Crime continues to reduce the quality of life for the people of the Caribbean. It affects us not only psychologically, with the threat of violence continually in our heads, but also economically. Speaking last Wednesday at a business conference in Trinidad, president of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Warren Smith, told the audience that crime was deterring investors from coming to the region. "Crime, particularly serious crime, including homicide, has escalated in recent years and is now one of the highest in the world," Mr Smith noted. This is worrisome on its own account, but rising crime should especially concern Caribbean governments where tourism is a mainstay of the economy.
Smaller islands such as Anguilla, Grenada, and St Lucia get 50 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product from tourism. In the largest Anglophone island, Jamaica, the money spent by tourists accounts for 17 per cent of that island's GDP. Tourist dollars contribute just two per cent of Trinidad and Tobago's GDP, thanks to our energy revenues, but crime affects our economy in other ways. A study headed by the late UWI economist Dennis Pantin found that T&T loses nine per cent of its GDP to crime. For the region as a whole, according to Mr Warren, the figure is one to two per cent.
These may seem like minor ratios, but they must be taken in the context of a crime trend that shows no signs of reversing, as well as a contracted global economy whose recovery has been agonisingly slow. Many of the factors that constrain the regional economies are beyond our control, but crime is not one of these factors — or should not be. Unfortunately, too many of the region's leaders seem not to appreciate this, either giving only lip service to crime reduction or, in some cases, even implementing policies that exacerbate the situation.
The three Caribbean nations with the highest murder rates — Jamaica, T&T, and Belize — all have governments with links to individuals called "dons" in Jamaica and "community leaders" here. The extradition of Christopher "Dudus" Coke last year only brought into public glare what was already common knowledge in Jamaica: that politicians ally themselves with dons to get votes. In T&T, a similar trend seemed to have begun in the late 1990s, and now we are listed in the top five most murderous countries in the world.
If tourists and investors continue to come to our region, it is only because the Caribbean stereotype of tropical ease overshadows the criminal reality of our societies. But that will surely change unless the trends Mr Warren referred to are arrested. Perhaps when national treasuries start feeling the pinch, Caribbean leaders will get serious about combating crime.