by MIRANDA LA ROSE
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, October 26 — Five vessels from Grenada, among others from other Caribbean countries, that come each week to trade in goods were unable to offload perishable cargo yesterday at the Caricom Wharf, Port-of-Spain, as “traffickers” on board were ordered to comply with port rules.
The traffickers told Newsday that they had been coming to the Caricom Wharf “week after week and year after year” without a permit from the TT Government.
Grenadian Jane Lewis of St David’s, Grenada, said that on arrival at the wharf at about 7 a.m. the sailors on board the vessels were told they could not offload their cargoes unless the traffickers produce their permits to trade in TT and phytosanitary documents.
They had the certificates but many were without permits. “They never told us about the permit before,” Lewis said.
“We reached here this morning and they tell us we have to have both documents before we could offload.”
She lamented that it was taking all day to get the permit from the Trinidad authorities who are based “past the old airport.”
Every week, she said, “we bring things like avocado, soursop, pommecythere, mangoes, plums, vegetables perishable goods.
“If they had told us before that we had to get permits, we would have gotten them, Lewis said, noting that it would be sad to lose all their investments. “This is my livelihood,” she said.
The costs of the goods range from $5,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on the number of crates a trafficker ships, another Grenadian, who identified himself as Anthony, said.
“This is a lot of money to lose in this guava season,” he said, noting that the traffickers were earning an honest living.
Anthony said they were due to return to Grenada this morning. “They should have given us notice,” he said, adding: “Like they don’t want our food.”
A local vendor, Amanda Browne, who buys from the Grenadians, said her client had both documents but she could not get her crates because the Customs Officers would not allow some goods to come onshore and some to remain.
“They implement something without informing the traffickers. They should give them a chance. We are all humans,” she said.
In addition, she said the packing of the crates would not allow it. “Why should some suffer because of the others?” she queried.
When asked, a Customs Officer who was mingling with the traffickers said the Customs and Excise Department was “only enforcing the laws.”
He directed me to the administrative building on the compound for answers.
At the administrative building, a Customs Officer, speaking on behalf of his superior officer, told me I needed to obtain information from the Corporate Communications Division on Abercromby Street.
However, before leaving the wharf, I decided to take photographs of the vessels moored dockside. However, I did not get to take the photos of the traffickers and vendors on the wharf.
The officer who spoke on behalf of his superior approached and told me I was not allowed to take photographs at the wharf.
He said it was not a public place and it was a security risk. He said, “Give me your camera.” I refused and asked him if it were not a public place, why was it no one stopped me at the gate.
He then told me to go with him to the office to meet with his superior. I complied but before doing so I informed my Supervising Editor about what was taking place.
In the office, I was once again told to turn over the camera. The officer, asking for the camera, said they would have to delete the photos taken. Again I refused to turn over the camera. They took my name from my media identification card and asked for other identification and I produced a national identification card.
They then asked me to go into another office. I told them I wanted to make a telephone call. An officer said I could not and to follow them. However, I made the call and my Editor told me they could not detain me as I had committed no crime, and to leave.
I left without another word to the officers.
(Reproduced from the October 26, 2012 issue of the Newsday newspaper of Trinidad and Tobago)