Criminals’ grip on Caribbean Plenty "plans", bigger problems By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
January 20, 2002

THE CARIBBEAN seems to be under siege from the criminals. And Ministers of National Security and their key advisers in an apparent quandary to come up with realistic answers, are virtually competing to present `blueprints’ intended to gain that so-called `upper hand’ in the expanding battles against crime.

Before last week's haste by Jamaica's Minister of National Security, Peter Phillips, and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga to present their respective "plans" to combat crime, there was the anxiety of Trinidad and Tobago's new National Security Minister, Howard Chin Lee, to make his baptism in politics with a promise to come up with a "30-day plan" to effectively fight crime.

His political leader and Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, may be faced with enormous post-election governance problems. But there was no pressure on the youthful National Security Minister to make his debut in party 'politriks', via the Senate, by exhibiting his naivety in talking of a "30-day plan" to combat crime on the day he took the oath of office - January 7.

The 36-year-old entrepreneur would come to find, as a lot of his counterparts in the Caribbean Community already have, much to their deep disappointment and frustration, that it is quite dangerous to talk of having any "strategy" or "plan", in place to wage war against criminality - only to find the criminals laughing all over him as they engage in new criminal tactics.

For a start, the minister would not have been privy, at the time of his bold pledge, to the findings of the survey carried out by the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice at the St. Augustine Campus of the UWI.

Professor Ramesh Deosaran, Director of the Centre, was speaking to the media about some of the chilling findings of that survey, including students belonging to gangs with illegal guns, and of schools being turned into breeding grounds for crime, as schools were reporting on the expanding culture of violence with teachers being attacked and beaten.

All of this, in a climate of indiscipline and lawlessness, is reminiscent of a number of other Caribbean countries today.

Sad Reality
Every National Security Minister, every Police Commissioner of the Caribbean Community seems to have "a plan" to beat back the criminals. The sad reality is that, as it is in this country, so is the experience elsewhere with increased killings and criminal violence, with Jamaica topping the list.

The killing spree in Jamaica, the spiralling vicious robberies, acts of rape and other heinous crimes, differ only in terms of numbers between this country and other CARICOM states. But they all point to a most damaging image in striking contrast to what the local, regional and foreign business executives and those who market tourism would wish to project about our Caribbean.

Neither The Bahamas and Barbados as major tourism destinations, nor any other Eastern Caribbean states that also depend significantly on income from tourism, can take any comfort from the unflattering ratings of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana being, in that order, the top three centres in CARICOM for murder and criminal violence.

With more than 1, 138 murders for last year, an increase of 26 per cent on 2000, Jamaica's murder rate of 44 per 100,000 population, has branded it as having one of the highest in the world.

Guns, mostly illegally obtained, accounted for some 69 per cent of the killings. And the 'dons' and their disciples of the ever menacing trafficking in illegal drugs have been identified to be at the core of most of the murders, robberies and criminal violence that plague that country with its inner- city communities being the most affected.

Undoubtedly, the political leaders of both the governing and opposition parties are, like the captains of industry and commerce and representatives of labour, church and community-based organisations, sincere and anxious in wanting to experience at least a significant reduction in the nightmare of killings and criminal violence.

But with new general election this year very much on their minds and, clearly worried about the extent to which communities have been traumatised by the frequency, scale and sheer mindless acts of the criminals, both the ruling People's National Party of Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party have been offering competing plans or strategies to deal "effectively" with crime.

The JLP leader, Edward Seaga, last week went as far as proposing the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers and 'terrorists'. Of course, a lot of the 'terrorism' has also been associated with the political culture of violence that both the PNP and JLP had spawned during the decades of the 70s and 80s in the recent 20th century.

Guyana and Barbados
In Guyana, where party 'politriks' have also been linked to murder and violent crimes, the authorities have been coming under immense pressures to maintain a climate of law and order against a background of lawlessness and the corruption, ruthlessness and inefficiency that have tarnished the police service, as is also the case in other CARICOM states.

The Police Commissioner, Floyd McDonald, recently came up with "a plan" that, among other things, called for more effective community-based policing, increased manpower and technical resources.

In an ethnically-divided country (as in Trinidad and Tobago), where the police service has traditionally been identified among the supporters of the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC), there is the curious and ironic development, at a time of frightening incidence of criminal violence, of the People's Progressive Party's administration of President Bharrat Jagdeo emerging as defenders of the rights of the cops while being accused by its opponents for being "soft", or disinterested about claimed "extra-judicial killings".

In Barbados, as it is in St. Lucia, there are constant conflicts between the governing and opposition parties about the state of crime and the preparedness of the law enforcing agencies to deal with the problems of criminality.

The opposition Democratic Labour Party had challenged the ruling Barbados Labour Party at the general election three years ago to acknowledge as a major social problem the rising crime wave then afflicting the society.

Whatever the reason to downplay crime then, the government of Prime Minister Owen Arthur has since been clearly showing its awareness of the necessity to upgrade anti-crime strategies to ensure maximum possible security for visitors and locals against the criminals at large.

Barbados, however, remains as a place very different to the once tranquil tourist resort island, with the arrests being made by the police, the daily court appearances of accused persons and an overcrowded prison serving as reminders for all concerned, how the lawless and the criminals have contributed to changing the social face of the nation.

A question of immediate relevance to this and all other CARICOM states is: What has become of the "strategies", the "blueprints" of the Association of Caribbean Police Commissioners who meet ever so often to share ideas and pool resources for intelligence gathering and sharing in the region's war against crime?

Surely what these top cops of the region have already discussed and the memoranda/position papers they would have submitted to their respective government, cannot be divorced from the "strategies" we are now hearing about from new and old Ministers of National Security.