What the Caribbean in paying for crime

This week, the World Bank in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime produced a report entitled “Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean” (see document crimeandviolenceinthecaribbeanfullreport1.pdf). It details and quantifies some of the startlingly terrifying statistics about violent crime in the region, and notes that the solutions are not to be gained from national actions, but need international efforts, especially from the United States of America, from where most of the guns come, and to where most of the drugs traded through the region go.

 The region’s vulnerability to drug trafficking as a transhipment point is a major problem, wedged between the major sources of cocaine in the south and the major consumer markets in the north.

The report highlights that dealing with crime is a development issue. It notes that there has been too much reliance on a criminal justice approach to crime reduction in the region, when other complementary approaches offer better possible results. This means looking more at design of urban areas and other aspects of community improvement. But the report notes that certain types of crime, such as organized crime and drug trafficking, are not easily treated by crime prevention measures.

Most eyes will stop at some of the key statistics such as “Murder rates in the Caribbean—at 30 per 100,000 population annually—are higher than for any other region of the world and have risen in recent years for many of the region’s countries.” But in doing so, it is worth seeing that high crime is a development problem, because the highest rates (between 20-30/100,000) are mainly dispersed amongst the poorest parts of the developing world. Murder rates are next highest in South and West Africa. The rich do better: murder rates in North America are at 7/100,000 and western and central Europe at 2/100,000. These high rates in the region lead to other “anti-social” behaviours that help sustain them, especially fear of victimization and therefore less reporting of crime.

Crime destroys lives but it also destroys economic potential. Tourists and investors are being driven away from the region by high crime. Growth has also suffered. Some telling figures in the report show that both Haiti and Jamaica could raise annual GDP growth per head by nearly 5 1/2% if crime was substantially reduced. Crime has made even well-endowed countries much poorer than they should be.

The report needs to be read carefully and note taken of the other developments discussed, such as the rise of corruption, to which the region is very vulnerable due to its size and the sometime close associations coming from blood relations, marriages and social ties, and less distinction between nepotism and market necessities. Another notable scourge is money laundering. Corruption and money laundering can be closely associated with drug trafficking, even though the three activities need not occur in the same places at the same time. In addition to violent crime, the taint of corruption and money laundering also damages the reputation of the region and its ability to develop. Jamaica’s Finance Minister, Omar Davies, argued early in 2006 that money laundering drives violent crime (see report). So, we see that the region is caught in an interconnected web of negative developments relating to drugs, money laundering, corruption and violent crime.

Those who have been living with the rising crime for years are not likely to read the report. Those who are elected to run the countries concerned should read it and start to convince people that they have serious proposals to deal with what is now becoming a well-documented scar on the region and blight on our people’s lives.

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2 responses to “What the Caribbean in paying for crime

  1. notesfromthemargin

    The impact of crime may be even more direct than you have indicated here. Trinidad is experiencing severe middle class flight due to the threat of kidnapping. What value would you put on your children’s lives? Many people have left and more are aiming to leave. The consequences of this for Trinidad are potentially very serious.

  2. Pingback: Jamaica celebrates 45 years on independence « Caribbean Comment: a collection of views from a native son

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