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Declaring war on violent crime
 
Hanging rope
St Kitts/Nevis carried out its first hanging in ten years in December
One of the single most powerful acts against rising violent crime in the Caribbean as 2008 drew to a close must be the hanging in St Kitts and Nevis on December 19 of convicted killer Charles Elroy Laplace.

Laplace was given the death sentence in March of 2006 for the 2004 murder of his wife.

Plagued by a record number of homicides in 2008, just over 20, (although miniscule by Jamaican standards where over a thousand people were killed), the authorities in Basseterre made no apology for resuming hanging after a ten year period.

It was carried out on the heels of a national consultation on violent crime a few weeks earlier.

And the Denzil Douglas Labour Party government has decided to open the new year with the setting up of an anti-crime task force.

The National Security Ministry has sent its proposal to Cabinet, hoping for speedy implementation of the recommendations that came out of December's nation-wide consultation.

This is just one country's attempts at tackling a growing blight on Caribbean society - the scourge of violent crime.

St Lucia's UWP wants to reintroduce hanging

In St Lucia where growing serious crime is a major concern, the authorities have signalled that they are going to push for legislative changes to facilitate execution of convicted killers.

That translates into taking back the power to conduct hangings that has been eroded by the Privy Council's Pratt and Morgan ruling that, until the St Kitts execution, had effectively prevented executions being carried out in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Despite the objections Amnesty International and other rights groups, the governing United Workers Party in Castries firmly believes that bringing back the practice of hanging as allowed for constitutionally.

The rights groups consider capital punishment as being cruel and inhumane without any deterrent effect.

Horrendous crimes shocked region

Brutal slayings that shook the region in 2008 included three massacres in Guyana that between them claimed 31 lives.

Bartica, the scene of 12 murders last February

More than half of those killed were slain in the Lusignan and Bartica massacres in January and February last year.

Officials in Georgetown say there has been less violent crime in the country after some of the "bandits" thought to have been responsible for the massacres were killed while others were arrested.

However the murder rate was up by 36 percent in 2008 according to the authorities, who put the total number of killings at 135.

The security forces are having to contend with gang wars, and have said they won't ease up on efforts to bring crime under control.

The right to bear arms

In Jamaica where the authorities continue to grapple with how to reduce the annual murder rate that reached more than 1400 in 2008, there have been calls for residents to be given the right to bear arms as a way of cutting violent crime.

The gun lobby calls for citizens to be allowed to arm themselves as a deterrent to violent crime

Those opposed to that appeal by the island's gun lobby have warned that this would just lead to greater disaster and more killings.

In addition to the high murder rate, there have been two known incidents in which armed gangs have chased entire communities out of their homes.

This caused outrage and led to questioning of the effectiveness of the police.

One senior church leader urged the authorities to act quickly to ensure that such incidents don't happen in future.

However, the Jamaica police have themselves been the brunt of criticism for alleged extra-judicial killings, other human rights violations and corruption.

When crime fighting efforts appear futile

In Trinidad and Tobago, crime continues to be a major headache for the authorities who have pumped millions of dollars into fighting the problem without making any real dent.

The police in Port of Spain put the number of killings there in 2008 at 536, said to be a record.

As was the case in Antigua, the country hit the international headlines over the brutal double murder in October of a Swedish couple in tourism-friendly Tobago.

Tourism and government officials described the killings as a sad day for the island.

Violent crime including gang warfare, the drugs trade, car theft and kidnapping - the latter though to a lesser extent these days - are among the many problems the authorities are trying to contain.

Antiguan crimes

Antigua gained an unwelcome measure of crime-related notoriety when two British honeymooners were brutally murdered last year at one of the country's resorts.

Catherine Mullaney was killed during a suspected robbery at a hotel in July - her husband Ben died later in hospital in the UK.

antigua resort
The Mullaneys were attacked at this Antigua resort

Those killings put tourism-dependent Antigua under the full glare of the British press and forced the government into a campaign of damage control to protect its vital tourism industry.

Antigua recorded more than a dozen murders last year, with one so far for 2009.

But although there was a reported lull in the wake of the Mullaney killings, authorities continue to express arm at the involvement of young people in especially drugs and gun-related criminal activity.

It's been suggested that lack of morale in the police force had made it less than effective in tackling gun-related crime and other acts of violence.

The government says its committed to providing the force with additional resources to fight crime including foreign expertise.

Alleged extra-judicial killings a problem

In some instances, the very approach to fighting crime is being questioned.

In the Dominican Republic rights groups and legal organisations have been expressing outrage at the number of deaths caused by police guns - 12 so far this year and according to these groups some 500 in 2008 (the government has a more conservative figure of 300).

Dominican police have labelled the 12 killed in just the first week of 2009 criminals.

But the rights groups are condemning what they insist are extra-judicial or unlawful executions.

They want President Leonel Fernandez to dismiss police chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman.

Crime levels down in Grenada

Grenada is boasting of a low crime rate at the moment.

But the recently elected National Democratic Congress administration of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas says they're not letting up on efforts to minimise incidents of crime, especially violent crime.

The government has announced that it is making crime prevention and border control priorities.

It's optimistic that that'll help boost the country's status as a safe tourist destination.

Harmonised approach?

Up and down the Caribbean governments and their security forces and agencies are implementing measures to try to keep down crime levels that appear bent on skyrocketing.

Some of them including Jamaica, Antigua/Barbuda and St Lucia have brought in foreign cops mainly from the UK to help tackle the crime problem.

There's an ongoing debate in these countries on whether the foreign input is really making much of a difference.

They are also talking about a harmonised approach to the problem.

But not much concrete evidence has emerged to date, to suggest that the Caricom member states have been able to effectively pool resources together to slay the monster that crime is proving to be in the region.

 
 
LOCAL LINKS
BBC Caribbean's crime debate
12 March, 2008 | News
The Caribbean's crime woes
04 February, 2008 | News
Crime: A clear and present danger
10 March, 2008 | News
Forum: Crime in the Caribbean
04 February, 2008 | News
BBC Caribbean crime forum
20 March, 2008 | News
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