JAMAICA | Engage Caribbean Diaspora to lobby US over export of illegal guns to the Region

JAMAICA | Engage Caribbean Diaspora to lobby US over export of illegal guns to the Region

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica, January 4, 2023 - Despite widespread concerns expressed by Caribbean leaders, it has become rather pellucid that the United States has very little intention of doing anything to stop the supply of illegal guns flowing to the Caribbean. 

The guns have kept coming to the Region and the murder rates continue to soar, against the background that US lawmakers have  cut 11.8% of the budget for the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which provides border and port security aid to Caribbean nations, in fiscal year 2022 (July 2022 through June 2023).

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says "The United States of America has to do something about...the easy access to guns and the easy exportation of guns.Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says "The United States of America has to do something about...the easy access to guns and the easy exportation of guns.Early in January Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, took a strong stance during a radio interview, demanding that  “The United States of America has to do something about...the easy access to guns and the easy exportation of guns. They have the resources to help us with that,” Gonsalves advised.

Dr. Gonsalves lamented the proliferation of guns manufactured in the United States and violence associated with the illicit drug trade as the main causes of a high murder rate in some Latin America and Caribbean countries.

Noting that SVG has the fourth lowest suicide rate in the world, which currently stands at one per 100 thousand, Dr. Gonsalves rubbished claims that murders in SVG are linked to increased frustration among Vincentians.

A few days later, Prime Minister Philip Davis of the Bahamas, met with US Vice-President Kamala Harris on January 17 to discuss “the importance ... of reducing the flow of guns illegally entering The Bahamas from the United States.”

Interestingly, while the official Bahamian statement mentioned arms trafficking as one of the major points of the meeting, the corresponding US account failed to mention the subject at all. 

Following that, one of the newest Caribbean prime Ministers, Dickon Mitchel of Grenada  echoed the same fear on January 16.

 Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis met earlier today with Vice President Kamala Harris at The White House to discuss a number of issues facing The Bahamas and the wider Caribbean region including the proliferation of illegal guns to the Region.. Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis met earlier today with Vice President Kamala Harris at The White House to discuss a number of issues facing The Bahamas and the wider Caribbean region including the proliferation of illegal guns to the Region..“Our island(s) are under constant threat from the importation of small firearms in particular. They are coming in barrels, they are coming in containers … we are probably the last bastion of little or no gun violence in the region,” Mitchell said, adding that St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica all faced the same problem. 

With 1117 homicides by firearms during 2022, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has appealed to the security authorities in the United States to do more to support Jamaica in its bid to stem the flow of illegal guns from that country.

That plea however seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as in the last weeks alone, illegal shipments were intercepted by the Jamaican police and customs authorities totalling in excess of 85 firearms from the wharf in Montego Bay.

Between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, nearly 1,900 of their citizens were murdered in 2021, for homicide rates of 49 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively. These victims were killed mostly with American-made guns, imported illegally into these islands. 

Rapidly rising violence across the Caribbean saw several countries record high homicide rates in 2022, including St. Lucia, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

According to statistics compiled by InSight Crime, the Caribbean accounted for four of the five most-murderous countries and territories in the region in 2022, with the Turks and Caicos Islands topping the rankings, followed by Jamaica, Venezuela, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. There were no reliable figures for Haiti. The overwhelming majority of murders in the Caribbean are carried out with firearms.

Perhaps in much the same way that Caribbean countries have been mandated to put in pleace measured to prevent illegal narcotics from being trafficked  from Caribbean countries to the United States,  it is time to engage members of the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States, in an effort to get them to lobby their Congressmen and State Senators and other elected representatives to have them implent measures to prevent illegal firearms from being trafficked into the Caribbean.

Prtime Minister Dickon Mitchell said Our island(s) are under constant threat from the importation of small firearms in particular. They are coming in barrels, they are coming in containers … we are probably the last bastion of little or no gun violence in the region,” MitchellPrtime Minister Dickon Mitchell said Our island(s) are under constant threat from the importation of small firearms in particular. They are coming in barrels, they are coming in containers … we are probably the last bastion of little or no gun violence in the region,” MitchellA very ambitions task indeed, but in the Caribbean we value the lives of our people, Yes, our lives matter, but more than that, we depend on tourism for a substantial portion of our GDP and in fact, quite recently, the US State Department was warning Americans against visiting Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

“Violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults, and homicides, are common,” the advisory said of Jamaica. “ Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts.”

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Americans claimed, the likelihood of terrorist attacks was real. And while our visitors particularly Americans do not suffer from violent crimes in the Caribbean, we have to ensure that gun crimes are held to a minimum. The fact is, that Caribbean governments do not manufacture any of the guns that are weapons of choice for criminals, and used in more than 70 per cent of homicides.

A recent editorial in the Daily Gleaner urged Jamaica and its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners to join Mexico’s lawsuit against gun dealers and distributors for supplying much of the weapons that cross the border illegally into Mexico.

The Editorial also urged  Caribbean governments – including those territories that are ultimately accountable to major powers – should deepen the coordination of their anti-crime and security efforts, including hardening their network for the sharing of intelligence. 

In its first lawsuit against the US gun manufacturers inAugust  2021, Mexico argued that “US gun manufacturers knowingly undermine its gun control laws in how they design and market weapons, by adopting features, including the addition of special motifs, they know are favoured by drug cartels. In the US$10-billion claim, Mexico said that over two per cent, or around 880,000 of the estimated 40 million guns manufactured in the United States, reached Mexico. 

“Nearly 70 per cent of these were made by the companies named in the suit – Smith & Wesson, Sturm, Ruger & Co, Beretta USA, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Colt’s Manufacturing Co, and Glock Inc. In 2019 alone, Mexico reported that over 17,000 homicides were linked to illegally trafficked guns.”

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has appealed to the security authorities in the United States to do more to support Jamaica in its bid to stem the flow of illegal guns from that country.Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has appealed to the security authorities in the United States to do more to support Jamaica in its bid to stem the flow of illegal guns from that country.However, federal judge, F. Dennis Saylo, dismissed the case, saying that the suit did not overcome protections provided to America’s gun manufacturers by the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. 

“While the court has considerable sympathy for the people of Mexico, and none whatsoever for those who traffic guns to Mexican criminal organisations, it is duty-bound to follow the law.”

Mexico quickly followed up with a new lawsuit targeting the distributors and dealers, saying that they are not careful to whom they sell weapons and “allow straw purchasers to buy guns”. 

In August 2022, new legislation sought to close off several arms trafficking loopholes. This included a crackdown on unregulated private sales and increasing penalties for so-called “straw buyers,” a practice where individuals with clean records purchase guns and lie about their intended use, before selling the weapons to criminal groups.  

“Straw-buying in the US is the most common channel [of trafficking arms to Mexico] as most straw buyers are not going to get caught,” John Lindsay-Poland, an activist who coordinates the Stop US Arms to Mexico project, told InSight Crime.

According to journalist and author of the book "Blood Gun Money" Ioan Grillo, Over 2.5 million guns have been smuggled from the United States into Mexico alone over the last decade.

“But Caribbean nations are particularly vulnerable and have limited options to deal with this crisis internally. Individuals on US soil have been implicated in illegal arms seizures in Haiti, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands, among others. 

“In the Bahamas, 98% of illegal firearms recovered and submitted to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for tracing in 2020 came from the US. Similar trends could be seen in Haiti (87%), and the Dominican Republic (73%). 

“US territories are also at serious risk. In Puerto Rico, only 13 percent of guns seized by authorities were legally sold there, as opposed to a 66 percent average on the US mainland. 

For the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, arms trafficking was a major factor as to why the US Virgin Islands had a 2020 homicide rate nine times higher than the mainland,” says an Insight Crime analysis.


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