“The chief character in this narrative is the Caribbean Sea, one of the world’s most alluring bodies of water, a rare gem among the oceans, defined by the islands that form a chain of lovely jewels to the north and east.” – Author James Michener
By Steve Thomas
Observer Nevis Editor
(Charlestown, Nevis) – For centuries, the Caribbean was one of the world’s most active commercial regions, a place where Europeans dueled for supremacy to control the flow of goods produced there as well as the lucrative trading industry that flourished throughout the islands. In the 20th century, Europe lost its colonial grip on the Caribbean. Now the region is governed primarily by a group of small island nations, may of them linked economically by treaties and memberships in regional organizations. Much of the Caribbean has worked to enhance national economies through tourism, light manufacturing, financial services and other ventures, but this growth is being challenged by forces from within and without the region, spearheaded by rising crime, increasing drug use and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Monday Online Code for Issue # 719 is NPL
Leaders across the region have pointed with some justification to individual and collective programs aimed at stopping negative developments, but various incidents and reports fuel the growing perception of the region as being closer to Paradise Lost than Paradise Found – an image that could prove crippling to an area that needs to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and scores of major investors to keep its economic wheels turning.
What happens in one part of the Caribbean can affect what happens elsewhere in the region. Part of this is because those who don’t live in the Caribbean tend to lump it together as one entity without looking closely at the individual nations and communities that make up the region.
A case in point is the July 27 attack on Catherine and Benjamin Mullany of the United Kingdom. They were in their honeymoon cottage at the Cocos Hotel on the south west coast after a robbery went wrong. Mrs. Mullany died at the time of assault and Mr. Mullany died a week later.
The case has drawn widespread coverage in the UK, much of it focusing on the problem of crime in the Caribbean region. This is an excerpt from the BBC:
“A British woman living in Antigua – who asked to be known as Wendy to protect her identity – said she was not surprised by the attack (on the Mullanys).
“She said: ‘It’s awful that this has happened but, um, it was always going to be there, it was always going to happen. The crime here is spiraling out of control. The government seem either powerless or not concerned enough to do anything about it.’
“In the past when someone was murdered on the island it was such a rare occurrence that it would be reported for weeks and spoken about for months.
“But the homicide rate in Antigua has jumped in the last few years.
“The years 2004 and 2005 both saw three people killed on the island. However, the figure more than quadrupled in 2006 and last year 19 people died.
“But Antigua is not alone in this growing trend in the region.
“The island has a murder rate of 23 people per 100,000. Its neighbour in the eastern Caribbean, St Kitts, has 33 people murdered per 100,000 and Jamaica in the north sees 59 murders per 100,000 people.
“The UK has two per 100,000.”
This kind of coverage has prompted leaders across the Caribbean to not only step up their anti-crime efforts, but to work on protecting their nations’ images.
Again, from the BBC: “Many Antiguans are aware of the damaging effect of a murder of a holidaymaker in a country where the tourist pound, euro and dollar provide a livelihood for many. The island’s PR machine has swung into full damage limitation mode with them releasing details of how little tourists are affected by crime. But people who live there say that their reality has changed a lot in the last few years and that crime is increasing.”
On Nevis, which has seen a spike in crime since late May that has since dropped, Premier Joseph Parry warned that people should not blow the situation out of proportion.
“I want to tell the people of Nevis that we have had a quiet island all these years and we have no reason to be alarmed. There is no need for us to get on the Internet and blow out of proportion recent events,” he said. “It might be expedient, but in the long term it won’t do any good.”
Mr. Parry’s warnings do little good when international coverage of the region turns harsh, as reflected in this recent excerpt from the UK’s Telegraph on line:
“Most of us going abroad go with stars in our eyes at the best of times, even more so if we’ve just married. Conditions we’d balk at at home seem alluring. No locks on the doors? An Eden. No mobile reception? How relaxing. Yet if something went wrong, all those elements could suddenly turn terrifyingly sinister.
“’We think everything is better abroad – it will be a magical world,” says the owner of a tour operator who sells honeymoons throughout the Caribbean. “At best, that’s daft and at worst it can be a dangerous assumption. But no one wants to mention the dark side of these destinations.”
“For every paradise found, there is a paradise lost. Here we list five honeymoon hells whose crime statistics you might consider before booking . . .
“More than six million tourists visited the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean in 2007, with 185,000 Britons holidaying in Jamaica last year. The image promoted is beaches, rum punches and fun, but the Caribbean has become a world leader in violent crime.
“According to a UN-World Bank study in 2007, Jamaica’s murder rate is 49 per 100,000 inhabitants – one of the highest in the world. With more than 700 murders this year alone, it is easily the most murderous place in the Caribbean.
“Trinidad & Tobago
“At least 40,000 British tourists visited last year. However, in the past 10 years the growing drugs trade has caused the murder rate to quadruple. According to an Economist report, churches now conduct their midnight masses on Christmas Eve at 11pm so parishioners have a better chance of getting home safely.
“About 33,000 Britons travel to Antigua every year, seemingly unaware that the murder rate per head of population is now more than three times that of New York.
“This is the other half of Hispaniola, the island shared by the disaster zone that is Haiti. Although it has long been popular among Britons looking for a bargain holiday, it has a grim underside. Drugs and sex tourism are major problems, with prostitution visible in larger resorts and crack-addicted parents selling the services of their children to paedophile tourists.
“Half a million Britons visit the 700-plus islands of the Bahamas each year. While tourism is responsible for 60 per cent of GDP, the islands have a dark side: murder rates have risen by 30 per cent since 2004, with 79 deaths last year. The Foreign Office warns visitors to be on their guard, particularly in the capital, Nassau.”
Although residents of the Federation can breathe a sigh of relief that the country has not been hit with this kind of notoriety, the possibility that this could happen is real. Here’s a look at what the UK’s Times on line recently said about crime in the Caribbean:
“Antigua, a pretty little island famous for its beaches and sailing regatta, is one of the most popular Caribbean destinations for British holidaymakers. The horrific murder of a newlywed doctor and her husband will inevitably now deter many potential tourists. At the same time, it will throw an unwelcome spotlight on the growing problems of the Caribbean: not only the high murder rate, the gang violence and the general level of crime, but also the stagnation of the region’s economies, high unemployment, prevalence of drugs and its general marginalisation by the world’s larger economic groupings.
“The crime statistics are alarming. According to the United Nations, the region has a murder rate of 30 per 100,000 inhabitants – four times the North American figure and 15 times the average for Western and Central Europe. Jamaica is the world’s most murderous country: there were 1,547 homicides last year. But murders are rising all across the region. In Trinidad & Tobago the rate has quadrupled over the past decade, despite falling unemployment. Antigua had 19 killings last year, and even the tiny island of St Kitts, with only 40,000 people, suffered three murders in four days last November.
“What particularly worries most Caribbean countries is the disastrous effect this is beginning to have on tourism, an industry that accounts for at least 50 per cent of the economy and up to 90 per cent on the smaller islands. Tourism, especially from the United States, was hard hit by 9/11 and its recovery has been hampered by a reputation for lawlessness. Admittedly, the six million tourists who visited the English-speaking Caribbean last year were not usually the targets. But occasional murders, armed robberies and pickpocketing have begun to put people off. And the tourist promotion of sea, sun and carefree leisure sits ill with the growing presence of police and security guards around tourist areas.
“Tourism, however, has helped to contribute to the region’s difficulties. It has exacerbated the gap between rich and poor, stunted alternative employment and fuelled greed and envy among the have-nots, which in turn have encouraged crime.
“Many people in the Caribbean are deeply religious, and they blame their troubles on the loss of faith among the young as well as social and family breakdown, the high incidence of single-parent families, materialism, corruption and poverty. For many, the solution is the return of hanging and birching, tougher sentencing and a wholesale cleanout of corrupt police forces. But the little islands are often at the mercy of trends and forces beyond their capacity to control. The Caribbean is awash with drugs. The associated crime, proliferation of guns and chances for huge profits are undermining the efforts of ill-trained and poorly paid police and corrupting whole governments, unable to stand up to drug cartels.”
Of course, the region’s image is also hurt by reports that indicate anything that smacks of unwillingness to fight against crime, as recently reported by the BBC: “Britain’s High Commissioner to St Lucia says the island would have benefited from an offer of drug interdiction cooperation with the UK. The government in Castries declined the offer of the so-called Operation Airbridge agreement, citing resource constraints. High Commissioner Karl Burrows says he understands the St Lucian government’s concerns that arresting large numbers of drug traffickers would put pressure on the island’s already overwhelmed prison, the police and the judiciary.”
What’s left out of much is this coverage is recent efforts by Caribbean law enforcement officials to better coordinate anti-crime efforts throughout the area. In June, a meeting in St. Kitts of regional heads of Special Branch divisions heard from Joseph Liburd, Assistant Commissioner of Police, deputized for Commissioner of the St. Kitts and Nevis Police Force, who spoke about the crucial role that intelligence-led policing.
“Intelligence led policing is really the answer to the problem of rising crime that is affecting us in our islands and various countries. This is what Sir Robert Peale envisaged very early in modern policing when he said, ‘the Police are the public and the public is the Police.’ At that time he expected us to get intelligence from the public in combating crimes.”
Mr. Liburd was direct in his criticism of what has gone wrong:
“Sadly, we have deviated from this concept and to our own detriment and that of the communities we have seen rising crimes, low detection rates, reactive styles of policing and an adverse relationship between the public and the police.”
Perhaps the growing recognition by leaders in many fields – politics, law enforcement, the judiciary and other civic organizations – that crime can do more than harm individuals and disrupt societies, but can, in fact, roll back economic gains and derail future plans for national growth and development, will become the fulcrum needed to push the Caribbean nations toward better-coordinated anti-crime measures before time runs out and the image is damaged beyond redemption.
Criminals have forged links that criss-cross the Caribbean and they make tactical adjustments whenever needed to outfox their pursuers, unencumbered by legal niceties or national pride.
Unless Caribbean leaders find the will and the means to meet the forces of crime head-on, the dreams of a better life for the region’s citizens will be snatched away, taken from the people who live among the rare gems of the ocean, a paradise lost.