Crime, especially murders, remained unabated in the Caribbean in 2019.
Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize 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 49 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 Belize, 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 two million dollars (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) 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 TT$1.2 million (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) bail and Ramdeen, TT$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.
Economic overview is ‘particularly complex’
Several Caribbean countries in 2019, began implementing legislation decriminalising small amounts of marijuana as regional countries sought to cash in on the lucrative international marijuana trade for medicinal and other purposes.
In August, Barbados introduced legislation to establish the legal foundation for a local medical marijuana industry, joining Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Antigua and Barbuda in approving cannabis cultivation. A law is also in the works in St. Kitts and Nevis while in Bermuda Attorney-General and Legal Affairs Minister Kathy Lynn Simmons tabled legislation in the Senate to legalise medical cannabis and regulations to govern licences for Bermudian growers and importers,
Trinidad and Tobago amended its dangerous Drugs Act to allow citizens to be in possession of no less than 30 grammes of the drug. The measure came into effect three days before Christmas Day.
The Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said the 2014-2020 period will mark the lowest growth in the region in the last seven decades, and that the economic overview in 2019 is occurring in a “particularly complex context.
“The region is exhibiting an economic deceleration that is widespread and synchronized among countries and sectors, topping off six consecutive years of low growth,” said ECLAC in its last annual report released here.
The report notes that in 2019, the country with the greatest expansion will be Dominica (nine per cent), followed by Antigua and Barbuda (6.2 per cent), the Dominican Republic (4.8 per cent) and Guyana (4.5 per cent).
Guyana grabbed the international headlines in late December after the US-based oil giant, ExxonMobil, Monday said it had made another oil discovery offshore Guyana at the Mako-1 well southeast of the Liza field, marking it the 15th discovery on the Stabroek Block.
“This discovery by ExxonMobil and its partners comes on the heels of the start of oil production. The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is experiencing a truly historic moment that has all the ingredients to facilitate a paradigm shift towards sustained economic transformation,” said the head of the Department of Energy, Dr. Mark Bynoe.
Guyana on December 20, declared the day, “National Petroleum Day,” as the country formally became the biggest oil producing nation in the Caribbean.
“Petroleum production will be a transformative process in the country’s economic development. The petroleum sector will stimulate increased employment and expand services,” Granger said.
The former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, praised Jamaica for the “remarkable” accomplishments under its financial arrangements with the Fund, which it concluded this year.
“Through two programmes, two different administrations with very strong commitment, you have managed to actually create jobs, to reduce the unemployment level to the lowest ever, you’ve reduced debt by 50 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP), you’ve managed to stabilise inflation and you’ve managed to accumulate reserves,” she said.
Director of the Western Hemisphere Department of the IMF, Dr. Alejandro Werner, noted that over the last three years, Jamaica’s sustained commitment to a home-grown economic reform programme has resulted in significant dividends for the people of the island.
The IMF was also pleased with Barbados noting that under its US$290 million Extended Fund Facility (EFF) approved in October last year programme implementation “is strong” and that “all programme targets for end-June and end-September 2019 have been met”.
It said that since May 2018, international reserves have increased from a low of US$220 million to more than US$600 million at end-October 2019.
Overall, the IMF said that while economic prospects are improving in the Caribbean, they are doing so “with substantial variation across countries”.
“Growth in tourism-dependent economies is expected to strengthen to around two per cent in 2019-20, supported by still strong United States growth, the main market for tourism in the region, and continued reconstruction from the 2017 hurricanes,” said Werner, noting that economic activity in Latin America and the Caribbean remains sluggish and that real gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow by 0.6 per cent in 2019, the slowest rate since 2016, before rising to 2.3 per cent in 2020.
The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) said despite forecast of deceleration in global economic activity, the 2019 economic outlook for its borrowing member countries (BMCs) is positive, predicting economic growth of more than two per cent.
In December, a consortium of Eastern Caribbean indigenous banks entered into a “definitive agreement” to purchase all banking operations of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in the Eastern Caribbean.
In the previous month, the St. Kitts-Nevis based Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) announced that effective November 1, the Bank of Nova Scotia operations in Anguilla, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines would end and that the Trinidad-based Republic Financial Holding Limited (RFHL) would begin operations in these countries in a US$123 million deal..
Antigua and Barbuda has refused to provide the necessary vesting order that would have facilitated the sale in that island with Prime Minister Gaston Browne insisting on the Toronto-based financial institution selling its assets to a consortium of local banks.
Tragedy and death
While most of the Caribbean may have been spared the full brunt of the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season, it was not so in the case of The Bahamas, when on September 1, Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm swept through the archipelago killing nearly 70 people and causing damage estimated at US$3.4 billion, according to the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The Central Bank of the Bahamas said domestic economic developments were dominated by the passage of the hurricane, which disrupted tourism output, as well as the government’s fiscal consolidation efforts.
In its Quarterly Economic Review released late December, the Central Bank said several, varied-scaled, foreign investment projects and post-hurricane rebuilding activity provided a positive construction sector stimulus and that budgetary financing was mainly obtained from internal sources and included a combination of long and short-term debt.
Prime Minister Minnis described the storm as “a historic tragedy” with most of the deaths and damage concentrated in Grand Bahama and Abaco Island and Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said in December that as many as 50 bodies remained unclaimed in a refrigerated trailer on the island of Abaco.
In 2019, the Caribbean said farewell to a number of prominent personalities, including the former Jamaica prime minister, Edward Seaga; the former premier of the British Virgin Islands, Ralph T. O’Neal; former Suriname government minister, Winston Lackin; the former government minister in Jamaica, Douglas Vaz; Bermuda’s government backbencher Walton Brown; the well-known cultural icon and Antigua and Barbuda’s Director of Culture, Vaughn Walter; and the Jamaican-born prominent jurist, Sir Edward Zacca.
In addition, several media practitioners ended their beat in 2019, among them being Harold Hoyte, one of the founders of the Nation Publishing Company of Barbados: Tim Hodgson, editor of the weekly Mid-Ocean News of Bermuda; the Grenadian-born, Trinidad-based David Renwick, considered to be one of the foremost journalist on the energy sector in the Caribbean; the veteran Trinidad sports journalist, Dave Lamy; the Trinidadian talk show host, Wayne Chance; and the former sports reporter at the Barbados-based Caribbean News Agency, Bernard Babb. (CMC)