More than 100 people have been detained in Trinidad and Tobago after the country imposed a national state of emergency in response to a wave of violent crime linked to drug trafficking.
The Caribbean nation declared a limited state of emergency after 11 people were killed over the weekend. The move comes amid growing concern that drug gangs are using Trinidad as a transshipment point for South American cocaine heading to Europe and the United States.
The prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, announced the 15-day state of emergency on Sunday. It includes a 9pm until 5am curfew in cities and towns and grants police wider powers of arrest.
“The situation cannot continue like this without a response commensurate with the wanton acts of violence and lawlessness; it must be a response as well that will halt the current spike in gang activity and crime in general in the shortest possible time,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“After much deliberation with the national security council and members of the cabinet it has been agreed that the government consider the imposition of a limited state of emergency in hot spots across the country.”
Persad-Bissessar linked the spate of killings to recent drug seizures and to reprisals for a police crackdown on traffickers.
Trinidad and Tobago’s foreign minister told the New York Times the move was a “limited intervention to deal with gangs and get guns off the streets”, although he added that the state of emergency could be extended for another 90 days if granted approval by parliament.
The country’s attorney general, Anand Ramlogan, said the move became necessary after intelligence revealed an “immediate threat and endangerment of public safety” in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Innocent citizens could have lost their lives had we not declared a state of emergency and taken swift and immediate action,” the Trinidad Express reported Ramlogan as saying.
“When the state of emergency was declared by his excellency it was in response to intelligence received from the security agencies which we cannot share with the population but which I can assure you we averted a crisis.”
He added that the measure had stopped “a further $100m of cocaine coming into the country on a weekly basis”.
The proclamation was signed into effect by President George Maxwell Richards. For the unusual measure to be undertaken the president had to be “satisfied that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person, of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety” a statement on the Trinidad and Tobago government’s website said.
The measure appears to have been well received among much of the 1.3 million population. Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday, one of three national newspapers in the country, threw its weight behind the state of emergency. In an editorial the paper says that although businesses and GDP will suffer, “this will prove in the medium and long term a relatively small price to pay if the recently imposed state of emergency has the desired impact in the battle against crime”.
The Trinidad Guardian, the nation’s oldest newspaper, took a similar stance, declaring that the population has “a responsibility to give this latest crime-fighting measure an opportunity to work – even in the context of the considerable inconvenience that the implementation of the limited state of emergency will cause”.
A state of emergency was previously declared in the country in 1990, when the extremist group Jamaat al Muslimeen tried to overthrow the Trinidad and Tobago government. More than 20 people died when 100 armed men stormed parliament, taking the prime minister and cabinet members hostage.
An inquiry into the 1990 coup and state of emergency was launched earlier this year.