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Life on the line

So often we use the term “war on drugs” with very little thought to the fact that it is indeed a war that’s taking place. An absolutely deadly one that perhaps will only truly touch us when someone close to us falls in battle, either via direct hit or as collateral damage.

We do not know the circumstances and we therefore will not attempt to comment or make judgement, but by now it should be common knowledge that three members of the Barbados Coast Guard appeared in court this week charged with manslaughter related to the death of a Vincentian man during an alleged drug interdiction operation at sea.

The court will decide on the facts, but in the meanwhile the battle rages on, literally and figuratively, with our brothers and sisters in the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Barbados Coast Guard manning the front lines. They are doing so with the clear knowledge that there are rules of engagement that they can only ignore to their peril, but in an environment in which the other side observes no such rules. They have their multi-million dollar illegal cargo and they are prepared to use lethal force to protect it.

What’s worse is that it ought to be clear to all that the criminals are able to operate with the benefit of far more financial resources at their disposal than legitimate law enforcement agencies. They have the money and the capacity to scare large segments of the population into silence and blindness — resources that are not available to law enforcement personnel who operate within the law.

When a criminal operation has the capacity to set out to sea with a cargo of cocaine worth US$20 million, it would be foolhardy to believe its operatives are not prepared to defend it, even with their lives. And for us in this part of the Caribbean where the illegal cargo is more often marijuana, it could be a deadly error to believe they are any less determined to defend their product and profits.

Many of us will see heavily armed officers of the RBPF rushing around the country in their attention-grabbing uniforms and black jeeps, at times backed up by military personnel in their fatigues with M16 rifles, often evoking a sense of glamour. But there is no Hollywood involved — the star does not return later in another feature. This is true life and death.

But do we ever give a thought to those officers for whom the routine while we sleep is to patrol our coast, where the darkness can be so blinding that it’s virtually impossible to see the person a few feet from you; and where the criminal is prepared to shoot it out rather than face a lengthy prison term?

Our island and our region are not what they used to be, and our neighbours, both at home and across the waters of the Caribbean, can at times be anything but neighbourly. We must not fool ourselves into believing that when confronted these miscreants will break into tears while shouting sorry.

We must be prepared to offer full support to those who have dedicated themselves to protecting our homes, our families, our sense of security — indeed our way of life. We should not support lawlessness by lawmen or criminals, but we should never make our law enforcers believe we have constrained them to draw batons and speak softly to those whose standard tool of trade is a fully loaded AK-47.

We must never create or encourage an environment where our law enforcement agencies recoil from protecting our shores because their future might be at stake in the action they take.

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