Diaries Magazine

Crime and Tourism in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis

By Pearlmacek

Crime and Tourism in the Federation of St. Kitts and NevisSt. Kitts and Nevis are two, beautiful Caribbean islands situated in the Lesser Antilles. These islands are quieter than most because they are slightly off the beaten path that American and European tourists frequent. They are slow when it comes to change: the primary mode of transport was donkeys until 20 years ago. Yet, things have started to speed up in the past ten years.

A lot of this change has to do with the construction of a Four Seasons resort on Nevis’ main beach, Pinney’s about 20 years ago. It created hundreds of jobs for the people of Nevis and slowly, the island’s economy changed from being primarily based in agriculture, to tourism over night. With this sudden change, new wealth poured into the island: Nevisians could now build bigger houses and import luxury items like big screen televisions and fast cars. More teenagers stayed on the island as opposed to emigrating to the United States or the UK, and began working in the tourism industry. While many of these changes have certainly been positive ones, some have also been negative.

In recent years crime has been on the increase in both St. Kitts and Nevis. Many of the federation’s citizens are worried and are trying to come up with solutions to this problem: with a tourism-based economy, the islands cannot afford to scare tourists away. Over the past ten years, there has been an increase in two forms of crime in the Federation: robberies and gang on gang violence. Yes, the sleepy islands of St. Kitts and Nevis now have gangs and it seems to be inspired by the two main Las Angeles gangs, the “Bloods” and the “Crypts”. St. Kitts and Nevis’ crime rates reached a record high in 2011 with 33 murders for the year: a considerable amount, when we are talking about a total population for both islands at 51,300. The majority of the victims of these crimes were young men and all are, unofficially at least, attributed to gun violence, according to the police department of St. Kitts.

Worried citizens have appealed to experts like Peter K. B. St. Jean, a criminologist and sociologist based in Chicago, for help. Mr. St. Jean visited the Federation at the beginning of 2012 to look for possible solutions to the issue, however, it does not seem that the initiative was further developed. The Marriot hotel, the Windsor University of Medicine in St. Kitts, as well as, the Four Season Resort in Nevis, created the Coalition for St. Kitts-Nevis Security Initiatives (CSSKNSI).  Their mission is to promote a more peaceful federation by donating to the police force bullet proof-vests, vehicles and other materials, in order to promote a more efficiently policed nation.  The question remains, however; is a more, prepared police force really the best way of solving the problem? It is all very well to look at ways by which to solve crimes but what about the ability to prevent them? It would be wise to also delve into the factors contributing to the spike in crime.

St. Kitts and Nevis have an educational system that is antiquated and barely reaches the minimum standard of a solid education, that is to say: reading, writing and arithmetic.  The public schools, in the Federation follow the old British system from the 1950’s, which forces students who do not pass their 4th form (10th grade by US standards) exams, to drop out of school. This means that students, who do not meet the standard expected by the age of 14, have to leave school with zero qualifications.

The problem does not end there.  Not only do under-achieving students get kicked out at the age of 14, but also the teachers are seriously under-qualified.  The minimum requisite to teach at high school level is to have completed Sixth form college, a two year program in which you study three, four, sometimes five subjects, like English, Geography, Mathematics and Physics. If the student passes his or her exams, they graduate with however many subjects they studied and passed. After sixth form, the only other option of further education is off-island with the closest university being the University of the West Indies, which has campuses in Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica: an option that not everyone can afford: not only is it costly to pay for tuition and housing, but to obtain the necessary paperwork and visas is a nightmare as well.

With the arrival of American television on the islands, it was easy to see the change in fashion, mannerisms, and even ways of speaking that evolved from the influence of American culture on Caribbean society. Children who had once tended plots of land where all of Nevis’ fruits and vegetables were grown, now had the time to hang out together and talk about the movies and television programs they had seen. Parents and grandparents were working longer hours in order to keep up with their mortgages and car payments so adult supervision became less and less. With more spare time on their hands, kids from both St. Kitts and Nevis began to emulate the men and women they saw in  movies that stood up for their friends and families and that lived “the street life”: and so gangs started to form. On an island of only 36 square miles, gang wars began to involve everyone: whether it’s a friend, son or cousin, everyone on the two islands has been affected by gang violence.

A few Islanders, as well as some expats, have come together to work with high-risk children on both islands. However, this is on a very small scale and does not reach all children that are at risk of joining gangs or that could become involved in another form of violence such as property crime: a phenomenon that has also been on the increase in recent years. Property crime mostly involves tourists and expats being robbed in their houses, often at gunpoint or with a machete.

The causality here is simple: if crime in St. Kitts and Nevis continues to increase, tourists will stop coming to the island. Earlier this year, for example, a man wielding a machete robbed Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Justice Breyer, his wife and two guests, were not hurt during the incident, however, the male assailant stole 1000 dollars in cash from the house they were staying in. News of the incident spread like wild fire and became a top story for news organizations all over the world. Both St. Kitts and Nevis certainly want to be in the news, but not for something like this.

There is no easy solution to this problem facing St. Kitts and Nevis. There are an incredible number of possible factors that have attributed to the problem and so the citizens, police and government of St. Kitts and Nevis need to take a multilateral view of the issue. It is also a question of the whole community coming together, working together, and ultimately exploring all possible ways of mitigating the problem. These islands are still exploring their identity as a nation: they only achieved their independence in 1983, so there is still time to work out problems like these. Yet, when tourism is the main source of income, unless something is done soon, time will eventually run out.

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