April 23, 2010
Keep fight against crime as development strategy


LAST month it was announced that regional Heads of Government were to meet in Port of Spain in mid-April in a special Summit on crime in the region. The Patrick Manning government had been spearheading talks at a regional leadership level on the issue, even though it has been unable to make a significant dent in Trinidad and Tobago’s worryingly high crime rate.{{more}} But with developments in Port of Spain having taken a dramatic turn in another direction, there is no word as to the fate of this “Special Summit” and little hope of it being staged in Port of Spain, at least not before the scheduled May 24 general elections. Caribbean governments facing the polls are only interested in the short term in activities which may boost their electoral appeal.

In the meantime, there is every indication that the Caribbean’s high crime rate, including such serious offences as murder, kidnapping and drug-trafficking, is in dire need of drastic action. The reality of the modern-day globalised world is that there is no longer any localised, national solution. Crime is a massive cross-border activity, big business in some quarters. The links between the hard street crime and white-collar offences, including financial fraud and money-laundering, are well established, and brutal methods are sometimes employed to protect the ill-gotten gains of some of the rich and powerful in the region.

Concern has been expressed publicly over the influence of criminal elements, organised crime in particular, on politics in the region and the potential threat this poses to democracy in the region. Political parties and leaders are prone to the machinations of those willing to finance political campaigns from the proceeds of illegal activities with all the dangers that such interactions pose to the implementation of national policy. It is a very thin line fraught with danger and governments which flirt with questionable international elements can sometimes cause problems for their own countries and people. The notorious example of Allen Stanford, knighted for his “contribution” to Antigua and Barbuda and worshipped by many throughout the Caribbean, still stands as a warning lesson, but there are also other worrying signs.

The government of Jamaica incurred the wrath of the US government for refusing to extradite a supporter, wanted for crimes in the USA. The Opposition in Dominica alleges that that country’s visa problems with Britain stem from the selling of passports to questionable international elements. It is an issue which ought to attract our attention since that is a policy option for at least one political party in the next general election. In Trinidad and Tobago, allegations of massive corruption helped to prompt the calling of early elections.

There are also worrying signs of open disregard for those charged with dispensing justice and upholding law and order. In Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, there have been several attacks, sometimes fatal on law-officers. Now, in St.Lucia, two police officers have been murdered by criminals, a prosecutor shot and a female magistrate shot and wounded in her driveway in broad daylight. What more do we need to underline the urgency of the massive challenge facing us? Everywhere you go in the region the drug-related violence and gang warfare racks up a toll of victims daily. Additionally, the continued reports of sexual assaults on our women continue to be a cause for regional shame.

This scenario, and the evidence of the regionalisation of crime, ought to be reason enough for our leaders to treat the issue with the urgency it deserves. Regrettably, while there has been a beefing up of security forces, no clear strategy has emerged for combating crime on the level that is warranted. Nor will any emerge if we simply sit back, leave it to governments, and content ourselves with criticisms of their failures. Crime is an impediment to development, it is a deterrent to worthwhile investment, a threat to our security and well-being, and undermines the very foundations of our democracy. As such, any strategies for dealing with it cannot be simply based on traditional law-and-order approaches, but must encompass wider social elements, including not only poverty eradication but also the adoption of social and community values which are not based on the paramountcy of the acquisition of material wealth. It is a development challenge.