The Times has been all over the story about the murder of a newly-wed couple (the husband turns out to be brain dead so I’m counting them both as murdered) on their honeymoon in Antigua. That she was young, pretty, a doctor, and one of the few remaining Welsh speakers in the country just adds to the tragedy of it all. The stories describe the appeals made by the couple’s parents, surrounded by the wedding pictures the couple will never see. It’s all quite awful. So:
The crime statistics are alarming. According to the United Nations, the region has a murder rate of 30 per 100,000 inhabitants – four times the North American figure and 15 times the average for Western and Central Europe. Jamaica is the world’s most murderous country: there were 1,547 homicides last year. But murders are rising all across the region. In Trinidad & Tobago the rate has quadrupled over the past decade, despite falling unemployment. Antigua had 19 killings last year, and even the tiny island of St Kitts, with only 40,000 people, suffered three murders in four days last November.
What particularly worries most Caribbean countries is the disastrous effect this is beginning to have on tourism, an industry that accounts for at least 50 per cent of the economy and up to 90 per cent on the smaller islands. Tourism, especially from the United States, was hard hit by 9/11 and its recovery has been hampered by a reputation for lawlessness. Admittedly, the six million tourists who visited the English-speaking Caribbean last year were not usually the targets. But occasional murders, armed robberies and pickpocketing have begun to put people off. And the tourist promotion of sea, sun and carefree leisure sits ill with the growing presence of police and security guards around tourist areas.
So, I don’t want to paint with too wide a brush, but my aunt, uncle and cousins had a family holiday in Barbados last December and my cousin, who for most of his life has had some drugs-related problem or another, couldn’t get the resort security to get the dealers and hookers away from him. It was only when he finally, desperate to get the guy out of his hair, offered to give some miscellaneous vendor-of-miscellany a drink (which are comped in the resorts) in return for a promise that he’d go away, did security suddenly swoop down to yell at my cousin for daring to abuse the free-drinks system. So it’s not as though they didn’t see what was going on. So it’s a bit rich for them to turn around and lament the decline in family tourism.
Tourism, however, has helped to contribute to the region’s difficulties. It has exacerbated the gap between rich and poor, stunted alternative employment and fuelled greed and envy among the have-nots, which in turn have encouraged crime.
Many people in the Caribbean are deeply religious, and they blame their troubles on the loss of faith among the young as well as social and family breakdown, the high incidence of single-parent families, materialism, corruption and poverty. For many, the solution is the return of hanging and birching, tougher sentencing and a wholesale cleanout of corrupt police forces. But the little islands are often at the mercy of trends and forces beyond their capacity to control. The Caribbean is awash with drugs. The associated crime, proliferation of guns and chances for huge profits are undermining the efforts of ill-trained and poorly paid police and corrupting whole governments, unable to stand up to drug cartels. …
The Caribbean has come out badly from the European Union’s special regime for African, Caribbean and Pacific associates. And finally, the region has been left out of larger new groupings in Europe and the Americas and has yet to develop full regional integration. The Commonwealth, to which many states belong, has a real role to play here. But in the end it will be up to the islands themselves to ensure that the sun does not dim on their future.
Well, and it might help if we laid off the drugs a bit…