Under the Gun | Porous borders blindside authorities as gun appetite increases
When three fishermen from Whitehouse in Westmoreland found an illegal firearm in a bucket floating off the coastline last Christmas Eve, they did not see it as a gift to keep. To them, it was a clear reminder that the high seas, from which they earned a living, was also fraught with danger, an integral part of the illicit guns-for-drugs trade.
While that weapon was turned over to the police, many of the guns that come into the island via the the island’s vastly unmonitored coastline end up in the hands of criminals, who have murdered more than 1,000 persons in Trelawny, Hanover, Westmoreland, and St James in the last decade.
Following the seizure of six firearms, including an unusual AR-18 Armolite assault rifle, in a police-military operation in Norwood, St James, in 2006, the then minister of national security, Dr Peter Phillips, described the illicit guns-for-drugs trade as a cancer.
“It is like a cancer. When you cut it out, it is painful, but leaving it there will certainly kill you,” Phillips stated. “Leaving the drug trade and the druggists to continue will definitely kill Jamaica and its way of life as we know it.”
The guns-for-drugs trade, which initially saw Jamaican gangsters trading ganja for guns, reportedly had its genesis in a jail cell in Miami, Florida, where former top-flight Montego Bay-based gangster Omar ‘King Evil’ Lewis and an incarcerated Haitian gangster decided to fuse drugs and gunrunning between the two countries.
“Di gun dem wah dem use in the eight-hour war between Canterbury (Montego Bay) gangsters and di police and army in ‘03 (October 2003) was the first set a gun weh King Evil bring in from Haiti,” an underworld figure told The Gleaner.
In the infamous 2003 gun battle, which captured national attention and resulted in the deaths of three alleged gangsters, the police seized an assortment of firearms, including eight assault rifles and a crocus bag with more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
APPETITE FOR GUNS
With gang activities on the rise in St James, especially after the illicit lottery scam came to the fore in 2006, the appetite for guns intensified. The Montego Bay wharf soon became part of the criminal mix as illegal guns and ammunition began popping up in shipments, mostly stashed in household appliances such as television sets and refrigerators.
“Most of di gun dem come inna Jamaica at places like Rocky Point inna Clarendon and Manchioneal in a Portland. Nuff unofficial trading between Haitians and Jamaicans gwaan a dem place deh,” the Gleaner source said. “Nuff gun come through di Montego Bay port, too, but dem gun a big money link ... . No small man nuh inna dat.”
Three weeks ago, law enforcement authorities found more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition and six firearms in barrels in the wharf warehouse during routine checks at the Montego Bay Freeport. This followed the seizure of more than 1,800 assorted rounds of ammunition at the same wharf on May 1.
In April 2017, eight firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition were seized in a similar operation at the Montego Bay wharf. That cache was loaded in two barrels labelled as food.
While guns, especially rifles, are said to be very expensive and beyond the financial scope of ordinary gangsters, the word on the street in western Jamaica is that several top-flight gangsters, especially those aligned to the drug trade and lottery scamming, have no difficulty forking out the cash to acquire these weapons in arming their gangs.
“You nuh see the Prekeh video?” a Gleaner source asked in reference to a recording that surfaced on social media earlier this year in which Jamaica’s most wanted man, Delano ‘Prekeh’ Wilmott, sent threats to the security forces. “Di man seh him deh a Haiti now a get ready fi come back a Jamaica, and di gun him a plan fi bring back, one shot wi flatten a police station.
“Nuff man from ‘bout yah a mek dem regular run guh a Haiti, and a dem a bring in di big ting (rifles) dem,” the source added.
In a recent interview with The Gleaner, Dr David Stair, custos of Hanover, said the state of emergency, which is now ongoing in St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland, will not succeed unless the bigwigs in the guns-for-drugs trade are caught.
“We need to stop the flow of guns coming into the island because as long as they are available, the violence will continue. There must be some major players bringing the guns into the island because the average man does not have the resources to do that, so they need to target those and cut off the supply chain,” said Stair.