Hon. Philip Davis, KC, MP, Prime Minister of The Bahamas and Chair, CARICOM, addressed the Regional Symposium: Violence as a Public Health Issue – the Crime Challenge and advocated for a holistic approach to violence reduction.
HERE ARE KEY POINTS FROM HIS REMARKS:
- The Prime Minister stated that the beauty and joy of the Caribbean coexist with unprecedented violence.
- He highlighted that CARICOM had embraced the view of violence as a public health crisis requiring comprehensive interventions to battle an epidemic that has claimed far too many lives
- The CARICOM Chair explained the discussions throughout the symposium would deepen understanding and provide Heads with a foundation from which holistic strategies can be developed.
- He noted that there are social, economic, and environmental factors at the heart of this crisis: “During these two days of deliberation, we must find the resolve to untangle these layered issues”, stated Prime Minister Davis.
- The Prime Minister shared estimates which suggest that an average of 13 young adults between the ages of 16 to 30 lose their lives to violent crime in the Region
- He emphasised that crime is not merely a policing or legislative problem. The solution requires the involvement of parents, social workers, educators, rehabilitation specialists, social scientists, community workers and activists, mental health professionals, religious leaders and other stakeholders.
- The Chair underscored that CARICOM is committed to fighting violent crime in all forms and advocated for zero tolerance for violence against women and children.
- Prime Minister David noted that “every gun used to commit a crime in the Caribbean is smuggled into our countries”.
- “We have asked the US government and US-based gun manufacturers to cooperate with CARICOM member states when it comes to identifying weapons purchased in the US, as part of a wider effort to hold weapons dealers and traffickers accountable”, stated the CARICOM Chair
- Prime Minister Davis emphasized, “We are sending a clear message to the world that we are very serious about fighting gun violence in all forms and on all fronts, not just on the home front”.
- He urged the Region to face the crisis head-on and leverage the unique resources and expertise of each member state.
- “We can make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of our citizens and ensure a brighter future for our Caribbean Region”, stated the CARICOM Chair.
Read the Prime Minister’s complete speech below.
Good Morning All,
I wish to thank you, Prime Minister Rowley, for
graciously hosting us all today for such an
important discussion. Thank you, as well, to all
heads of government and representatives who
have joined us.
We have gathered here due to a shared
concern about the escalating rates of violence
being experienced by member states. This
symposium provides us with an opportunity to
hold an in-depth discussion about what we can
do as a region to develop a holistic approach to
There are so many things we love about this
Caribbean. Our friendly people and rich cultures
are a source of great pride. Millions of travellers
from around the world visit us each year just to
experience a slice of paradise. We are rightly
proud of who we are and the very special
places we call home.
No matter where we are in the world, we carry
our national and regional pride with us. Our
identities have been uniquely shaped by a
composite of cultural experiences that make us
Because we love our countries so much, it can
be difficult to accept that all of this beauty and
joy can coexist with such unprecedented
An epidemic of violence grips our region, one
that claims lives and generates fear and anger.
In 2022, Jamaica had a staggering homicide
rate of 52.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, Trinidad
and Tobago had a rate of 39.4 per 100,000,
and The Bahamas, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent
and the Grenadines all recorded homicide rates
above 30 per 100,000. This is over five times
the global average.
Millions of people throughout the region live in
crime hotspots, never knowing if they will be a
victim on any given day. In The Bahamas, I
have sought to bring comfort to mothers and
their families who have lost their sons and
daughters; and I know many of you have done
the same for your people.
Violence spreads like a virus, gaining
momentum as one violent crime begets
In fact, there is a substantial history of
analyzing patterns of violent crime using many
of the same references used in epidemiology.
Violence is contagious, and those who map the
commission of violent crimes find that their
data mirrors the spread of infectious diseases
within a community. Violence can strike in
waves and can grow exponentially. Those who
come in close contact with violence are most
likely to spread it and most likely to fall victim
CARICOM has embraced the view of violence as
a public health crisis requiring comprehensive
interventions to battle an epidemic that has
claimed far too many lives.
As we would with any public health crisis, we
must define and monitor the problems, identify
the risks and protective factors, and develop
mitigation and prevention strategies to halt the
The discussions we will have throughout this
symposium will deepen our understanding and
provide us with a foundation from which holistic
strategies can be developed. There are already
many innovative public and non-profit
programmes with established track records of
success throughout the region. We must
continue learning from one another and
collaboratively develop data-based violence
I know I don’t have to persuade any of you
about the urgency of this work. On a typical
day, some estimates suggest that an average of
13 young adults between the ages of 16 to 30
lose their lives to violent crime in our region.
Each day that passes is another day in which
lives are ended, families are broken by grief
and loss and our communities threatened.
We need to mobilize resources with the same
determination we would bring to fighting any
other life-threatening epidemic.
We know that the battle is a complex one.
There is a tangle of social, economic, and
environmental factors at the heart of this crisis.
During these two days of deliberation, we must
find the resolve to untangle these layered
It is not merely a policing or legislative
problem. Nor is it solely the domain of the
courts. While better laws and expanded police
capacity are important elements of a successful
strategy, we need all hands on deck: parents,
social workers, educators, rehabilitation
specialists, social scientists, community workers
and activists, mental health professionals,
religious leaders and many others must come
together to address this pervasive issue.
Later today, we will hear from Dr. David Allen, a
renowned Bahamian psychiatrist who was
instrumental in expanding the international
understanding of the cocaine and crack cocaine
epidemic of the 1980s, which many see as a
a precursor to the violence we are experiencing
In his most recent research, he has linked the
physical and sexual abuse of children to
physical, mental, and sociological illnesses later
in life. Many of these children grow up to be the
perpetrators and victims of further violence. Dr.
David Allen concludes in his research that an
abused child becomes a dangerous adult.
Addressing violent crime requires us to confront
these ugly truths about the harm damaged and
broken people can carry forward, from
generation to generation.
But we can’t look away.
We need to interrupt these cycles of violence.
And I believe each of us have valuable
perspectives, strengths, and insights to
contribute to a more effective set of
Interagency cooperation and regional
cooperation are absolutely necessary to address
the problem of violence, which exists at the
intersection of so many other issues in our
CARICOM is committed to fighting violent crime
in all forms. There must be zero tolerance for
violence against women and children. And
there must be more outreach to – and support
for – our at-risk young men. There is
considerable research suggesting that a young
man who makes it to adulthood without
committing a crime, is far less likely to become
a criminal. Given this trend, it is critical that we
provide more support for our boys in their
transition to manhood to keep them on a
productive and peaceful path.
Our most at-risk and vulnerable populations
require interventions to meet them where they
are – in their homes, communities, churches,
and schools – to make a real, meaningful
The recent CARIFTA games were an excellent
example of what our young people can
accomplish when given positive avenues for self
exploration and achievement. Recreational,
educational, social, and career-related outreach
are all needed to appeal to our youth and shield
them from the recruitment tactics of
neighborhood gangs and drug dealers.
We must dedicate resources to collecting data
and better understanding of crime at the
community level to develop more responsive
interventions, and we must allocate resources
to address the social and economic causes of
Violence may be occurring in our communities,
but the guns used in approximately 70% of
violent crimes do not originate in our countries.
We do not manufacture guns in the Caribbean.
Every gun used to commit a crime in the
Caribbean is smuggled into our countries.
In The Bahamas, 98.6% of all recovered illegal
firearms can be traced directly to the United
States. In Haiti, 87.7% of all recovered firearms
can be traced likewise. In Jamaica, it amounts
to 67% of all recovered firearms and here in
Trinidad and Tobago it amounts to 52%.
We have asked the US government and
US-based gun manufacturers to cooperate with
CARICOM member states when it comes to
identifying weapons purchased in the US, as
part of a wider effort to hold weapons dealers
and traffickers accountable for the many lives
lost to gun violence each year. We must call on
our neighbours to the north to better police the
trafficking of guns from the US to the
Last month, The Bahamas, along with Antigua
and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines,
Trinidad and Tobago, and Mexico, working
along with the Latin American and Caribbean
Network for Human Security, jointly filed a brief
in the United States Court of Appeal in support
of a $10 billion lawsuit to hold US gun
manufacturers liable for the destruction
American-made guns have caused in our
countries. It was an action initiated by the
Mexican government. We intend to challenge
the laws that previously protected gun
manufacturers from lawsuits.
We are sending a clear message to the world
that we are very serious about fighting gun
violence in all forms and on all fronts, not just
the home front.
CARICOM’s commitment to regional security is
clear. I know that we are here today because
we share a determination to work together in
unprecedented ways for the good of the region.
A powerful example of the strength of a united
region could be seen in October 2022, when 19
Caribbean countries participated in a joint
operation with INTERPOL in which 350
weapons, 3,300 rounds of ammunition, 10 tons
of cocaine, and two and a half tons of
marijuana was intercepted. 510 arrests were
made as a result.
Such collaborative operations must become
more frequent if we want to meaningfully
impact the flow of illegal drugs and guns across
The CARICOM Crime and Gun Intelligence Unit
was created to strengthen Caribbean and US
collaboration in using data and technology to
intercept illegal firearms and traffickers. We
must fully leverage this partnership so that
those who put guns on our streets are stopped
– and brought to justice.
The need to reduce violent crime has never
been more urgent. Each year, hundreds of lives
are at stake and many more affected by the
resulting trauma. This moment of crisis for our
region requires a collective response.
The impact of violence goes beyond personal
loss, as terrible as that is.
High levels of sustained violence undermine
investor confidence in the region, scare visitors
away from tourism-dependent economies, and
place a strain on healthcare, educational, and
social support systems. If we do not act
decisively, our economic prospects will be
further eroded by this ongoing wave of
As we come together to take on our individual
challenges, let us not forget the ongoing
humanitarian crisis in Haiti and the need to
work together with the Haitian people to
stabilize their situation. What happens in Haiti
has implications for the entire region, and
CARICOM has a duty to provide support in
whatever ways we can.
I am hopeful that the discussions we initiate
today will serve as a launching pad for the
development of impactful interventions and
solutions. There are no quick fixes, yet, we
must act quickly to save our people from this
epidemic. Each day that goes by, precious lives
are lost. We can take steps toward reversing
that trend starting today.
By facing this crisis head-on and leveraging the
unique resources and expertise of each
member state, we can make a lasting, positive
impact on the lives of our citizens and ensure a
brighter future for our Caribbean region.
Read more on safecaribbean.caricom.org