Today, most Caribbean microstates are unable to provide their people with a welfare level significantly above poverty level.
Small groups of closed elite appear to benefit nicely in carefully guarded formal or informal monopolistic niches of trade and professional services. Disproportionately large administrative classes of civil servants also manage to provide for themselves with a large slice of the cake.
But the majority of islanders are steeped in sheer poverty with little or no opportunity for improvement. Many, especially the young and uneducated, regard migration, or formation of new closed crime elite, as the only way out.
Today’s reality in the Caribbean is an unjust society where the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer and more disparate. Many well-intended politicians battled a loosing war to change the violence-ridden islands; others just functioned as gatekeepers to protect the interests of closed elite.
Trade does not create wealth, it only reallocates it; productivity does. After the decline of the oil refinery industry, mostly generated out of Venezuela, many regarded the tourist industry as the new wealth-creating opportunity for the tropical islands. Some islands managed rather well, whereas others lacked behind with administrations too eager to tax the meager surpluses, even before the necessary basics, like airlift, service and security, were in place.
Most governments followed a path of slow incremental improvements, but often far too slow to make any significant difference. After less than thirty years, the Caribbean tourist product is already old and worn out, dominated by poor service, crime and catering to low priced mass markets of Europe and the USA.
Experts of all kinds put together thick ledgers, full of smart ingenious strategies, of how to change the present course and get back on a route to higher wealth and prosperity for all, but hardly any successful execution followed. Energizing generations of poor and disenfranchised turned out to be far more difficult than anyone expected.
So migration, and consequently brain drain and loss of an able work force, continues. Today, only an unexpected game changer can be the white knight of ultimate rescue.
By Jacob Gelt Dekker, opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle.