The reported response of National Security Minister Stuart Young to attacks on fishermen in the waters between Trinidad and Venezuela suggests a worrying explanation for the Government’s lack of action in protecting our fishermen against a rise in recent horrific attacks, including the recent murder of seven young fishermen.
According to the NGO Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), the group’s plea for urgent action towards increased safety at sea was met with a warning from Minister Young that it needed to be “very cautious about what causes it takes up and who it decides to declare a fisherman.”
The FFOS took the response as an insinuation that the fishermen being attacked are involved in smuggling and therefore deserving of whatever befell them. We note that Minister Young has neither denied nor attempted to refute FFOS’s publicised statement. If there is some other interpretation he should say so because the idea that a Minister of National Security should be deciding which citizens are deserving of protection and which are not, is completely unacceptable. It also reeks of the uninformed stance by former prime minister Patrick Manning, when under pressure to do something about crime, took the position that killings were confined to gangsters killing gangsters and that an innocent bystander caught in crossfire was “collateral damage”. Fifteen years later, Trinidad and Tobago pays the price for such dangerous mis-perceptions, although to be fair to Mr Manning, he was not exceptional in under-estimating the nature and depth of the problem. Judging from his reported comment, neither is Minister Young.
The minister’s job is not to determine whose protection should be advocated or not but to focus on the safety and security of all. If some individuals are involved in wrong-doing it is the job of the Coast Guard and the Police Service to detect it, secure the evidence and let the courts decide. Not every fisherman or individual who goes out to sea is a criminal. People set out to sea every day for a variety of purposes including transportation, leisure, scientific study, sport and a range of legal economic activities, among other things.
The Government’s lethargic response to the emergency situation created by the Venezuelan crisis puts all of these individuals at risk, not to mention the entire country through the breaching of our national borders by illegal trafficking of people, arms, drugs and imports of all kinds.
The FFOS is right in calling for a multi-stakeholder response to the problem. We cannot afford to sit down and wait for the long promised gunboats and radar equipment. There are resources outside the State which can be co-opted within a strategic plan managed and co-ordinated by the relevant agency. History has shown how problems that seem confined to a small sector can quickly spread and engulf us all.
At the very least, lives and livelihoods are at stake. Our fishing industry, already under pressure from increased fuel prices and mass shipments of frozen fish imported mainly from the Far East, does not deserve to be further handicapped by a minister’s negative attitude towards its expectation of State support and security.