The St. Kitts-Nevis Observer
No. 800 • February 26, 2010
 
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Crime in the Caribbean: An Analysis

 

 

Needless to say, it has not been a propitious start to the year for the Federation, where homicide statistics are concerned. So far, there have been five murders between the two islands and numerous shootings - a total of five were reported for the past weekend alone.

The issue of crime is a very personal one among the many matters of concern in society, because it directly affects individuals' quality of life, and impinges upon their ability to live without fear of physical harm or material loss.

In a depressed global economy, with rising levels of unemployment, homelessness and home foreclosures, an increase in criminal activity may be all but inevitable. This is increasingly the case in the Caribbean, which owns some particularly horrific murder statistics.

Indeed, in a 2007 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) titled, "Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean," the region was shown to have the highest murder rate in the world. The rate, at 30 per 100,000 population annually, is unfortunately on an upswing.

By comparison, Western and Central Europe had a murder rate of 2 per 100,000 population on an annual basis. North America came in at 7 per. Only South America and South and West Africa approached the Caribbean homicide level, at 26 and 29 murders per 100,000, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, assault rates in the Caribbean are also reported to be significantly higher than any other region in the world. A large sub-section of these violations are against women and girls, with one victimization study taken in nine Caribbean countries indicating that 48 percent of adolescent girls' sexual initiation was either "forced" or "somewhat forced."

Going further, according to data available from the UNODC's Crime Trends Survey, based on police stats, three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world are in the Caribbean. All of the island nations from which data was gathered -- Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago -- experienced a rate of rape above the unweighted average of the 102 countries in the survey.

Well-publicized International Incidents

Deadly violence in the Caribbean sometimes plays out on a worldwide stage when it involves visitors from other regions. Aruba gained copious amounts of undesired attention with the 2005 infamous disappearance of Natalee Holloway, a vacationing student from Alabama in the United States.

The tragic 2008 murder of a newlywed doctor and the serious wounding of her husband in Antigua deterred a significant number of tourists from visiting that Caribbean island nation. Recently, after the January 2010 murder of a 30-year-old American woman near a popular tourist area, Antigua has been removed off of the cruise ship itinerary for Star Clippers cruise line.

Unenviable Stats for the Federation

In a UNODC report titled, "Homicide Statistics, Criminal Justice Sources (2003-2008)," St. Kits and Nevis had an intentional homicide rate of 35.2 per 100,000 population for 2008. This dubious accomplishment was superceded in the region only by Jamaica, with a rate of 59.5 murders per 100,000, and Trinidad and Tobago at 39.7.

A more detailed UNODC homicide rate statistics report shows a dangerous progression in the Federation, with murders increasing from 20.9 per 100,000 in 2003 to the current level of over 35. As noted, though certainly high, the rate is still dwarfed by Jamaica which suffered through a peak of 62.8 killings per 100,000 in 2005.

To the south, St. Lucia had a homicide rate of 16 per 100,000 in 2007, while St. Vincent and the Grenadines came in at 17.5 in 2004, the last year for which the stats were available for the report.

Drugs and Gangs a Big Factor

Several factors, which affect all Caribbean nations to some degree, have made them more vulnerable to crime and violence. Perhaps the most important is the widespread presence of drug traffickers. Strategically located between the globe's most abundant source of cocaine to the south and the primary consumer market to the north, the Caribbean is utilized as a critical narcotics transit point. Small island nations continue to be stressed financially to hold back a flood of illicit products whose aggregate street value exceeds their entire economies and overwhelms their criminal justice systems.

When drugs are prevalent, the formation of gangs is never far behind. The drive to establish unimpeded zones of drug dealing activity is among the primary foci for any given gang. The damage wrought by the combination of high-powered guns in the hands of children, teens and youngsters in their early 20's continues to shock society's sensibilities.

Atrocities, such as the Feb. 22 massacre of four family members - aged 13 to 68 - in Gonzales, Trinidad, highlight the tragic problem. In this incident, heavily armed gunmen also shot a four-year old girl who was present in the house.

Tragically, it appears from preliminary reports that that it was the simple act of plaiting the hair of a rival gang member from nearby Bath Street that precipitated the murders by the Gonzales group. Senseless killings like this have been repeated all around the globe, and are greatly abetted by easy access to guns made available through the drug trade.

In September 2002, the CARICOM Regional Task Force on Crime and Security released a 148-page report detailing the rise in small arms and light weapons (SALW) in the Caribbean. Three levels of SALW were identified at that time: (1) countries with established high levels and patterns of armed crime (Jamaica); (2) countries with emerging high levels of armed and organized criminality (Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago); and (3) countries with indications of increased use and availability of small arms (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines).

Public Awareness

Residents of the Caribbean are certainly aware of the ravages wrought by the increases in crime, even if everyone isn't intimately familiar with the latest statistics. In Spring 2005, a survey asked the open-ended question "What would you say is the single most serious challenge facing our country today?" to representative population samples in Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The most popular response was "The crime rate," with 45 percent of respondents marking it as either a first or second priority.

Solutions?

This issue of crime is a multi-faceted conundrum, and thus has no easy solution. The Observer plans to examine various aspects of the problem, and possible solutions in future editions.

 
 
 
 
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