Letter: On the brink

POSTED: 10/20/11 1:54 PM

Dear Editor,
Since I last wrote a letter to the papers, there have been four additional murders, not including those committed on the northern French half. One of the murders, a violent armed robbery, was even committed in the heart of a resort. This has now pushed the Dutch side’s murder rate to a staggering 43.2 murders per 100, 000 people for the year 2011. By any international measure, that places St. Maarten in a notorious position worldwide. Sadly, St. Maarten is sinking in the mud of social decline like the rest of the Caribbean, which experiences some of the highest assault, robbery, and murder rates on the planet.
Ms. Williams letter to another daily newspaper of October 7 is therefore amusing to me. I will not comment on the pros and cons of gun control to which the letter mostly concerned itself, but I have to address a dangerous mistake many in the Caribbean make. From her letter I quote, “While it is true we have seen a rise in criminal activity, this statement misrepresents the island as one that is unsafe”. That is perhaps a wonderfully mild, if not deluded, way to put the situation. But this kind of apologetic attitude toward crime is typical of us Caribbean people. A phenomenon Barbadian professor, Avinash Persaud, warned the islands about at the recent CTO conference.
The facts are sobering and ugly, prompting Sir Ronald Sanders, a former Jamaican diplomat, to raise the alarm about the social decline affecting the entire Caribbean. He has written extensively, detailing how many of the islands have been slipping down the quality of life indices for years now. High crime rates, then, are not unique to St. Maarten. In 2010, St. Kitts, for instance, had a murder rate of roughly 38 per 100,000. That puts both St. Kitts and St. Maarten in the top ten highest murder rates per capita in the world right now, with St. Maarten currently surpassing South Africa, Colombia, and Trinidad.
My concern is that some people don’t seem to fully understand how bad this situation is, or the dire consequences to the island’s reputation with every violent crime committed. How long can such a small society sustain this madness without paying a severe price?
To give you perspective, in 2010, Austria, with a population of about 8 million, had a murder rate of just 0.56 per 100, 000. While The Netherlands was at a mere 0.87 murders per 100,000 for the same year. I would consider Austria and The Netherlands “safe”, judging by those figures, not St. Maarten. And just because you are not yet a victim of crime does not make St. Maarten “safe”. Any suggestion that the island is still somewhat “safe” is absurd and an insult to the victims of local crime.
Murder is, in almost all cultures, considered the worst of crimes; it is the ultimate harm one human can inflict on another because there is no coming back. And when a country has a high murder rate, it’s usually accompanied by equally high rates of other crimes, like armed robbery, break-ins, assault, etc. This is true for St. Maarten, is it not? A place like that is not “safe” by any credible international standard.
Until we shed this apologetic, dismissive attitude toward the horrendous level of crime people live with everyday on islands like St. Maarten, things will never get better. And we should be ashamed of our stupidity for making excuses for what is happening in our societies. Because the reality is that our own sons, our own daughters, our own brothers, our own fathers, and our own neighbors are committing these crimes, not strangers who mysteriously appear from the shadows and disappear again. It is we who are cannibalizing ourselves. A police force can only do so much; it is the cruel and brutal Caribbean culture that has to change.
St. Maarten is on the brink. The first step toward ending this crisis is to stop fooling ourselves that the levels of crime are not that bad. The brute fact is that St. Maarten is a dangerous place. We cannot maintain our current standard of living without tourism, but tourism cannot co-exist with some of the deadliest crime rates in the world. At this rate, visitors and investors will stop coming to these islands, and they will be right to do so. They will decide that no amount of sunshine and sandy beaches are worth the risk to their lives or their family. Logic dictates that the tourism industry will eventually disappear under the terror of violent crime, and a drastic drop in living standards will set in. Caribbean economies collapsed in the past when sugar was no longer king. They can collapse again when crime is king. Only this time the collapse will be a self-inflicted wound.

Jason Lista

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