By Michael Derek Roberts
The Caribbean islands have always been associated with great beaches, friendly people and beautiful tourist resorts. In fact, drinking “rum and Coca Cola” in the pristine white sand beaches was the image that portrayed the Caribbean region as a tourist’s dream getaway, exotic places where safe, memorable adventures awaited. That was then, say 20 years ago. Not so now.
The Caribbean is now earning an unenviable reputation for a rapidly rising crime rate. Today, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are among the worst in the region affected by a runaway crime rate. Beyond the heavy toll on society, crime and violence carry high economic costs, including an adverse impact on foreign investment and the key region’s tourism industry.
Published reports say that in 2018 these four Caribbean nations are spending hundreds of millions of their country’s budget annually, fighting the stultifying scourge of crime within their borders, a new study has found. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report, ‘The Cost Of Crime And Violence,’ the four biggest spenders on crime prevention, law enforcement and security across the Caribbean region are:
1: Trinidad & Tobago
From all available date this country is now one of the most violent in the region and is on course to record its highest murder rates ever. The oil rich nation of Trinidad & Tobago, which continues to battle a spiraling crime rate, spent some US $ 1.6 billion fighting crime in 2014 alone. As such, crime, which is claiming the lives mostly of young men between 15 and 29 there, cost Trinidad and Tobago’s citizens and residents in 2014 more than $1,189 per person. This is a huge financial burden for the population and as the come rate shows no signs of abating the cost per person will rise.
Crime in Jamaica is a major headache for successive governments since the 1960s. And this situation continues today. Today, Jamaica continues to battle with rising murder rates. The country has spent some US $963 million in 2014 alone to battle the scourge that data shows is killing mostly men between the ages of 26-35.
3: The Bahamas
The third biggest spender on crime in the Caribbean region ironically is popular tourist destination, The Bahamas. The country spent about US$ 434 million in 2014 alone battling rising crime rates within its borders that’s killing mostly young men between 18 and 29.
And who would have thought that Barbados would make the list of the top four CARICOM nations battling a growing crime wave and criminality in general? This country rounds out the list spending an estimated US$124 million in 2014 to battle crime rates killing largely young men between the ages of 18-35.
The security situation in smaller Caribbean nations has also deteriorated due to this ripple effect. For example, the unintended consequence of a major crackdown on crime in Jamaica has driven drug-trafficking and related crimes to other parts of the Caribbean region, particularly the smaller island nations that make up the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS, which consists of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines). In the OECS the average murder rate rose sharply from 15.7/100,000 in 2004 to 19.9/100,000 in 2007, despite relatively strong economic growth and falling unemployment.
From all available data and reports, the main culprit driving the high rates of crime and violence in the Caribbean is the impact of intra-regional drug trafficking. This is closely associated with high unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunities for young people in the region. Moreover, the rapid explosion of the international drug trade has institutionalized criminal behavior in the region resulting in increased property-related crimes committed by drug users underpinned by a steady increase in the availability of modern military style lethal firearms. In fact, traffic and sale of firearms in the Caribbean is a by-product of the drug trade that has contributed to the sharp increase in the murder rates, and the number of homicides committed with the use of weapons.
Then there is the issue of geography. The region is vulnerable because of its location at a crossroads between the steady flow of illegal drugs f going north from the world’s main source of cocaine— South America’s Andean region—to the drugs’ main consumer markets in the US and Europe, and guns flowing south mainly from the US to South America and the Caribbean.
Compounding this situation is the fact that all Caribbean countries have expansive coastlines and vast territorial waters to patrol creating a major headache for local governments and law enforcement. The end result is huge flows of drugs through the region. Drug proceeds are often used to buy illegal guns and put sophisticated arsenals in the hands of competing gangs, in turn driving up the murder rates and fueling a wave of kidnappings, extortions and other crimes.
Today, around 216 tons of cocaine pass through the Caribbean and Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana every year en route to the US and Europe, accounting for one-half of the US’s cocaine imports and one-half of Europe’s. This figure is set to rise further in 2018 because of law enforcement crackdowns on Central American drug-smuggling cartels and routes forcing them to shift more supply to and through the Caribbean basin.
Violence in the Caribbean is also aggravated and compounded by the steady inflow of criminal deportees from the United States, many of whom have been “schooled” in criminal behavior and activities in major international cities as London and New York. An estimated 30,000 deportees were sent to Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana between 1990 and 2005. The problem is further heightened by the fact that these countries do not have the resources – financial and others – to handle this large influx of people, many of them hardcore seasoned criminals with long rap sheets.
Finally, crime in the English-speaking Caribbean drives away much-needed foreign and domestic investment in the region, a phenomenon that stymies and discourages economic growth. This also deters overseas nationals from returning to the Caribbean nations to retire or to set up businesses or buy property. They are concerned that they will be the victims of murder because of the pervasive and invasive criminality in the region. And because of the need to employ additional security measures (private security firms, security technology etc.) crime increases the costs of doing business, diverting investment away from business expansion and productivity. It leads to losses through theft, looting, arson, fraud and extortion. All of this creates a sense of national anxiety and greatly contributes to poverty in the region.