Categorized | Features, General, Local

The Caribbean after Chavez

by Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

It’s ridiculously easy to remove a man from the earth.What is not so easy is to remove his memory. Chavez is dead. That much at least is clear. I neither believe nor disbelieve that the U.S. may have had any role in his death, but the fact that the allegation is even credible and in the realm of possibility itself speaks volumes about the age and the world we live in. Given the amount of time, effort and money that has been spent by the CIA in recent years to dislodge Chavez from power as well as the general euphoria in Miami on the announcement of his death, foul play is a distinct possibility.No clear evidence can come to light in less than fifty years, by which time, the world will have moved on to much more horrific and contemporary outrages.What is of more interest to me is how the passing of Hugo Chavez will affect the Caribbean in general and particularly, the three most dependent of its allies: Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica.

Haiti especially will be impacted by the absence of Chavez because Haiti is the most vulnerable of the three. Haiti has never been allowed to recover from the devastation of the earthquake it experienced three years ago. This incredible occurrence took an estimated 300,000 lives and left a homeless population of over 350,000. Add to this catastrophe a sudden cholera epidemic which thus far has claimed 8,000 lives and over 640,000 stricken ill. The irony of all this of course is that the cause of cholera has been traced back to the very U.N. Peacekeepers who came to bring aid and relieve the suffering. (It was St. Bernard of Clairvaux who said:“Hell is full of good wishes and desires.” How right he was.) What is interesting is the fact that the U.N. can’t be sued because of its immunity, as stated in its 1946 convention, a very useful clause to have in your constitution if you want to make certain that no one can prosecute you. All of this, despite the fact that cholera has a very clear finger print and can be easily traced. This particular strain of cholera was unknown in Haiti until the U.N. Peacekeepers arrived from Nepal in 2010 and carelessly deposited the waste from their campsite into the Artibonite (Haiti’s largest river) and thus polluted the drinking water. Yet they cannot be held accountable.

Haiti’s response to the epidemic has been a campaign of posting signs in creole stating:“Lave ak men ou ak savon,”which means wash your hands with soap, wonderful advice except for one thing, there’s no available clean water for free. The only clean water is bottled and sold privately by international or local NGOs for profit. The poor have to travel some fifteen or twenty miles to find a stream and pray that it hasn’t been contaminated, and this is the reason why the cholera has spread so quickly. The U.N., of course, doesn’t feel that they are responsible for water management and so the private firms are free to do as they like in the midst of this devastation. The U.N. is there only to erect tents and maintain order and no one seems concerned with the fact that three years after the earthquake adequate housing has still not been provided. (Does anyone remember Hurricane Katrina and the private police in New Orleans or am I the only one plagued with memory?)

Now, where does Venezuela come into all this?It is only the fact that Hugo Chavez has provided oil through the Petrocaribe Accord—which effectively eliminates the middleman and offers generous time repayment plans—that Haiti has been able to function at all. The people have to pay for water and sanitation trucks. The more expensive the oil prices become, the more expensive will water become and therefore the less accessible. Privatization will kill more and more of the poor and effectively leave all goods and services in the hands of the Creole middle class who don’t give a damn about the diseased tent-dwellers in their midst.

The sad thing about cholera is that it is not the bacteria itself which kills you. It is the dehydration.The body is starving for water, clean water. That’s the simple cure. A combination of saline solution and fresh water could save countless lives. In Haiti, poverty is a death sentence.The more rain that falls, the quicker the cholera spreads. Now is the rainy season.

The question is: how long will it take the right wing Venezuelans to dismantle every positive program Chavez bequeathed? Menudo, Chavez’s successor, knows well what a fight he has awaiting him. Many have vowed to not allow to a step back into the dark ages.Yet, the first thing that will be sacrificed is foreign aid programs and certainly Haiti will suffer. What we will witness is, in effect, ‘petrocide,’murder by oil.

The second country in the Caribbean under threat is, of course, Cuba. Venezuela has long been Cuba’s lifeline since the Russian collapse and America’s relentless embargo which is constantly being renewed by those ever busy boys in Miami the Cuban lobby who are always about the Lord’s work. It has been estimated that if all the money which has been spent in the last fifty years on assassination attempts against Castro was collected, it would be enough to put ten men on the moon and maintain a colony there. Suffice to say that there are those who’ve not wished Fidel well.

It is because of the U.S. embargo that Castro has had to purchase all goods in cash, leading to so many shortages. Likewise, it’s only because of Venezuela and its generous subsidies that Castro has somehow been able to withstand the many difficult seasons of draught and hurricanes and has still been able to maintain the highest literacy rate in Latin America, as well as the best medical schools. In exchange, he has been able to export doctors around the entire Caribbean and has always been there in times of crisis and has certainly been a savior, especially to Haiti and others in the region.

No one else has done this except Medecin Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) which operates out of France. Now, with Chavez gone, Cuba will have to depend solely on tourism to keep itself afloat, mainly those from Canada and Russia who are very attracted to the island and are unaffected by the U.S. Embargo. There is also the Cuban diaspora who faithfully send remittances. Yet Cuba knows that shortly, life will become much more difficult without Chavez.

Next door to Cuba is Jamaica which has been experiencing crushing inflation due to the collapse of tourism and the world economic slump. Fewer people are filling those beaches these days and a rise in oil prices would certainly spell further catastrophe. Venezuelan oil has made the difference. They are experiencing power cuts because of the rise in electricity prices. People are already taking to the streets. Police are called upon regularly to maintain order because people are stealing electricity. If the Petrocaribe subsidies cease, the next stop will be oil theft and arson. We hope that the pressure doesn’t reach to that point. Yet the degree of poverty is still nowhere that of Nicaragua or Haiti.

I estimate that it will take at least two years for the right wing in Venezuela to dismantle the foundations of Hugo Chavez’s social policies. By then, I hope another country will step forward in the region.Will it be Brazil, which at present is experiencing a booming economy due to its discovery of oil, billions of barrels of oil? Will Brazil be generous and do as Chavez or will it continue its policy of relentless agribusiness which has meant destroying its rain forest and indigenous people all to the greater good of McDonalds? Just how important is the ozone level when compared to a big Mac? Only time will tell.

Then there’s Mexico, surprisingly wealthy due to its auto and telecommunication industries and vast supply of resources (especially gold and silver mining) as well as boasting the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim. However, Mexico is not likely to share the sort of Bolivian vision which inspired Hugo Chavez. In the end, the Caribbean will surely miss Chavez but his spirit will be a constant source of inspiration which can never be totally destroyed regardless of attempts to do so. Chavez’s ghost may yet prove to be more of a problem to topple than his existence.

Edgar Nkosi White is a Montserrat born playwright and novelist. His novel, The Rising is available on Amazon.

Edgar

 

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

by Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

It’s ridiculously easy to remove a man from the earth.What is not so easy is to remove his memory. Chavez is dead. That much at least is clear. I neither believe nor disbelieve that the U.S. may have had any role in his death, but the fact that the allegation is even credible and in the realm of possibility itself speaks volumes about the age and the world we live in. Given the amount of time, effort and money that has been spent by the CIA in recent years to dislodge Chavez from power as well as the general euphoria in Miami on the announcement of his death, foul play is a distinct possibility.No clear evidence can come to light in less than fifty years, by which time, the world will have moved on to much more horrific and contemporary outrages.What is of more interest to me is how the passing of Hugo Chavez will affect the Caribbean in general and particularly, the three most dependent of its allies: Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica.

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Haiti especially will be impacted by the absence of Chavez because Haiti is the most vulnerable of the three. Haiti has never been allowed to recover from the devastation of the earthquake it experienced three years ago. This incredible occurrence took an estimated 300,000 lives and left a homeless population of over 350,000. Add to this catastrophe a sudden cholera epidemic which thus far has claimed 8,000 lives and over 640,000 stricken ill. The irony of all this of course is that the cause of cholera has been traced back to the very U.N. Peacekeepers who came to bring aid and relieve the suffering. (It was St. Bernard of Clairvaux who said:“Hell is full of good wishes and desires.” How right he was.) What is interesting is the fact that the U.N. can’t be sued because of its immunity, as stated in its 1946 convention, a very useful clause to have in your constitution if you want to make certain that no one can prosecute you. All of this, despite the fact that cholera has a very clear finger print and can be easily traced. This particular strain of cholera was unknown in Haiti until the U.N. Peacekeepers arrived from Nepal in 2010 and carelessly deposited the waste from their campsite into the Artibonite (Haiti’s largest river) and thus polluted the drinking water. Yet they cannot be held accountable.

Haiti’s response to the epidemic has been a campaign of posting signs in creole stating:“Lave ak men ou ak savon,”which means wash your hands with soap, wonderful advice except for one thing, there’s no available clean water for free. The only clean water is bottled and sold privately by international or local NGOs for profit. The poor have to travel some fifteen or twenty miles to find a stream and pray that it hasn’t been contaminated, and this is the reason why the cholera has spread so quickly. The U.N., of course, doesn’t feel that they are responsible for water management and so the private firms are free to do as they like in the midst of this devastation. The U.N. is there only to erect tents and maintain order and no one seems concerned with the fact that three years after the earthquake adequate housing has still not been provided. (Does anyone remember Hurricane Katrina and the private police in New Orleans or am I the only one plagued with memory?)

Now, where does Venezuela come into all this?It is only the fact that Hugo Chavez has provided oil through the Petrocaribe Accord—which effectively eliminates the middleman and offers generous time repayment plans—that Haiti has been able to function at all. The people have to pay for water and sanitation trucks. The more expensive the oil prices become, the more expensive will water become and therefore the less accessible. Privatization will kill more and more of the poor and effectively leave all goods and services in the hands of the Creole middle class who don’t give a damn about the diseased tent-dwellers in their midst.

The sad thing about cholera is that it is not the bacteria itself which kills you. It is the dehydration.The body is starving for water, clean water. That’s the simple cure. A combination of saline solution and fresh water could save countless lives. In Haiti, poverty is a death sentence.The more rain that falls, the quicker the cholera spreads. Now is the rainy season.

The question is: how long will it take the right wing Venezuelans to dismantle every positive program Chavez bequeathed? Menudo, Chavez’s successor, knows well what a fight he has awaiting him. Many have vowed to not allow to a step back into the dark ages.Yet, the first thing that will be sacrificed is foreign aid programs and certainly Haiti will suffer. What we will witness is, in effect, ‘petrocide,’murder by oil.

The second country in the Caribbean under threat is, of course, Cuba. Venezuela has long been Cuba’s lifeline since the Russian collapse and America’s relentless embargo which is constantly being renewed by those ever busy boys in Miami the Cuban lobby who are always about the Lord’s work. It has been estimated that if all the money which has been spent in the last fifty years on assassination attempts against Castro was collected, it would be enough to put ten men on the moon and maintain a colony there. Suffice to say that there are those who’ve not wished Fidel well.

It is because of the U.S. embargo that Castro has had to purchase all goods in cash, leading to so many shortages. Likewise, it’s only because of Venezuela and its generous subsidies that Castro has somehow been able to withstand the many difficult seasons of draught and hurricanes and has still been able to maintain the highest literacy rate in Latin America, as well as the best medical schools. In exchange, he has been able to export doctors around the entire Caribbean and has always been there in times of crisis and has certainly been a savior, especially to Haiti and others in the region.

No one else has done this except Medecin Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) which operates out of France. Now, with Chavez gone, Cuba will have to depend solely on tourism to keep itself afloat, mainly those from Canada and Russia who are very attracted to the island and are unaffected by the U.S. Embargo. There is also the Cuban diaspora who faithfully send remittances. Yet Cuba knows that shortly, life will become much more difficult without Chavez.

Next door to Cuba is Jamaica which has been experiencing crushing inflation due to the collapse of tourism and the world economic slump. Fewer people are filling those beaches these days and a rise in oil prices would certainly spell further catastrophe. Venezuelan oil has made the difference. They are experiencing power cuts because of the rise in electricity prices. People are already taking to the streets. Police are called upon regularly to maintain order because people are stealing electricity. If the Petrocaribe subsidies cease, the next stop will be oil theft and arson. We hope that the pressure doesn’t reach to that point. Yet the degree of poverty is still nowhere that of Nicaragua or Haiti.

I estimate that it will take at least two years for the right wing in Venezuela to dismantle the foundations of Hugo Chavez’s social policies. By then, I hope another country will step forward in the region.Will it be Brazil, which at present is experiencing a booming economy due to its discovery of oil, billions of barrels of oil? Will Brazil be generous and do as Chavez or will it continue its policy of relentless agribusiness which has meant destroying its rain forest and indigenous people all to the greater good of McDonalds? Just how important is the ozone level when compared to a big Mac? Only time will tell.

Then there’s Mexico, surprisingly wealthy due to its auto and telecommunication industries and vast supply of resources (especially gold and silver mining) as well as boasting the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim. However, Mexico is not likely to share the sort of Bolivian vision which inspired Hugo Chavez. In the end, the Caribbean will surely miss Chavez but his spirit will be a constant source of inspiration which can never be totally destroyed regardless of attempts to do so. Chavez’s ghost may yet prove to be more of a problem to topple than his existence.

Edgar Nkosi White is a Montserrat born playwright and novelist. His novel, The Rising is available on Amazon.

Edgar