Authorities in Trinidad’s scramble to halt the island’s rising murder rate

By Bert Wilkerson

As authorities in Jamaica try to find solutions to the number of murders on the island this year, law enforcement officials in Trinidad are battling a similar problem with the number of murders heading towards 500 and climbing.

Between Christmas and Boxing Day, police picked up two bodies from the streets of districts in Port of Spain, the island’s capital, taking the toll to 487 so far this year, and, at average, about 40 per month.

As Caribbean leaders prepare to meet at their half yearly session in Haiti — most likely in February — the number of killings in the two leading member states are certain to attract debate under the crime and security heading. Ironically, Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad is the head of government responsible for this area of the Caribbean.

If current trends hold true, Jamaica is likely to easily exceed 1,700 murders in 2017, its worst death rate in 11 years. Too many of the murders have taken place in the rural Manchester District and in the western tourist paradise of Montego Bay and nearby districts. Luckily for authorities, the Jamaica tourist brand is so undeniably strong that it has not deterred tourists from arriving in record numbers, nor has it prevented the island from being named the region’s number one wedding and cruise destination in 2017. This is not the first time that Jamaica has been so positively classified.

Down south in Trinidad, meanwhile, the governing People’s National Movement (PNM) and the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) have reached a stalemate in passing crucial legislation that would have given authorities a bit more clout in clamping down on armed gangs.

Gangland activity, including weapons and drug smuggling, have been largely blamed for the exponential spike in murders in the twin-island republic with Tobago since the 80s when murders were way less than 100 per year. Now it is climbing towards 500. That would be fewer than the 529 recorded back in 2008. In January 2017 alone, police listed a monthly record 50 murders.

The Rowley administration was keen on winning opposition support for a crucial bill that would have effectively made membership of a known gang — as well as possession of equipment like bullet proof vests — a criminal offense. Harboring a gang member, recruiting new members and contributing to gang activities would also have become felony criminal offenses if the opposition had supported the bill, allowing the government side to get the crucial three fights majority.

The two main tribal-based parties could not agree on a clause that would have allowed a particular portion of the bill to have an effective life for four years, as government had proposed. The opposition had suggested two years. The stalemate led to the bill being abandoned.

Attorney General Faris Al Rawi says that the crime rate is at an all time high. The Guardian Newspaper quoting Al Rawi as saying that the number of active gangs had increased by 129 percent in recent months and that there had also been a 60 percent increase in the number of gang members.

Other key hot spots in the region include St. Lucia, St. Kitts and the Bahamas where authorities are all keeping a watchful eye on criminal activity in those tourism dependent islands.

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