This was a tough year for Caribbean Community residents and governments, as an already economically challenged region was forced to cope with a number of major issues, including the brutal assassination of a head of state, the persistent COVID-19 crisis, a volcanic eruption in St. Vincent, Barbados’ transition to a republic, and changes of governments in several member or associate nations, among others.
Just as governments were beginning to feel that the availability of an array of COVID vaccines was helping to bring pandemic deaths and infection rates down, their attention had to be switched to Haiti in early July when heavily armed gunmen stormed the private residence of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, killing him in a hail of bullets, injuring his wife and ransacking the home for secret documents.
The assassination sent political shockwaves across the region as it exposed security vulnerabilities in this tourism-welcoming part of the globe. Moïse, 53, was the first leader assassinated since Maurice Bishop of Grenada in late 1983 by local soldiers, sparking an American invasion of the island to “restore order and governance.” Most of Moïse’s killers have turned out to be hired Colombian hitmen, many of whom are in custody.
The New York Times and investigators have reported that Moïse was planning to move against several local narco dealers and had kept a list with names of suspected offenders.
His murder came just a few weeks before a deadly earthquake hit the island, and the same week that Tropical Storm Grace caused devastating floods.
As Haiti struggled to settle down in a tumultuous year for Caricom, few can forget the marauding effects of a second full year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, tourism-dependent governments were forced to cope with shuttered airports, parked planes and ported cruise ships as countries around the globe locked down and as tourists stayed away. Now they are dealing with both the Delta and Omicron variants which have spiked infection rates in Trinidad, in particular. The island is the first in the bloc to report Omicron infections and is coping with an average of nearly 30 COVID deaths daily, even as officials appeal to locals to get vaccinated.
A frustrated Prime Minister Keith Rowley wants everyone in the republic with Tobago to take the jab. Civil servants who refuse will be sent home with no pay.
“We have come to the point where the government will have to take certain actions,” said Prime Minister Rowley. “I have had extensive discussions with the attorney general and his support team in his ministry and his advisers outside and we will now move to a situation of insisting that people in Trinidad and Tobago acknowledge the government’s policy that vaccination is our best way of dealing with the carrier of death and destruction.”
Meanwhile, neighbors such as Guyana, Suriname and Barbados have seen fatalities reduced markedly as well as daily infection rates. The same is true for the Eastern Caribbean sub grouping.
While the battle against the pandemic continues, usually well-organized Barbados seamlessly transitioned to a republic in late November, installing former Governor General Sandra Mason as its first Black or Brown head of state instead of a white, great grandmother known globally as Queen Elizabeth. Jamaica has since emphatically indicated that it will join Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Dominica in time for 60th independence celebrations next August.
In April, the region jumped to the assistance of bloc member nation St. Vincent when the Soufriere volcano erupted for the first time since 1979, sending hot lava and other releases down hillsides and to communities. Plumes of ash headed eastward to Barbados shutting down air travel and life on the island for a few days. The regional response to St. Vincent encouraged many to heap praise on the integration movement, a point which was not lost on newly minted Caricom Secretary General Carla Barnett.
“In the past year we have experienced, time and again, the benefit of the community working together to assist each other in responding to natural disasters. We also worked together to procure and share vaccines, to present a common front at climate change negotiations and to advocate strongly for our interests in discussions with foreign governments,” she said.
The year 2021 will also go down as the one when Africa and the Community held their first formal summit, promising to make it an annual affair to spur trade, investment, tourism, cultural exchanges and to establish direct air travel, cutting out Europe and North America from travel itineraries. Africa had also helped the region to source large shipments of vaccines.