By Stanley Collymore
Caribbean Airlines is a criminal and illegal enterprise based in Trinidad and which has so far conned those unwittingly flying with it as well as IATA that it is a legitimate undertaking; nothing could be further from the truth.
Caribbean Airlines came about as a result of an expedient merger between Air Jamaica and the Trinidadian national carrier BWIA. Expedient because BWIA was losing money and its once inestimable and immensely treasured prestige, particularly among people of the English speaking Caribbean, was greatly shot to pieces by incompetence, mismanagement, a far too laid back even by the worst aspects of Caribbean culture in this particular regard, enormously ineffectual and massively fraudulent activities on the part of BWIA’s management with large amounts of the money which was stolen from the company ending up either in fictitiously named Florida bank accounts or Swiss numbered ones.
In the meantime Air Jamaica’s founder and owner who no sensible person would trust to tell them what the weather really was like without first corroborating it for themselves if possible or checking it out with someone else known to be trustworthy, was most keen to offload Air Jamaica which had become something of a liability to his criminal endeavours. I don’t know of a single individual in the Caribbean that wasn’t either wholly convinced or significantly of the view that Air Jamaica was a front for a number of criminal enterprises one of them being drugs trafficking; little surprise then that with the heat intensely turned up on the carrier and drugs offenses attracting extremely severe prison sentences in the United States where many of these Caribbean entrepreneurs have an incredible fondness for going to that Air Jamaica’s boss wanted to be rid of this particular impediment.
When Trinidad’s national government bought BWIA or to give it its full official name British West Indian Airways from the British government wholly owned and controlled consortium of BOAC and BEA: British Overseas Air Corporation a global carrier and British European Airways conducting its trade and services exclusively in Europe, in the run up to the London government merging BOAC and BEA into British Airways now universally known as BA, BWIA was put up for sale as London had no role for it in its new airline policy plans relative to those that it had deeply committed itself to as far as the now integrated BA services were concerned.
But seeing the continuing need however for an airline with British connections to service the English speaking Caribbean several of whose territories were still UK colonies the Trinidad government with money from its oil exports stepped in and to a huge sigh of relief from and great joy by English Caribbeans bought BWIA making it in the southern Caribbean, a region already subjected to significant outside competition at the time from Pan Am, Air France and KLM, the only Caribbean owned airline with the exception of course of the Cuban national carrier Cubana and LIAT: an exclusively local inter-island carrier owned by a consortium of Caribbean governments principally from the English speaking territories there.
In following years to these aforementioned proceedings and with the Caribbean now a Mecca both for budget-minded and particularly upmarket tourism, in the latter case Barbados is a classic and most worthy example of this, the region has witnessed a marked increase in terms of the number of airlines now operating there; the amplified volume of passenger traffic there is, which comprises not only holidaymakers, financial investors and business entrepreneurs either already engaged in or else committed to doing business in a democratic, political and socially stable environment conducive to business ventures but also huge numbers of expat-Caribbeans and their descendants from the global north making tracks homewards to meet up with family, friends, renew old acquaintances and generally luxuriate in the truly magnificent environment of their indigenous tropical paradise, and all this as they well know against the backdrop of this new generation of fiercely competing airlines doing their utmost to drum up their support and acquire their custom.
The upside and much welcomed response by Caribbean locals as well as those in the wider global Diaspora of all this airline activity was that it not only afforded the English-speaking Caribbean the opportunity to be showcased to the rest of the world but also granted to expat Caribbeans and their overseas born families the wonderful chance to travel back to the region more frequently than they were previously able to. But with success there are always potential problems lurking in the background and which can compromise it, and seriously so at times, if the creators of or those associated with that success aren’t careful or vigilant enough to keep their wits about them.
Renowned for its relaxed atmosphere the Caribbean wasn’t only a Mecca for those interested in and happily prepared to enjoy to the fullest all the wholesome pleasures of vacationing there, there was also an element among this tourist input from the global north that wanted to and readily seized upon the opportunity wherever and whenever it presented itself to indulge their craving for and indulgence in drugs in a manner they knew they wouldn’t have been able to in their countries of origin. Sad to say this was assisted sometimes deliberately by turning a blind eye to what was going on but more often than not through a trusting naïveté that prevailed on the part of those law enforcement and customs officers that came most frequently in touch with these tourists.
Throughout most of the Caribbean islands the term tourist is invariably and deeply associated in the minds of many locals, hoteliers and even government officials and organizations closely connected with the tourism industry as meaning people of white Caucasian extraction, this despite the fact that numerous black and other non-white vacationers from Europe, particularly Britain, the United States of America, Canada, South and Central America and of course other Caribbean territories play a significant role as well both as tourists and in respect of boosting financially to the economy of these Caribbean tourist destinations.
I once had the misfortune of interviewing the Canadian owner, he was from Nova Scotia, of a hotel located on the popular south coast of Barbados who bemoaned the fact that he didn’t have enough tourists in his establishment. When somewhat taken aback by his remark I pointed out that the hotel was actually filled to capacity and a sizeable majority of his guests were long-stayers he shrugged his shoulders uncaringly and retorted that those he evidently was reluctant hosting at his hotel and who themselves were shelling out a great deal of money in the process, I must add, doing so weren’t in his words “proper tourists.” By that he meant they were black. Various professional types from the global north several of them with close Barbadian or other West Indian connections who were on the island for the annual Crop-Over carnival season he was nevertheless quite happy to take their money although not welcoming their company. That attitude offended me immensely and using my not insubstantial contacts on the island where it mattered most I was able to have this odious hotelier’s licence to operate on the island revoked, his visa withdrawn and him booted out of the country. Good riddance to bad rubbish I say!
Even so there are still too many local Caribbeans who in my view give far too much deferential treatment and respect bordering at times on the sickeningly obsequious to white tourists based solely on their ethnicity; it’s a throwback I know to the colonialist era and the experiences they were subjected to then , but these islands, exclusive of volcano devastated Montserrat, the Turk and Caicos islands and Bermuda, are independent countries now and it’s high time that mindset were changed and permanently got rid of. Happily one country whose people have always been stalwartly proud of themselves combined with an unquestionable faith in their own capabilities has been in the vanguard of setting a universal trend regionally in that direction that others I am delighted to say are now following. That country is Barbados.
But old habits seemingly die hard and it’s not uncommon to see white tourist and others from overseas luxuriating in a drugs fest on imported but locally distributed drugs that make the boss men involved, some of them connected to the hotel and tourism industries, loads of money that is then conveyed to and laundered either through North American, usually Miami, Canadian or European banks fostering a classic fanciful get rich quick culture among those lower down the food chain while at the same time reinforcing the evils of corruption at its upper end. And it’s against this repeated backdrop that white drug users in the Caribbean, in particular those with financial clout, usually get a free pass and are rarely, except in Barbados, ever prosecuted on drugs offences. The raison d’être being that to do so would create adverse publicity that would be detrimental to the good of the tourist industry, and no one it was explained wanted that.
In fact this approach was so deep-rooted in the consciousness of those who ought really to have been doing their legitimate jobs without fear or favour and equally well known by these foreign drug offenders that there are circumstances I know of where when these violations became too blatant to be ignored and either worried citizens, visitors or both these groups sickened by what they were witnessing complained to the authorities who then felt obligated to act the latter were often confronted with bullying from the accused, their friends or relatives on holiday with them that they would promptly contact the media in their own country, usually the popular tabloids, say they were being framed for something they didn’t do because they refused to pay bribes to the cops or whoever had arrested them and citing corruption and even racial bias against those they said were involved entreat fellow citizens at home who were contemplating holidaying on that particular island not to do so. Deplorably this nasty ploy whether by drug-taking celebrities or the ordinary recreational drug user unfortunate to be caught and chancing his arm as a result, and which amounted to emotional blackmail of the worst kind, always worked.
Money is a big temptation for some while for others it’s a crazed obsession. Having learnt well from the lessons they observed at Air Jamaica it was Caribbean Airlines, middle management that started the initial push of taking their somewhat embryonic drug trafficking enterprise out of the virtual obscurity it was in onto a path that would eventually lead it to hitting the big time financially. At the start it was low level trafficking from neighbouring Colombia through to the island destinations serviced by Caribbean Airlines but as the demand for illegal drugs grew the need to step up and expand operations became compelling and was accelerated, and it was at this juncture that senior management and board members at Caribbean Airlines who were fully conscious of what was going on, not least because of the illicit sums of money that was coming into the company from these drug sources, but had carefully opted to remain in the background and not dirty their hands so to speak in case things went pear-shaped in which case they could plausibly deny all culpability, decided they could no longer look a gift horse in the mouth and instead chose to become actively involved themselves.
After that decision, consciously and unanimously taken, there was no turning back as the board and senior management of Caribbean Airlines between them took over from their underlings at the company and assumed full control for the illegal drugs trafficking that Caribbean Airlines was increasingly involved with. But that was just the tip of the iceberg since representatives of the company authorized to speak on its behalf were secretively dispatched to Colombia to deal directly with the drug barons there on a number of issues that were mutually beneficial to both sides, and resulting from these fruitful negotiations, my sources inform me, Caribbean Airlines became a major carrier for the accessible transportation of illegal Colombian narcotics across the Caribbean territories and beyond.
Unbridled greed and an insatiable lust to garner as much money as was individually possible thus became the prime motivational forces behind the crusading zeal of the suits at Caribbean Airlines to ensure their illegal enterprise scaled even greater heights but they also knew that for them to successfully facilitate this thrilling challenge new and more powerful alliances locally would have to be forged, and so began the process of cultivating relationships with acquiescent politicians, buying and covertly sponsoring others and by way of bribes and other inducements corrupt those with their hands on the tiller of power.
In recent decades political power has been a fraught situation in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago or T and T as it’s both locally and regionally known. The majority population of this Caribbean republic that prior to its independence in the 1960s was a colony of Britain used to be, with the ruthless extermination of the indigenous people of the island by white Europeans, Blacks who are the descendants of Africans forcibly brought to the island and elsewhere across the Caribbean as slaves. However not in possession of enough physical manpower to control all its Caribbean territories Britain devised the plan of removing large numbers of Asians from the Indian subcontinent to its territories in the region like Trinidad and what used to be British Guiana, but is now independent Guyana, as indentured servants primarily in order to neutralize the perceived threat of Blacks in these colonies particularly after the successful slave revolt in Haiti led by the courageous and charismatic Toussaint L’Ouverture that crushed Napoleon’s crack army and secured independence for Haitians at a time when slavery was universal across the Americas as well as the Caribbean.
The classic white colonial ploy of divide and rule was mercilessly employed in Trinidad as it was in British Guiana with deep distrust not only instigated by the British between the races in these colonies that also included a small Chinese minority in the mix but was also actively and enthusiastically promoted by the British imperialists in London as well as those in the colonies concerned so as to maximize Britain’s existing hegemonic control in the region while grabbing every opportunity possible to expand on that.
Even so Blacks continued to remain the majority race and carried on being so well after these territories secured their independence but against that backdrop there was a ticking time bomb which would change all that in Trinidad as well as in Guyana; and that catalyst was the high Asian birth-rate. With increased prosperity and improved living standards Blacks were having fewer children; concentrating on giving those they had a good education and securing well paid and professional jobs for themselves. On the other hand Asians, other than those who ran the traditional retail type family businesses, lived and worked mainly in the countryside and were almost exclusively involved with agriculture.
But true democracy is the servant of demographics and increasingly the sheer weight of Asian numbers began to make its presence felt at the ballot box with their clannish mindset ensuring that significant numbers of Asian MPs were now entering parliament and furthermore with an agenda that deviated noticeably from that of the general Caribbean consensus of the common West Indian identity and started increasingly to look towards the Indian subcontinent. Far too late Blacks realized the price they’d paid for their apathy to politics in pursuit of the Caribbean Economic Dream.
Meanwhile those at Caribbean Airlines were, to say the least, heartily chuffed by these new and transformative developments since many of the carrier’s top brass are themselves of Asian descent and unsurprisingly found a willing listening ear from those that were readily persuaded that doing business with and as lawmaker for Caribbean Airlines would be a stimulative boost to their individual bank balances as well as reaping them for them indeterminate benefits well into the foreseeable future, and with such tempting and seemingly risk free offers in the offing and with their public office positions as MPs to provide them with the mantle of respectability what had they to lose other than their diffidence in seeing and being presented with a glorious opportunity to prosper financially and not grabbing it with both hands?
With senior lawmakers in their pockets and they in turn able to influence as well determine the actions of public officials like customs officers and key members of the police force most of whom would only have been following orders and therefore were totally oblivious of the links between those giving them their orders and prominent personnel at Caribbean Airlines, things were proverbially rosy in the garden for the controllers of that particular airline as they laughed themselves all the way to the bank. A mirth unconcerned by the incalculable harm they must have know that their self-interested and greedy actions were causing to countless numbers of people they didn’t know, even a meagre fraction of whom they were unlikely ever to meet, but whose blighted lives all the same were nevertheless inextricably linked to theirs in a macabre ritual of drugs dependency, self-debasement, narcotics abuse and even the chance of death that from their detached world of indifference and callousness they routinely dispensed.
Lives seemingly poles apart and strictly from a materialistic point of view they are but in terms of personal assessment are even more debauched than those who are looked down on by these odious predators at Caribbean Airlines. Robert Corbie for example the Chief Executive Officer of Caribbean Airlines at the time of my research for this article is a known paedophile with a predilection for young underage boys, and sources tell me that his brush with the law, and from all accounts there have been a number of these, have from his perspective been satisfactorily ironed out by his ability and financial capability to bribe those who get in his way. George M. Nicholas III a wily man and Chairman of the company is similarly not above reproach and the authorities if they have any stomach for it would do well to investigate his money laundering activities and probe as well his secret numbered bank accounts in Switzerland. Mohan Jaikaran Caribbean Airlines’ Vice-Chairman prefers however to go the eastern route and again reliable sources inform me that he’s deeply involved with the racketeering, illegal cricket match fixing scams on the Indian subcontinent.
It would take ages to fully recount the multiplicity of serious crimes that Caribbean Airlines are deeply involved in and which have been scrupulously unearthed and painstakingly chronicled during this comprehensive investigative research. It all began after repeated refusals initially by Air Jamaica then subsequently following the regrettable merger of that company with BWIA to become Caribbean Airlines by Caribbean Airlines itself to honour a commercial agreement that was entered into with Air Jamaica during the Easter period of 2002.
I was then on holiday in Cuba having flown there from my home in Germany with a German based airline that had nothing at all to do with Air Jamaica and while in Cuba learnt that some friends I hadn’t seen for a few years were flying from Canada to Barbados for their vacation and so I made the decision as I was in the Caribbean myself to fly down to Barbados for a few days and have a social get-together with these friends which they’d agreed to.
I made enquiries at the Cuban Information Office in Havana not far from the hotel where I was staying how best I could facilitate this and was informed that Air Jamaica was my best bet, so I went off immediately to the Air Jamaica office also in Havana to enquire about this. I was told that yes I could fly with the Airline to Barbados but I would have to convert my Euros into US dollars as was strictly required by Cuban law if I wanted to book my flight and was directed by the Air Jamaica official I spoke to where I should go to do that. I did as I was instructed got the US$1,500 that Air Jamaica told me the return flight from Havana to Bridgetown in Barbados would cost me, paid for and secured my airline ticket with that company and left.
My flight to Barbados was two days hence but on my return to my hotel from the Air Jamaica office there was an emergency message waiting for me at the reception of the hotel telling me I was required to be back most urgently in Germany. As a result I made my way back to the Air Jamaica office, explained the situation and pointed out that due to unforeseen circumstances I would no longer be flying to Barbados and obviously wouldn’t be needing the use of the return ticket there and therefore wanted a refund. I produced the tickets that I’d bought that same day but was informed that the Air Jamaica Cuban office couldn’t authorize a refund, which I found rather odd, claiming it was all to do with Cuban currency regulations and my best bet would be to contact Air Jamaica in London on my return to Europe.
To cut a very long story short this rigmarole resulted not in my getting a ticket refund from Air Jamaica but a voucher that they said I could use for flights to Jamaica which quite frankly I had no interest in whatsoever even if my busy work schedule could have permitted this, and with my not living in England and Air Jamaica having no connections with Germany legal action on my part would have been costly and victory a pyrrhic on, so I held on to the voucher and all my other relevant documentation hoping that the company would eventually see sense and refund me the money owed to me, but alas nothing I did assisted that process.
However when I learnt of Air Jamaica’s merger with BWIA to become Caribbean Airlines and applying the legal, internationally recognized and moral principle of the new company having an obligation to assume the liabilities of the company it took over I wrote to Caribbean Airlines in London, Kingston Jamaica and Port of Spain Trinidad outlining in full my story and again requested a ticket refund. All of these letters were validated by irrefutable documentation that was enclosed with them and undoubtedly supported my right to a ticket refund. Furthermore all of these letters were dispatched to named senior officials at Caribbean Airlines, whose names and company titles I’d got from the Trinidad and Jamaican embassies respectively in London, and were all sent by express registered to be signed for mail to ensure they got to their specific destinations and the persons for whom they were expressly intended.
And they all have as was deliberately intended as formal confirmation of this has been received by me from the national and local post offices that tracked and personally dealt with these kind of correspondences and from where my letters were both sent and received. Moreover I’d also specifically stressed in all my correspondences with Caribbean Airlines, which included emails as well, that even if the matter couldn’t be resolved immediately it would be much appreciated if the recipients of my letters and emails contacted me at the addresses I’d amply supplied them with and let me know at the very earliest opportunity they’d received the correspondences I’d sent them. Several years on there’s not been a word from any of them and I’m still waiting for my US $1,500 refund.
That was the backdrop than that sparked this investigation into both Air Jamaica and Caribbean Airlines and furthered its impetus when I discovered that I wasn’t a lone victim in this type of swindle and that a considerable number of people, several of whom have been in touch with me when they learnt I was writing this article about the two companies, have themselves either been significantly conned or financially ripped off in a diversity of ways by Air Jamaica and Caribbean Airlines that like to dishonestly give the impression that they’re all sweetness and light but on the inside to use a well known biblical quotation that will doubtlessly resonate with many Christian Caribbean folk are as sepulchres filled with dead men’s bones.
But significantly crooked as all this seems and actually is there is a much more sinister twist to the Caribbean Airlines saga. You’ll recall that to begin with it was Caribbean Airlines middle management that built up the drugs trafficking venture between the airline and the Colombian drug dealers prior to the top management deciding to muscle in. Well they not only muscled in and did so in a big way but greed on their part also took over ensuring that the initiators of this illegal drugs enterprise increasingly and ultimately found themselves not only marginalized but usurped as well which understandably caused much consternation in addition to a great deal of anger and bitterness among them that they weren’t willing to suffer in silence, and when some of them were dismissed on trumped up charges of insubordination or even not working in the best interests of the company it was a signal that inevitably provoked a catalyst for all out war.
Very recently the government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago declared a national state of emergency in Trinidad with the police and security services accorded the right to shoot to kill on sight anyone they considered a treat to law and order or national security. What wasn’t said when this emergency was brought in and no one dared to it seemed was that this was just a front for protecting the corporate interests of Caribbean Airlines and its bosses from a violent insurgency backlash fomented and being unwaveringly carried out by dissident Caribbean ex-employees. Determined to have a share of the pie they’d helped to create these dissidents had opened up their own lines of communications and distribution with other drug dealers and were cost effectively proving so successful that Caribbean Airlines were forced to see them as a very grave threat and besides one that had to be physically eliminated, and not having the weaponry to do this themselves they naturally called in their IOUs and got their government stooges to do it for them instead.
So what was publicly but quite dishonestly billed as a government sweep to rid the country of lawlessness, robbery, murder and what have you was in reality a concerted push to physically remove the competition that Caribbean Airlines found itself faced with and quite respectably as it were having their loyal friends in government do their dirty work for them. There were many killings in this bloody shark feeding frenzy which followed but the problem though temporarily diminished for Caribbean Airlines hasn’t altogether gone away and if anything has taken on an even more sinister dimension with revenge the principal motive in this fight back.
On the 6th October 1976 Luis Posada Carriles a CIA agent together with his accomplices blew up Cubana Airways Flight 455 off the coast of Barbados murdering all 73 passengers on board, a number of them Barbadian medical students returning to their university studies in Cuba, and there’s now talk by these Caribbean Airlines dissidents, not all of them hotheads by any means, of doing the same to Caribbean Airlines’ flights; not as farfetched a scenario as it might at first appear to be since they have the means, opportunity, organizational network and commitment to do what they say they will.
And reliable sources have in the strictest confidence informed me that these highly disgruntled and violently angry dissidents that have witnessed many of their closest friends or colleagues at the behest of those running Caribbean Airlines mercilessly and quite dishonestly gunned down by the police and security services on the streets of Port of Spain or elsewhere across the island are definitely not in any mood for compromise. An eye for an eye is what they’re categorically after and anyway at all in which they can inflict the maximum harm and humiliation possible on Caribbean Airlines that they’re after they’ll unhesitatingly use it, and that I’m afraid does include resorting to mass murder on Caribbean Airlines flights if deemed to be necessary.
As a matter of principle I would never have flown with Caribbean Airlines anyway and in the light of what I’ve uncovered about this company have prudently counselled relatives, friends, colleagues and students of mine with Caribbean links not to do so either, and happily because they know I’m not an alarmist they’ve all decided to heed my advice; everyone else will just have to make their own choices.
But whichever way one looks at it it’s none the less a terrible indictment of the government of Trinidad compounded by gross Caribbean mismanagement to boot, since Caribbean Airlines or whatever regionally owned and operated airline carriers there are or might well be in the future ought really to be pulling out all the stops and literally flying the flag for the Caribbean and its people, showcasing them at their very best and doing everything in their power to highlight, advertise, encourage, promote and reinforce everything that’s positive about the region and the many constructive things, other than just being an ideal location for outstanding vacations, that they have to offer; not betray and disgrace them in the manner that Caribbean Airlines and Air Jamaica have clearly done.
Regrettably Air Jamaica and now Caribbean Airlines have together tarnished though hopefully not irreparably ruined a lot of this positivity. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that Caribbean Airlines be independently investigated from top to bottom, its crooked management along with corrupt Trinidadian lawmakers mixed up in its criminality be indicted, tried and if found guilty be imprisoned for the rest of their natural lives and those guilty of murder, bearing in mind that Trinidad still has the death penalty, be hanged.
Finally that an independent Caribbean Commission with far reaching powers of investigation and regulation and fully representative of all the Caricom states be set up to licence, monitor and regulate all airline carriers, domestic as well as foreign owned ones, within Caricom and to have the authority to suspend or remove their licences completely to operate inside Caricom if the Commission’s regulations are contravened in any way. Only then will the Caribbean public have cause to trust the airlines that service their region and be justly proud of the regional ones that do.