When Hurricane Ivan devastated Grenada in 2004, the rest of the Caribbean was left aghast as the scenes of destruction on the island were shown on television. Many people feared that the tiny island of Grenada would never be able to recover from that catastrophe.
People began to raise funds for Grenada, assuming the worst. They began to call on their leaders to do the same because they felt that Grenada was in dire straits and that its economy would never be able to rebound and its citizens would find great difficulty in rebuilding.
They were dead wrong. Within one year, Grenada was on its feet and still enjoys a per capita GDP which is twice that of Guyana’s. In other words, despite being a small island and despite being flattened by Hurricane Ivan, fifteen years ago, Grenada is still better off than Guyana.
We hear the same groans of despondency today over the destruction in the Bahamas. But let it be said that the Bahamas is among the richest Caribbean states and it will rebuild far quicker than Grenada did. The Bahamas is far richer than Grenada. In fact it has the highest per capita GDP in the region. It is richer than oil-rich Trinidad.
The Bahamas does not need any massive relief package. What it needs is help to restore law and order, electricity and water. It needs emergency supplies and logistical support to begin to rebuild. And it will do so quickly and to the astonishment of those who feel that hard times lie ahead for the island-chain.
Caribbean governments have begun to offer assistance to the Bahamas. The Prime Minister of Barbados and her counterpart from St Lucia toured the islands most affected by Hurricane Dorian. Barbadians are donating essential supplies which will be handed over by the Barbados Defence Force to Bahamas. Trinidad and Tobago is donating half a million dollars to help procure medicines and essential supplies. It is also dispatching one hundred soldiers to restore order, along with workers from its electricity company to help restore power to the affected areas in the Bahamas.
Dominica has offered assistance. It has pledged an initial US$100,000 and is sending policemen, firefighters and workers from its water company to the affected islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. St Lucia has pledged US$100,000 so far. Jamaica is sending 150 troops to the islands.
While the Caribbean islands are mustering support for Bahamas, there has been no word as to what Guyana plans to do. It is strange since most persons in the Caribbean feel that Guyana will soon become one of the richest states in the region and therefore would have been expecting more from Guyana.
In the meantime, there are misinformed suggestions being made that Guyana should not be assisting the Bahamas because that island-chain is not a member of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. Well what does membership of the CSME have to do with assisting a sister-Caribbean state?
Three Caricom states are not yet part of the CSME. The Bahamas, a full member of the Caribbean Community, is not part of the CSME. Monserrat is not a member of the CSME. Haiti is not yet a full member of the CSME or even the Single Market. It is expected to become part of the Single Market by 2021. And there was never any objection to assisting Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 or to providing help to Montserrat after the volcano eruption began in 1995 and destroyed more than half of the island.
The Bahamas decided that it will not be a member of the CSME because it is not supportive of the free movement of labour within the region since, given its extreme high standard of living, it will become a magnet for migrants from other parts of the Caribbean. Haiti’s membership into the single market will present serious challenges for the rest of the region because of Haiti’s low labour costs.
The economy of the Bahamas is strong. That country will recover very quickly. But this does not mean that Guyana should not lend its support, CSME membership or not. Guyana has always come to the assistance of its sister-Caricom members affected by disaster.
That it is yet to do so since Hurricane Dorian roared through the region is disappointing and disgraceful. It is shocking that assistance to the Bahamas has become such a low priority for the APNU+AFC government. All that has been heard thus far is that bank accounts may be established to allow for private contributions to be made and that Guyana was willing to accept persons affected by the disaster.
Guyana spent far more than US$100,000 to send a contingent to Carifesta. Why cannot a similar sum be immediately pledged for the Bahamas? Shame on the government of Guyana!
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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