High crime eroding Caribbean growth -UN/World Bank report
Stabroek News
May 4, 2007

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`The drug trade drives crime in a number of ways; through violence tied to trafficking, by normalising illegal behaviour, by diverting criminal justice from other activities, by provoking property crime related to addiction, by contributing to the widesp

High crime rates, narcotics trafficking 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).

But it recommended that 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.

The report, entitled: "Crime, Violence and Development: Trends, Costs and Policy Options in the Caribbean" said that crime impacts business and is a major obstacle to investment. "In many countries, as crime increases, access to financing declines, spending on formal and informal security measures increases; and worker productivity declines. Estimates suggest that reducing the homicide rate by one third could more than double the region's rate of per capita economic growth," the report said.

It also suggested that policies within the region should focus on limiting the availability of firearms and on providing meaningful activity for youth. According to the report, gun ownership is an outgrowth of the drug trade and in some countries, of politics and associated garrison communities.

The report stated that although reducing gun ownership is difficult, better gun registries, marking and tracking can help, as can improved gun interdiction in ports.

Death and injuries from youth violence constitute a major threat to public health and social and economic progress across the Caribbean.

The report said that since Caribbean nations have limited resources to fight the drug trade, significant assistance should come from the destination countries in support of interdiction efforts.

Wedged between the world's source of cocaine to the south and its primary consumer markets to the north, the Caribbean is a transit point for a torrent of narcotics, with a street value that exceeds the value of the entire legal economy. "Compounding their difficulties, Caribbean countries have large coastlines and territorial waters and many have weak criminal justice systems that are easily overwhelmed," the report said in its Executive Summary.

It said too that while levels of crime and associated circumstances vary country by country, the strongest explanation for the relatively high rates of crime and violence in the region is narco-trafficking.

"The drug trade drives crime in a number of ways; through violence tied to trafficking, by normalising illegal behaviour, by diverting criminal justice from other activities, by provoking property crime related to addiction, by contributing to the widespread availability of firearms, and by undermining and corrupting societal institutions," the summary said.

The report said that there has been an over-reliance on the criminal justice approach to crime reduction in the region, to the detriment of other complementary approaches which can be effective in reducing certain types of crime and violence.

According to the report programmes such as citizens security initiatives, which combine modern methods of policing with prevention interventions undertaken by both Government and non-governmental organisations are extremely promising. It said too that the public health approach, which focuses on modifying risk factors for violent conduct, is especially promising for addressing violence against women and youth violence.

"At the same time it is critical to note that certain types of crime and violence - in particular, organised crime and drug trafficking - are largely impervious to prevention approaches; a criminal justice-focused approach is essential in dealing with them," the report said.

It said that murder rates in the Caribbean are higher than any other region in the world and assault rates are significantly above the world average. It said too that narcotics trafficking is at the core of these rates.

According to the World Bank press release accompanying the report, narcotics trafficking diverts criminal justice resources from other important activities, increases and embeds violence, undermines social cohesion and contributes to the availability of firearms in the region.

"The report clearly shows that crime and violence are development issues. Donors and OECD countries need to work together with Caribbean countries to reduce the current levels in the region," said Caroline Anstey, World Bank Director for the Caribbean. "Some of the factors that make the Caribbean most vulnerable to crime and violence, mainly the drug trade and trafficking in weapons, require a response that transcends national and even regional boundaries," she said.

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. The report also provides information on good practice approaches from global experiences, and offers concrete actions and recommendations on crime prevention and crime reducing strategies.

"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 crime and violence," said Frank Maertens, UNODC Director, Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs.

The report summed up that 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.

Asked about possibilities for assistance to countries in crime fighting and prevention, Anstey through a video-conference at the launching of the report in Washington said yesterday that this has to be done through the Caribbean countries, the financial institutions and the developed 'consumer' nations to decide who finances what.

She said too that there must be dialogue on what could be done on the issue of guns and criminal deportees.

Speaking through video conferencing too, co-author of the report Andrew Morrison, World Bank Lead Economist, said that the Bank and the UNODC stand ready to assist countries brainstorm strategies that work. He said that "get tough" programmes tend to breed more criminals instead of reducing them.

The report will be further deliberated upon at the Vision 20/20 Conference to be held in Washington in June 2007.