Today’s Opinion 2: “Don’t bring in the army”

POSTED: 03/7/11 12:04 PM

Roddy Heyliger suggested in a letter to the editor that we published on Saturday to call in the army to assist law enforcement in its fight against crime.

With our police force seriously understaffed, our government apparently seriously underfunded, and our prison system bursting at the seams, there are no quick fixes available.

Bringing in the army is one of those ideas that seem an easy way out. Put those guys on the streets when it is most dangerous. Let them patrol Mullet Bay; let them patrol Maho, Oyster Pond and the center of Philipsburg.

With a soldier on every street corner, it cannot be too difficult to make St. Maarten a safe and secure place for residents and tourists alike. Right?

The question we have to ask ourselves is this one. Is this the society we want to live in? r, is this what our society is coming to?

Soldiers on every street corner trigger images of Bucharest in the months before Romania’s dictator Ceausescu was executed. They were grim looking kids with machine guns. They did not dare talking to strangers, maybe because it was not part of their mission, or maybe because they faced deportation to some gulag if they dared making such an attempt at human interaction.

Romania was not an agreeable place to be, with all those guns on the streets, even though all that weaponry was in the hands of the authorities.

St. Maarten is a tourist destination. We promote ourselves as the friendly Island, or these days the friendly country. Putting soldiers on the street is not contributing to that image. On the contrary, it will give tourists the feeling that they have entered some kind of twilight zone where death is waiting around every corner.

No, bringing in the army, attractive as it may sound to some, is not a good idea.

It is of course easy to shoot down ideas. Is there an alternative?

We think there is – and it is called common sense. That sentiment needs to be fed with proper information, and that is a responsibility of our government or, to be exact, of our Tourism Minister Franklin Meyers.

We know that certain places are less safe than others. Mullet bay at four o’clock in the morning is not a healthy place to be. Traveling the lonely road from Maho in the direction of Marigot at the same time? Forget it.

So how do we make this clear to tourists without scaring them out of their pants?

Simple: by being honest.

Let’s tell our guests about the do’s and don’ts that are in the interest of their long-term well-being.

We think that among the most important hints to give is a clear warning about the most crime-prone areas. Think about a map that shows where crimes took place in the past twelve months. Make clear that these crimes usually happen at ungodly hours – two o’clock at night, and sometimes later. The most brutal crimes do not take place at noon on the Cyrus Wathey Square; they happen in Mullet bay, or in other deserted places.

Making our guests aware of the dangers will not scare them away. They will be grateful for the information, and use it to their advantage.

In the meantime, let’s remain realistic as well. Crime, like prostitution, gambling, smoking, drinking and addictions to chocolate, drugs and other vices have always been there and will always be there. That’s not very nice, but that’s how the world works.

Helping our guests minimize the dangers they expose themselves to, is the least we ought to do – before we call in the army and ruin their vacation experience.


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