Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Reaping the harvest of crime

Most countries in the Caribbean region have had a long experience of peace with other nations; few have actually been directly at war with other nations. However, we find that we are increasing "at war" amongst ourselves. With the stark contrast of Jamaica and to an increasing extent Trinidad most countries have also been free from high levels of crime, but this is changing fast. The development and impact of crime has been well analyzed in a recent World Bank/United Nations report, which points out how the region suffers from being an ideal transit location almost midway between a major supply of drugs (south America) and a enormous demand for drugs (United States). That position of transit has facilitated the entrance into Caribbean societies of a level and kind of violence that is truly alien to our cultures. More and more crimes are against persons and targeting locations that offer quick cash such as conveniene stores or gas stations. In some cases such as Barbados there has been a dramatic fall in commercial and residential burglaries during 2007, of some 15 percent compared to 2006.

The region is often discussing ways of implicating the Diaspora in its development. Now we are reaping a strange reward for migration with the return of criminals from the Europe (mainly UK) and USA, and most (some 50-70 percent) of these deported persons have been shown to be closely linked with illegal drugs and have higher rates of repeat offences. Data also show a close correlation between increased deportations and the rise in the murder rate in Jamaica and Trinidad.

The impact of crime on ordinary people, especially violent crime against persons, is devastating. Those who are victims and live are naturally traumatized forever. Those who die leave behind an increasing string of bewildered grievers. The sense of insecurity about their lives causes people to make decisions that would have shocked them several years ago. Take for instance a Jamaican friend with whom I had lunch yesterday. He has worked almost all his life for organizations in or for the region, and has spent time in Washington DC (dubbed "the murder capital of America"). He is a cancer survivor, who retired and restarted work in a regional organization here in Barbados. He is pondering his options when he really retires. Having felt strongly about going back to Jamaica he bought land there. Now the decision time is nearing he is plagued with worries as he hears more and more stories of what appear to be gratuitous violence. He retold a story of a couple in Montego Bay who were recently raped murdered by a group of men who faked an accident with the couple; this in the area known to be the region's tourist capital. So what is he contemplating? DC seems a better option, he feels. But so is Las Vegas. In short, a choice other than Jamaica.

In the 1950s and 1960s thousands of Caribbean residents were tempted abroad by work and prospects of a better life in Europe and North America. Now that the Caribbean countries have had time to mature in their independence and could use all the skills that were exported, we find that many are driven away from the region or are very reluctant to return.

My personal view is that governments have been extremely timid when it comes to addressing rising crime. And too little will soon end up with too late. Citizens have largely been limited in their direct actions against rising crime, beyond trying to do the natural thing and move away from areas where crime is rising; but the crime follows relentlessly and as it spreads then the chances of being in the wrong place increases. Politicians know their motives and their constituents and it's clear that in a good number of cases important constituents are criminals. I am not tarnishing politicians with this observation, but it needs to be considered when thinking about solutions. The region has one of the best democratic records in the world and rarely has a change of government that needs violence. Therefore we know that our votes count. I find it peculiar that the fight against crime has rarely featured on manifestos of recent elections in the region. If crime really worries us then maybe it's time to look at and think carefully about those for whom we vote.

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