The news that Government has decided to pull the plug completely on Crop Over 2021 comes as no surprise to us. And while Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for Culture, John King, told the media in April that there would definitely be a festival but one with a difference, we always had our doubts about the assertion.
What was telling at the time the Minister made the comment was the country was still in the midst of battling community spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus which has claimed 47 lives in Barbados.
In an Editorial headlined: We Welcome The New-look Crop Over But Let’s Be Cautious, which we published the day after his announcement, we cautioned Government that any attempt to have any form of the festival must take into account COVID-19 protocols.
Given the unpredictability of the virus and the fact that the national festival is made up of mass events, there was no place for miscalculation or recklessness. The Minister also mentioned the national vaccination programme. But at the time, the country was having challenges securing vaccines.
But we have had multiple examples that have taught us that no amount of planning or preparation can ready us for this pandemic. And while many believe that the vaccination programme will bring about some sort of miraculous change, that has not been this case.
Only Tuesday, Royal Caribbean reported that the Odyssey of the Sea cruise ship which had 95 per cent of crew and passengers vaccinated, had recorded eight COVID-19 cases.
So even vaccinated parties and fetes hold absolutely no guarantees.
For the Crop Over lover, we understand that this is the second year you will be missing your favourite festival. For the entertainment players whose livelihoods depend on the sector, we get it. To the cultural practitioner, artiste, musician, vendor, craftsperson, dancer, we feel your angst. But, sadly, what this country faces is much bigger than any one person or sector.
And let us not forget that while thousands of Bajans and Bajan Yankees ascend on Grand Kadooment making merry from the National Stadium to the Mighty Grynner Highway, and thousands more watch the spectacle, there are still thousands more who have little or no feeling towards the national festival.
Should something unfortunate happen where COVID-19 numbers spike during a Crop Over Festival, those who care not one iota will shout the loudest in condemnation and, sadly, some of their mouthings would be justified.
We fully understand and sympathise with those whose payday is generated through entertainment activity. But we also want to remind those “up in arms” over the decision that the entertainment sector is part of the whole. We ask entertainment players not to forget that when you are part of a team there are times you will be called upon to take one for the team. This is such a time.
Ironically, on the same day that entertainers were venting their frustration about Government’s scrapping of the festival, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley was speaking during the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) forum on Natural Disasters and Climate Change along with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. Mottley asked the IMF and other international lending agencies to give the region an ease. while explaining the Caribbean was hardest hit by the pandemic.
The PM said: “[Georgieva] said that the tourism-dependent countries have been among the hardest hit. Let me put it in even further context – the only countries that have been worse hit than us last year are war-torn countries. Our declines have been double-digit in most instances in the Eastern Caribbean; they hover around 18, 19 per cent. So this thing has reversed us at least by a decade in terms of nominal terms, but more like two decades in terms of real losses.”
So, while the PM was pleading with the international community to make our burden a bit lighter, we have a group wanting to take a gamble by staging a full-scale Crop Over.
There are some risks that can be measured and taken. The reality is allowing tourists to vacation on our island is one such risk. But it is one that the global financiers we depend on might understand.
However, these same agencies may not be as understanding should we go ahead and stage a national festival which may be viewed as non-essential in the grand scheme of things.
The challenges we face daily are real; from pandemic to ashfall now the hurricane season. Many of us went to sleep Wednesday night and awoke oblivious to the fact that a freak storm had unleashed its fury on the country. Those who were awake are sharing their experiences. And while reports are still coming in, what we do know is that this short-lived freak storm damaged 13 houses, caused a major power and water outage, damaged roads and uprooted trees. We cannot prevent those natural occurrences but we can prevent fallout from a possibly unsafe festival.
Every other country in the Eastern Caribbean has cancelled national festivals this year. The mighty Trinidad and Tobago with the largest carnival this side of the Caribbean has cancelled theirs. How do we then ignore the global pandemic, ignore the fact that we were in community spread for the first four months of the year, ignore the recommendations of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, ignore the Ministry of Health, the Chief Medical Officer and the COVID-19 unit and stage Crop Over 2021?
We simply cannot.
It would appear, and rightly so, that the staging of a Crop Over Festival this year is one gamble Government is not willing to take.