Police on the island of St Lucia have blamed gangs for a recent wave of murders and shootings, as the Caribbean region continues to suffer from violent and powerful streets gangs and rising drug trafficking.
St Lucia Police Commissioner Vernon Francois told media police intelligence indicates gang activity is behind five murders and a string of shootings that have taken place in the last two weeks, reported Caribbean 360.
Six people have so far been arrested in connection with two of the murders.
According to Francois, police have changed strategies in response to the threat, focusing on targeted intelligence instead of patrolling.
InSight Crime Analysis
The security threat posed by gangs in St Lucia is not a new phenomenon. Since at least as far back as the 1980s, criminal gangs have violently competed for control of territory and the revenues from crimes such as drug sales.
However, concern over violence linked to the gangs has been growing, and earlier this year the country passed controversial new hardline anti-gang legislation, which critics have said could indiscriminately criminalize the island's youth.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Caribbean
St Lucia is not alone among Caribbean nations struggling against gang related violence. On islands such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, gangs have garnered enormous power, combining a ready use of violence with protection from political and security forces contacts. They are major drivers of the high murder rates seen in much of the region as they compete over criminal revenues, especially drug sales. Mainland Caribbean nations also suffer, with Belize recently seeing a wave of gang linked killings and warnings a new gang war could be imminent.
While in many parts of the Caribbean there is a long history of gang influence, the security threat they pose could increase due to changes in regional drug trafficking. There have been numerous indicators in recent years that the flow of drugs passing through the Caribbean is increasing substantially, with many islands acting as transshipment points for South American cocaine on route to the United States and Europe.
While these routes are controlled by international traffickers, local gangs often provide services such as security and transport, for which they are well paid in cash, arms, or likely most commonly, drugs. This increases the gangs' wealth and power, and, when they are paid in product, can contribute to the development of a local drug market -- competition over which is a major generator of gang violence.