Caribbean islands struggling to dismantle gangs
By David McFadden, Associated Press, Oct. 22, 2011
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts (AP)—When Dudley Williams was a police commander in the mid-1980s, law enforcement in St. Kitts and Nevis was a leisurely occupation. Violent crime was rare on the sleepy specks of land in the eastern Caribbean.
"If fellows got into a heated dispute at a rum bar, things were settled with fists, a piece of stick, a knife at the worst," said Williams, now 79. "You’d get a shooting once every five years."
Times have changed here and for many islands across the Caribbean, where an escalating arms race among criminal gangs has turned once-peaceful neighborhoods into battle zones.
St. Kitts and Nevis, a two-island federation of nearly 50,000 people, has tallied 31 homicides so far in 2011, already making it the bloodiest year on record. Police blame gangs with names like Killer Mafia Soldiers and Tek Life for the escalating violence.
Usually far from the view of sunbathing tourists, tit-for-tat shootings by trigger-happy gangsters have become common in the Caribbean, according to a new report on global homicides by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Little of the violence so far has affected tourists to the Caribbean, where about 6 million Americans visit each year. Many stick to all-inclusive resorts, and those who don’t rarely stray into the gritty slums where the violence flares up.
Still, there are isolated cases: A vacationing U.S. Army sergeant was killed during a robbery in Trinidad last year. A Welsh couple was butchered in an Antigua vacation cottage on the last day of their two-week honeymoon in 2008. In St. Kitts, bandits held up a small bus of tourists last year, prompting two cruise lines to briefly suspend stops there. Two British women were raped on a remote beach in St. Lucia earlier this year.
Drug traffickers have helped drive up the crime rates by introducing firearms and narcotics with a street value exceeding the size of the Caribbean’s legal economy.