It is with very great sadness that I must report that the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office tightened its guidelines regarding the security situation in Tobago yesterday. A link to the full text is provided at http://www.myTobago.info/security.php
The FCO are now advising visitors not to stay at villas in Mount Irvine and surrounding area. This advice is possibly a little harsh, but if it serves to get the authorities here off their backsides then it will have served a useful purpose.
To be honest, while I am here in Castara I am finding it harder to get solid information about the security situation than I would if I was back in the UK, due to the painfully slow Internet connections here in the village. This is making it very difficult to check and double-check facts. What has amazed me, however, is the disparity of view amongst the locals and ex-pat residents here on the island. Some seem almost unaware that there is a security situation – and these are people who I know and trust. I can generally spot the types whose only concern is to protect the tourism industry and try to paint a rosy picture.
The fact is that Tobago HAS got a problem. It is the degree of that problem that is the issue and I don’t know how one measures that. The problem is that the police here are lazy, badly trained and provided with no modern resources. Worst of all, there is a good chance that the policeman sent to any incident will have some family connection with the perpetrators of the crime and arresting them is likely to create family pressures and conflict. So, the standard practise is to attend any incident with sirens blaring, to make sure that the criminals run away so that there is no risk of embarrassment.
Tobago had a crime some 18 months or so ago. I know that such a description is somewhat melodramatic given the number of incidents involved, but some of the attacks were particularly nasty and those involved should be locked away for life as far as I am concerned. To resolve the problem, a special task force of Trinidadian police were brought in. Trini police may not be a shining example of law and order to the rest of the world, but at least they weren’t related to the criminals. The problem was resolved and a reasonable degree of stability returned.
Sadly, as stability returned, so Tobago has drifted back to the way it used to be. I have been here for two weeks and other than at the airport on arrival, I haven’t seen a single policeman yet.
However, I hear it’s a very different story in the Mount Irvine area. I have received reports of a very high police presence, with frequent stops and checks. I can’t confirm this for myself, but will be able to do so shortly because we leave Castara today and will be spending a total of 10 nights in two different properties in the Mount Irvine area over the next two weeks. Am I worried? Well, I would be an idiot if I didn’t admit that concerns have passed my mind. Yes, I shall take extra precautions to ensure I lock up at night. Yes, I certainly won’t be giving lifts. But no, whilst I admit that my confidence has been shaken, we have still slept every night with our windows open (assuming we are not ground level), have walked the streets at night and we have been treated with nothing but friendliness and courtesy. Basically, we are carrying on as normal.
Most of the Tobagonians I speak to are just so embarrassed and shamed by the situation. They are confused. The hope and faith that so many had in the current administration has now all but disappeared.
Hopefully this will be the wake up call that Tobago needs. I do hope so.