From north to south in the Caribbean the story is the same with only variations of scale – violent crime, especially murder by way of illegal high-powered weapons, is a critical problem with no apparent remedy in sight.
The widespread fears of an increasingly terrorized populace, willingly ventilated in the media, traditional and social alike, the opportunist posturing of politicians and attacks on the judiciary and legal fraternity, demonstrate the level of frustration and even helplessness among the region’s peoples. Demands ring out daily for some sort of firm, decisive action to deal with the situation.
This led to the government of Trinidad and Tobago last month hosting a regional high-level conference on crime and violence with several prime ministers in attendance. Unfortunately, highly controversial remarks by some prominent regional leaders, including our own Prime Minister Gonsalves, stirred up such a storm that in the process the very outcome of the conference seems to be forgotten. Were we taken for a ride?
In the first place, even before the Conference got underway a row erupted in the media over the announced designation that the meeting would treat crime and violence as a “public health issue”. A number of politicians, lawyers, sociologists and media personnel took issue with this designation. By the time the regional leaders had their say, the proverbial “knives” seemed to be already unsheathed.
Into this cauldron stepped the prime ministers with their respective analyses of the cause and nature of crime in the region which only served to stir the controversy.
Some remarks seem to have offended judges and some prominent members of the legal profession and immediately aroused reaction and some negative media commentary. So big was the uproar that the actual work of the Conference itself and its outcome were largely ignored.
Part of the responsibility would seem to rest on the Conference itself, for the communique issued left one no wiser as to a regional crime strategy. There were a lot of rehashed cliches, indicating a lack of clear focus on tackling this latest threat to the security of Caribbean people.
Except for an appeal to the United States to reciprocate the Caribbean’s willing cooperation on that country’s war on drugs, by taking measures to arrest the flow of illegal weapons to the Caribbean from US territory, and a related willingness to join Mexico in legal action against American gun manufacturers and retailers, there was not much that we have not heard before.
The identification that the situation with crime and violence has become a public health issue needs to be patiently explained to the public. There were commitments for “a comprehensive overhaul of the criminal justice system”, (though these do not seem to have impressed the Bar Associations in the region), a harmonization of legislation, a campaign against corruption and financial crimes and a reform of the educational system, but we seem to have heard all of this before.
In the meantime, our young men in particular are being gunned down like wild animals while opposition politicians, rather than seeking national and regional consensus, try to opportunistically to capitalize on the situation while having no solution themselves. Our leaders across the board are letting our people down, it is not only human life being destroyed, the foundations of our democracy are being violently undermined.