Towards a regional response to crime
July 30, 2003
IT must be a worrying prospect for Trinidad and Tobago, this issue raised by Mr Richard Young, the president of the country's bankers' association.
According to Mr Young, as reported in the Trinidadian press last weekend, the current crime wave in the country is causing an exodus of business people, which could diminish the availability of entrepreneurial and management talent.
Indeed, the government of Prime Minister Patrick Manning is taking seriously concerns raised by people like Mr Young and of the problem of crime generally. Last week, for instance, Mr Manning and his National Security Minister, Mr Howard Chin Lee, met with business leaders in an attempt to assuage them and to suggest that while the problem was serious, Trinidad and Tobago did not yet face a crisis.
A part of Mr Manning's response to the current difficulties is to announce that 1,000 police officers would be placed on the streets as part of a new anti-crime strategy.
All this, of course, will have resonance in Jamaica. It is, in a sense, a case of "been there, done that". For the fact is, Jamaica has the unenviable reputation of crime capital of the Caribbean.
Indeed, in the 1970s, a mixture of escalating crime and political violence that had its roots in an ideological struggle helped drive large numbers of skilled persons and entrepreneurs out of the country. The Jamaican economy paid a dear price for this exodus.
Jamaica is still paying an economic price. And those difficulties are exacerbated by the country's failure up to now to come to defeat this monster of crime. More than 1000 murders a year attest to this fact.
Trinidad and Tobago, of course, is not unaccustomed to violence and political instability in its recent history. Rex La Salle's and Raffique Shah's junior officers coup attempt in 1970s did not lead to bloodshed but the potential was there. Later in the 1970s Randy Burroughs, the late commissioner of police, was often reported to be chasing armed gangs in the Northern Range and elsewhere in Trinidad. Then there was the carnage of 1991 when the Muslimeen of Abu Bakr took over the parliament and, almost, the country.
But until recently, there was a qualitative difference in the crime in Trinidad and Tobago. It lacked the seeming arbitrary randomness of Jamaica's.
Of course, the numbers of murders in Trinidad still lag far behind Jamaica's -- fewer than 130 so far this year compared to nearly 520 in Jamaica. But the growing phenomenon of kidnapping of members of affluent or well-to-do families is driving deep fear into the Trinidadian psyche. Like in Jamaica, this rise in crime because of myriad social reasons is complicated by an escalation of narcotics trafficking.
These issues -- of rising crime and the threat to national security posed by the drug trade -- are not limited to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Guyana has had its own difficulties and other countries in the region face the same issues.
It seems to us that a regional response is appropriate. CARICOM has started that process with the establishment of a task force on crime. That group needs to accelerate its work and develop concrete mechanisms for the sharing of resources to combat these threats.The need is urgent. (Reprinted from the Jamaica Observer)