Duplicitous Coast Guard Activities in Trinidad & Tobago

The usually low-key Coast Guard has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past month.

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First came the killing of a baby while it was challenging a vessel carrying illegal Venezuelan immigrants on the night of February 5. Just around that time video began circulating of the sinking of a pirogue owned by the Coast Guard, later attributed to a faulty plug which raised questions about maintenance.

Two Fridays ago when five divers working on an undersea project for Paria Fuel Trading got sucked into a pipeline, the Coast Guard emerged as a key figure in preventing volunteer divers from conducting a rescue search. The latest incident occurred on Wednesday night when the Coast Guard’s encounter with the crew of the Grenadian vessel, Rainia, turned violent, sending one crew member to hospital.

Read Paria warned there’s damning evidence by dead divers’ families

Whatever the explanations for this rash of events, Commanding Officer Captain Don Polo should be concerned enough to look beyond the individual incidents to determine whether there is something more profoundly awry within the Coast Guard and its management.

Each of these incidents requires both internal and external investigations. If any internal probe has been completed, no one except the Coast Guard itself and the Ministry of National Security would know since nothing but promises of investigations have been forthcoming.

Even more than the Police Service, the Defence Force is diligent in guarding its internal disciplinary processes. The public is therefore hardly ever privy to details of charges laid against Defence Force personnel and hearings conducted by its tribunals regarding acts committed by personnel on the job.

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Since all these incidents occurred on duty, the public may never get access to the details of any of the investigations or know whether anyone was hauled before a tribunal. The entire exercise may be conducted within the Defence Force and without reference to the police. However, given the intense public interest, especially in the shooting of the baby, its alleged role in enforcing questionable decisions by Paria personnel in blocking a rescue attempt of the trapped divers and, now, in the alleged assault of the Grenadian crew, the need for public accountability and transparency is vital.

In T&T, impunity is not solely the preserve of criminals but of authoritarian power systems that see no need to account for their actions to anyone, least of all the public. However, there has been a heavy price to pay for this in terms of public distrust.

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Captain Polo and those to whom he reports have a duty to be as transparent as is necessary to convince the public that there is no cover-up in any of these cases. It has been one month since one-year-old toddler Yaelvis Santollo Sarabia was shot and killed by a member of the Coast Guard in disputed circumstances. 

Coast Guard troubles  Trinidad & Tobago Express Newspapers


By Cleo

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