Last month, I had the opportunity to travel with 34 other doctoral candidates and faculty members from the Law and Policy Doctoral (LPD) Program in the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University, Boston, to Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), as part of an international immersion research initiative. While in T&T, I interacted with a wide array of academic, business, political, military and civil society groups in order to gather data in support my doctoral research. We met with members of the faculty from the University of the West Indies (UWI), toured the Coast Guard Base at Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas, and met with gang leaders within the town of Laventille, one of the most violent and poorest areas of T&T. Later on in the week, we visited the Gandhi Memorial Vedic Primary School, the House of Parliament, and the National Gas Company (NGC), met with former Prime Minister Patrick Manning and fast ferried from Trinidad to Tobago to visit the Tobago House of Assembly (THA). During our visit the Coast Guard Headquarters, we were briefed by CDR Pritchard, Commander of T&T Coast Guard, who spoke very candidly about the recent release of their Joint CONOPS, their Naval Order of Battle, existing U.S. and T&T Naval partnerships, as well as many of the stressors and demands their nation encounters in the maritime environment.
After reflecting on our conversations throughout the week, I quickly grasped the significant short fall in capabilities and resources that the T&T Navy faces to effectively address the narcotics problem both within territorial and international waters. CDR Pritchard discussed, narcotics trafficking in the context of “not just a T&T problem, but a regional problem,” and that a collaborative regional approach is needed to address this issue. Many of the catalysts to instability within T&T, such as poverty, corruption, resource scarcity, and transnational criminality, parallel many of the same issues encountered by countries who participated in the Global Maritime Partnerships (GMP) Game last month at the Naval War College. CDR Pritchard also discussed one of T&T’s most recent initiatives, a Joint Operations Center, which brings in local, state & federal authorities, military branches, along with international partners under one roof to collaborate and share information and intelligence.
During our visit to the house of parliament we had the opportunity to sit in on a live session where members of parliament debated the purchase of three Operational Patrol Vessels (OPV) to support the counternarcotics mission of the T&T Coast Guard. Listening to arguments on both sides, it was obvious that the strategies to address narcotics trafficking differed among political leadership. One side discussed the need to need to purchase these vessels to mitigate narco traffickers at sea, prior to getting to the shores. While the opposition proffered that the narcotics problem is a land problem and additional resources should be dedicated to such efforts. Similarly, during the GMP game, the Central American player cell noted that it is much more effective to address narcotics trafficking at sea, rather than tackling the problem at its root cause because of the high levels of corruption within there respective governments. My visit to T&T was an eye-opening experience that solidified the importance of engaging with our international partners on issues of common concern and the need to explore, through gaming and research, ways which the global maritime community can address these challenges.