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Trinidad wants to buy Canadian aircraft to watch drug activity

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, at The Globe and Mail editorial board April 26, 2013. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has launched negotiations with a small Canadian aircraft manufacturer to buy two airplanes that could help in the fight against drug traffickers.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar told The Globe and Mail's editorial board on Friday her small Caribbean nation has seen drug trafficking climb in recent years, likely because crackdowns in countries such as Colombia and Mexico have driven traffickers to use other routes through the Caribbean to reach North America.

"We are tiny dots, but all around us is water. Our borders are so porous, I think more porous than yours," Ms. Persad-Bissessar said. "They're coming through us, and they are coming up to you."

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Ms. Persad-Bissessar is on a four-day state visit to Canada, which is the first by a prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago since 1966. Her visit is largely aimed at bolstering trade links. Two-way trade between Canada and Trinidad grew by 45 per cent between 2005 and 2012 to $600-million annually.

Trinidad and Tobago's Air Guard has launched negotiations to buy two refurbished long-range aircraft from Provincial Aerospace Ltd. of St. John's to help monitor drug traffickers' boats. The Prime Minister said her country's coast guard also wants fast patrol boats, and Canadian firms could compete on those tenders.

She said Trinidad and Tobago is also investing in a regional radar system to track boats.

The United States has asked Trinidad and Tobago to participate in a regional agreement to share intelligence about drug trafficking, although Ms. Persad-Bissessar said the agreement is controversial in the Caribbean because it would not appear to provide for reciprocal sharing of information by the United States.

Nonetheless, she said she has been discussing whether to proceed anyway, because Trinidad and Tobago likely would not have the capacity to make much use of U.S. intelligence if they received it.

"It might be more beneficial for us to share ours because they may have more capacity to help us," she said.

She said the drug problem has been exacerbated by the return of many "hardened criminals" who have been deported from the United States and Canada to their home countries in the Caribbean. While they are citizens, she said, some left as children and have no knowledge of the country and no family to live with when they are sent back.

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"They don't have anyone there, so what do they do? They find themselves back in criminal activity," she said. "We are dealing with some very high-tech criminals out of North America."

She said countries in the Caribbean have asked the U.S. government to give them more notice and more details about people who are being deported.

"It would better help us to monitor them and know what they're up to, where they are and what's happening. When they come now and they just disappear into the system, it's very difficult."

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