The passage of Hurricane Maria in the OECS territory of Dominica, and its ongoing and difficult aftermath, has brought home some salutary lessons on the fragility of our development successes, the tinder-like nature of our sovereign statehood, and how easily we can slip from fairly well-managed low-to-middle income developing economy to a collapsed economy and society.
“Dominica is now like Haiti!” These were the words of a Dominican student who began her university enrolment nearly one month after the official commencement of the new academic year. Unable to process any of her relevant financial and enrolment documents, since “every government agency is now concerned with water distribution”, and unable to leave Dominica due to the absence of commercial flight, since her country’s airport, “paid by the tax-payers of my country is now in the hands of foreign military personnel”, she was finally able to leave Dominica courtesy of the Barbados coast guard, allowing her to commence her university studies.
As anecdotal as the experience of the Dominican student might have been, it has revealed enough to indicate the total breakdown in every-day life, the uncertainty of the return to normalcy, but more importantly the usurpation of central sovereign power by external powers who view post-hurricane recovery through the lens of military take-over and political aggrandisement rather than as humanitarian assistance.
An important lesson in all of this, is for the Caribbean to begin the develop its military as primarily a post-disaster defensive mechanism, since it is natural phenomena which currently poses the most direct threat to our national security. Indeed, it has been instructive the manner in which our entire regional and sea space has been taken over by English, French, American and Dutch forces in the post-hurricane context. Indeed, even our much vaunted Regional Security Service, is little more than a small out-post for the US Southern Command.
It is significant that the current story of military high-handedness currently making the rounds involves the behaviour of Barbadian defence force personnel in relation to a regional journalist, whilst there has been complete silence around the control of Melville Hall airport by non-regional military personnel. Typically, we tend to raise our sovereign walls only for staving off regional encroachment, while removing all barriers against more powerful extra-regional forces whose motives are often more sinister.
Given our real evidence of the way in which our dependence on foreign military assistance in the wake of natural disasters has undermined our sovereignty, it is now time for us to widen our concept of national security to include regional, but independent, post-disaster mechanisms which remove the need to rely exclusively on historically imperialist forces for our security needs.
A point to ponder: Did Cuba not suffer significant damage form Irma? Was its airport and entire national security apparatus taken over by foreign military personnel?
By Dr. Tennyson S. D. Joseph