Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves used his Independence address on Friday to attempt to reassure Vincentians that his government is taking a hard line against criminals in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“We shall be relentless in pursuing them,” he said at the military parade at Victoria Park, held to mark the nation’s 38th anniversary of independence from Britain.
“Our Parliament, Cabinet, law courts, police force, and all other security and law-enforcement agencies, at home and abroad, in communion with the support of the people as a whole, we will defeat these vile threats to our citizen security,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security.
Gonsalves said that in SVG and elsewhere in the Caribbean, among other places, “there is a composite of drug-man, thief-man, and gun-man, consumed by envy, greed, and naked, selfish individualism, who has chosen the path of crime as a way of life; their chosen occupation is that of a criminal”.
He said crime is not merely incidental to them, but defines them.
“This unsavoury underbelly of a small number of hardened criminals in our small society finds awful expression in its anti-social impact in a context of modern information and communication technology, an availability of unlawful firearms, and alliances of home-grown criminals and foreign hoodlums from our dangerous near-neighbourhood.”
The prime minister said that all this creates a threat to citizen security, causes much alarm among right-thinking persons, and undermines the bonds of citizenship and the requisites of citizenry solidarity.
“They, hardened group, this small group of criminals, they ought to know by now that our civilization will never allow a handful of them and their opportunistic allies to hold sway.
More broadly, however, without in any way absolving the individual gunman of his personal responsibility, it is necessary and desirable for our country, on an on-going basis, to ramp up its efforts to ensure that the many-sided breeding ground for such anti-social persons be extinguished. In this grand effort, the family, the school, the church, the media, the government, the community along with the formal institutions of law and order have much work to do.
“All hands must be on deck to cripple and destroy this unacceptable malignancy of violent crime by a few persons. The criminals must meet their justice; justice must be available, in practice, to suffering communities; and there will thus be peace.”
Gonsalves was speaking at a time when SVG has recorded 35 homicides for the year, just short of last year’s record: 40.
His independence speech came two weeks after gunmen indiscriminately fired some 40 rounds on a group of persons at a shop in Diamond, killing one and injuring a further seven.
The killings and shootings come amidst what some law enforcement sources have told iWitness News are gangs settling scores.
But Gonsalves has said that there are no gangs in the country, describing them, instead as “associational groupings with criminal activity”.