Heraldo Muñoz is Assistant Administrator and UNDP's Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
20 Mar 2012
Twelve of the 20 most violent countries in the world are in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is home to 8.5 percent of the world’s population but accounts for 27 percent of all homicides.
The report Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security showed that homicide rates have increased substantially in the last 12 years across the Caribbean —with the exception of Barbados and Suriname— while falling or leveling off elsewhere.
The study covering Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago showed that a great deal of the violence stems from the transnational organized crime which has been active in the Caribbean.
While murders in Jamaica dropped after the report’s completion to 1,124 in 2011, a seven-year low, the country has the highest murder rate in the Caribbean and the third-highest worldwide, only surpassed by El Salvador and Honduras.
Lives are lost and damaged. Productivity, social capital—and the trust of citizens in their national institutions—are also hindered. Crime deters investment, diverts youths from jobs to jail, and absorbs funding that might have improved education and health care.
This report calls on governments to beef up public institutions—including the criminal justice system—while boosting preventive measures, including through education and job opportunities targeting the marginalized urban poor.
Social inclusion, local community involvement—and effective law enforcement— are essential. Political leaders in the Caribbean also need to make critical investments which extend beyond their mandates. And international cooperation is crucial to halt transnational organized crime.
These are not simple problems, but they can be solved. UNDP is working with governments to curb traffic in small arms, improve policing and governance, and give young people the ability to envision a better future and the skills to turn it into reality.