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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.