Theft at Maurice Bishop Airport

I am English and have lived in Grenada for nine years. When I am away I never fail to sing the praises of our beautiful island, renowned jewel of the Caribbean, where I chose over my own country to spend the rest of my life. In extolling Grenada’s sunny climate, stunning topography, idyllic beaches and warm friendly inhabitants, I encourage everyone to visit.

I have rarely talked about its menacing, detracting feature – the burglaries and petty thieving which continue to cause misery to countless innocent people, many of whom have worked hard all their lives for the privilege of living in Grenada, and who merely want the right to enjoy their possessions without the constant fear of burglary and theft.

Whether cleaners, builders, gardeners, workers generally or organised break-ins, thieves don’t care about their victims, who are human beings like themselves. They don’t care about bringing Grenada and its struggling economy into disrepute. Instead of obeying the eighth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ the thief’s commandment seems to be, ‘Turn your back and I will steal anything I can lay my hands on!’

Sadly, much though I need domestic help, I am now afraid to let strangers into my home, and when we go out, the anxiety of wondering if we have been burgled yet again, means we can never feel truly relaxed.

On a personal level, since living in Grenada I have lost possessions to the tune of many thousands of dollars; items of personal, utilitarian and sentimental value; the latter can never be replaced. The list is too long to relate. Despite reports to the police, not one item has ever been returned, and not one thief has ever been caught. The most recent theft of my belongings at Maurice Bishop Airport affected me deeply.

A back injury delayed my flight back to the island. As there are no longer direct flights from the UK, I was tired from the long journey via Tobago. I had a lot of luggage. To free my hands at the Customs desk while I located the Customs Declaration Form, I placed my flight bag on the ground beside me.

In the excitement of arriving home after several weeks’ absence, upon leaving Customs I forgot to pick it up, and did not miss the bag until 11p.m. that night. I remembered that there had been a double queue behind me waiting to go through Customs.

I told myself that surely a passenger behind me would have realised that my bag had been left behind, and would have handed it to the Customs Officer, who would have made a report and placed it under lock and key. Dream on! Telling myself that there was every chance of being reunited with my bag, which had after all been left in a SECURE AREA, I drove to the airport the following morning.

My bag was indeed there, lying on its side on the LIAT desk a few feet from the luggage carousels – minus everything of value. My heart sank. All that remained was the biographical novel written by Grenada’s Johnson Beharry VC, and my make-up bag. I was duly thankful for small mercies.

Among others at the airport I talked to the Customs Supervisor who promised to inform me as to the progress of his enquiries. Told that surveillance cameras would be checked, I waited several weeks but heard nothing, and several urgent messages and requests for information were ignored.

I eventually managed to get hold of the Supervisor again, who once more promised to check the surveillance footage and get back to me. Four months have now passed and I have still heard nothing!

In the pillaged bag was a black iPod in a black leather bag [approximately 5” x 3”.] The bag had 2 inner sections, with a separate snap-fastened pocket at the front. In one section was the iPod itself, in a black silicon sleeve; in another section was a black power pack measuring approximately 2 1⁄2 ” x 3” x 1⁄2 ”.

The power pack can charge an iPod or iPhone, and cannot be bought on the island. In the front pocket was a typical white iPod/iPhone headset plus 2 Apple headsets. My music was precious to me and is greatly missed. Also in the bag were 2 large bags of ‘Toblerone Minis,’ [chocolates] in semi-transparent bags; I always bring Toblerone home for my Grenadian partner.

These expensive individually wrapped chocolates cannot be bought on the island. Did anyone notice someone newly in possession of a white iPod, or any of the aforementioned items? If so, I am offering a reward.

I have lived in Africa and am widely travelled. Maybe I am lucky, but before moving to Grenada I have rarely been the victim of theft, and have never before known anything remotely on the scale of theft in Grenada. When I consider the vast amount that has been stolen [not merely by Grenadians but Guyanese too] I feel angry and hurt; hurt especially because in many cases the thieves have actually worked for me.




In addition to paying them and showing them kindness and generosity, most have stolen anything they can get away with; tools, jewellery, even my bicycle, – you name it! Many claim to be Christian church-goers, but that does not stop most of them from thieving without batting an eye lid!

I have been told that whoever comes to live in Grenada must accept that thieving is part of the culture. Some might think that I should move if I don’t like it; others say that I have no right to complaint. People have suggested that we get a dog, but I hear cases of dogs being poisoned. Others suggest we fit bars to all our widows – but we don’t want to live in a prison. Besides, what message do barred windows give?

Another suggestion is to install a burglar alarm – extremely costly and can annoy neighbours. Response to alarms or emergency calls is often too slow to disrupt crimes in progress, and policing on the island is too inadequate to have enough influence on crime deterrence. I know of a case where bars at every window failed to deter thieves, who broke in by knocking a hole in the wall!

We now have safes in every room, but this is my point. While safety measures are common sense and achieve a limited purpose, they are like dressing a dirty wound, and do nothing to address the problem at source. If going around killing each other was part of the culture, would we be told that if we want to live in Grenada we must learn to accept it?

I know that there are many responsible families who teach their children not to steal, but dealing with the problem at source means instilling into each and every child from infancy; in schools, at home [especially at home] and in church, the necessity of a moral code, and how the lack of moral standards affects conduct and the greater good of the country.

Whether crime is solely driven by poverty, unemployment and the influence of drugs is debatable. Whatever the cause, the problem is inadequately addressed, and I for one would like to know what goes on in the minds and hearts of these criminals, petty or otherwise.

Thieves and burglars are free to roam day or night, targeting residential and resort areas for opportunistic crimes. They rely upon stealth to meet their objectives. Only recently a couple of potential thieves were discovered ‘casing’ a property near our home in broad daylight. The guy at the front of the property carried a saw; the one at the back carried a hammer!

If Grenadian residents are expected to accept the violation of their right to their own property, consider the wider implications of crime, which carries substantial economic costs. A report by the UNODC [United Nations on Drugs and Crime] and the World Bank found that increasing crime in the Caribbean is driving away investment, both foreign and domestic, consequently slowing growth. Theft and looting in private companies leads to increased costs of doing business, diverting investment away from business expansion, productivity improvement.

Tourism relies heavily on domestic and foreign investment, and is highly sensitive to rising crime. More than any other economic activity, the success or failure of a tourist destination depends on being able to provide a safe and secure environment for visitors. Great! But what about residents? Don’t get me wrong; there is much that I love about Grenada, but the enjoyment of living here is greatly reduced by the problem of thieving. In a small way, since hurricane Ivan I have helped the economy by offering employment to a substantial number of islanders, so I feel that I have earned the right to express an opinion.

I moved to Grenada immediately before the hurricane, having just unloaded the contents of a 40ft container, including 550 cardboard boxes, as yet unpacked. Not only did I lose my roof covering and many of my belongings, I narrowly missed bleeding to death when French windows blew in on me. Despite the fact that I knew no one and was alone, without help of any kind, I coped with it all like every other hurricane victim.

However due to the negligence of the insurance company I approached on arriving in Grenada I was not insured, consequently a sizeable chunk of my savings went in repairs, so why should I and others like me be expected to accept the theft of one’s remaining property?

Until the island’s criminal justice, policing and social systems are strengthened; until Neighbourhood Watch means more than sticking a sign outside your home, the vicious cycle of ignorance, poverty, unemployment, exclusion and drug-related crime will prevail and cannot be adequately addressed.

In the meantime theft on the island is increasing. Beautiful though Grenada is, the island cannot claim to be safe and secure.

 

Anna Alexander M.C.I.J.

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