Isha Hosein is just one of the latest. Hosein, a simple and industrious mother, was brutally killed in a crime that has touched the nation's conscience even in the midst of the frenetic general election campaign.
?Isha's murder gave the country temporary pause and the sad faces of forlorn, innocent children graphically reminded us of the scourge of our times. But most people have long stopped keeping daily tabs on the homicide rate although the murder epidemic has led to Trinidad and Tobago being termed one of the most violent societies in a not warring country. "Trinidad and Tobago is the murder capital of the Caribbean," screamed a recent report in Global Travel Industry News, an industry publication. The United Kingdom authorities have warned: "You should be aware that there are high levels of violent crime, especially shooting and kidnappings." A US travel advisory states: "Violent crimes, including assault, kidnapping for ransom, sexual assault and murder, have involved foreign residents and tourists (and) incidents have been reported involving armed robbers trailing arriving passengers from the airport and accosting them in remote areas." Trinidad and Tobago has an average murder rate of 55 per 100,000, making it "one of the most dangerous places in the world."
The comparative rates in the UK and Canada are two per 100,000. Two homicides in the American city of Chicago yesterday took the figure to 100. Chicago has a population of 2.8 million people. The homicide statistics are a blistering political and media issue in that city. The murder figure in T&T – with less than half Chicago's population – is racing to 200 at a staggering pace of more than one a day. A US State Department report has suggested that murders in Trinidad and Tobago connected to gangs would continue to rise this year. There is no prognosis for the future. Prime Minister Patrick Manning also forecasts increased violent crimes but only for a limited period. In his latest anti-crime salvo, Manning argues the 360-degree radar surveillance system will zap the flows of illicit drugs, leading, in the short-term, to intra-gang warfare. He insists there will then be a significant fall in gang conflicts associated with the drug trade.
The People's National Movement (PNM) 2010 election manifesto says for the first three months of this year, 35 kilos of cocaine and more marijuana were seized. Independent analysts insist, however, that is a mere drop in the bucket. Attorney and United National Congress (UNC) general election candidate Garvin Nicholas claims the annual underground economy is worth about $44 billion. "The war against illegal drugs and guns will continue in our next term," says the PNM manifesto. "It represents a major strike against crime in this country." The centrepiece of the anti-crime offensive is the acquisition of fast patrol Coast Guard vessels, a project that made it to several annual budget statements before they became reality a few weeks ago. The Coast Guard now has 28 vessels. "Now we can match the speed and manoeuvrability of virtually any vessel that operates illegally in our waters," boasts the ruling party.
The People's Partnership's (PP) manifesto – due to be launched this morning – is advocating a multi-pronged anti-crime assault. "We will hold the police accountable for the effective delivery of their services, establishing clear and measurable benchmarks for crime reduction and containment," said leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar last week. The PP's offensive – said to be the handiwork largely of Gary Griffith and Vernon de Lima – is expected to feature the use of modern and sophisticated technology. Griffith is confident that the gang culture can be busted and inner city communities returned to peace. The justice system is a Siamese twin in the crime challenge.
The PNM has proposed judicial reform aimed at easing the flow of cases through the system and creating "a more expeditious delivery of justice." The removal of preliminary enquiries for certain categories of crimes is among the proposals. For her part, Persad-Bissessar vows to overhaul the criminal justice system, "rebalancing the system in favour of victims and ensuring that criminals and civil matters are separately addressed." The electorate has heard much of the promises before, since both the PNM and United National Congress (UNC) lavishly listed cure-all measures in their respective 2007 election manifestoes.
To be sure, the murder rate is sure to be further hiked before any of the proposals are put into effect. In recent times, new resources have been introduced at snail's pace and legislation has generally been bogged down by partisan gridlock. In the meantime, Trinidad and Tobago remains one of the most violent places on earth. The politicians should never forget that shocking reality.