Does Justice Take a Holiday in Caribbean?

On Feb. 18 he was in a car with a group of students heading back to the university after a day on a cruise. He says they were cut off by an angry driver, who began hitting two of the students. This time police did arrive quickly, but Santana said instead of going after the assailants they handcuffed the students.

"The officer told me to shut up and that we deserved anything coming to us," Santana said. "While we were being thrown into the car I was repeatedly hit by the officer and called 'A piece of sh-t.'"

Santana said the police put the students in a holding cell and refused to let them make a phone call.

"We were told we weren't in America anymore and that we didn't have any rights," he said.

The men spent the night in jail. Santana said they were threatened with deportation. The next morning they were told they would be released if they paid for the repair of their attacker's car. Santana said it became clear that the attacker was a friend of the police officers.

A Tourism Investigation

Dick Jefferson said that two days after his assault, when he still had not heard from the police, he got a call from a St. Maarten tourism official.

"She told me they [the Department of Tourism] were taking over the investigation," he said. "I couldn't help but laugh at her. It is ludicrous that the tourism department is trying to prosecute and become a police department. They are not the experts -- they are the experts at getting tourists to the island. It's like saying you got hurt in Miami and the Miami Chamber of Commerce is investigating your beating."

Stein, St. Maarten's chief prosecutor, said he was not aware of that call. And he insisted the assault is being fully investigated.

"There is a lot of misunderstanding about our legal system," he said. "We have our proceedings more in the courtroom than in the public domain."

But that is little comfort for foreigners who turn to the police for help. The wife of a medical student -- who did not want her name used -- summarized her experience on St. Maarten this way: "There is real harassment for the people who aren't local," she said, "the police force here is horrible. They don't respond in a timely manner and when they do they treat us horribly."

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