By Jean H Charles
Pretty soon, the meteorologists will designate the names and the number of the gathering storms that will inflict their damage on the paradise-like but fragile and battered Caribbean. Coming from the continent of Africa, the wind that takes strength in its voyage across the Atlantic will become a raging storm that may land either in Mexico or in the United Sates after ravaging several of the islands of the Caribbean, depending on its trajectory.
Yet, I was not thinking about that physical storm in this essay; I was instead thinking about that mythical storm where you find a Caribbean saddled not only with a fragile eco-system that stands directly in the path of the hurricanes but saddled with heavy national debt compared to the national GDP -- Jamaica 150% of its GDP, Saint Lucia 100% and The Bahamas 50%. Interestingly, the Republic of Haiti whose national debt has been annulled is in worse shape than any of the Caribbean islands.
The economic fragility of the region is on such a razor’s edge that the IMF characterizes it as standing on the “knife’s edge”.
Dr Rolph Balgobin, senator of Trinidad and Tobago, in his article “The Gathering storm” painted a canvas filled with colour that depicts the true picture: the nations of the Caribbean “are living beyond their means in an escalation of crime at all levels of the society, growing drug culture, armed criminals, declining performance in the schools both in terms of behavior and educational achievement, egos getting in the way, corruption, indiscipline, poor maintenance of infrastructure, declining value systems, weak economic growth, escalating food imports, failure to put limited agricultural land into production, need for political reform, disregard for the rule of law, indifference to the value of life, threat to democracy, failure to effectively police our laws, failure to exploit renewable energy resources, above all, poor leadership in conducting the business of the state.”
I would add that the United States and Europe have deserted the Caribbean in their public policy. Enter China first and foremost, with trophy projects such as soccer stadiums. Then the PetroCaribe initiative, the lifeline of Caribbean nations (the Dominican Republic owes $3 billion for its 50,000 barrels per day allocation), rests on the fragile standing of the Maduro government in Venezuela.
A cursory review of the literature in most of the newspapers of the different nations of the Caribbean will reveal each and all the above ills being prominent in the concern of the citizens and of the national press not only in Trinidad and Tobago but in each one of the islands.
Starting with The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the issue has been the growing criminal behaviour amongst the ordinary citizenry that threatens to rock the budding tourist industry in this archipelago. We find also the recurrent illegal migration from Haiti, where both nations as well as the United States have refused to stop the movement at its base with an interdiction on land that would root the future migrants with economic development in their own coastal rural villages.
The Bahamas government is ready to spend $250 million to buy boats and other gadgets to stop the flow of illegal migrants. A portion of same invested with the USAID in rooting the potential migrants in their communities with the concern of the spirit of the village and the comfort of the city will eliminate the lure of leaving. This cooperation North-South (United States-Bahamas-Haiti) is a win-win in every sense. Why it is not on the agenda for an international agreement between the parties goes to the issue of poor leadership in the region.
Cuba still ruled by the Castro brothers, and kept in hostage by the Cuban Diaspora in Florida, is misusing the genius of its citizens. I was pleased that I may have had some input into the recent initiative of the Cuban leadership in doubling the salary of the Cuban doctors. One week earlier, in the essay “Deconstructing the rising political storm in the Latin American and the Caribbean”, I questioned why the Cuban doctors should earn only $300 per month merely because it is a dictum of the Castro regime.
The Cuban genie is waiting to be liberated from Florida with the connivance of the Castro brothers for the prosperity of the island and of the Caribbean. A Cuba that adopted the system of state capitalism a la China will unleash the creativity of millions of educated Cubans that will produce a boom not only for Cuba but also for the entire region.
Going further down to Haiti, an emerging democracy is being shaken by the old demons of the Duvalier and Lavalas doctrines that plot to plunge that country into misery so bare that Haiti is currently characterized as the poorest of the Western Hemisphere. Haiti must reconcile with itself to experience le vivre en commun
that will spur the enrichment of the women and of the peasants -- the two main engines of the national economy.
Its neighbour that shares the same island of Hispaniola or Ayiti, whether you use the name given by Christopher Columbus or the original name given by the Indians, the Dominican Republic, is embroiled in an international dilemma of denying citizenship to thousands of born residents that have enjoyed citizenship rights and privileges for decades.
The Dominican Republic, albeit a tourist destination hot spot, will usher in true development only when it assumes its responsibility of hospitality towards all its residents, whether or not they are citizens of that country.
Jamaica, in spite of its tourists oases such as Ocho Rios and Negril, is rife with national criminal behaviour that has its roots in the culture of smoking and selling marijuana as a given right transcended to a sector of the population by their so called ancestors.
It is also invaded by criminal returnees from the United States who feed the local criminal culture with ingredients well tooled in the American prison system. The natural primacy role of leadership of the Jamaican women needs national and international incubation to serve not only Jamaica but also the remaining neighbourhood islands.
Puerto Rico, this American satellite, is languishing under heavy debt, political corruption and the culture of welfare from the United States. Its positioned privileged situation has not been used to spur economic development neither in the island nor in the Caribbean.
The Virgin Islands of St John and St Thomas, the American possession in the Caribbean, to a lesser degree represent the same lethargy observed in Puerto Rico. By transforming themselves into an incubator for education, industry and technology from the United States, the US Virgin Islands could spur growth not only for themselves but also for the non-American islands of the Caribbean.
St Vincent and the Grenadines, the cries of your children go all way to God. With a leader that look more like Louis XIV than a king philosopher of modern times, the distress of the citizens at home and abroad is visible to the naked eye.
Saint Lucia, this Helena so courted in colonial times, is embroiled in a political skirmish that compromises this ideal setting so prized by the British escapees of the melancholic foggy winter of London. Its tourist industry will remain sustainable there and in the rest of the Caribbean if only the nation is hospitable first to its own citizens.
Barbados, this jewel that claims to be the little British isle, is laden with debts that compromise its economic expansion. Yet rich enough to face an overweight population, it is using the politics of the ostrich -- if Barbados is all right, the rest of the Caribbean can go to hell!
Dominica, this Nature Isle that I am so much in love with, is suffering from the spirit of negativity inherited from the French culture. A large portion of its citizens that labour in the Virgin Islands or in Barbados or the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe is waiting for a Dominica that knows how to marry an expanding economy with its special status of an ecological preserve to return home. Its government has not made the decision to move forcefully in that fine line of direction.
A perfect candidate for REED+ the program designed by the UN to compensate regions that use conservation as a means of reducing carbon emissions, Dominica should be rewarded for being a perfect steward of nature, the benefits reverting back to each one of its citizens.
Trinidad and Tobago, so rich and so diverse, you used to be for me the perfect paradise on earth. I need not quote again Dr Balgobin to paint the presently dark canvas. Suffice to say that Trinidad is looking more and more like Guyana. A nation rich in cultural and mineral resources that could and should lead the Caribbean, its leadership is seeking a mission that was yet stamped by the country’s founding father. Trinidad and Tobago, go back to that spirit and you will be all right!
Guyana, oh Guyana, I cry for you, Guyana! A land rich in natural resources in need of additional human resources is misusing its black resources in a de facto
apartheid system that keeps the country in bondage that ranks Guyana along with Haiti as the poorest nation of the Caribbean. Its population of India heritage must extend its hand to the black population to form a homogenous nation where the colour of the skin will make no difference.
In conclusion, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean of the Atlantic, in spite of CARICOM and the ACS, is in need of a common public policy that will keep its citizens happy at home, enjoying this chain of islands that seems to have been created with a special care by God. It is as close as the lost paradise, with its sand, sun and surf that attract the distressed population of the United States, Europe and Asia in search of clement weather away from a recurrent frigid winter due to climate change.
A peaceful Caribbean, hospitable first to its own citizens, has only to sell its natural hospitality to the tourists of the world to make a perfect deal that no one will refuse.