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Cape Verde: Urban crime, violence multiplies
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1 December 2008
PRAIA, 1 December 2008 (IRIN) - In Cape Verde violent crimes were five times higher in 2007 than over the past 10 years combined, according to the country's investigative police. Residents, police and the government are grappling with the increase, pointing to drug trafficking, criminal deportees, unemployment and even television as potential causes.
From 1996 to 2006, there were two murders and 11 crimes of sexual aggression reported nationwide. In 2007, there were 56 homicide attempts and murders, and more than 40 cases of sexual assaults, according to police data.
'There is no one single reason for this increase,' Minister of Justice Marisa Morais told IRIN. 'We are an island blessed and cursed with an open beautiful, and penetrable, coastline.' She added that small arms, drugs and contraband have circulated with ease in recent years, feeding both organised and street crime.
The ease of circulation is due in part to a lack of regulation in the country's maritime ports, which are not equipped to scan shipments for weapons, Oscar Silva dos Reis Tavares, head of the crime-investigating judiciary police, told IRIN. 'We have thousands of barrels that arrive every month filled with anything from sugar to clothes to books.'
Drought, unemployment and a migratory culture have sent about 700,000 Cape Verdeans overseas, based on the government's 2007 estimate, compared to the 500,000 living in the country.
Tavares said the resulting heavy, constant flow of deliveries from overseas can overwhelm Cape Verde's port officials. 'Small arms can easily be smuggled into the bottom of these barrels, from where they are slipped onto the streets, undetected, and then sold.'
IRIN found that it took less than 10 minutes to locate a 9mm pistol for sale or rent in the capital Praia. Prices ranged from US$5 to $10.
Drug use, unemployment
In a 2007 UN study on corruption and crime in Cape Verde, police respondents ranked drug use as the number one cause of crime, followed by unemployment. Over the past decade, the archipelago has had a steady traffic of drugs transiting from Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.
According to 2005 government data, 48 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 were unemployed.
Justice Minister Morais said the growing phenomenon of street gangs, locally called 'thugs', is due in part to Brazilian and US television shows that depict urban gangs, which Cape Verdean youths imitate—down to the dress, speech and graffiti.
Praia resident Pericles Barros, 53, told IRIN he has lived in the capital for the last 27 years, and has never seen comparable rates of violence and crime. 'Praia has drastically changed in the last five years. Many people have become victims of organised crime. Some even do not leave their home alone at night. Graffiti identifies frontiers among gangs.'
He added that his neighbourhood, Palmarejo, is patrolled by 'thugs' who assault people at gunpoint to get money, mobile phones and other valuables.
A 24-year-old man, who told IRIN he was part of a Praia gang and requested his name be withheld, said 'casibodi' [Creole slang for 'cash or body'] involved robbing someone for cash, or leaving behind their body if there was no cash.
Police director Tavares said the crime level, though rising, has not hit its potential peak: 'Things can become more violent, unmanageable. You have these unemployed kids gathering on street corners, with little to do.'
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of Cape Verdeans forced to return to the islands because of crimes they committed where they emigrated doubled between 2006 and 2007 to 128 people, for a total of 900 deportees; 300 have illegally left the islands.
Foreign Ministry official Alvaro Apolo, in charge of deportees' reintegration, told IRIN returnees are often wrongly blamed for the rise in crime. 'People erroneously make the link between heightened insecurity, violence and the deportees.'
Still, more than one-third of the returnees were deported for crimes of assault, while about 20 percent committed drug-related crimes, based on 2007 government records. 'We are doing what we can to make sure they don't fall back into any form of crime,' said Apolo.
In a May 2008 government anti-poverty strategy, one plan to tackle youth unemployment included giving companies tax incentives to hire youths.
In September, the government placed military police alongside its force of 1,000 national police officers to bolster street patrols.
A law passed in October authorised the national police to carry out low-level crime investigations, which had previously been handled by the smaller, more specialised judiciary police force.
Justice Minister Morais told IRIN the response to crime must be holistic in order to prevent the recent increase from becoming endemic and deadly: 'You cannot have isolated pockets of reform. Crime is not only a problem of security; it is also about drugs, unemployment, port control, education, human rights, a growing income gap, police and security infrastructure. We need to reform it all to hit on the answer.'
Copyright © IRIN 2008
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