Courts and legal disputes are dangerous business in the Caribbean
submitted by Gary M. Further editing by Robert.
Folks who have lived all their lives in the UK or the USA do not understand what it means to be involved in a legal dispute or criminal trial in any Caribbean, Central or South American country. The reality is this: involvement with the courts can be dangerous business. Even minor disputes can produce threats, beatings or worse. That is generally not the way it is in the USA and UK, but in small island nations it is not unheard of for legal arguments to be put forward through cricket bats or Molotov cocktails in the dark of night.
And just because a person is in a legal dispute with the government is no guarantee of safety. Some say with good reason “Sue de guvment. Trouble for you!“
Where does this disrespect for law and the courts come from in the Caribbean?
There are many theories about why legal fights are so dangerous in the Caribbean, but one of the contributing factors must be that those in power are themselves no respecters of law or the courts, and the populace learns from its leaders. Those in power do what they want to do with little regard for the law. In Barbados, successive governments have long shown that the law is a weapon to be used or ignored as convenient. If the courts don’t do what the government says, no problem – the political elites send in the military to overrule the courts or have a family member fired from a government job. ‘Might is right’ is the message.
‘Rule of Law’ is usually nothing more than a hollow phrase in small island nations where the power cabals have been deeply entrenched for generations. In Barbados ‘power cabals’ used to mean the white plantation class – but for at least three decades those with real control, authority and power have been the political elites. Sure, the plantation class still has money and influence, but it is the political elites who wield the power of government to make money for themselves, award government contracts, allow all manner of self-serving exceptions to laws.
To further their interests the political elites so obviously stack and control the courts. If you go before the court, the judge is just as likely to be the cousin of your adversary or an old political rival – perhaps even the former Attorney General or Minister of this and that.
Justice and Courts are different here in Barbados and throughout the Caribbean. The murder of Special Prosecutor Dana Seetahal is at its core, only one more incident in a long, long list.