High crime rates hurting Caribbean growth
-- World Bank
-- says drugs trafficking at core of problems

Guyana Chronicle
May 4, 2007

Related Links: Articles on crime
Letters Menu Archival Menu

HIGH rates of crime and violence in the Caribbean are undermining growth, threatening human welfare and impeding social development, according to a new report released yesterday by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report, titled ‘Crime, Violence and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean’, said narcotics trafficking is at the core of the high rates of crime and violence in the region.

It said narcotics trafficking diverts criminal justice resources from other important activities, increases and embeds violence, undermines social cohesion and contributes to the widespread availability of firearms in the region.

Noting that crime impacts business and is a major obstacle to investment, the report pointed out that in many countries, as crime increases, access to financing declines; spending on formal and informal security measures increases; and worker productivity declines.

&Wedged between the world’s source of cocaine to the south and its primary consumer markets to the north, the Caribbean is the transit point for a torrent of narcotics, with a street value that exceeds the value of the entire legal system,” the report stated.

&Compounding their difficulties, Caribbean countries have large coastlines and territorial waters and many have weak criminal justice systems that are easily overwhelmed,” the report added.

It also said murder rates in the Caribbean are higher than in any other region of the world, and assault rates are significantly above the world average.

Estimates also suggest that reducing the homicide rate in the Caribbean by one third could more than double the region's rate of per capita economic growth.

The World Bank/UNODC report was officially launched yesterday morning at the World Bank’s headquarter building in Washington, DC, and transmitted live via video conferencing to journalists in Guyana and Jamaica (the two countries in the Caribbean where World Bank offices are located) and other areas outside the region, including Florida and Washington in the U.S.

World Bank Director for the Caribbean, Ms. Caroline Anstey, who chaired the launching ceremony in Washington, said the report clearly shows that crime and violence are development issues and that donors and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries need to work together with Caribbean countries to reduce the current levels in the region.

Some of the factors that make the Caribbean most vulnerable to crime and violence, mainly the drug trade and trafficking of weapons, require a response that transcends national and even regional boundaries,” she said.

She also made it clear that crime and violence are not exclusive to the Caribbean since these are issues that affect rich and poor countries alike, around the world.

UNODC Director, Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, Mr. Francis Maertens, said although there is no one "ideal" approach for crime and violence prevention, interventions such as slum-upgrading projects, youth development initiatives and criminal justice system reform can contribute to reducing the scourge.

He noted that the report draws on input from governments, civil society organisations and Caribbean experts, and presents detailed analyses of crime and violence impacts at the national and regional levels.

It also provides information on good practice approaches from global experiences and offers concrete actions and recommendations on crime prevention and crime reduction strategies, he said.

The World Bank/UNODC report argued that while Caribbean countries are transit points and not producers of cocaine, interdiction needs to be complemented by other strategies outside the region - principally demand reduction in consumer countries and eradication and/or alternative development in producer countries.

It said gun ownership is an outgrowth of the drug trade and, in some countries, of politics and associated garrison communities.

Although reducing gun ownership is difficult, the report said better gun registries, marking and tracking can help, as can improved gun interdiction in ports.

Policies should also focus on limiting the availability of firearms and on providing meaningful alternatives to youth, it said.

The report said deaths and injuries from youth violence constitute a major threat to public health and social and economic progress across the Caribbean, and youth are disproportionately represented in the ranks of both victims and perpetrators of crime and violence.

With regards to deportees, the report said although the average Caribbean deportee is not involved in criminal activity, a minority may be causing serious problems, both by direct involvement in crime and by providing a perverse role model for youth.

The report recommended that more services be offered to reintegrate deportees, with deporting countries contributing to the cost of these programmes.

In general, the report said there is an over-reliance on the criminal justice system to reduce crime in the region.

At the same time, it must be recognised that some types of crime such as organised crime, drug and firearms trafficking are generally impervious to prevention initiatives and their control requires an efficient criminal justice system.

It said urgent priorities for improving the criminal justice system in the region include the development of management information systems, tracking of justice system performance, monitoring of reform programmes and increased accountability to citizens.

According to the report, several countries are increasingly investing in crime prevention, using approaches such as integrated citizen security programmes, crime prevention through environmental design, and a public health approach that focuses on risk factors for violent behaviours.

These alternative approaches have significant potential to generate decreases in both property crime and inter-personal violence, it reasoned.

The World Bank/UNODC report also said youth violence is a particularly serious problem in the region, and youth homicide rates in several countries of the Caribbean being significantly above the world average.

To address issues of youth violence, Caribbean policymakers should invest in programmes that have been shown to be successful in careful evaluations such as early childhood development and mentoring programmes; interventions to keep high risk youth in secondary schools; and opening schools after hours and on weekends to offer additional activities and training.

The report also said many of the issues facing the Caribbean transcend national boundaries and require a coordinated regional and international response.

&Crime and violence are not immutable (and) while the Caribbean faces serious challenges, especially in the areas of drugs, guns, and youth violence, informed policies at the national, regional and international levels can make a significant difference,” the report posited.

The report also noted that violence against women affects a significant percentage of women and girls in the Caribbean.

According to the latest available data from UNODC’s Crime Trends Survey (CTS), which is based on police statistics, three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world occur in the Caribbean.

The report said all countries in the Caribbean for which comparable data are available – Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago – experienced a rate of rape above the un-weighted average of the 102 countries in the CTS.

&Police statistics offer only a very imperfect picture of violence against women, since the majority of these incidents are not reported to police and increased trust in police will increase reporting,” it said.

&Despite their diversity, one thing all Caribbean countries have in common is that they have long been caught in the crossfire of international drug trafficking (but) the good news is that the flow of drugs through the region may be decreasing,” the report said.

&The trans-shipment of cocaine to the United States, the most significant flow in economic terms, appears to be in decline (while) cannabis production for export from Jamaica, the largest cannabis producer in the region, appears to be in a slump,” it added.

Despite these recent shifts, the report said large quantities of drugs continue to transit the Caribbean. In 2005, it is estimated that about 10 tonnes of cocaine transited through Jamaica alone, while about 20 tonnes passed through Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In addition to drug trafficking, the report said kidnapping and corruption are other forms of organised crime which affect the region. It pointed out Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago as two countries that have seen recent and rapid increases in kidnapping.

Alluding to the fact that corruption is a difficult crime to measure, the report said while there are methodological concerns about Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), it remains the standard for international corruption comparisons and boasts one of the few datasets with near-global coverage.

The report said it is important to note that many of the issues facing the Caribbean transcend national boundaries and require a coordinated regional response.

&#Demand for drugs emanates from Europe and the United States; deportees are sent back to the region from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada; and many weapons that are trafficked are sourced from the United States,” the report stated.