Sunday, October 16, 2011

US, UK Governments Issue Travel Advisories on the Bahamas

Street crime in the Bahamas has been steadily rising over the last few years, yet it seems extraordinary that the Government of the Bahamas is now urging visitors to impose their own curfews and not walk in Nassau after dark.

Street crime has also become the number one pressing public relations and political issue facing the country in recent months. As a result, both the US Department of State and the British Foreign Office have updated their travel advisories.

For the benefit of our readers, the links to the US and British travel advisories are reflected below:

http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/north-central-america/bahamas#crime )

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_989

Those of our readers who are from nations other than the US and the UK should contact your foreign ministry to determine if there are new warnings on the Bahamas.

COMMENT: One of the positions I held at the US Department of State during my Foreign Service career was associate director of security for Latin America, which included my being responsible for the oversight of embassy security throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. During this assignment and in years after my retirement, I have gradually seen street crime in the Bahamas increase.

Despite the efforts of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, I have also seen the character of the Bahamas change dramatically. At one time, neither the police or the criminals had guns, but with the advent of organized crime and increasing drug trafficking and drug use, the islands that make up the Bahamas are no longer much fun, largely because of the dramatic rise in street crime and the concern for tourists being victimized.

One major detractor of traveling to the Bahamas is that it has one of the highest incidents of rape in the Caribbean. New Providence Island has also seen a dramatic increase in larceny, robbery, bag-snatching and pickpocketing. Worse, three separate groups of tourists have been held at gunpoint and robbed at popular tourist sites in and around Nassau; each of these incidents occurred during daylight hours and involved large numbers of perpetrators.

The U.S. Embassy has also received reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, in areas such as casinos and outside hotels. Further, cruise-ship passengers have also seen a rise in the victimization of port of call crime. If there is a silver-lining, much of the violent crime does not occur in the touristy areas, but in outlying areas and in residential neighborhoods.

Two American citizens were also murdered in Nassau in 2009, both allegedly in residential areas. An altercation at a major resort resulted in the shooting of two security officers, while several daytime robberies in Nassau led to exchanges of gunfire on busy streets. In addition, women have reported incidents of verbal harassment and unwanted attention. Thus far in 2011, 104 homicides have been reported

The country has experienced a whooping record-breaking 104 murders already in 2011. This number is the highest ever since murders were recorded in the country. That being said, few of these murders concerned tourists.

Now, here is the interesting part in all of this: The ministers of tourism, foreign affairs and national security have made few statements on the rising crime, crisis largely because they seemingly don't have a strategy on what to do about it.

As someone who has worked in nearly every island-nation in the Caribbean, I would urge tourists to the Caribbean to broaden their horizon and consider holidays in some of the islands that are less-gripped by crime. This list should include the Cayman Islands; Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba (despite sensational media reports), Grenada, Turks & Caicos, Barbados, Martinique, US and British Virgin Islands; St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and the ALL-INCLUSIVES on Jamaica.

If you must go to the Bahamas, ensure that your laptop, MP3 player, digital camera and smart-phone are insured (http://www.safware.com) and take nothing else of value that cannot be replaced. Don't carry a large amount of cash (ATMs are readily available), don't look like a tourist, keep your passport and larger denominations of cash in an under-garment pouch and stay off the streets after 2300. Don't walk alone at night. Carry the 24-hour number of your embassy with you and ensure you obtain a police report of any incident of crime against you or your property. AND, don't forget to get international medical treatment and evacuation coverage before you leave home. Leave ALL jewelry at home and wear an inexpensive athletic watch. THIS is good advice for travel to any high-crime country.

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