Safety, Economics Inequality: An ongoing Tug-of-War on a few troubled Caribbean islands.

BY R.D. Miller


Many parts of the Caribbean landscape continue to erode from violence and economic uncertainty and it is giving locals, visitors, and expatriates heightened concern and a reason to pause.  

For some leaders, especially those who govern based on popularity, it remains a delicate balance; whether managing high inflation, community political alliance, high unemployment, public safety, inequality, and other social services vital in moving these shores forward.

Ongoing reported violent crime against humanity does not discriminate– against whether members of the clergy, women, children, counselors, law enforcement officers, teachers, sports icons, business people, students, elders, or an average faithful worker and anyone else in its path.

Few will admit, crime and violence cost these shores billions in investments, and other tourists dollars according to experts where tourism is the major economic engine that accounted for upwards of 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Being a victim of violence, whether connected by heritage, culture, family, a friend, or love can cause a long-term psychological effect regardless of location, race, sex, or economic status.

These issues demand a significant paradigm shift through education, resources, and long-term management strategy, and not only a temporary fix to deflect via Twitter post or to fill a talking point until the next election cycle, without a coherent strategy.

The Caribbean islands, specifically, the dominant ones and a few Latin countries cannot argue the uptick in crime and economic decay alone is an erosion of democracy or an inflow of migrants, cultural transformations, or weapons as reported.

The fact is, many who arrived on these other shores, fled or migrated from similar violent and economic issues for a more effective way of life, an d are forever bound to the slave ship that once anchored nearby.

The evidence is no longer filed in the backroom closed files.

For decades, the death toll on some of these Caribbean islands consistently surpasses the calendar days and is extremely high compared to the population.

Photo by kat wilcox

Murders, robberies, assaults, rape, and kidnapping have plagued several communities often recognized for their calm lay-back vibes, brilliant sunsets beaming off the green mountains and the blue ocean.

It seems impoverished neighborhoods are being hit with both criminal and political blows like an ocean without a levee to sustain overflow. Many treasured intimate community associations have eroded, retired plans uprooted, or more isolated, even scattered for safety reasons.

Though reports have shown there are few new policies being introduced to address these issues, and it is frequently viewed through the political lens. Minimization or a tendency to correlate to other societies does not resolve these issues, nor sound bites and selective empathy when victims are grieving for support and resources whether to solve ongoing public safety and other socio-economic problems.

These victims especially women and other vulnerable groups cannot reduce their fear and anxiety with pepper spray, condensed social activities, and abnormal living with more steel bars on homes.

Fortunately, social media today is capturing their loss of trust and confidence in their leaders, frustration, and erosion of neighborhoods; including fatalities in real-time. The surviving victims are also turning over their stories to provide an alternative picture of reality cutting through inconsistency, divergence, or minimization.

A gunshot or knife wound to an individual’s torso eliminates doubt as to the cause of death. Often where other deaths have questions: Is it cancer, COVID-19, surgeon negligence, lack of oxygen, diabetes, a long-term wait for critical medical care?

The numbers and community wellbeing

A few decades ago, along these shores, few people possessed a licensed firearm.  It was the local well-respected business proprietor and law enforcement officers. Today, a taxi, bus, or truck driver to the grocery store baggers and street vendors are armed.

Though crime is ubiquitous; decoupling the data is horrifying. Crime rates in most of these English-speaking Caribbean countries are at or above 30 per 100,000 people. These rates are six times US levels and 15-30 times those of most European countries according to experts.

The death rate is also trending up and could reach over 39.1, death per 100,000 people based on several crime analysis reports in these high crime areas.

In 2020, alone, the insight on crime homicide rate per noted countries like Venezuela, 45.6 Honduras, 37.6 and Mexico 27, Columbia and Belize 24.3, Brazil 19.3 and El Salvador 19.7.

Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Panama; averages between 14.6 homicide rate (per 100,000)

In 2019 Trinidad and Tobago recorded 539 murders–the second-highest in Trinidad’s history for one year.

From January 2021 through November 2021, Jamaica alone reported about 1300 murders.
These numbers are horrific and no civilized nation should appreciate the region as the highest murder rate per 100, 000 inhabitants.

It seems a victim noted, “they are hoping that gangs are annihilating each other whether over drug turf or for vulnerable victims to scam”. Sadly, this is not a solution and more like fear taking on these gangs.

Is vigilante justice the solution to bring back a sense of safety even if innocent people are killed?

Studies have shown that on average about 40 percent of the Caribbean population identifies crime and security-related issues more severe facing their countries, further so than poverty or inequality. And while leaders debate, the emotional and physical effects linger, and sadly, there will be more victims.

When history collides with today’s accountability and authority.

This ongoing clash between law enforcement, legislators, and civilians in many parts of the region, dates to the colonial period, where alliances often mean more than policies, and power is more of balancing between image and reality.

Many locals contend their anger is not an enemy to the suggested crime-fighting strategy. Some even debate reintroducing hanging as punishment whereas human rights groups argued against it.

Public safety has kept intimate links to politicians since the concept of policing was first introduced in the early 1800s in Metropolitan London-England according to scholars. Despite the later decentralized system, better training, recruits, scholars noted the Caribbean region’s community safety system has never left the Political Era.

Many argue that the system needs a complete overall, and there is some validity to all of these perspectives. In some bags of apples, there are good and harmful ones. However, without resources and local support, it allows criminal enterprises to thrive.

Despite historic distrust and toxic relationships where some are self-inflicted today, the community’s help is key to producing added intelligence to investigate and solve as reported a significant number of unsolved cases is critical.

Implementing an analogous approach over and over and expecting a remarkable result will continue to fail. It is like many poverty-stricken people playing the lottery as the sole hope out of poverty.

Even though experts argue the concept of policing was implemented to keep slaves from running away from their masters in the western hemisphere; Today, some scholars attribute crime reductions to increased police presence.

Peeling back this onion for a decent economic meal

Today it seems an economic blue print to move families out of poverty, to enhance the quality of life or invite companies to locate or expand their businesses that will attract a labor force of skilled talent for area frequently comes down to blaming the previous administration from decades ago on all political sides.

Inequality has been on the rise, according to economic experts, and has been cancer in the region; including other places for decades. The brutal reality is not only the social divide it has caused, that also breeds added violence from the lack of opportunities, but failure to recognize and address it head-on. 

Photo by Andreea Diana Sintean

It has caused more difficulty in balancing personal autonomy at any cost getting to the root of the more critical problem each day for many locals regardless of what administration is in power.

The ever-widening gap between the have’s vs the have-nots; reports have shown made it difficult to address the well-being of individuals, elderly, or families to have adequate care and support in areas such as counseling, fighting discrimination, job training, or limited financial support to create stability or upward mobility.

The downtrodden struggle to remain afloat with each passing day from the relentless rough tides. With each new leadership, it seems; they gain more authority from the chaos and mayhem dividing people along party lines and social class woven in decades of stratification.

Today, like any other business that must evaluate its business strength and weakness, sadly, another failed year of systemic violent crime and economic problems seems to re-emerge for many impoverished nations.

Even though the British, Dutch, French, and Spanish once colonized most of the region and some are independent nations today; their footprints remain in the sand.

Many people are losing trust in some of these banking and educational systems.  Silently both scholars and locals are examining what if the British Pound, Eurodollars until now, remain the official currency in a few of these troubling islands; what these nation’s academic system, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the crime rate would show today?

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich

Numerous youths are graduating from colleges and universities with high student loans. Others leaving school undereducated or dropping out without hope only create an uptick in violence and reduced upward mobility that causes more safety concerns.

What are the social disadvantages, economic obstacles, developing structure, juvenile delinquencies, mental health issues, conflict resolution, substance abuse, lack of employment plays in these communities?

What makes joining a gang more alluring for many youths or total disregard for the rule of law?

It seems several are now roaming the streets asking for handouts, pursuing an opportunity to prosper, while some watch for the next soft target to carry out a misdeed.

Conspicuous fight for safety and economic equilibrium

The complexity between personal freedom, safety, innovative and reactivated crime-fighting strategies, or an economic platform to move these nations forward, seems to be woven in an image where the blame game outlasts strategies.

Each new blueprint often met with resistance as to which party is further qualified to take care of these public health or economic conditions, remains an ongoing debate? Many in leadership are it seems based on connections and do not have the knowledge and skills to manage these complex issues.

In many concentric communities, notably in some impoverished and developing countries, the grip on power is a revolving door without an exit.

Photo by RODNAE Productions

For decades, many elections were won or lost in these communities only by faulting the prior administration. Though the transition of power has been peaceful, it is like a contact sport with ongoing trades.

After the final political whistle is blown; before the next season begins, the unsuccessful players appear to be sidelined, but often still in the game.

Many of these socially wounded leaders re-surfaced under a sundry of titles and from networks of the well-connected.

With each newly appointed public safety officials, top security personnel combined with pledges to cut crime, enhance safety, promote economic growth to steer people from poverty; these communities who voted them into office are still muttering what has changed.

Even in reported unsatisfactory achievement, corruption, and insignificant management, and calls to change course; one argues; “you are more likely to be penalized for dissenting views.”

Turf battles surrounding consequential socio-economic issues, many frustrated locals argue they are being punted or diverted down the road for the next generation.”

Frequently, the ones who come out ahead are legislators’ personal financial growth. It seems criminals use the same tactics to their influence.

The policymaking of next?

In 2014, former British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed a commentary on the Century of World War I. He highlighted the willingness and the value to blend local ideas and not just national initiatives and government actions.

Socio-economic policies should be about success and growth for all. Collaboration is key to advancing from bureaucratic and dysfunctional power conflicts across political positions.

Everyone must be at the table; social workers, school teachers, youth leaders, civic leaders, public safety officials, offenders, counselors dealing with these issues like a surgeon planning for a necessary surgery with other professionals inside the operations room.

Rebuilding the middle class from addressing affordable healthcare; job protection, to a medical bill of rights.

Additionally, investment in the academic system, victims and teachers safety, offenders rehabilitation; more local manufacturing to generate better-paying jobs and safeguard the environment is extremely important to move a nation forward.

Let your voice be heard for a better tomorrow.

For a drug addict and rehabilitation to be successful, one has to admit that there is a problem.

If there were a term limit on power in the region, it would produce fresh ideas and ongoing success for the later generation.

The economic sunlight will rise again on the few local non-fee beaches that remain. Though there are reports of some positive growth in key areas, it has to benefit all and not only the wealthy who often control the narrative.

Upward mobility starts with “The Man in the Mirror”, a song by the late pop star Michael Jackson.


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