The 2021 news in the Caribbean was marked by coverage of political occurrences and natural disasters. Caribbean leaders welcomed new United States President Joe Biden with some added enthusiasm generated by his choice of Kamala Harris as his Vice President. Harris, whose father is Jamaican, will be the first Black and Caribbean American to serve as vice-president in the history of the United States. Agricultural workers in Martinique and Guadeloupe presented their case against the French government seeking compensation for their contamination with pesticide to court after waiting nearly 15 years to be heard. A new Secretary General of CARICOM laid out the priorities for her term, and the government of Antigua made an offer of land to its citizens if they agreed to get a COVID-19 vaccination. The world was shocked by the attack on Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse and his wife First Lady Martine Moïse in which he died, and she was injured by gunmen at their home on July 7, 2021. Haiti also suffered the effects of a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in the wake of the assassination and its continuing efforts to recover from a previous earthquake 11 years ago. In a historic meeting, members of the Africa Union joined members of CARICOM to exchange ideas to unite continents and developing nations on the 76th anniversary of the 5th Pan-African Congress at which African and Caribbean leaders addressed decolonization and self-governance. Caribbean nations objected to continuing events and policies that originated during the colonial and enslavement period of the region, with a representative of Antigua and Barbuda calling for an end to celebrations of Christopher Columbus and the new leader of Barbados making an impression with a “fiery” speech about the environment at the United Nations. And on November 30, 2021, Barbados officially removed the British queen as its head of state and became a republic.
BARBADOS TO OFFICIALLY REMOVE BRITISH QUEEN AS HEAD OF STATE ON NOVEMBER 30, 2021
After years of trying to cut its ties to the British monarchy, Barbados will officially remove Queen Elizabeth II of England as its head of state. The monarch will be replaced by Governor General Sandra Ma-son, who will serve as president. This is the first time in 30 years that Britain has lost a realm. Suleiman Bulbulia, a member of the committee that analyzed the change, called the move “monumental” for Barbados, even though the action chiefly symbolic as Barbados has been a sovereign nation since 1966. Governor General Mason said that it is time to leave the country’s colonial past behind and to install a Barbadian as its leader. The change will not affect the nation’s economic conditions but will boost morale for its 287,000 citizens.
LEADERS OF CARIBBEAN NATIONS WELCOME BIDEN/HARRIS ADMINISTRATION
Caribbean leaders have welcomed the official start of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris presidential administration in the United States, with the Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit saying he was looking forward to working with the new administration to enhance the prosperity of both nations. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados also welcomed the change in the US top-level administration. The President of Guyana Irfaan Ali said his country is ready to stand with the new US president and vice-president in calls for unity and democracy. Vice-president Kamala Harris is the first Black and Caribbean American to serve in that role in US history, and she thanked Caribbean American voters for helping to ensure the victory of the Biden/Harris ticket.
AGRICULTURE WORKERS IN FRENCH CARIBBEAN SEEK COMPENSATION FOR PESTICIDE CONTAMINATION
After a wait of almost 15 years, agricultural workers in the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe finally had a court hear their case seeking compensation for being contaminated with a pesticide banned in France. A videoconference hearing in December 2020 was held by investigative magistrates in Paris to decide how to proceed on a complaint originally filed in 2006. The complaint involves chlordecone, a pesticide banned in the United States in 1976 after it contaminated a river in Virginia. The chemical has been cited as a source of neurological problems. French authorities were concerned it may also be linked to high rates of prostate cancer in the eastern Caribbean islands. While it was banned in France in 1990, its use continued for another three years in the islands under an exemption from the French government. The lawsuit claims that the French government failed to protect the health of its people by issuing an illegal exemption.
PRIORITIES SET BY NEW CARICOM SECRETARY GENERAL
Dr. Carla Barnett, the newly named secretary-general of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the first woman to be appointed to the role, has decided that one of her first priorities in office will be to extend the outreach of the 15-member group across the region and member states. Barnett, who was born in Belize, will replace Irwin LaRocque, who is completing two five-year terms in August 2021. Barnett is the first woman to have served as deputy secretary-general, a position she held from 1997 to 2002. Barnett said she is looking forward to the chance to make a difference at the regional level and work to facilitate efforts to handle the crises facing the Caribbean, two of the most critical being COVID and the economy.
ANTIGUA’S GOVERNMENT OFFERS LAND AS AN INCENTIVE TO RECEIVE COVID VACCINATION
The government of Antigua and Barbuda plans to provide a parcel of land totaling 8,000 square feet as an incentive for citizens of the country to receive vaccinations. It is also providing incentives like food, gasoline, and gift vouchers to entice people to get the COVID-19 vaccinations. According to a statement from the Cabinet, people must receive their shots between June 7, 2021, and June 30, 2021, to qualify for the land offer. The other incentives will continue after that date. About 35,000 citizens have already received the first dose of the vaccine to date, and the government believes that an approach to offer incentives to speed up the rate of vaccination among adults will move the country closer to its goal of achieving herd immunity.
JOVENEL MOÏSE, PRESIDENT OF HAITI, ASSASSINATED IN HIS PRIVATE RESIDENCE
The president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was fatally attacked by gunmen in his home on July 7, 2021. His wife, First Lady Martine Moïse, was injured in the attack and taken to hospital. She is in stable but critical condition and is being moved to Miami, Florida, for treatment. Prior to the assassination, Haiti had become increasingly unstable as Moïse ruled the nation by decree for a period of more than two years after the failure to hold elections. Opponents of Moïse called for him to leave his post in recent months. Haiti’s security is now in the hands of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Hai-ti. The Haitian National Police detained two suspects in the crime late on July 7th and killed four other individuals linked to the assassination, according to Haiti’s Ambassador to the US Bocchit Edmond. In-terim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a state of siege in Haiti following the assassination, which means the army is replacing the police in handling public security, and some freedoms, including the movement of people and demonstration, have been severely limited.
STRONG EARTHQUAKE HITS HAITI, HUNDREDS DEAD
Haiti experienced a 7.2 earthquake that caused additional devastation to the country, which was still reacting to the assassination of its president and ongoing efforts to recover from another damaging quake 11 years ago. Buildings were flattened, hospitals are overwhelmed with victims. At least 304 individuals were killed and over 1,800 injured. The country, which has been experiencing a political crisis since the murder of its president, is poorly prepared to deal with a natural disaster of this magnitude.
REPRESENTATIVES OF AFRICAN UNION AND CARICOM MEET AT HISTORIC INAUGURAL SUMMIT
The 55 member nations of the Africa Union joined the 15 member nations of CARICOM at a meeting on September 7, 2021, in Barbados. According to David Comissiong, the ambassador to CARICOM from Barbados, the inaugural meeting was “truly an historic event.” A live telecast of the event was available to people in the Caribbean community on various platforms, including national television stations. He was pleased with being able to convene the meeting of Pan-African leaders despite the necessity of doing so virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The inaugural meeting was held at a time that marked the 48th anniversary of the establishment of CARICOM; 58 years after the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU); and 76 years after the fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester, England, uniting African and Caribbean leaders to address decolonization and self-governance; and 500 following the start of Europe’s enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean. The meeting was designed to facilitate an exchange of ideas with the goal of uniting continents and developing nations.
ANTIGUAN DIPLOMAT CELEBRATIONS OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS TO STOP
Sir Ronald Sanders, Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) from Antigua and Barbuda, has called for an end to the celebration of “The Encounter of Two Worlds,” a yearly event promoted by Spain marking the “discovery” of the New World by Christopher Columbus. Sanders said that his country would not be a true friend of Spain if it pretended that the occasion was welcomed and supported there. Sanders said the native peoples of the land did not need to be “discovered” as they had their own rich culture and civilization that was in harmony with their environment. This culture was “destroyed or desecrated” by Columbus and his crew, according to Sanders, who added that their arrival opened the door for genocide, enslavement of African people, and exploitation of indentured labor from Asia in the Caribbean.
PRIME MINISTER OF BARBADOS CALLS ATTENTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE WITH “FIERY” SPEECH AT U.N.
Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados who made headlines with her strong presentation to the United Nations in September of 2021, continued to make her mark on the world stage with what has been described as a “fiery speech” on climate change at the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021. Mottley represents one of the oldest of Great Britain’s Caribbean colonies. Mottley said an increase in global temperature of two degrees Celsius would represent a “death sentence” for islands and coastal communities. She exhorted the nations of the world to “try harder” to change the situation and said that failing to provide enough funding to small island nations, which are on the frontline of climate change, can be measured in “lives and livelihoods.” She called the lack of support “immoral” and “unjust.” She called on world leaders to spend more on financing a transition to more sustainable sources of energy, energy use, food consumption, and transportation. If this is not done, Mottley said it will be be “greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction.”