A wave of gang-related murders in the Bahamas has forced the military onto the streets, a worrying development in a country where violence is reaching critical levels.
The Caribbean archipelago of approximately 388,000 people has already seen at least 27 murders since the start of the year, with seven dead over the past weekend in the capital of Nassau, according to Tribune 242. If violence remains at this level, the murder count by the end of 2017 would hit 224 -- equivalent to a homicide rate of 57.77 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The crime spree has prompted the government to deploy the army onto the streets to assist the police. National Security Minister Bernard Nottage announced this and a number of other security measures on February 15, including increased foot patrols, lockdowns and raids of "crime hot spots," as well as the creation of a gun interdiction task force.
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Minister Nottage attributed most of the murders to feuds within a small group of "violent offenders...affiliated with gangs, guns and drugs."
But the response to this year's bloody events has been mixed. On February 13, Prime Minister Perry Christie described the situation as "reminiscent of the Wild West," and said the state had to respond by "flooding the streets with officers," Caribbean 360 reported.
That same day, however, Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade told the press: "It is a falsehood to tell the Bahamian public and the world at large that the Bahamas is in crisis, that is nonsense." He blamed the murders on youths who "have fallen through the cracks of our society," and assured law-abiding citizens they need not fear attack.
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The Bahamas is not typically considered a major center of criminal activity, but if the murder rate continues at its current pace it would be comparable to that of countries such as Honduras, which has long suffered from rampant insecurity in large part because of the strong gang presence there.
Disputes between gangs are often drug related, and narcotics trafficking is a key concern in the Caribbean country. Located only 50 miles from US shores, its 700 cays and islands make the Bahamas an optimal transit point for illegal goods.
The security crisis also speaks to the authorities' struggles to respond to violent outbreaks. The mixed messages being presented by state institutions are a possible indication that the government is not totally united on the security front. Police officers are also frequent targets of violence, as demonstrated by the shooting of two officers only days ago. This factor could well be hindering the police's ability to combat criminal groups.