T&T gang leaders using gov’t contracts to buy food for members, concert tickets- priest

(Trinidadian Guardian) Gang leaders use money from government contracts to provide food for members of their community and buy expensive tickets for them for concerts with Jamaican dancehall artistes. Some of that money will also be used to buy guns, or rent them. There are other gang leaders who use almost all the money to strengthen their financial empire and the community sees very little of it.

This and other revelations came from Fr Clyde Harvey, who works with young people in at-risk communities. He said he has never been in favour of giving of government contracts to gang leaders, or even the introduction of state relief programmes like Cepep and URP in crime hot spots. Harvey was responding to questions from the T&T Guardian yesterday on whether government contracts given to gang leaders increased or decreased crime. “It’s not as simple as yes or no…There are different kinds of gang leaders,” he said.

“There’s the kind of gang leader who will take the money and use it to set up a programme to benefit members of his gang and people from the wider community. For instance, he might sponsor a small-goal competition. Some time ago, a gang leader, now deceased, said it cost him $30,000 to keep his community together. He admitted he had to find that money.” Harvey also said, “Some of the money is used to buy or rent guns.”

Asked if gang leaders did not already have enough guns, he replied, “Talk to any gang person and they never have enough guns.” Asked if the gangsters seek to get guns that are more sophisticated than those of the police, Harvey said, “Once people begin to have ambition in the world of crime, they want to be the best. This is also true in other countries in the world. Look at the Taliban.”

Harvey said when young people are told to put their guns away they make it very clear the police cannot protect them. He referred to the recent killing of a 30-year-old woman who witnessed the murder of a Diego Martin PH taxi driver in Laventille. “That young woman’s death only serves to reinforce that belief,” he said. Harvey criticised politicians who said they never dealt with gang leaders, claiming, “They all did it. It is somewhat hypocritical for anybody who has been in politics to say he has never dealt with gang leaders.”

Asked why he felt politicians gave gang leaders contracts, Harvey said, “Because they have no real solution. They feel they have no other way forward, and believe at least the contracts will provide an anaesthetic, will quiet things down.” On whether young people get involved in crime because of rank, he said, “It still remains a matter of rank. “When you have nothing else, the school system fails you and you don’t see a future, the gangs provide family and empowerment.”

Harvey said make-work programmes like Cepep may be used by members of the community for good, for a while, until they become tainted. “The political will is always about five years and my power, not the interest of the people.” He said the solution to crime in depressed communities lay in the schools and communities.

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