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A few thoughts for a friend

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This weekend friends of Joel ‘Toby’ Huggins and his family and no doubt workers at Vinlec where he stood as a colossus for many years, at Domlec, Dominica, where he was employed at the time of his death and in Montserrat where he once worked and met his wife, will journey to Calliaqua to pay their last respects to one who performed valuable service wherever he went. Joel was an old school mate whose gentle off-breaks I tend, for some reason, to remember now.{{more}} He was also a member of a group of friends who had been meeting on Friday nights for over twenty seven years. Those were nights when we solved all the problems in the world only to see them reappear the next day. It was sad that his final days had to be spent abroad where he had to go to seek employment after giving some of his best service to the country of his birth. It is sad, too, that he wasn’t able to spend much time with his family in the house that he had recently built since they remained in St.Vincent while he had to journey overseas.

A few months ago, Joel, with a great deal of sadness, recounted to us an incident at the airport. He was coming home one weekend to visit his family. He had passed Immigration and went to Customs where he was asked why he was here. He said that he was coming home. The Customs officer suggested to him that he didn’t live here so he had to say what he was doing here. He explained that he was simply coming home. The Supervisor, I was told, sensing that there was some heated discussion outside came to investigate what was happening. Joel expected some modicum of common sense and explained the situation. The Supervisor informed him that he had better give the Officer the answer that he/she needed or they were not going to attend to him. Joel humbled himself and said that he was on vacation. Really he was coming home for the weekend as he had been doing, sometimes once or twice per month. This incident greatly disturbed him. The fact that the question was asked by Customs, not Immigration, worried him. He had a Vincentian passport and surely the Officers must have known him since he occupied the highest office in Vinlec for a number of years. When I heard the sad news about his death this story came immediately to mind.

He has made his mark in this country, and the growth and development of Vinlec over the years owed much to his sound management. I want to extend my condolences to ‘Toby’s’ wife and children and the rest of the family. I imagine how painful it must have been to him at that time of his life to have been away from them, seeing them only for shortened periods on weekends. Now that does not matter!

The Economic Situation

The possible impact of the American economic crisis and the larger global financial crisis is now beginning to soak into the consciousness of most Caribbean people, although here in SVG it seems to be business as usual. When Karen Nunez-Tesheria presented the Trinidad and Tobago’s budget, little did she imagine that oil prices would have reached below US$60 a barrel. The IMF has recently called on the Trinidad and Tobago government to reduce its spending and reassess its expenses. Throughout the Caribbean, there is a great deal of concern about the impact of the current crisis on tourism, remittances and foreign direct investment. Maurice Odel, economic adviser to the OECS was quoted in the Caribbean Net News as he spoke about the impact of the current economic crisis on the Caribbean, “The impact is slowly accelerating. Hotels are beginning to make layoffs, so the man in the street is more likely to be without a job…We feel all sectors will feel the pinch. The retail sector will see people buying less and may have to reduce jobs.” He even made reference to the laying off of 800 workers by the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas.

News from the Cruise Ship Industry was not very optimistic with the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. speaking about the effect of what they call the global economic slowdown. In fact, the Bureau of Heads of Government of CARICOM is expected to look closely at the global economic crisis at a meeting to be held in Antigua on Saturday. The news is certainly not good for us, given the role played by remittances in this country, especially at this time of year. We have in recent years been hoping for a major boost for our tourism but with 70 per cent of Caribbean tourists coming from America there has got to be grave concerns. We should not simply be waiting on the economic fall out but searching for ways to cushion its effect. The prevailing economic climate forces us to look back to the early 1930s when the Great Depression impacted strongly on our economies and contributed to the series of disturbances that rocked the Caribbean.

At another level we could only look in bewilderment at the kind of debate taking place in America. After the recent massive ‘Bail Out’, the Republican Party seems reluctant to approve another large bail out to, this time, the Auto industry. As free traders, they claim to be opposed to continued government intervention but they are between a rock and a hard place, since failure to assist the auto industry will see tens of thousands of workers adding to those already on the bread line and the possibility of the destruction of an industry that had for sometime been the backbone of American industry. But at some point they will have to face up to certain truths. There is no real invisible hand that directs so-called free trade and by extension capitalism. There is clearly need for greater regulation, and already there is dialogue about reforming the global financial institutions and system. It has become obvious now that the G8 has to give way to the larger G-20 and include countries such as China, India and Brazil in their attempt to manage the global financial system. Surely the governance and structure of the world financial system can never be the same again. Change will come in more ways than one.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.