Barbados is facing a new difficult situation: Homicide rates are now higher than ever in 2019 and 2020. The question is, will it be able to curb the violence down or will it catch up with some of its Caribbean neighbors?
According to an article last month by Chris Dalby, Insight Crime, the numbers can seem paltry when compared to some of its Caribbean neighbors. In 2019, the island saw a record 49 murders, dropping to 42 in 2020. But homicides have still more than doubled since 2012.
The government has pointed to the influx of illegal guns as helping to facilitate the increase in violence. While it has a much smaller population, the country sees the most gun-related crimes among English-speaking Caribbean nations after Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, according to a report by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.
InSight Crime Analysis
Barbados has so far avoided the major risk factors that have seen homicides soar in other Caribbean nations. But these advantages do come with some important caveats.
Firstly, it has little presence of international organized crime. Its gangs are highly localized and involved primarily in micro-trafficking, as the island is not part of any significant overseas drug trafficking routes, a major cause of violence in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.
However, these gangs are far from harmless. They are behind many of the country’s homicides and members reportedly rent guns to each other for 10,000 Barbadian dollars ($5,000), according to Cheryl Willoughby, director of Barbados’ National Task Force on Crime Prevention.
Secondly, the country has been a regional leader for having low rates of official corruption, police brutality and criminal impunity, according to a 2020 US State Department report.
But its response to gang violence has seemed inconsistent, with sweeping pledges for tougher sentencing laws often failing to pass Parliament or containing loopholes.
According to an article by Sharon Austin on the Barbados Government’s website, the spate of crime in Barbados has the attention of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, and she will speak on the issue shortly. Mottley said over the course of the next week to 10 days, she will have conversations addressing issues relating to social security, and a whole of nation approach to how to treat crime. She added that she would be reinforcing the recent messages of Attorney General Dale Marshall and Commissioner of Police Richard Boyce.
At a recent address to the nation, the Prime Minister stated: “Every citizen of this country must recognize that we need a whole of country approach if we are to overcome all of these challenges, not just the inflationary ones, but the ones that are hitting us all at once, whether they are social, or related to crime, economics or environmental.”
Mottley also discussed a number of initiatives her Government would be introducing to help Barbadians cope, as food and oil prices continue to escalate across the world. Mottley said, “The attempts to keep everyone’s head above water requires that mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, families and friends must not uphold those whose involvement in reckless and criminal activity are undermining our best efforts nationally and internationally.”
She continued, “Not only does it compromise the safety of all of us, but it compromises our capacity to attract tourism and other investment revenue that keeps our people in jobs and keeps our heads above water, and that keeps us being able as a government to do more to help you as citizens.”