2002: Crime and corruption top the political agenda
The Greater Caribbean This Week
Norman Girvan
Guyana Chronicle
December 29, 2002

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THE year 2002 saw several political developments of note in the Greater Caribbean region. National elections and/or inaugurations were held in nine countries (see attached table). Their results suggest that continuity, rather than change, were the norm.

Incumbent Parties retained control of the Executive (Presidency or Prime Ministership) in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and France. Changes of political administration were registered in the Bahamas, Honduras, Colombia and the Netherlands Antilles. With the possible exception of Colombia, where the domestic conflict is at the top of the agenda, the change did not signify a radical shift in current policies.

In Latin America as a whole, some observers detect a political shift “to the left” manifested in growing opposition to neo-liberal globalisation and the proposed FTAA. They point to the results of recent elections in Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia as well as the growing strength and influence of the civil society movement.

Such a trend is not evident in the Greater Caribbean region. In Central America, all three Presidents taking office in 2002 come from a private sector background and are strongly committed to CAFTA, the proposed US-Central American Free Trade Area.

The three elections held within CARICOM also reflect a pattern of continuity. Nonetheless in 2002 there was growing unease about the potentially negative impact of the FTAA among CARICOM’s smaller, service-oriented economies, particularly the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and the Bahamas.

There were two non-ideological issues that assumed growing prominence on the political agenda, including election campaigns, across most of the region in 2002. One is the steeply rising trend in crime and violence in many, if not most, countries. The other is the issue of public corruption and accountability.

The dramatic increase in violent crime is probably due to a number of inter-related factors rather than to any single cause. Poverty and social exclusion undoubtedly play a role.

More sinister is the role of transnational crime syndicates commanding resources that dwarf the security budgets of all Caribbean states, whether small or large. Many believe these forces have enmeshed Caribbean countries in a web of international relationships involving narco-trafficking, gun-running, migrant smuggling and money laundering; with deadly spin-offs in turf warfare, armed robbery, kidnappings and domestic terrorism.

The countries of the Greater Caribbean may need to consider a collective regional strategy to confront the problem, in partnership with their powerful neighbours; going beyond the current patchwork of national, sub-regional and bilateral programmes that now exist.

Corruption and public accountability were also major issues in elections in regional countries in 2002 and 2001. In at least two countries, heads of government who only recently demitted office are now being prosecuted for alleged violations of laws relating to public probity. Some governments have launched special enquiries into public projects; many are seeking to strengthen legislation and the institutions aimed at controlling corruption and ensuring greater accountability and transparency in governance.

The trend is healthy, and one that can be expected to continue in 2003.

Next week we will look at regional economic trends over the past year. This column wishes all readers the very best for 2002.


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· Change of Party controlling Executive

Source: Association of Caribbean States http://www.acs-aec.org

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