals and basic survival items," Clayton said.

The Jamaican police in Kingston recently seized a Galilaeae 22 rifle, bearing the insignia of the Haitian national police, along with a magazine containing six 5.56 cartridges on Peters Road in Rockfort, while responding to explosions heard in the area.

Drugs-for-guns trade remains high

Clayton stressed that because Haiti continues to struggle with poverty and corruption, the possibility of police armoury being traded as part of arms destined for Jamaica through the drugs-for-guns trade remains high.

He recommended that the Jamaican police remain vigilant at the island's ports of entry.

"The ganja for guns trade is still active, so the weapons will be coming in. A lot of them are not simply just unlicensed firearms, but it is probably inevitable that at some point, police weapons will be coming in as well. They don't make guns, but they have a huge problem with unlicensed guns."

He continued: "It's the poorest country in the hemisphere. They have very deep-rooted problem with government and high levels of corruption, and it is a situation where police officers are poorly paid, so you could only expect high levels of corruption inside the police force. Plus, there is a market for weapons, so there is always going to be a problem with police weapons being sold out of the armouries.

"We have to step up our vigilance at our ports and also, of course, at the ports where unregistered fishing vessels can land, because our fishermen could be doing exchanges at sea and then bringing the weapons in. We should be thinking about how we can track their vessels," Clayton said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com