More than two dozen local police officers are currently under watch by the T&T Police Service Professional Standards Bureau having been implicated in an intrinsic human trafficking ring operating between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago.
The investigations are occurring even as police are probing the recent illegal entry of scores of Venezuelans into T&T. Guardian Media was told surveillance drones and a newly-formed Police Coastal Unit will come on stream over the next month to crack down on human trafficking and smuggling in the southwestern peninsula.
The trafficking network, which is supported and operated by corrupt local law enforcement officers, has been exposed in a 2019 Caricom Study on Human Trafficking conducted by Dr Justine Pierre.
Reliable sources say the state-of-the-art drones will patrol a 10-mile expanse of porous coastline along the peninsula where Venezuelan migrants, livestock, honey, guns and drugs are brought in. Every vessel coming into territorial waters will be monitored and it will work in tandem with increased activity by the T&T Coast Guard.
A source who requested anonymity said the traffickers often pay police officers to transport their illegal human cargo.
“We have informants who give us information as to how the operation is set up. The local police officers use police equipment to ensure the safe travel of the women and the drugs and guns. This is the information we have but the network is so well set up that lookouts are placed along the way and they are tipped off,” the source said.
“There are safe spots for the migrant women to hide until the transportation comes to get them.”
In some cases, police officers go to the specific drop off points to oversee the process.
A senior law enforcement official said over the past year polygraph tests have been done on suspected corrupt South Western Division officers. Those who refused to do the tests were transferred out of the division, the source said, adding drugs busts in recent times were done by officers outside the division.
“In one case, almost all the officers from a police station in south Trinidad refused to take the polygraph tests. Because the tests are not tangible proof of corruption, none of the officers has been charged even though there have been statements taken from informants about their illegal conduct,” the source revealed.
During an exclusive interview with Guardian Media, Dr Pierre called for a collaborative approach to deal with human trafficking, saying no country could deal with it alone. He said he had gathered data on the number of women who left Venezuela to search for a better life in Trinidad.
He said human traffickers in Venezuela, as well as anti-trafficking organisations in Venezuela, provided information for his study that was collaborated with information obtained from people in T&T.
“We spoke to the boat operators, we spoke to the Venezuelan military forces, we told them that we were not police or anyone in authority. People are generally not willing to provide information to the police or people in public positions. Everyone is willing to leave their legacy and many people do not believe that what they are doing is wrong,” Pierre said.
Asked why no law enforcement officer has yet been arrested, Pierre said, “The TTPS is doing their best. However, they do not have enough resources.”
He said T&T should embark on national research into human trafficking.
“The human trafficking industry in T&T is well organised and highly funded. T&T is also a transit country. The demand for sex and prostitution in T&T is very high. A national human trafficking survey needs to be done urgently,” Pierre said.
Asked to make recommendations on how the scourge should be tackled, Pierre said, “Public sensitisation, public awareness and public education. The clients of prostitutes and human trafficking need to know that what they are doing is wrong.”
He added, “It must be a coordinated effort all across the region. Human trafficking algorithms must be developed to predict activities and shared them with all the countries. Data sharing needs to be publicly available to all. Information about human trafficking in the Caribbean is political and some of the governments do not want to share that information with the public,” he said, adding the Jamaican government has done a great job in combating human trafficking.