OP-Ed & Features - Wednesday, March 11, 2009 15:45
Learning from the Terry Schwarzfeld caseBy Antillean, News Monitor Service
New details: Terry Schwarzfeld died on March 18, 2009 (More…). Barbados police question trio in relation to Schwarzfeld attack… Police confirm that there have been a number of attacks in the area in the past months, mostly in daytime and involving (local) women… Government implements beach patrols, police kiosks, debushing and more… Minister expresses concern for families… police say there are a number of leads (link)
Unlike the government-led response that followed in the wake of a violent double murder in Antigua¹, Barbados’ response to the Terry Schwarzfeld case has barely made a blip in local and international headlines, save for comments from Canadian² and Barbadian diplomats attesting to Barbados’ safety.
While it is true that Barbados can ill afford negative publicity at a time when government is looking to the Canadian market to shore up tourism revenues, the perception of silence on government’s end – whether real or imagined – is even more devastating from a public relations point of view, if all that potential tourists have to go on is conjecture from less informed sources.
Since Schwarzfeld’s attack the Ottawa Citizen has been among a handful of media outlets in Canada giving frequent updates on Terry’s condition, with some none-too-flattering portrayals of Barbados. One such story comes from Kathy Fischer, another Canadian who was attacked on Long Beach last year, who tells the Citizen that there is a systematic cover up of “brutal” crimes against tourists in Barbados:
Anybody I talk to, if I hear they’re going to Barbados, I try to warn them… every time you mentioned it, there were more brutal reports that came in. It’s very prevalent and it’s being so well covered up.³
Fischer believes this, even in light of her admission that the Barbadian authorities did all in their power to reassure her and make her remaining days in Barbados as comfortable as possible:
Fischer and [her companion] were put up at the best hotel in Bridgetown. Everybody on the island seemed to want to be helpful, she said, including the two detectives assigned to the case. “They were extremely nice to us, but we always just kind of got the sense that it was caretaking until we left”, she claims.
Nothing short of billboards, daily news bulletins and the eventual capture and crucifixion of her attacker could have pleased Fischer at the time, it seems, but that is her prerogative as a victim of crime, and her point of view is understandable. What Barbados can not allow, however, is for these sentiments to be all that our potential visitors have to go on: reading the accounts of victims can only make the readers feel like victims themselves.
What Barbados should have done then, and should do now, is to engage with the media openly, in addition to the “behind the scenes” diplomacy and one-on-one family support that has traditionally been the status quo in cases such as these. Speaking directly to the affected market (as Antigua did with the UK press) is infinitely better than allowing subjectivity to fill the void.
The fact is this: Barbados has the safest profile of all its Caribbean neighbours in domestic crime, especially crimes against tourists. The Ottawa Citizen itself, under the subheading ‘Trouble in Barbados’, could only cite 2006 as the latest crime against a tourist who, incidentally, was raped by another tourist. Allegations of cover ups are seemingly impossible to prove, but when one objectively considers that not even secret extra-spousal affairs stay private in this tiny island, “brutal crimes” against tourists cannot exist with any frequency and escape the snares of the local grapevine, empowered with internet blogs, anonymous forums and the like. Few of these reports exist.
All crime is regrettable and the cases of Kathy Fischer and Terry Schwarzfeld are heartbreaking for all Barbadians. The falloff in visitor confidence if these cases are badly handled is even more so. The rarity of crime against tourists should not be an excuse to use old methods of diplomacy at a time when anyone with a computer can script Barbados’ media relations for it, if Barbados does not do it for itself. Now is the time for Government to respond to the fears being stirred in the external media, and clearly name the “no go” areas in Barbados, even if it means admitting that this paradise is not perfect.
Take action: Do you know anything about Terry Schwarzfeld’s attacker? Report it anonymously to Crime Stoppers here.
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