Urgent call to stop the Caribbean's slide into rampant criminality
Rhoda Bharath, a researcher and writer at the UWI, St. Augustine campus is of the view that Dana Seetahal's gruesome and shocking death is a wakeup call for every citizen of the Caribbean. We share that view.
"It will become part of a macabre and grisly list of checkpoints that heralded our descent, while we sat shell-shocked and panicked, waiting for someone else—not us—to take back our power," she wrote in the Trinidad Express newspaper recently.
Recall that Dana Seetahal, 58, a state prosecutor, former independent senator and Express columnist, was gunned down on Sunday morning two weeks ago in Woodbrook in Trinidad on her way home from Ma Pau casino. Up to last Friday there were no arrests for the murder. The killing shocked the Caribbean, a region festering with an unprecedented crime wave.
Following the killing of the young legal luminary, the press around the Caribbean again warned governments that they have to do much more to curb rampant crime that is stemming development in all islands of the Caribbean.
For instance, after the killing the Trinidad Express newspaper, in an editorial entitled " Hope for turnaround in murder 'impunity" noted that " What the country should have no difficulty in recognising, however, is the predisposing context of rampant murder, conspicuously enabled by the ready availability of illegal guns, and encouraged effectively by the under-performance in detection and prosecution".
But Theodore Lewis, professor emeritus of the University of Minnesota, was even more direct. He wrote in an article in the Express titled "Defiling a lady with bullets" that the murder of Dana Seetahal "is shocking beyond words, but we as a society should have seen this kind of depravity coming. The murders have been incessant, with ever-increasing degrees of boldness".
In 2011, in Dominica, we made a similar observation when we stated that the killing of Joe Costello, a native of Dublin who lived at the Pagua Bay House in Marigot again raised the issue of the fragility of tourism and the adverse impact that crime has on that sector and life in general in Dominica and the Caribbean. But we are of the view that though Dominicans have talked the subject of escalating crime rates to death, very little has been done to treat the main causes.
Of course, senseless crimes like the one in Marigot occur in virtually all tourism destinations but in Dominica, where tourism development is at its infancy, these incidents have extremely serious repercussions because crime generally stunts development. Dominica boasts of being one of the least crime-ridden countries in the Caribbean but that is no reason to rest on our laurels.
The experience of other countries of the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Trinidad, indicates that if you ignore the conditions that breed crime, in a few short years we could have a crime crisis on our hands. You will recall that Dr. Francis Severin, the then Head of the University of the West Indies Open Campus Dominica came to a similar conclusion in his analysis of the crime situation in Dominica but he was almost beheaded by politicians of the ruling party because they apparently prefer Dominicans to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that there is no crime to worry about in paradise. Dr. Severin argued that something has to be done to stop the trend or Dominica could become as crime-ridden as Jamaica and Trinidad.
Crime has been a major constraint to the development of the Caribbean and leaders must now do much more than talk about the problem. According to the World Bank report: Crime, Violence and Development Trends, Costs and Policy Options in the Caribbean" murder rates in the Caribbean are higher than in any other region of the world and assault rates are significantly above the world average. The causes of such alarming statistics are well known.
For instance, we know that Caribbean countries are fast lanes for the cocaine traffickers of Latin America and that gun ownership, an offshoot of the drug trade, is the fuel that generates violent crimes. Youth violence, we are told, has become a major threat to public health and criminal deportees from the United States have directly and indirectly contributed to the increase in crimes in the region. Additionally, the criminal justice system is ineffective and inefficient; and the emergence of the gang culture among our youth is one of the most disturbing aspects of the growing crime culture.
Most importantly, the root of today's lawlessness has been attributed to the loss of respect for the State and the rule of law. This situation is acerbated by the perception of a high level of corruption in high places.
The point we need to stress is that much more needs to be done to control the spate of crimes in the Caribbean before it is too late. Crime committed against nationals is bad but it is worse when it is directed against the fragile and absolutely important tourism.
In the wake of the regional outcry at the murder of Seetahal the Government added $2.5 million to an earlier CrimeStoppers $1 million reward for any information leading to the arrest and trial of Seetahal's killers. But although we applaud the government's resolve to solve that particular crime, there is the urgent need to stop the region's slide into criminality.
As Lewis suggests the murder of Dana Seetahal will test our resolve. "The key to solving it, he said, and to bringing the country back from the tipping point beyond which chaos and lawlessness become our norm, is to close nationalistic ranks and joining in the fight against criminals". We agree.