Crime, especially murders, remained unabated in the Caribbean in 2019.
Jamaica, T&T, Bermuda and even Barbados were among Caricom countries where crime had become a major issue this year.
In Jamaica, where the 2018 figure of 1,287 murders was passed with at least two weeks remaining in 2019, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said his government remained committed to fighting the crime situation in the country, as private sector groups called on it, as well as the opposition People’s National Party (PNP), to end their combative utterances on crime and channel their efforts towards expediting the national consensus on crime.
The government went to the Parliament during the last 12 months seeking extensions for Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) and states of emergency in a bid to stem the killings that the opposition said have led to a serious increase in fear among Jamaicans.
Justice Minister, Delroy Chuck, urged Jamaicans to end the culture of not reporting criminal activities to law enforcement authorities for fear of being murdered, saying persons must muster the courage to speak out and expose criminals and wrongdoers.
In Trinidad and Tobago, as in Jamaica, the murder toll passed the 2018 figure of 517, the country’s second highest total ever, despite the appointment of a Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith a year ago promising to deal with the situation. But while the 54-year-old Griffith is being regarded as a “super hero” in some quarters, he has not hidden his disgust at the fact that the courts are releasing on bail criminals caught with high powered rifles.
Griffith would later welcome the passage of the amendment of the Bail Bill which seeks to restrict access to bail for 120 days in instances where a person already has a charge for a serious offence —carrying a ten-year jail term—is out on bail and gets charged for a similar offence among other measures.
In Barbados, the levels of crime and violence grew to an unprecedented level in 2019. The island had recorded 48 murders as the year was coming to an end, the highest ever number recorded, almost doubling the 28 murders of 2018.
In an attempt to stem the rising violence the Mia Mottley administration in April made amendments to the Firearms Act so that where a person was charged with murder, treason and high treason or an offence under the Firearms Act which is punishable with imprisonment of ten years or more, that person shall not be granted bail unless 24 months have passed.
“We still have a duty to maintain an orderly society where rights of individuals are balanced. To set a bail restriction of 24 months we think that is reasonable in this case. We know that dealing with the Bail Act this way will not solve all of our problems but I am convinced it will go a long way in bringing some order to our streets,” said Attorney General Dale Marshall.
The authorities also introduced a one-week gun amnesty and Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley warned that crime and violence in Barbados were almost at a crisis level and called for urgent interventions to address the situation.
“The moment is urgent; the matter is approaching crisis proportions; the measure of our resolve will determine the Barbados profile of tomorrow,” Atherley said in a statement.
In Bermuda, the police said 131 murders had been committed with just a few days left in 2019 as compared with 144, the previous year.
Politicians also found themselves part of the crime situation in the Caribbean. In Trinidad and Tobago, the public administration minister, Marlene McDonald, was sacked by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for a third time since his administration came to power in 2015, after she and several others including her husband, Michael Carew, appeared in court on several offences of conspiracy to defraud the government. She has been placed on $2 million bail.
Leader of the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) Kamla Persad-Bissessar called on supporters to remain focused following the arrest of her former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and UNC senator Gerald Ramdeen.
Ramlogan, who was detained at the Piarco International Airport was granted $1.2 million bail and Ramdeen, $1.5 million bail.
Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard directed that the men be jointly charged with conspiracy to contravene Section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act; conspiracy to contravene Section 45 of the Proceeds of Crime Act and conspiracy to misbehave in public office. The corruption-related offences arise out of an alleged conspiracy to financially reward themselves with fees from legal briefs from the State.
In Jamaica, discarded education minister Ruel Reid, his wife Sharen, their daughter, Sharelle, as well as the President of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), Professor Fritz Pinnock appeared in court on charges resulting from a corruption probe into the education ministry and the CMU.
A local government councillor, Kim Brown-Lawrence, was also charged as a result.