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To hang or not to hang?



Antigua has become the latest Caribbean country to be caught up in a spate of apparent drug-and-gang-related murders, causing much consternation and public outrage in that island. The latest series of fatal shootings there has added to the growing murder profile of these once-tranquil islands.{{more}} Throughout the region, peace and social stability have been affected by deaths related to the illegal drug trade, kidnapping, armed robbers and even domestic violence. These have rung alarm bells among both citizens and governments.

Such unfortunate developments are particularly worrying in the Caribbean context, both from an obvious social context as well as for the economic implications. Not only is the Caribbean well blessed with natural attributes as a tourist destination, but tourism is the sector of choice on which all our governments are pinning their developmental drive. In fact, given the official reaction of many governments in the region to the negative murder trend, one can sometimes be left to wonder whether they are not more concerned about the economic effects than the social ones.

The big problem then is how to address this situation. In so doing, the Caribbean seems to have been dealt a double-whammy. On the one hand, it wants to preserve its social stability; one of the king attractions of the area is as a provider of services, tourism especially. Its overwhelming choice of a deterrent for willful, violent murder is the death penalty. But therein lies the dilemma. The bulk of its extra-regional tourists come from countries where it has become fashionable to outlaw the death penalty. It is perhaps understandable that those societies of Europe and North America may wish to get away from their blood-stained histories, but Caribbean people overwhelmingly have a different approach.

Two problems arise from deciding to carry out capital punishment. In the first place our economic vulnerability leaves us subject to sanctions, official or unofficial, from our tourist markets. We have already suffered from “travel advisories” on spurious grounds; look too at the paid advertisements in our own media taken out by the anti-whaling lobby. The other side of the coin is the constitutional complications; CARICOM countries being tied to the British Privy Council which has ruled against the death penalty.

Jamaica is taking a bold step by making practical arrangements to resume implementation of death sentences. Previous efforts in this regard by Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados have ended in frustrating fruitlessness. How can we find a way out of this impasse? For find one, we must.