Do you want a slice of lemon with that Caribbean Crime?
The first time I visited the Dominican Republic was on an old classic ocean liner in 1985. This was just about the time the modern cruise lines were cranking up and when we visited one Caribbean port, everyone was excited to see the huge Norway, anchored nearby. Even that long ago, the word was passed among passengers about crime in the ports we visited.
It is rare for a ship to dock today in the Dominican Republic but some do. Walking to a nearby “tourist village” is about as adventuresome as a cruise passenger should be, though some water-oriented tours are safe, or, at least, safer than venturing off by yourself or with one or two others.
Common sense can be a foreign word to many travelers and the lack thereof can be the source of most incidents of passengers becoming crime victims. However, the complicity of the cruise lines cannot be ignored.
When our ship arrived at Puerto Plato, we took note of the fact that the lines for disembarking were small and that most of the passengers stayed on the ship. That was because they were veteran cruisers and had common sense. We were young and dumb. And lucky.
From the cruise terminal to the town it was a walk of about a mile. Every hundred feet or so was a soldier with a machine gun. That should have been the first clue. Turn around and run for the ship.
We didn’t. We kept on walking with the ‘shop till you drop’ mantra and the gleam in the eyes of the womenfolk yearning to be freed of their cash in exchange for “deals” on jewelry overpowering all common sense.
I counted the soldiers with each passing store front.
Finally, after a couple of jewelry stores and a few cold beers, the thirst for foreign adventures in shopping was quelled. Our return trip to the pier was peaceful. We had picked up a “guide” who walked along with his to assure our visit was a success. He didn’t have a gun and we weren’t quite sure why he was with us.
At the gangplank, we offered our “guide” a gratuity of ten dollars. He said flatly that he charges $200 for such service as he provided. Since the cash had been depleted, except for the ten spot forked over to the guide, we looked at him and realized that he was the only robber we had met that day. Whether or not he provided any service beyond simply walking along with us was unknown to us at the time. It could be he actually might have prevented us from being mugged when we were between soldiers.
Criminals are opportunistic. Stay with a group. Don’t venture off by yourself in port. Older frail people are easy marks. A whistle and some pepper spray might save your life.
By all means travel but don’t wander into side streets where there are no cops or crowds.
The following is a report from a port where folks put themselves into harm’s way. If you expect the cruise line to provide you with a stern warning about your port visit, you are expecting too much.
A couple of days ago, we posted an article about cruise passengers who were robbed while visiting the Altun Ha Maya ruins site in Belize. During this incident, two cruise passengers were reportedly robbed of a gold necklace and $450 in cash by two men, one with a machete and one with a handgun.
A local television station said that “the tourism police officers were lax in carrying out their duties. When the last tourist bus left, so did the tourism police, although the site had not been closed.”
But the Ministry of Culture later issued a press release saying “there was adequate police and security presence at the Archeological Site.”
Today, we were notified by a passenger, wishing to stay anonymous, who visited Belize City on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Vision of the Seas, and told us that her husband had been physically assaulted and battered in an apparent robbery attempt on March 8th after their cruise ship docked at the Tourism Village. She indicated that after a ten minute walk from the port on Gabourel Lane, she and her husband ate luch and began to return to the ship. A local man “came up from behind with a rifle and said he was going to kill us if he did not get my bag.” Here is her account:
“We were victims of an attempted armed robbery on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 near the Museum of Belize after lunch at Senor Coconuts while walking back to port. My husband was hit on the head with the barrel of a rifle and sustained injury to the head (requiring stitches) and bruises on the arm and hand and I also sustained scratches and bruises. Luckily, there was a women nearby who scared him off. The police never arrived until we were at the hospital. We were driven there by a couple in the area. We were treated at the hospital and driven back to port. We were on RC Vision of the Seas. It is our understanding there is little police presence because they are underfunded and undermaned. This is a very dangerous place filled with crime and cruise ship visitors are not advised of this by the ships. I was really concerned because of all the young college girls on the ship. Do not go out of Tourism Village. The city of Belize is very unsafe.”
The passenger told me “I want people to know if it weren’t for two kind women, I don’t know what more could of happened . . . There were three cruise ships in port that day, probably over 3,000 people. The cruise ships need to warn you, but they don’t. We learned the hard way.” MORE