The Government does plenty for
Laventille. People have Cepep, houses, water, cable, sports facilities,
trade workshops, music, cookery classes, Best Village. Vanity has them
shooting. The boys want a car with big music, big guns, bling.
If itís a war of guns, the police will lose. Lack of amenities isnít the
problem. Nor is the absence of jobs. Itís about upward mobility. Money.
Author of Freakoconomics, Stephen Levitt has analysed the economics of a
cocaine-selling street gang in Chicago. Stephen Levitt believes any street
gang operates like a franchise of McDonaldís or KFC. The hierarchy is flat.
At the top is the local gang leader. Below him, three people: the
accountant, the adviser and an enforcer/ďhuman relationsĒ man.
In the next tier there are the soldiers, the men working behind the
Finally, there are hangers-on, young, inexperienced tag-alongs.
Levitt found the local gang leader made ten times more than he would in
regular employment. The three middle managers made more than minimum wage.
The foot soldiers made less than minimum wage. Most live at home and work
part-time in regular employment, in addition to being members of gangs to
Apply this to Trinidad and Tobago. Interviews suggest this scenario: The
young boys who are getting shot canít afford bling. They are wearing rubber
slippers, living in shacks. They are the foot soldiers and hanger-ons.
In the early 1990s, when URP was expanding, ďleadersĒ of the programme
gained control of up to five gangs.
With this government contract, instead of 20 street soldiers, he could
employ 50 more with URP money. He still paid them less than minimum wage,
because he is taking his cut.
Like any businessman with an excess of labour, he looks to expand. In
this case, the territory where he can sell drugs.
Unfortunately, that territory is occupied by someone just like him who
also has a URP contract, and is looking to expand. Because these are
criminal activities, this isnít easy.
You canít buy them out, canít compete and sell better goods. So you
invade their territory and hold it. Thatís where the guns come in. The
number of guns available is a reflection of demand.
The men who in the past smuggled whiskey will bring guns. Itís just
Whatís in it for the young boys from the age of 15? The answer is simple.
With their lack of educational qualifications they will be stuck in a
minimum-wage system for the rest of their lives.
So they make a rational choice for themselves. Keep one foot in the
formal system such as URP, with a reasonable income, live at home, and stay
in the gang, in the hopes of rising to be a gang leader, and making ten
times more than minimum wage.
The odds are high for a wage hike, since he is just competing with 35
people, most of whom will die on the job, compared to a formal economy where
the possibility of rising without education is zero.
In times of war, the pay goes up. War is not the interest of the top man,
since sales of drugs drop, but it is in the interest of the shooters to keep
The riskier the venture, the greater the pay. The more shooters attack
rival gangs the more likely the boss man will make you a senior man in that
The more you kill, the more social rank and power you have amongst your
peers. More pay brings girls, fancy cars, music, bling. A power they would
never have otherwise.
Unless the Government can quickly educate thousands of semi-literate young
men countrywide, with the hope of being powerful in the formal economy, our
90-strong, mostly illiterate gangs will continue to mushroom, flourish and
kill in cold blood.