What Tourists Should Know About Crime in the Caribbean

By John Briley
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Caribbean, renowned for beaches, sun, rum and relaxation, is facing a rising tide of crime that may further dampen a tourism industry already reeling from the global economic morass. For local officials, the headlines sting like a hurricane's lashing rain:

"Honeymooning Couple Murdered" (Antigua)

"Pregnant Tourist Abducted and Killed" (Puerto Rico)

"Ex-General Tortured, Killed" (Cancun, Mexico)

"Hanging to Resume?" (St. Lucia)

"Crime Expected to Climb" (Jamaica)

"Illicit Trade in Arms Worrying" (Trinidad and Tobago)

"Region Under Siege"

Experts are quick to point out that most crime in the Caribbean, especially violent crime, does not target or involve tourists. As State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler says, despite some areas of concern, "Millions of people travel to [Caribbean destinations] safely and have a good time every year."

Anthony Harriott, a political sociology professor and director of the Institute of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, goes a step further. "In general, tourists [including Americans] are safer in the Caribbean than in their home countries," he says.

In 2003, Harriott observes, "Only 0.0004 percent of all visitors to Jamaica reported that they were victimized" by crime. In Barbados, the only other Caribbean nation to publish statistics on crimes against tourists, the rate of violent crimes against tourists was even lower.

Fair enough. But a review of the State Department's consular information sheets, which summarize travel conditions for every country in the world, shows that crime directly threatens tourists in numerous Caribbean destinations, most notably in the Bahamas, Belize, Honduras, Jamaica, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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