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Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2023.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2023.
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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, including assault weapons, is a priority threat to citizen security in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the rest of CARICOM.

“There is a persistent demand in our countries for firearms and their continued use in the commission of crimes, including homicides,” Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, said in a ministerial statement to Parliament, on Thursday.

SVG has recorded nine homicides so far this year, including two people killed by police in the line of duty.

This follows on a record-bloody 2022, in which the country recorded 42 homicides, the bulk of which involved the use of a firearm.

“The demand for firearms remains high in criminal groups, and also with the civilian population for personal protection in response to increases in violence in some communities in our country, and the rest of the CARICOM jurisdictions,” Gonsalves said. 

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He said data highlight the continued use of cargo containers to import firearms through various receptacles including barrels, boxes, television sets, motor vehicles and the like. 

“Imported guns and ammunition are often exchanged for narcotics, cocaine, marijuana and assorted synthetic drugs and with some transactions taking place on the seas.”

In December, law enforcement in SVG netted their largest cache of guns and ammunition when Customs officials seized six 9mm pistols, two high-power rifles and 200 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, at the nation’s main port, located in Kingstown. 

One of the firearm has been traced to a crime in the United States, Commissioner of Police, Colin John said in January, adding that local law enforcement is “working along with international bodies” as their investigation continues 

Gonsalves said:

“The extent of this importation of firearms and bullets in CARICOM countries including our own country, is not known precisely. But the evidence suggests that this invitation is substantial and dangerous”.

He said the CARICOM-Implementation Agency on Crime and Security (CARICOM-IMPACS), in collaboration with Interpol’s firearms programme, hosted the operational hub of Operation Trigger VII for the Caribbean, Sept. 20 to 30.

Gonsalves said the six-day operation “gives us a small indication of the volume of illicit firearms circulating in our region”, adding that the operation yielded, among other things, 346 firearms and 3,328 rounds of ammunition.

“Ghost guns, handguns are now being recovered in our regional countries, and a priority of all our countries is to determine if they are imported, or 3D printed or created in CARICOM member states,” Gonsalves said.

Ghost guns are unserialised and untraceable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home.

The prime minister said various informed sources said that the number of illegal firearms in Haiti alone is estimated to be between 270,000 and 500,000. 

“This is an important fact for us in the rest of the Caribbean because regional criminal gangs or groups continue to exchange drugs or guns with Asian counterparts. One conduit is through Jamaica down to the southern and eastern Caribbean.”

He said the tracing of  firearms data indicate that the United States is a primary source of firearms within CARICOM, including SVG, while South America and Europe are secondary sources. 

“Most of the homicides in our country and CARICOM as a whole are carried out through the use of firearms imported from the USA,” Gonsalves said.

He told lawmakers that CARICOM, including SVG, has been raising this issue repeatedly with the American authorities, “but with little practical results, given the veritable open sesame approach of the USA regarding guns and the right to bear arms”. 

 He said the Community of States of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) addressed the matter at its January 2023 summit in Argentina. 

“Recent indications, though, suggest that the Biden administration in the USA is paying some attention to what we have been saying both in respect of illicit export controls and tracing,” he said.

The prime minister said “an expert has been allocated and embedded to assist our regional security authorities with tracing”. 

He told Parliament that an illegal firearm seized at Port Kingstown late last year was traced to a crime committed in Indiana in the United States.

“We don’t have a lot of Vincentians or our Caribbean people living in Indiana. What happens is the offence is committed there, they get it quickly out of that jurisdiction. And there’s a network.”

Gonsalves said other firearms are currently being traced from St. Vincent and Grenadines and elsewhere in our region. 

“But we are asking the United States to be more proactive in cooperation with us on this matter of illicit firearms exported from the USA. 

“We are requesting that the federal government in the United States take to its Congress for ratification, the United Nations treaty on small arms, which covers assault weapons, and to implement a practical and stringent regime to control the export of illicit weapons.” 

He noted that Trinidad and Tobago was very much in the forefront for this United Nations treaty and SVG assisted very much at the UN in pushing this small arms treaty. 

“I should point out that the US government at the time, under President Obama, asked for dilution of the treaty so that they can get it to the US Congress, the US Senate. But my latest information is it is yet to reach that and we need to have that treaty ratified … by the US Senate.” 

Gonsalves said that in accordance with its international obligations, the US should put in place a practical and stringent regime to control the export of illicit weapons.

3 replies on “Illicit firearms ‘a priority threat to citizen security’ ”

  1. So is your responsibility to put in place a practical and stringent regimen to control the importation of illicit weapons here. Just like u put one in place to ensure some honest, hardworking vincentians lose their job and pension.U r being paid a hefty salary by d taxpayers of this small peice of rock to do just that. Stop pass on d blame. Anything can leave from anywhere to come here but they don’t have to enter here!!!
    Because d all knowing 5 * GENERAL incharge.
    Come on live up to d name. R u a fake?
    So u just want us to just say… ok it’s happening everywhere so no big deal? Start at home. Leave d others out. Always mentioning outside forces so it won’t look bad for u. I guess that’s d psychology of things. But d situation is too serious to b playing psychology now.

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