On Friday this week the year’s homicide rate jumped to 53, surpassing that of 2011 by one. An unidentified, masked male was discovered in San de Fay and transported to Victoria Hospital. His death was suspected to be linked to a reported robbery on Thursday, November 16, 2017, in which two masked men fled the scene of the crime in Sarrot.
Once again a campaign promise was proving to be the usual hot air. “Has Kenny Anthony made Saint Lucia safer? He has not but we will,” was how Allen Chastanet had put it before his election. As for the 2011 homicide rate, the police and nearly everyone else blamed it on guns in the hands of warring gangs. Again not much has changed: the police recently stated that the most of the homicides were casualties of an on-going gang war.
This week I called on the Minister for Justice and National Security, Hermangild Francis, perchance to learn how the government planned to stop the bloodletting that started in 1998 and led to Operation Restore Peace, followed in 2010 by Operation Restore Confidence (ORC); that, according to opposition leader Kenny Anthony, left dead a number of citizens “deemed to be criminals”, drawing the attention of the US State Department with its subsequent suspension of assistance under the Leahy Law arrangements. As I write, close to seven years after ORC, the suspension remains in place: Saint Lucia is still denied the training and the millions of dollars it once received from the US government.
That being said, most Saint Lucian crime victims, especially relatives and friends of the victims of gun violence, remember that only following the suspicious demise of the citizens “deemed to be criminals” was there was a semblance of peace. And just as in 1998 and 2010, cries are being made for another dose of the medicine that apparently had proved so potent – the fallout notwithstanding.
This week Mr. Francis echoed his police: “All the murders, if you go through them, you’ll see [most] of them are drug-related – gangs fighting gangs. There have been a few domestic incidents but at least 75% of the murders are definitely drug-related.”
He added that drugs were coming from Venezuela. “The people from Barbados at the Regional Security System track the boats and they tell us they are coming. Last year, about 50 came to Saint Lucia; 30 were successful.”
Despite that the minister believes Operation Restore Confidence was “the best thing that happened to Saint Lucia” it is not for him to ask Police Commissioner Severin Monchery to undertake a similar operation in 2017. “It’s up to the commissioner in his deliberations with his men. I can advise him, and tell him to increase his patrols in particular places, but anything more will be up to him.”
The minister’s words reminded me of a pre-IMPACS statement by Kenny Anthony: “The Commissioner of Police is to take ultimate responsibility for the unlawful killings and must be made to account as to why these killings continued unabated . . .” He also publicly read from the IMPACS report that accused the then commissioner of “willful blindness”.
This week Francis admitted to this reporter: “This IMPACS thing is having serious impact on us. His men say to the police commissioner, ‘We want to go and do certain things but if we do that [people will say things].’ There are at least two specialist police officers who are superb at what they do. If it weren’t for one of them who is doing surveillance and intelligence, our homicide rate would by now have been about 70. He has managed to stop several gang wars.”
Francis claimed, “There are paid hit men in our midst.” He said that in the early months after his government took office, attempts were made to have the United States lift its suspension of assistance to our police but: “They won’t budge. The US ambassador saw for herself the efforts we’ve made, boosting up the DPP’s office and so on, and she said it was a pity our relationship with the US had been badly affected five years ago by circumstances related to IMPACS and the then government. Saint Lucia has been America’s best ally in the Caribbean. She said straight out that her hands are tied by the Leahy Law that demands a credible prosecution of the IMPACS report initiated by the previous government.”
The minister added that it’s the DPP’s call. If he does not think there is a prosecutable case, the government will have no choice but to support his decision. “It’s our law. In the meantime, however, there are the various ways open to the US government to punish us in the name of human rights. The whole thing has been badly handled and we are doing our best to come to a workable legal solution.”
It’s not all bad news. Mr. Francis claims, “About 60% of the homicides for the year have been dealt with. By December 31 the police force will have seventeen new vehicles.” Meanwhile the marine unit returns to top gear, following some $500,000 of investments in equipment. The city police have also been doing a commendable job protecting visitors to Castries as well as citizens going about their normal business. Mr. Francis says he has put several new related requests before Cabinet for consideration.
Then there’s the crime symposium scheduled for next week. Another is planned for the south of the island at a later date. According to Francis, the plan is to listen to whatever ideas the sixty or so invited stakeholders will propose in the fight against crime. The information will be analysed realistically and then submitted to government for consideration and possible implementation. It seems like we’ve heard that song before, but our safety depends on it!