By A.T. Freeman
The coronavirus crisis has exposed for all to see the failure of the political system across the Caribbean. The public health emergency and the social and economic crisis arising from the steps taken to contain it has shown that this system of governance is not fit for purpose and is incapable of safeguarding the health and social and economic well-being of the people of the Caribbean.
Despite the thankfully small numbers of people across the region who have been affected by Covid19, what the crisis has highlighted is the totally inadequate nature of the provision of health care. The health care systems not only have no capacity to respond to health emergencies but routinely fail to provide people with adequate access to health care. Those who have money fly out when they become ill and those who don’t, stay and take their chances. That this state of affairs is not necessary is evidenced by the fact that the Cuban people and government, who have been under the harshest economic strangulation by the US for the last 60 years, have sent health care professionals across the region to bolster the weak and underfunded health care systems. If the Cubans have this capacity, why doesn’t the rest of the Caribbean?
The collapse of the tourism sector, with the resulting loss of livelihood for thousands of workers, stands as another indictment of this system of governance. In order to secure the interests of local and foreign elites, governments throughout the region have pursued economic policies which have left us in our current vulnerable situation. Instead of developing the Caribbean economies in the direction of self-reliance, food security and catering for the needs of the people, another direction was taken. The economies were viewed as a place where the interests of local and foreign monopolies to make maximum profit take precedence. Colonial era reliance on single crops was replaced by reliance on tourism, extractive industries and services while import bills ballooned as the region became a dumping ground for foreign products.
The sudden rise in the number of unemployed people has thrown the spotlight on another failure of this system, namely, the absence of a modern social security system. Despite the various measures announced by governments to support such people, many remain in a state of uncertainty as to how they will survive should the current situation stretch on for much longer. Many of those who make their livelihood in the informal sector, such as vendors, higglers and others are not even covered by the government support schemes and are left to fend for themselves.
This state of affairs is the direct result of years of political decision making by those who are the decision makers in this system, regardless of political party. They cannot now present themselves as the hapless victims of unforeseen circumstances, whose efforts to protect the population, are being thwarted by a small number of irresponsible citizens that continue to lime. The problem is much bigger than that. It is the anti-social direction that governance has taken in the Caribbean for the longest time and which has been intensified in the period of neo-liberal globalisation.
This crisis shows the people of the Caribbean that something else is desperately needed. We need self-reliant economies whose primary aim is to secure the well-being of the mass of people. We need societies in which everyone has a livelihood and access to modern housing, transport and health care. We need developed social welfare systems which look after those who are no longer able to look after themselves. This can only be achieved by the people of the Caribbean getting organised to empower themselves and to become the decision makers.