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Profiting from vice nation
Part 2 Last week, we delved into the world of legal vices. This week, we explore the many illegal vices that affect our nation.
Two years ago Maria* landed in Trinidad.
With blonde highlights streaking through her hair, Maria conveys desperation in her voice as she relays her experience.
“I came here because of tension in my country and to earn some money to send back home. I heard that in Trinidad I could earn good money,” she said with a thick accent, struggling to complete her sentence in English.
Maria entered through a common port located in the southern peninsula through which many immigrants arrive.
“The person who brought me over told me I’d just work in a bar and I’d be ok. I first started doing that but then one thing led to another and I ended up doing other things,” Maria said coyly as her eyes drifted off.
She conveys no shame or remorse in her demeanor.
For Maria, what she was doing was necessary to provide for herself and her impoverished family in her place of birth torn apart by civil unrest.
Maria is a commercial sex worker in T&T.
According to Alana Wheeler, deputy director at the counter human trafficking unit (CTU), Ministry of National Security, the commercial sex trade industry in T&T is alive and booming.
“There is a very high demand for prostitutes and commercial sex by men living in T&T,” Wheeler said.
She added that contrary to popular belief, migrant sex workers in T&T were not being held here against their will.
“Many of the women engaging in prostitution in T&T are willing participants and are not coerced of forced. However, some are victims of sex trafficking,” Wheller added.
Questioned about the countries from which immigrant sex workers emerge, Wheeler identified three main territories: Venezuela, Colombia and Dominican Republic.
“The supply of women is a reflection of the demand for sexual services and for Latin American women,” she said.
Probed about the size and scale of the industry, Wheeler said though challenging to precisely estimate, her unit had rough averages.
“It is difficult to estimate the size of the industry but, on average, one Latin American woman can earn at least US$300 per night (five clients per night) for five days per week. So approximately US$1,500 per week or about US$6,000 per month”
Questioned about the number of establishments providing a space for commercial sex activities, Wheeler pointed out that the numbers were well into the double digits.
“We have at least 20 places of ill-repute in T&T. A location with 10 women per night can earn US$60,000 per month. The pimp pays the women half their earnings, so they can easily profit US$30,000 per month from selling sex with 10 women,” Wheeler noted.
Commenting on the profile of men patronising these establishments, Wheeler pointed out that it was a wide cross-section.
“Men from all walks of life engage in commercial sex. CTU has been raiding many of these places and we find clients who are senior business executives and directors of large corporations and state agencies.”
Questioned about how women arrive in T&T so easily, the deputy director highlighted the role of “recruiters” in connecting demand and supply.
“Recruiters usually are known to the prostitutes and are from their village or town or a friend of a friend—a trusted person. They arrange travel to T&T by boat or plane and the women have to pay back the debt. Some are tricked and deceived into prostitution, some come to strip-dance, work in bars or prostitute. Some even come to marry for convenience or to be a “secondary wife,” Wheeler said.
She noted that “women who were professionals with university degrees” were also working as prostitutes in the commercial sex business.
“They come to T&T to make money to care for their children and sick loved ones.”
Cocaine and Marijuana
T&T is a major transshipment point for cocaine, and a major consumer of marijuana.
According to data provided by the Organised Crime Narcotics and Firearms Bureau (OCNFB), for the period January to September 2016, 377.04 kilogrammes (kgs) of marijuana with an estimated street value of $4,977,376.80 was seized. These seizures also involved the arrest of 38 people.
The OCNFB also stated that marijuana “grades” had become more difficult to detect owing to relatively standardised methods for preparation and packaging, and the fact that trade in the substance had now spread beyond regional players.
“A decade ago it would have been easy to separate narcotics coming from Jamaica, St Vincent and local since marijuana was a regional issue and regional farmers had their own crude way of processing and packaging the product. Now, because of the high prices being fetched for marijuana, a lot of international players have entered the market. Prices have been reported to be even higher than cocaine at times,” the statement said.
Wholesale and retail prices vary for different grades of the drug.
According to the OCNFB data, a wholesale kg of local marijuana could cost $13,200 while a similar volume of Colombian “hydro” could cost $39,600.
Data supplied to the Business Guardian about cocaine (powder) from an anonymous source suggested that prices ranged from $150 to $200 for a gramme of cocaine at the retail level. Wholesale prices on a kilo of cocaine were quoted at $75,000 to $100,000 per kilo. The source stated that cocaine was an “upmarket drug” because of the relatively higher prices as compared to marijuana and that consumption levels in T&T were smaller than marijuana.
He added that most times cocaine simply “passed through” Trinidad as the country remains a major transshipment hub connecting South American suppliers with European and North American consumers.
*Name has been changed
Men from all walks of life engage in commercial sex. CTU has been raiding many of these places and we find clients who are senior business executives and directors of large corporations and state agencies.