The Caribbean destinations of Trinidad and Tobago (TT) are noted for white sandy beaches and blue green water as well as for 550 murders and 11 kidnappings in 2008 and 193 murders and 2 kidnappings in the first half of 2009. In spite of all this bad news, approximately 270,000 travelers selected TT for a holiday between January and July 2008.
Contrary to conventional wisdom – that crimes stops tourism and global conferences – world leaders ignored this data as they pursued their personal and professional agenda and attended meetings and cocktail receptions at the Fifth Summit of the Americas from April 17-19, 2009. US President Barack Obama and 34-country leaders visited this locale to discuss, among other topics, the issue of crime.
Where to Stay
Even world leaders need to think about accommodations, and TT may be a destination that is high in crime, it is deficient in accommodations and infrastructure support services thus leaving the destination 3000 rooms short as they proceeded to host this global meeting.
Leaders and Cruise Ships
Undaunted by the challenge, the TT National Secretariat in Port of Spain assigned guests to floating hotels, chartering the Carnival Victory and the Caribbean Princess cruise ships rather than try to build hotels with limited resources and no time. Coordinated by Joyce Landry (Landry & Kling) to handle the dockside charters, Landry was able to allocate sleeping/living space and supplies for over 200 private sector events, and over 3000 people for ceremonies, meetings, receptions and administrative support centers.
Securing the Scene
With security and safety high on a “to do” list, Landry spoke of developing safety and security plans for the ships identifying the “Red Zone” as locations where visitors did not need credentials (i.e., crafts markets, festivals) as well as other spaces that were secured by hotel security.
“The ship as a hotel is definitely a challenge,” commented Landry. “We bring in all the required technology, set up a front-desk for both check-in and check-out.” The ships are checked from stem-to-stern, creating a sterile environment and everyone and everything is screened prior to boarding the vessel, according to Landry whose company handles shipboard accommodations for governments and private sector organizations including Microsoft.
Although President Barack Obama stayed on one of the ships, the Secret Service representatives stayed at a nearby hotel. In addition to the Secret Service the area was secured by submarines, patrol boats, Navy Seals, FBI, TT and Caribbean police forces, plus each delegate his/her own security detail.
It is rather ironic that this world conference selected Trinidad as its location, as a major topic reviewed by the delegates focused on crime in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Kevin Casas-Zamora, a senior fellow in Foreign Policy and in Brookings’ Latin America Initiative, reporting on the crime epidemic in this region found that this issue has “become part of daily life throughout the region” to the point where it is a “clear danger for democracy.”
Casas-Zamora finds that criminal activities in the LAC are the highest in the world with the murder rate at 27.5 per 100,000 people (2000), three times higher than the rate for the world as a whole and well above that of any other region. In the LAC, 1.2 million people lost their lives through crime related activities in the present decade.
In his report, Casas-Zamora explains the economic consequences of crime finding that direct and indirect costs for the region reached $250 billion annually or 12.1 percent of GDP, a sum larger than Argentina’s economy.
Neither new nor unique, Casa-Zamora offers a path to world leaders as they seek to cope with crime and its consequences:
-Immediate law enforcement improvement
-Increased public investment in education, healthcare, social care and job training
-Enhanced training for law enforcement and prosecutors, intelligence and investigative capacities, internal controls and use of modern information systems
-Improve oversight and regulation of private security and coordination among and between pubic government security agencies
-Closer links between law enforcement and the community
-Hemisphere-wide coordination on narcotics trafficking
Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts
International media as well as the US Department of State continue to advise tourists, foreign residents and US citizens to be aware of escalating violent crime (sexual assaults, kidnappings for ransom, and murder) when they land at airports, head for parking lots, drive along highways, approach residential gated communities, stop at ATMs, stroll through shopping malls, explore scenic rest-stops, stroll-along isolated beaches and discover isolated waterfalls, as well as visit capital cities. However, it appears that travelers may read this information, note the cautionary note, and continue packing their bathing suits and lotions.
Walking away from white sandy beaches and blue – green water because it is considered dangerous place does not appear to be the big deterrent originally forecast. Crime as an issue apparently has a larger impact on internal economic development. For the sake of the people who live in TT and other LAC communities it is hoped that in-between the festivities, meetings and workshops, country leaders will actually allocate the funds necessary to diminish the growing epidemic – not SARS or swine flu, but crime.