What Dorian has taught us about The Bahamas and the Caribbean

By D.R. Miller

After hurricane Dorian landed on Abaco Island on September 1, 2019, and a day later in Grand Bahamas as a category five hurricane with winds of up to 215 miles per hour; the damages amounted to about 3.4 billion, at least 70 deaths, and about 14,000 families displaced according to weather experts. Millions watch helplessly, but the tenacity of its people and with the help of other nations, The Bahamas is now rebuilding.

Credit: Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. PHOTO: Christy Delafield/Mercy Corps

After a catastrophic event, there will be questions. However, it leaves an opportunity to learn from mistakes encompassing poor planning to better management of the environment. But irrespective of how this paradise will be rebuilt; some intangibles cannot be fixed with donations, better wall or relocation to higher grounds.

The hidden debris that washed up with hurricane Dorian’s has brought a dark side to surface on this paradise and exposed unresolved issues in the Caribbean. The complexity of classism, racism and the social-stratification still roars like high ties reaching its banks.

Despite the proximity of these islands shared music, customs, skin tone, culture, and food. However, often if migrants arrive from a homemade boat seeking a better life, they are less likely to be welcomed such as others who arriving on a cruise ship.

Recently, a few of us with deep Caribbean roots were baffled from seeing the aftermath and have contributed through established organizations in support. However, a conversation grew on what is the best way to help the already downtrodden. Simply put, after the camera leaves, and the photo-ops are no longer staged, the real work and the reality sets in.

This discussion surrounding migrants, especially Haitians who live on the island, is an undercurrent seldom discussed. They make up about 20 percent of the population in some areas according to reports.

After Dorian, some believed that they were treated less than humans, not worthy of being counted for aid or basic support like food, water or shelter. Numerous Haitians who came ashore in The Bahamas have had their share of catastrophes, from poor governance to crime and natural disasters.

Exodus for a better standard of living carried the risk on the ocean. Some often never make it to The Bahamas, and other Caribbean islands.

Photo Credit: Cheryl Diaz Meyer for NPR

Stories like these seldom receive media attention of an unwelcome mat on the white sands for many neighbors who made it to shore. These stories are like migrants fleeing parts of North Africa to the coast of France, Italy, and Germany,

Often as it appears leaders are struggling as to who is responsible, therefore any potential immigration violation laws enforcement remains an open question.

Beneath the sunshine, broad smiles, and an inviting ocean, if you planned to stay beyond spending your tourist dollars; or not able to fill a financial void locally, it is time to go. In fact, most of these Caribbean islands’ immigration laws; even getting a work permit sometimes are more difficult than in many industrial countries.

Furthermore, being part of the CARICOM community that was built on integration and cooperation among each other, like the European Union where its members can travel, work, and live and study with access to health care. In the Caribbean, this policy appears to only be on paper.

Some migrants’ when they arrive in The Bahamas, and other places in the Caribbean, immediate exclusions have created tension and distrust. They are often relegated, marginalized; coupled with social isolation woven from cynicism and perfectionisms as leaders and many locals are still searching for the right balance.

Amalgamation can be slow where some found themselves in areas known today, as the hood; but in the Caribbean, better known as the shanty towns. This hierarchy of class systems can be just as cruel as racial segregation seen elsewhere.

Indisputable though, the rule of law must be maintained as some argued that when they arrive, there is an uptick of crime. Sure, local leaders have the responsibility to protect his or her country from additional financial burden, and overcrowding for the smaller islands.

The past colonial slave ships once docked on these waters where their ancestors were exploited, whether to produce sugar, coffee, spices, and other agricultural crops, centuries later that connection should have created more acceptance, but the struggle to see themselves as one lingers.

Before Dorian, most of the region from history, came to accept that the ongoing fog of Christopher Columbus since 1492, and later British rule in 1717, to independence in 1973. However, struggles remain to emancipate mentally from that period despite today’s diversity which makes this island and others unique.

I am not a historian on The Bahamas open economy to business investments, robust tourism, strong financial management, politics, immigration policies, competitive ranking, foreign investments, travel, crime rate, corruption index, taxation, or status of women mobility, but these social nets must be addressed.

And today with over 80 percent of blacks who made up The Bahamas island population, there is still a wide gap in the lack of business ownership as if it is the old colonial period. This is not a history paper, and like many other wealthy countries, they have challenges in drug trafficking and illegal immigration according to experts.

These islands after a century of being told what to do, are still going through modernization to find a good balance to reduce the gap between the have’s vs the have-nots. Sure, for those who sit on the sidelines looking in will get push back that it is all good here and you have your own issues.

Yes. I am aware. The Bahamas is still one of the safest places to live, invest and visit in the region, and its leaders are equipped to handle its affairs, but it can only get better when you move all its debris.

Dorian debris is beyond The Bahamas. Various experts have also seen similar patterns of marginalization in parts of Latin America even Brazil.

In Lima, Peru there is a tradition where pallbearers are black and native; some argue that it is simply employment, but others see it as racism, and only those job opportunities are for blacks.

Experts noted that since slavery was abolished in 1854, “Blacks are all but absent from Peru’s business and political elite. They are relegated to sugar cane plantations along the nation’s Pacific coast.” Less than four percent of Peru’s blacks go to college.

Photo Credit: Associated Pres

Sexism and classism is the elephant in the room when it comes to upward mobility for women in the Caribbean; because of centuries of these social issues, it is hard for people to even realize that it is happening.

During my travels further in the regions and elsewhere, I have seen marginalization against other groups, but sometimes disaster is an opportunity to change course.

What’s next: Haitians and other migrants will continue to search for stability in The Bahamas and in another place. The argument that migrants taking native jobs, husbands, wives and even contributing to the uptick in crimes.

How many husbands and wives were taken when natives hire migrants as domestic aides? Economists argued that even in industrial countries, migrants do not take away native jobs. They work jobs where natives will not, and these service jobs are vital to the local economy.

Dorian has uncovered a systematic problem throughout the region born out of social stratification that will not end with donations. Millions have been donated to rebuild The Bahamas. And while few will move to a better location and higher grounds; hate, polarization, and self-interest will remain.

Public safety is vital, and if migrants commit crimes, they ought to be held accountable swiftly.  Socioeconomic divide and isolation as studies have shown may result in a struggle to solve some crimes, if migrants only see public safety officials as part of their problems.

The next hurricane will not consider what group should be counted, but will all be prepared, and have a chance to survive since its wind will not dictate who lives where.

Despite the task ahead, The Bahamas will rise again. More tourists will arrive, but I hope that The Bahamas will use this opportunity to be more inclusive while remaining one of the safest and more attractive places in the region where people want to live and retire.

It still needs your backing and “how may I help you will be back, rather than go back to your country. Tolerance will be the key to success in this new world economy. We all cannot be the same because life would be boring. Let us kill ignorance, narrow-mindedness ubiquitously and embrace each other to grow.”