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Caribbean has cause for worry

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Tue, Oct 18. 2011

Neither governments nor the people of the Caribbean can feel comfortable with the latest set of statistics revealed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) concerning levels of criminal fatalities in the region. Those statistics, for the year 2010, make very chilling reading indeed.{{more}}

In what is said to be the first-ever global study on homicide, the UNODC points out that whereas homicide rates have decreased in most countries in the world, Asia, Europe and North America in particular, they showed an alarming increase in the Caribbean and Central America. In fact, the UNODC describes the murder situation as being “near crisis point” in these regions. The murder statistics, when compared with the global share of population, reveal that while Asia accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population, only 27 per cent of the murders were committed there. Similarly the figures for Europe are 11 per cent of global population, but 5 per cent of murders. Africa contains 15 per cent of the world’s people, but its share of global murders was more than double that, 36 per cent. The high rates in Central America and the Caribbean contribute to the Americas as a whole, accounting for 31 per cent of the murders committed worldwide, compared with their 14 per cent of global population.

One additional worrying aspect is the increasing use of firearms in committing such murders. Shockingly, the Caribbean has the dubious ‘honour’ of leading in this area. Sixty-five per cent of murders committed in our region were by the use of firearms. Only the Central American region had a higher regional figure. Not surprisingly, Jamaica was the region’s biggest offender in terms of murder rates, both in absolute terms (1,428 murders in 2010) and in respect of murder rates. Belize, the US Virgin Islands, St.Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago followed in that order. St. Vincent and the Grenadines was no slacker in murder rates, ranking just behind St.Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia and Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean, with a murder rate almost twice that of neighbouring Grenada.

It is interesting to look at the other end of the table. Cuba, much maligned for its socialist policies, recorded the lowest murder rate among independent countries throughout the entire Caribbean/Central American region. It would also surprise many to learn that Haiti, widely considered a country of “lawlessness”, also had a low murder rate.

These figures have significant implications for Caribbean development. In the first place, there is the issue of security of the region’s peoples. This is an important factor in both the quality of life experienced, as well as their personal safety. It can have bearing on the migration rates as well. Then, it must be borne in mind that the Caribbean is heavily dependent on tourism and foreign investment to fuel economic development. The prevalence of violent crime and murder are inimical to the region’s ability to attract earnings in both of these areas.

As a region, we can ill afford to gloss over these statistics. They say a lot about what is happening in our societies and our inability to come to grips with the root of the problem and find solutions. They are a grim reminder of the enormity of the task facing us.

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