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CARICOM and the Hurricane response


If ever we had any doubt about the people of the Caribbean considering ourselves one people, the wholehearted response to the hurricane devastation in the northern half of the Lesser Antilles must have erased most of those doubts.

All over the region, ordinary citizens, overwhelmingly of meagre means, have been contributing to appeals for assistance, in one form or another.

Governments too, though in varying degrees, and the private sector, have been stepping up to the plate, indicating a high level of solidarity and humanitarianism which speaks well for the region. The challenge to bring relief and hope for the future to the battered islands is an enormous one, but it is being faced with commitment.

There are worrying signs though, that raise questions about our good neighbourliness. While we commend the responses so far, in some areas we can do better. For instance, all Caribbean states have similar economic problems of grave proportions – poverty, debt, high unemployment, etc. In addition, we are all very vulnerable states; thus, our ability to support each other in times of crisis is very limited.

But a disaster, on the scale caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, creates an extraordinary situation, an absolute emergency, calling for extraordinary responses. Some governments, our own for instance, are diverting scarce resources to give to those in even more dire need. Dominica, now a victim, had responded positively to the plight of the islands affected by Irma, and Cuba, itself badly affected, and Venezuela, with all its current problems, both have tried to assist.

Yet there are Caricom governments who have not gone far enough. One Prime Minister boldly said that his country, certainly better placed than ours, cannot make a financial contribution. True, it has rendered other forms of assistance, but surely, it can do better. Other prominent Caricom nations, whose citizens are making the sacrifice, appear to be using “economic difficulty” as an excuse for not doing more.

The worst example has, however, come from St Kitts/Nevis. There, according to Caribbean News Now, a press release by the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Unit on Saturday announced a drastic 50 per cent cut in the investment requirement for its citizenship by investment programme, purporting to create a “hurricane relief fund.”

St Kitts/Nevis also suffered some hurricane damage, though nowhere on the scale of that suffered by Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda. Both these countries, not only CARICOM sister territories, but also closer knit in the OECS, have similar citizen by investment programmes, and thus compete in the same “citizenship” market. A 50 per cent reduction by St Kitts/Nevis would therefore not only give it an advantage over its more unfortunate neighbours, but the ostensible purpose, “to create a relief fund” would act as another incentive in its favour. We are surely in a race to the bottom.

Criticisms have already been publicly aired of the St Kitts initiative and that government’s subsequent announcement that it had pledged over $2.5 million to Caribbean islands ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with some $1 million of that earmarked for Dominica, comes over like an attempt to put a plaster on a festering sore.

But this and the other indications of holes in our claims of solidarity give conflicting messages to our people. Already there are persons who for have questioned and criticized supportive actions by governments. We should instead be encouraging our governments and citizens alike to continue, to do more, to set positive examples. Now, more than ever, our humanity and solidarity must be demonstrated.