By David Jessop
CaribWorldNews, LONDON, England, Weds. May 27, 2009: Across the Caribbean, from Guyana to Belize, once peaceful and well ordered societies have become hosts to narcotics trafficking, money laundering, extortion, gun crime, kidnapping, robbery with violence, and more recently, those who would support acts of international terrorism.
The growth has been exponential and no nation has been exempt, although some so far have managed to avoid the headlines.
The origins lie largely in the Caribbean`s geographic location; its relative economic underdevelopment; the presence of significant pockets of social deprivation; and the attraction these factors all present to narcotics traffickers who are able to command sums larger than national budgets.
There are of course other contributory reasons, including social disaffection among youth; weak and underpaid law enforcement agencies; the presence of largely US criminal deportees; and the cross border trafficking of US arms between the Dominican Republic and Haiti that enables their subsequent shipment to the rest of the region.
In early May, the World Bank published a report confirming the developmental damage that high rates of crime and violence are having across the Caribbean. Their study, Crime, Violence and Development: Trends, costs and Policy Options in the Caribbean, argues that narcotics trafficking is at the core. It is what makes the murder rates in the Caribbean higher than in any other region of the world and rates of assault significantly above the world average.
The World Bank report makes clear that crime is having an impact on the transactional costs of legitimate business and has become a major obstacle to investment. Lawlessness, it notes, is causing skilled workers to leave the region and is resulting in nations spending increasing amount of their scarce resources on security. It argues that If Haiti and Jamaica were able to bring their homicide rate down to that of Costa Rica, both countries would experience an increase in growth of more than 5 per cent.
Could this situation become worse?
A while ago I participated in a conference discussing in part Caribbean security. There, experts from the region and beyond suggested that the global economic crisis would negatively affect the security of the region through increased demand for narcotics and a rise in associated crime. They also noted that if the US/Mexico Merida Initiative succeeded – the joint operation to halt the brazen power struggle by Mexican drug lords for control of the border with the United States – this would displace narcotics transit routes, transferring them to the Western Caribbean in particular. They believed too that there was a need for the US to be much more sensitive about the movement of weapons, narcotics and deportees to the Caribbean and even to begin a debate about legalisation.
At the recent summit of the Americas, the US President, Barack Obama, did just this. He made clear that the US recognised the linkages between demand for narcotics in the US and elsewhere and the criminality it was spawning in the Americas and the Caribbean. He promised to help the region combat this and on May 20 sought from the US Congress, US$45m for the security needs the region have identified, to develop a common security agenda with the U.S.
Despite this, no one should underestimate the indirect costs. For example, in Mexico, areas most significantly affected by violence have experienced reduced investment, falls in tourism, and a dramatic escalation in transactional costs such as protection rents, ransoms, and costs of bodyguards to say nothing about the deterioration in the quality of life and public safety.
Alarmingly, in the Caribbean it is far from clear whether similar criminality has now become so insidious an evil that Caribbean Governments and more importantly the region`s people are any longer willing to confront the menace.
The truth is that there is an enemy within who for years now have been corrupting governance, business and daily life who threaten stability and prey on underdevelopment.
A year or so ago I was sitting with a Caribbean businessman when he received a phone call from a well known Jamaican `Don.`
He had no option but to take it. The conversation was difficult and embarrassing for us both. Subsequently I gathered that my friend agreed to the `request` being made. This situation is repeated daily not only in Jamaica but across the region. The perpetrators are relatively few and well known. Alarmingly, so pervasive has the role of these criminal godfathers become in deprived areas in some Caribbean nations that they have, as with the narcotic cartels in Mexico and Colombia, now embarked on social programmes in urban areas where government is unable or unwilling to provide education, employment or policing.
But this `social role` the increasing cost of doing business and the application of these individuals` illicit gains to political and to seemingly legitimate commercial activities, threaten to lead eventually to states in which these people are beyond the rule of law.
These are issues that are not publicly debated in Caribbean society. Whether through fear or complicity, there is a silent acceptance of the role of the Dons or their like, of their connections with leading politicians in both government and opposition parties, and, it seems a resigned willingness to acquiesce to their `protection.`
This suggests that if a moment does not come soon, when important groups in civil society including the media, the church and the academic community ask questions about the impact of so far unnamed individuals involved in criminality in Caribbean (or seek to initiate a debate about the future society that ordinary citizens want), the perpetrators and their successors will become still more entrenched, suggesting that crime and its consequences are becoming endemic.