Trinidad Drug Bust – A Cautionary Tale for The Caribbean

Anton Edmunds is the head of The Edmunds Group

Anton Edmunds, head of The Edmunds Group

The discovery of over US $100 million of cocaine hidden in juice cans bearing the brand name of a major Trinidadian company at the end of 2013 caused quite a stir in that country, with statements of commitment by government and the manufacturing industry association alike on a need to protect the brand name of the company and the country. While investigations continue as to exactly who was responsible for exploiting gaps in the export control process, the fundamentals are clear. Supply chain security in the Caribbean is weak, and known local and regional solutions need to be applied and strengthened.

More known as an exporter of empty containers, the Caribbean region has consistently failed to develop a framework of standards that it needs, to protect itself from being used as a conduit for contraband bound for the shores of its largest trading partners. Drug busts in Europe and Canada shed light on the weakness of the current piecemeal efforts to address trade security and expose efforts by multilateral agencies such as the Organization of American States (OAS) as woefully inadequate. The failure of institutions such as CARICOM and regional trade and security ministers to work towards regional standards in the supply chain security mechanism is probably the most glaring factor that has served to leave the Caribbean region exposed to those within and outside of this space committed to the traffic of illicit cargo.

In the case of Trinidad, the region’s economic, manufacturing and supposedly security hub, the concern has to be that there is a serious lack of an effective export control mechanism. The fact that US agents used knowledge of the Trinidadian port and information about recent smuggling cannot be a comforting thought to the government of that island nation. Beyond Trinidad however, the fact is that there is also a thriving inter-island trade in contraband well known to international law enforcement. Vessels that move between the smaller economies in the Eastern Caribbean are known to transit drugs through the ports of neighboring islands, too often leaving the interception duties to third party countries within the regional space. Claims that port and security managers are either abdicating responsibility or worse are complicit, are getting harder and harder to ignore.

Fundamentally, the lax attitude towards supply chain security highlights a lack of understanding by governments that trade security is sacrosanct. For those who have ignored the warnings that their ports are conduits for contraband the situation is more ominous. Branded a problem port negates your trustworthiness and makes you a risky location for carriers. It ultimately exposes them to delays in entering other ports and that means money. A weak port also brands a country as an unsafe location for other vessels including the cruise industry as the use of your port as a conduit for drugs intimates that criminal elements call your country home. It also exposes this industry to the fact that your port is porous enough to be a staging area for an act of terrorism and sullies the reputation of your government and people.

While one cannot in good conscience advocate for the awesome expense that comes with the acquiring of scanning technology, nor can one endorse the tactics of the sometimes overzealous public sector that sees efficiency as an anathema to security, there is still time for the region to act on the development of a regional standard as it relates to protecting the supply chain and to invest in some basic risk assessment tools.

From St. Maarten through to St. Lucia, and from Barbados to Trinidad and Jamaica – it is time for industry and government to recognize the holes that exist and fix them before the problem gets worse. The current hub and sub-hub and spoke system that the region depends on has to be fixed – the Caribbean cannot continue to fail the secure supply chain test. Ministers responsible for trade, ports and elements of the security apparatus can no longer be absolved of responsibility if their facilities are being breached and neither for that matter can the institutions that purport to provide solutions. This especially as we know how strategically located Caribbean countries are, and how dependent the region is on its port facilities for economic survival.

Anton Edmunds is the head of The Edmunds Group, a business and government advisory service firm that focuses on the Caribbean. Anton is also a senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS He can be contacted at and prior posts reviewed at the firm’s website:

5 thoughts on “Trinidad Drug Bust – A Cautionary Tale for The Caribbean

  1. Here is a zoom of the T&T canned juices matter.

    $.6b in drugs hidden in Trinidad Juices tins busted in Virginia

    By Joel Julien
    Story Created: Jan 17, 2014 at 9:42 PM ECT
    Story Updated: Jan 17, 2014 at 11:39 PM ECT
    FOR the second time in two months a drink produced by local manufacturing company SM Jaleel and Company Ltd has been associated internationally with the illegal drug trade.
    In the latest incident, Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officers seized 732 pounds of cocaine, with a street value of over $.6 billion, concealed in cans bearing the labels of Trinidad Orange and Grapefruit Juices at the Port of Norfolk in Virginia, United States, on December 20 last year.
    The discovery was made during the inspection of a 20-foot container containing the fruit juices.
    The wholesale value of the cocaine is about US$12 million and has a street value of as much as US$100 million, according to Customs officials.
    The seizure is the largest in the history of the Port of Norfolk.
    Port officials stated that the container originated from this country and was destined for New York.
    The container carrying the drugs was said to be flagged as soon as it left this country.
    According to a news report on News Channel 3 in Virginia, Customs and Border Protection Area Port Director Mark Laria said all tools were used to effect the bust.
    “We used every tool at our disposal. We have large scale X-ray equipment, we have small scale X-ray equipment, we have probes, we have various tools and technology that were brought to bear on this shipment and it took every bit of it plus the officers’ knowledge and intuition to locate the cocaine in this shipment,” said Laria, according to the report.
    No arrests have been made.
    Earlier last month, another drink associated with SM Jaleel and Company Ltd laced with cocaine was named in the death of a Royal Navy veteran in the United Kingdom.
    A liquid cocaine concoction in a Pear D soft drink bottle was blamed for the death of Joromie Lewis.
    Lewis, 32, is said to have consumed the drink on December 5 and succumbed shortly after.
    This led to the voluntary recall of all Pear D drinks bearing the code “BB Jan 08 14”.
    SM Jaleel and Company yesterday said it has launched an internal investigation into the latest multi-million cocaine bust involving its products.
    The company said it is being targeted by cunning criminals.
    “It is common knowledge that the criminals involved in the drug trade have been using mechanisms to transport cocaine such as fruit, car parts, lumber, hardware, etc. It now appears that someone may be trying to utilise our company’s product in this regard,” a release on the company’s website stated yesterday.
    SM Jaleel and Company Ltd said it has not been contacted by investigators on the issue and only found out about the situation through the media.
    “We too have only just been recently informed of the situation that occurred almost a month ago on December 20, 2013, regarding the use of our TJC orange and grapefruit-flavoured juice tins in the smuggling of cocaine into the United States and have, to date, not been contacted by the relevant US authorities in connection with this matter,” the release stated.
    “At present, we have no knowledge or evidence of the details other than the press release from the United States. We have already commenced our own internal investigation; however, we are not yet in a position to provide any further details at this time,” it stated.
    The company maintained that it has always promoted family values and complied with all laws both locally and internationally.
    “SM Jaleel is a family-owned and operated business that began its operations in Trinidad approximately 90 years ago. We have consistently maintained our family values throughout the development of the business to include, in more recent times, the global expansion of our operations through the exportation of our trusted products to various countries and communities around the world,” the release stated.
    “We have always taken pride in the high level of quality and standards that we have adhered to for our products and have and will always continue to comply with the various legislations, both locally and internationally, relating to the production and exportation of our products,” it added.

  2. @David “US $100 million of cocaine”

    So tell me again who it is who wants to buy US $100 million of cocaine?

    Tell me again why rich people are so fcuking unhappy that they think that a little white powder up their noseholes will buy them happiness?

    If you want to be happy you have to do something both useful and GOOD with your life, and no that something doesn’t have to be profitable. In fact that something may well cost you money instead of making you money

    Cocaine can’t buy you happiness.

    Crack can’t buy you happiness

    Heroin can’t buy you happiness.

    Alcohol can’t buy you happiness

    Prescription painkillers can’t buy you happiness

    Cigarettes can’t buy you happiness.

    Marijuana legal or not can’t buy you happiness.

    Running in the church or the mosque or the synagogue or the temple regular, regular can’t buy you happiness neither. Not when you continue to be selfish and to treat other people badly.

  3. @ Simple Simon | February 7, 2014 at 7:44 AM
    “Running in the church or the mosque or the synagogue or the temple regular, regular can’t buy you happiness neither. “

    What about ‘SEX’, S S?

    Have you ever seen the sculpture by Bernini “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
    (either in person or in a picture)?

    “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying”.

  4. Being truly happy is being blissful, a feeling of being at one with oneself and the world. For St Teresa it was an erotic vision, the substitute for getting your hands dirty. Maybe we should say it was a 16c form of porn. She was not, of course, the only nun who had like experiences. But her experience as presented was from the top down (God, the soul, the flesh). For most of us it is from the bottom up.

  5. Pingback: Drug Bust Holds Lessons for Caribbean Distribution Chains · Global Voices

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