Caribbean murder rates hurting growth: World Bank

MIAMI Thu May 3, 2007 5:11pm EDT

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MIAMI (Reuters) - The tourism-dependent Caribbean may now have the world's highest murder rate as a region, severely affecting potential economic growth, the World Bank and a U.N. agency said in a report on Thursday.

Blaming most of the violent crime in countries like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago on the trafficking of Colombian cocaine to Europe and the United States, the report said the region's homicide rate of 30 per 100,000 inhabitants a year was higher even than troubled southern and western Africa.

It acknowledged that murder statistics in small countries were often problematic because a relatively small number of incidents can result in high rates but said it was clear that homicides were a growing problem in the Caribbean.

"While levels of crime and associated circumstances vary by country, the strongest explanation for the relatively high rates of crime and violence in the region -- and their apparent rise in recent years -- is narcotics trafficking," said the report, jointly prepared by the World Bank and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

The authors cited studies that indicated Haiti, the poorest and most unstable country in the Americas, could raise annual economic growth by 5.4 percent if it cut its murder rate to the same level as Costa Rica in Central America.

Jamaica, the verdant and mountainous home to reggae and a major marijuana producer, could boost gross domestic product growth by the same amount if it did likewise, while the Dominican Republic and Guyana could add 1.8 percent and 1.7 percent respectively to annual GDP expansion.

The report said an estimated 10 tonnes of cocaine were trafficked through Jamaica and 20 tonnes through Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 2005.

But the signs were that the flow of narcotics through the Caribbean was diminishing as Mexican cartels took over from Colombian organizations in distributing drugs in the United States and shifted trafficking routes to Central America.

The World Bank and U.N. agency called on the region to modernize police forces, improve crime statistics, invest in crime-reduction programs like rehabilitating slums and consider novel methods to counter drug trafficking.

It cited the example of a Dutch program to halt drug couriers flying into Schiphol airport, in Amsterdam, from the Netherlands Antilles islands of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba.

Under a program called "100 percent Control," all planes and their crews and passengers flying in from the Dutch Caribbean, Suriname or Venezuela are extensively searched. Couriers found with less than 3 kg (6.6 lb) of cocaine are not detained but are deported and added to a blacklist.

"Rather than attempting to scare off potential smugglers with the threat of incarceration, the Dutch approach was based on increasing the rate of interdiction to the point that smuggling becomes unprofitable," the report said.

The number of couriers passing through Schiphol dropped from an estimated 80 to 100 per day in 2003 to around 10 a month in 2005, the report added.

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