Published On: Mon, Oct 2nd, 2017


Jacob Gelt DekkerBarbuda is a small, uninhabited island in the eastern Caribbean, part of the sovereign Commonwealth nation of Antigua and Barbuda. As of September 2017, due to Hurricane Irma, the island of Barbuda has been abandoned, with a population of 0. Most of its population of about 1,638 lived in the town of Codrington before the storm.

10 September 2017 DEN HAAG – Dutch tourists and family members of Dutch civil servants who are working in St. Maarten were evacuated today. A total 530 Dutch tourists will be evacuated in the coming days.

Playing politics does not take a back seat to the disaster. Black-supremacists tried to formulate a disadvantage. Non-white residents of St. Martin claim Irma evacuations show racial discrimination. “It’s selective. Excuse me, but we saw only mainlanders,” a local black lady told Guadeloupe 1ere television, visibly shaken. “That’s a way of saying, ‘I’m sorry, only whites. There are only whites on the (evacuation) boat.”

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line is doing its part to help evacuate the island of St. Maarten after the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.  The cruise company announced that it plans to mobilize its ships and supplies in order to help those in the Caribbean.

The migration, or if you prefer evacuation, is in full force. The question is, how many will ever return? Experience on the mainland with earlier evacuations, like in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane in 2005, show that less than 50% return; island returnees are even less.

Official estimates of evacuations from the islands, and eventual permanent migrations vary from 2-3 million for the entire Caribbean, over the next year. Puerto Rico, with a former resident population of 3,5 million, will inevitably suffer the largest decline. Especially, young people have no intention to build their lives and future on the wreckages left behind by the storms. For them, particularly as holders of USA-passports, it will be easy to use the opportunity and move elsewhere.

Antiquated protectionist labor laws on the Caribbean islands make it nearly impossible to hire off-island staff and these will become a stranglehold for economic recovery.

Recovery of the economy that supports the local island population will be key. Is there sufficient resilience with an economy mostly based on tourism? With hospitality accommodations ruined, landscapes and golf courses devastated, and safety threatened by plundering, it is not likely that tourism will return soon. Especially, when attractive and cheap alternatives destinations are easily available to the traveller, why would anyone bother with the ruins?

An expected economic downturn in the Leeward Islands that could last 5-10 years is not unreasonable, starting with a wasted 2017-2018-winter season.  A model could be the hurricane of 1780, which had no advance warning system, resulted in the death of 20 million, and changed the region permanently.

The autonomous status of Sint Maarten within the Dutch Kingdom can only be experienced as an additional hindrance to the redevelopment; the French part of the island will most likely benefit easier since it has access to French national as well as EU emergency funds.

The local bureaucracy and legislature of Sint Maarten, with or without its deeply ingrained corruption, could easily become the noose by which whatever survived will be hung out to dry.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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