The Secret in Paradise: Caribbean Has One of World’s Highest Rates of Violence

The Secret in Paradise: Caribbean Has One of World’s Highest Rates of Violence

Caribbean countries laud themselves on offering idyllic settings where sandy beaches, calming calypso and a laid-back lifestyle beckon.

But behind the happy-go-lucky image, the region also harbors a darker side: violent crime and a tolerance for domestic violence.

According to a new study, “Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: Combatting Violence with Numbers,” the region has some of the lowest victimization by property crime in the world but one of the world’s highest violent crime rates. Nearly 1 in 3 citizens has lost someone to violence, and individuals are more likely to be a victim of assault or a threat than anywhere else in the hemisphere.

“Tourists, who are not targets of this violent crime in the Caribbean, may be completely unaware that Caribbean citizens are becoming increasingly concerned, and for valid reasons, about violence,” said Heather Sutton, the lead researcher behind the Inter-American Development Bank study based on victimization surveys and released Tuesday during an Inter-American Dialogue panel discussion in Washington, D.C. “Caribbean governments are making significant efforts and spending robust amounts of their budgets trying to solve this problem.”

The study focuses on five Caribbean countries — the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname. Some 3,000 individuals living in each country’s capital were surveyed. Rather than rely solely on police homicide reports, researchers questioned the victims of crime, 47 percent of whom don’t report incidents to law enforcement.

Rising crime rates, especially soaring homicide rates in a country like Jamaica, have long been a leading concern in the region and remain a persistent challenge. Another Inter-American Development Bank study, for example, found that one in four Bahamian businesses had been victimized by crime in 2013-14 and crime was a major concern for Bahamians, who last week kicked out the ruling government of the past five years in a general election and ushered in the opposition.

This week, the chamber of commerce president in Clarendon, Jamaica, complained that an increase in reports of murders, robberies, extortion, and other unlawful activities in the parish were scaring off investors. The parish was cited earlier this month by Jamaica’s National Security Minister Robert Montague as one of the places where fear of victimization remained high despite a 2016 Jamaican crime survey showing victimization levels declining nationally.

Dr. David Allen, a psychiatrist who studies crime in the Bahamas and examines the stories behind the incidents, said the findings of the Caribbean Crime Victimization Survey correspond to what he’s uncovered during his decade of research. Allen has blamed the island-nation’s increase in violence on the Bahamas’s crack cocaine crisis of the 1980s and the country’s economic downturn. It has led, he said, to a breakdown of family values and the formation of youth gangs.

“Crime is a public health problem,” he said. “Public health means it cannot be solved just by law enforcement.”

Allen says what is needed, not only in the Bahamas but throughout the Caribbean, is an anti-crime or citizens’ protection council, where victims and even perpetrators of crime join with clergy, businesses owners, government ministers, police and other law enforcement personnel to study the problem and come up with solutions. One place where they can start is with the victims, he said, who are often forgotten. The victims, in turn, victimize others because of their anger resulting from their trauma.

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Miami Herald