Nation News, Barbados
Published on: 9/28/08.
By Rickey Singh
IT IS perhaps typical of human nature that we often become so preoccupied with our own problems that we either overlook, or worse, exhibit no caring interest for those whose afflictions are by comparison quite terrible.
It's an attitude that cuts across race, class, nationality, neighbourhoods, and territorial boundaries.
For example, while the people of Trinidad and Tobago are calculating their additional cost of living from having to pay TT$1 (BDS 34 cents) more for a litre of premium gasolene, other citizens in this region are agonising over the horrendous consequences from hurricanes and tropical storms within a one-month period that have been particularly cruel to Haiti and Cuba.
The Turks and Caicos Islands, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and The Bahamas have also been affected, to various degrees.
A combination of hurricanes – Gustav and Ike, and tropical storms Fay and Hanna – have left a nightmare of death and destruction, huge dislocation of people, and billions of dollars in losses to Haiti and Cuba.
It is, therefore, quite disappointing that in the face of all the enormous losses and pain inflicted by natural disasters on these two countries, there are political and social organisations in a few CARICOM states that seek to exploit local domestic considerations by criticising relief aid being rushed to these people.
In contrast to such a negative, parochial attitude, Jamaica's quick responses to the disasters from hurricanes suffered by Cuba, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands, were quite inspirational.
The Bruce Golding administration was despatching emergency relief aid and sending technical personnel while still calculating their heavy losses that have since been placed at about US$206 million (JAM$15 billion) and a death toll of 13.
At the same time, the Trinidad and Tobago administration of Patrick Manning lost no time in releasing about US$4.02 million (TT$26 million) in cash assistance to Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, while coping with the effects of flood waters at home from tropical storms.
For their part, CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington and Assistant Secretary General Ambassador Colin Granderson have provided a briefing to the Community's foreign ministers on their first-hand assessment of the immense suffering of the Haitian people following a visit last week to Haiti.
In accordance with CARICOM's commitment to seek international assistance for Caribbean countries whenever seriously affected by natural disasters, the foreign ministers were expected to ascertain from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, American responses to countries in this region hit by the recent hurricanes and tropical storms.
However, given the hostile official American policy towards Cuba, it is doubtful that any attempt would have been made to raise with Rice the country's post-hurricane needs for humanitarian aid and economic rehabilitation.
More so, the Cuban government of President Raoul Castro has already rejected what it deemed a contemptuous initial response of some US$100 000 to be sent through non-government organisations, and an offer to send a team to make an assessment of the destruction and the level of assistance needed.
Cuba's dignity is not to be toyed with, declared its foreign ministry, by the George Bush administration's effort to propagandise "humanitarian concerns" with a token aid offer to that Caribbean nation, which is said to have suffered its worst devastation from hurricanes and tropical storms, totalling losses of about US$4 billion.
The lives of over three million Cubans, almost a quarter of the population, have been seriously disrupted by the hurricanes. In Haiti, at least one million people have been dislocated by the hurricanes and tropical storms, and are in dire need of emergency relief, including food, water and medicine. The death toll has been placed at about 800 and at least one million homeless.
The United Nations special envoy to Haiti, Hedi Annabi, said the Haitian authorities were clearly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster facing the nation.
Yesterday, the CARICOM Secretariat was scheduled to formally hand over for shipping a 20-foot container with relief supplies for the people of Haiti. It was part of a coordinated multi-sectoral effort to mobilise technical assistance, relief supplies and financial resources for the Haitian people.