Pubdate: Thu, 29 Mar 2001
Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2001 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Jim Loney, Reuters


KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Gangs fight violent turf wars in Jamaica's tough
inner cities. Members of an anti-Roman Catholic cult hack and torch
worshipers in a St. Lucia church with machetes, killing a nun.

A 17-year-old girl who breaks into a neighbor's home in Trinidad and
Tobago has her hand chopped off. In Tortola, four Americans are
accused of murdering a visiting American artist.

Off the coasts of Haiti, Jamaica and other islands, South American
drug cartels salt the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea with packets of
cocaine and marijuana to lure villagers to the lucrative spoils of the
drug trade.

With spotty government reporting, no one seems certain if crime rates
in the idyllic Caribbean islands are on the rise, but the fear of
crime appears at a record high.

"Only take a few gunmen to make us afraid," said Robert Morgan, 46,
a Kingston, Jamaica, taxi driver. "People in some neighborhoods not
leave their homes."

A tourism mecca blessed by tropical sun and spectacular beaches -- it
took in $18.7 billion from visitors in 1999 -- the Caribbean is a
lightning rod for lurid headlines and is plagued by geography that
makes it a haven for drug runners.

South American cocaine cartels use remote islands and thousands of
miles of deserted coastline to move their products to rich U.S. and
European markets.

U.S. lawmakers call impoverished Haiti a narco-state swamped by
cocaine traffickers, and an annual State Department report recently
listed Jamaica as the new main hub of transshipment through the
Caribbean. It also said trafficking and derivative crimes -- money
laundering, drug use, political corruption and violent street crime --
"threaten the stability of the small, independent countries of the
eastern Caribbean."

Drug violence, combined with dramatic increases in domestic murder and
abuse, have Caribbean residents fearful of crime.

'High Fear Of Crime'

"Over 40 percent of the Trinidad population experienced a high fear
of crime in both 1999 and 2000 with certain districts having almost 70
percent of residents with a high fear of crime," said professor
Ramesh Deosaran, head of the Center for Criminology at the University
of the West Indies in Trinidad.

"This level of fear is rather high for a democratic society as
ours," he added.

When the Trinidad teenager broke into the home of a neighbor who had
complained to police about break-ins, she fell victim to a homemade
guillotine trap -- a cutlass attached to springs -- and her left hand
was severed at the wrist.

Although she said she was only trying to find something to eat,
Trinidadians were not sympathetic. Their outpouring of support was for
the homeowner, and police and prosecutors have been urged not to bring
charges against him.

In Jamaica, the disappearance of American travel writer Claudia
Kirschhoch from Negril last year brought unwanted international
attention. Brutal street shootouts in some of Kingston's worst
neighborhoods sparked outraged headlines.

"Maverley residents living in fear," The Star tabloid in Kingston
shouted in a story about "runaway gunmen" in a turf feud with a
community gang.

Recently, seven men were killed in a shootout with police in Portmore,
west of Kingston.

Jamaican police say a shift to community policing and concentration on
the worst neighborhoods has actually reduced crime in major categories
such as shootings, rapes, robberies and break-ins. From a high of more
than 15,000 reported major crimes in 1996, police logged only 8,234
last year.

Crime Hits 'Small Segment Of Society'

"The fact that we still have plenty of tourists indicates people do
realize that the heavy concentration of crime is locked into a small
section of society," police spokesman James Forbes said, noting that
80 percent of Jamaica's crime happens in the capital. "The vast
majority of the country is a beautiful, peaceful place."

But Jamaica's murder rate is stubbornly high and police concede it is
one of the worst, per capita, in the world. In a country of 2.6
million, 887 people were murdered last year: 33 percent domestic
killings, 14 percent gang-related. The annual count has ranged between
780 and 1,038 since 1995.

Due to the pervasive fear of crime, polls show Caribbean residents
overwhelming favor capital punishment as a deterrent. Trinidad hanged
nine killers in a span of four days in 1999 and other nations are
pressing on with execution plans.

"The government should resume hanging of condemned murderers after
all available options to appeal are closed," Donetta Garcia-Henry, a
resident of Aenon Town, wrote to the Jamaica Gleaner recently.

Caribbean police say their anti-crime efforts are hampered by an
influx of criminals deported by the United States and other countries
to their Caribbean homelands.

Last year, the United States sent 4,402 criminals to 20 Caribbean
countries and territories, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service said. The vast majority went to the Dominican Republic (2,170)
and Jamaica (1,339).

Forbes called the deportees a "monumental problem" for Jamaica,
where many revert to crime and clog local jails.

"These people, some of them, have had no connection with Jamaica
other than that they were born here. They have lived their full lives
in the United States," he said. "They are asked to start over in a
country where they know nobody."

The image of crime is a huge risk for Caribbean countries. In 1998,
tourism accounted for more than 40 percent of annual gross domestic
product in Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and Aruba and more than 30
percent in Barbados and the Bahamas.

Criminal attacks on locals and visitors are noticed -- witness letters
like that of tourist Bill Towner published in a recent edition of
Barbados' Daily Nation.

"I do not feel that the Barbados authorities are taking this matter
seriously," he wrote. "I've come to love Barbados ... but wanting to
return and possibly putting my family at risk by returning are two
very different matters."

Deosaran, who has studied Caribbean crime extensively, said many
crimes are not reported, making official statistics unreliable. "The
dark figure of crime in the Caribbean is very huge," he said. "The
official statistics are the tip of the iceberg to a much more horrible
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake