Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Roderick P Harris
I am aggrieved. As a vulnerable Barbadian with underlying health issues, my life has been placed in danger by the stubbornness of this Government. While many countries – big and small – have closed their borders to stave off further spread of the coronavirus, this Government has done the country an injustice. And, sadly, I see no point in closing it now that the proverbial horse has bolted.
The height of our tourism season or more to the point, that late November, December, January period was likely to be the occasion when we would have had most visitors from England, especially, and the United States, seeking to come to Barbados.
With COVID-19 prevalent in these countries and elsewhere, we had to determine whether we had the manpower, the facilities and the equipment to test, retest, quarantine or isolate, such possible large numbers of visitors.
Obviously, we did not and some people reportedly entered Barbados without going through all those strict, time-consuming processes of multiple tests and quarantines, and this included returning nationals as well as visitors.
If one person got into Barbados without going through the full range of checks and balances, that was one too many.
The safest measure was to close shop for that period as Mr Gonsalves from St Vincent and the Grenadines has admitted that he should have done. But we remained open and have played Russian roulette with Barbadian lives.
What has happened now is not the fault of Barbadians, though I am sure apologists for Government will attempt to ignore the real cause of the spread and blame Bajans.
Visitors to the island have us in this position today and our interaction with them. I am all for tourism and appreciate its importance as a source of foreign exchange. But one cannot sacrifice health for a buck, especially when one then has to take up more bucks and spend it on health.
America has limited travel into that country. Britain has limited travel into that country. Here in the Caribbean Trinidad and Tobago has limited travel into their country – even for Trinidadians. But Barbados has welcomed COVID-19 with open arms.
Elderly people who have contributed so much to this country, and are now among the most vulnerable, should not now have to be tip-toeing around a virus, peeping around corners to see if it is approaching, looking over their shoulders to see if it is following them, just because of a collection of a few politicians.
When I think about businesses in Barbados encouraging the Government not to close our borders and our political leaders kowtowing to them, a picture of Prime Minister Mia Mottley appears in my mind at a standpipe with a bucket full of holes at the bottom and trying to catch water. And as the water leaks out through the holes, her remedy to solve the problem is to turn on the pipe up to all. Patch the damn bucket or change it!
I have said it before and I will say it again, I have supported the Barbados Labour Party all my life. But I love my country more than I love any party and if I have to criticize this administration I do it constructively and without any malice.
I wish it were possible to take a poll of the other 28 members of Government and see whether any of them had a differing opinion to the leader with respect to how she weighed the balance between the economy and the health of Barbadians. Whenever decisions of this nature are made – whether to close borders or not – great consideration must be given to the fact the Barbados is tiny where people are basically tripping over each other.
Social distancing is not easy in a space of 166 square miles and a population of about 290 000. Add to that a surge of English people pregnant with booze and beer and the odds for social distancing decrease substantially.
What also baffles me, in terms of decision-making in this tourism industry, is that we had an excellent Minister of Tourism in Kerrie Symmonds who apart from doing a great job, seemed to have the intestinal fortitude to speak his mind on national matters.
I remember him some years ago when the party was in opposition having to put Miss Mottley in her place. We need politicians who are willing to confront their leaders on matters of conscience and national importance.
Politicians must be able to see the greater good and offer honest opinions whether their leaders like it or not. Not just “Yes, Prime Minister, Yes, Prime Minister, Yes, Prime Minister” – this is not a British sitcom, this is Barbadian lives at stake.
Miss Mottley has coined the phrase “the lost decade” in reference to the tenure of the incompetent bunch her Government replaced, but she must be grateful that that decade produced the Best-dos Santos Lab or we would be in greater peril. I wish the Government well but repeatedly telling Bajans “this is who we are” is not going to solve the COVID-19 crisis.
Roderick P Harris is a regular contributor on national affairs. This guest column was offered as a letter to the editor.