|EIGHTEEN cruise passengers were robbed at gunpoint on Bahamas tours last month. A retired British couple was seriously wounded in a machete attack at their second home in Tobago in August. A pregnant American tourist was abducted and killed during a morning jog in Fajardo, P.R., in February.
Such violent crimes against tourists are still rare in the Caribbean, but reports of events like those above have raised concerns about a trip to the region. Are those fears justified?
Crime, in one form or another, is rising in Bermuda, Belize, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, based on a review of the State Department’s consular information sheets, which provide data on safety and other issues in foreign countries. It continues to be an issue in places like the Dominican Republic, where pickpocketing and mugging are the most common crimes against tourists, and in Jamaica, where the United States Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults against Americans this year, including two at resorts.
The State Department acknowledges the upswing but points out that travelers can fall victim to theft and other crimes in their home cities. “Crime happens everywhere,” said Drew Haldane of the office of American Citizens Services.
What is different, though, is how those crimes are handled. “Law enforcement, especially in the Caribbean, does not necessarily have the resources or response that you might expect in the U.S.,” Mr. Haldane said. “If you’re victimized by a crime you need to be prepared for a slow justice process.”
After Justin Holland, a 26-year-old New Yorker, was killed by a speeding car while visiting Negril, Jamaica, during a family vacation in February, it took police two hours to respond, said his mother, Carole Holland. “When they did, they didn’t seem to be very concerned or in a big hurry to take care of anything.” She added that the authorities were friendly with the driver.
Her account is underscored by reports to the State Department of “frequent allegations of police corruption” in Jamaica, according to the department’s consular information sheet. Her son’s case has been repeatedly postponed. The most recent court hearing was on Nov. 4, and the proceedings were continued to Feb. 22, according to the United States Embassy in Kingston.
“If you’re an American,” said Ms. Holland, “you are pretty much on your own in a justice system that is completely different from ours.”
Requests for comment to the Ministry of National Security and the Jamaica Constabulary Force on the perception that corruption taints crime investigations were not answered in time for publication. In an e-mail statement, the Jamaica Tourist Board acknowledged that big cities like Montego Bay and Kingston face crime issues stemming from low-income areas but pointed out that each year people from around the world visit Jamaica — the overwhelming majority without incident.
Tourist areas, the statement went on, are “well-patrolled and are secured by both the Jamaica Constabulary Force and by resort-funded security companies.”
The Caribbean is aware of its crime problems and is trying to get them under control. In June, Caricom, an organization of Caribbean nations and dependencies that is developing a crime prevention action plan with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to prevent and reduce youth violence in the region, devoted a conference to the subject. Addressing a group of Caribbean leaders, Patrick Manning, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago and chairman of the organization, said, “We must overcome this difficulty, if we are to achieve the economic and social progress that we envision for the Caribbean community.”
In Jamaica, where the Tourist Board says crimes against tourists amount to less than 1 percent of overall crime, some police have been relieved from desk duties in recent weeks so that more officers can patrol the streets this winter season and beyond.
One resource for victims of crime abroad — whether a purse snatching by thieves on motorcycles or sexual assault — is the nearest American embassy or consulate, which can assist with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends and explaining how money can be transferred. Although consular officials cannot investigate crimes or provide legal advice, they can often help by explaining the local criminal justice process and offer a list of lawyers. The State Department Web site (www.state.gov/travel) offers more details on emergency assistance abroad, including help for American victims of crime overseas.
While Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands is a territory, each has locally controlled police departments and justice systems. In cases of federal crimes, the FBI has jurisdiction, otherwise crimes are investigated and processed through the local system. In these places, law enforcement consultants say, the police and court procedures are very similar to those in the rest of the United States.
Some careful planning can go a long way if you encounter issues abroad. Travelers who make photocopies of their passports and birth certificates as well as all their credit cards and licenses, will be better prepared if any of those items are swiped. Be sure to include the numbers to call to report theft of a card or license. It’s also a good idea to leave an itinerary of where you will be with someone back home so that they will know when to expect your return.
Mr. Haldane of the State Department recommends avoiding drinks you did not personally order or see prepared. “It might seem silly to carry your margarita to the bathrooms,” he said, but it’s best to avoid leaving drinks unattended so that no one can tamper with them.
Be careful when walking after dark or visiting out-of-the-way places and take valuables with you instead of leaving them unattended in parked cars or on beaches. To protect yourself, limit the amount of cash and number of credit cards you carry. Load up your cellphone with emergency numbers, including the local police department, your hotel, and the local embassy or consulate.
There are no hard and fast rules for what makes one resort safer than another. But you may want to avoid rooms facing busy streets or with ground-level windows if you are concerned about break-ins.
Don’t assume you’re safe just because the hotel or cruise line made the arrangements. The tourists who were robbed at gunpoint in the Bahamas were on a ship-sponsored nature tour on Nassau arranged by Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line, when two men wielding shotguns tied up the first group’s tour guide and ordered the passengers to the ground before robbing them of money, passports, cellphones, credit cards and personal items, the local newspaper reported. The second tour group approached the area during the hold-up and was also robbed.
Both cruise lines, which have since suspended sales of these tours, worked closely with the passengers to provide assistance. No one was injured. And the Bahamas has pledged to step up police patrols in tourist areas.
In idyllic surroundings it’s easy to let your guard down. But as good as those trade winds feel whipping through your villa at night, don’t put your security at risk by leaving the doors to the veranda wide open and letting your guard down.
source: New York Times