By: Tony Best
When Federal District Judge Nicholas Garaulis, threw the book at Victor Bourne, an American Airlines baggage handler, by sentencing the West Indian to three life terms plus 35 years behind bars, there weren’t many voices raised in objection to the tough and unusual sentence.
And for some very good reasons.
For one thing, Bourne, a Barbadian and his underworld crew at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, Barbados’ Grantley Adams International Airport and other airports around the Caribbean imported hundreds of pounds of cocaine that ended up in the bodies of thousands of people, short-circuiting their lives and dooming their future. Some of the addicts and users may even have died from a drug overdose, who knows. For another, the lengths to which members of the “Bourne Organization” went to stash the drugs in aircraft in order to get them into the U.S. were simply appalling. Some traffickers went tampered with sensitive parts of planes, like dismantling wings to hide the narcotics and we can only thank our stars and the Almighty that a plane or two didn’t develop engine trouble during flight, take-off or landing and plunge into the sea or crash on land.
“The need to protect the public from these kinds of dangers requires a long sentence,” the judge told the convicted drug smuggler, who made millions from his nefarious activities that took place during several years.
We strongly support the judge and it’s our hope that Bourne and his accomplices who have either confessed to the crimes or have been convicted, 19 of them in all, aren’t allowed to roam the streets as free people again. Sounds harsh and unforgiving?
Definitely not. Their behavior was callous, life threatening and beyond the pale. When millions of people board airplanes in any part of the U.S., the Caribbean and the rest of the world every day, they expect to get to their destinations safe and sound. The smugglers discarded that fundamental expectation in pursuit of ill-gotten gains.
The judge put it well when looking at Bourne he said “you personally exacerbated one of the nation’s greatest blights,” dealing in drugs and putting people’s lives at risk.
Of course, Bourne and his criminal pals couldn’t have gotten away for so long without assistance from higher-ups. The court heard about how they bribed supervisors who allowed them to change shifts so they can have access to shipment of drugs. It certainly was a frightening situation fueled by greed. Bourne will have the rest of his life to reflect on what he has done and what he almost got away with.
While it’s true that the case of the Barbadian didn’t involve homicides, it brings back memories of another infamous case, that of the notorious Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the Jamaican drug don, who at one stage was accused of ordering the killings of people in New York but was allowed to plead guilty to lesser crimes and as a result he was slapped with a much lighter sentence. His efforts to elude capture after the Bruce Golding Administration in Kingston had failed to move quickly enough to extradite him to New York cost the lives of dozens of poor people in Jamaica who were either murdered by Coke’s henchmen or were caught in the crossfire between his soldiers and the country’s security forces. Coke and Bourne represent the worst from the Caribbean and they deserve to be where they are: in prison.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the scourge of drug-related violence is taking a heavy toll, costing tens of thousands of lives every year in Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Guyana, El Salvador, St. Kitts-Nevis, Colombia and Guatemala. Add Canada and the United States to the depressing picture and the reality of what we face comes home with clarity. The backbone of the international drug trade is the demand for narcotics, especially in North America and Europe and until those rich lands reduce the demand, we will continue to see the kinds of mind-numbing and unconscionable tactics employed by Bourne and Coke. Millions of growers in South and Central America, Asia and other regions will continue to work feverishly and in an unrelenting fashion to satisfy that maddening craving for illegal substances. Where there is a demand there will be a supply.
The Caribbean island-nations with their large unpatrolled borders and marine areas washed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean are the soft under-belly of the trade. They simply don’t have the financial and other resources to compete against the drug barons and to stem the flow of drugs. It isn’t for lack of trying that the tidal wave of cocaine continues.
That’s why the security assistance being given to them by Washington at the insistence of Eric Holder, the Attorney General, and other senior officials of the Obama Administration is so valuable. Several Caribbean states, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and St. Kitts-Nevis have some of the world’s highest homicide rates and most of the killings are either drug-related or caused by domestic disputes. The stakes are high and everything must be done to tackle the nightmare and that includes imposing tough punishment on criminals such as Bourne and Coke.