Letters & Opinion

Caribbean’s China-watchers should keep eyes focused on the region’s ball and Fight for Reparations to Fight COVID-19!

Image of NRC Chairman Earl Bousquet
Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Like every previous global pandemic in the 20th and 21st Centuries, COVID-19 is being treated like it’s the very end of the world — at least like we knew it — and its origin in China has led to its naked politicization on the basis of historical but outmoded Cold War era anti-communist hysteria falsely portraying Beijing as having invented the deadly virus in conspiratorial pursuit of world domination.

As usual, it all flies in the face of reality, as China shared information about the virus with the World Health Organization (WHO) even before it got a name.

Chinese support for the global fight against the killer virus amounted to over one billion US dollars by April 2, as the virus continued its spread across all continents, while China and Cuba joined to produce a cure that has already shown early healthy signs.

But the anti-China campaign continues…

Daily Warnings…

The WHO took care not to prematurely declare a global health emergency and complimented China for how it had moved mountains to contain the COVID crisis, it’s Director General, Ethiopia-born Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, daily warning countries to do all to prevent and to contain its entry.

Dr Ghebreyesus’ daily live press conference, beamed online worldwide, everyday urges governments to be always prepared and/or able to do whatever they had to, to combat and contain the deadly virus.

China suspended individual rights in the collective national interest and enforced a strict Stay-At-Home policy that bypassed Social Distancing and pinned millions at home while it built two new national new hospitals for thousands of patients — within ten days — and announced on the Chinese New Year holiday that it was working with Cuban scientists to try to develop a cure.

Global Epicenters

The USA and European states congratulated China on how fast it had contained the virus, until Italy and Spain made Europe the global epicenter, which then shifted — within days — across the Atlantic to the USA.

After ignoring flashing-red early-warning signals, President Donald Trump went into pseudo-nationalist anti-China lockdown mode, accusing Beijing of deliberately unleashing the ‘Chinese Kung Flu’ and the ‘Wuhan Virus’ on the rest of the world.

Within days, President Trump, still in denial while American scientists predicted at least 250,000 COVID-19 deaths, was also still insisting he ‘will not wear a mask’ and promoting a medicine America’s own related chief scientist was still warning against — and pleading ignorance as to why COVID-19 was affecting Black (African) Americans many times more than all others.

Across the Atlantic in London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s false sense of a ‘herd’ approach to health security (as if tending sheep) resulted in him being the first world leader to end-up in ICU as a result of faulty analysis and insufficient preparation, while UK citizens died by the 700s daily and Italy and Spain interchanged with daily tolls topping 800 and 900.

Before the echo of President Trump’s triumphant claim that ‘We have it (the virus) under control’ could ring out, the USA overcame Europe as the new global epicenter, with daily death tolls that led to untold automatic cremations and mass-grave burials after elderlies were taken off life machines and ice rinks were forcibly turned into emergency mass dead-body freezers over-filled overnight.

Blaming China – and WHO…

The UK claims it will sue China for hundreds of billions of Pounds and the US targeted the African Director General of the WHO, quickly withdrawing the US $400 million (15%) the US contributes to its revenues, in the process accusing the WHO of being ‘China centric’, of protecting China and of ‘misleading’ the USA — and the world — into maintaining air routes to and from China immediately after the virus was known of.

But first a note about Dr Ghebreyesus, as per his internet profile: He was elected as WHO Director-General for a five-year term at the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2017 and is the first chief executive to have been elected from multiple candidates by the WHA.

He is also the first person from the African region to serve as WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer.

African nations stood As One in defense of the targeted world health chief — who had himself made it absolutely clear, from Day One, that he did not give one damn what the US President thought of him.

Special Treatment

Then, BOOM!!!

In the middle of it all came a sudden explosion of bad news about bad treatment of Africans in China’s Guangdong province being treated as if they were automatic coronavirus transmitters, resulting in African Ambassadors in Beijing rightfully making righteous protestations to the central government about what the words and images conveyed: the only thing the victims of this special treatment had in common was being Black.

Ex-AU Ambassador to the USA, Adriana Chihombori-Quao, who remains a forceful voice in the African Diaspora, also (and rightfully too) directly addressed China’s President Xi Jinping and called for his personal intervention, indicating in her protestation that he is ‘a good man’ and strongly urging that, like with China’s positive continuing help to Africa, he should ensure that ‘a few bad apples’ do not spoil that good relationship.

The images had however, already provided worldwide fodder for the cannons of shameless virtue to blast blanket ‘racism’ allegations across Beijing’s bow, instead of recognising most of the attacks reported were contained to one province — and while reprehensible, they do not represent the general attitude of Chinese people to Africans, nor do they reflect China government policy.

Dire consequences

Interestingly, some Caribbean nationals who gave natural kneejerk reactions blamed and attacked ‘China’ outright, among them many influenced by lingering post Cold War attitudes that still see images of ‘Red China’.

Others of more recent vintage, even on the left, while also attacking China as ‘racist’ by helping spread the bad news, have however been deafeningly silent about the very revealing deadly impact of COVID-19 on Blacks in America, including Caribbean citizens who are very numerous in the New York borough of Queens (the epicenter of the US epicenter).

Caribbean nationals who have tested positive for COVID-19 are overly overburdened by the dire horror of the mere but real thought that should they die in America, they will possibly be cremated by the State and/or buried in an unmarked mass grave, without a funeral and/or their families back home even receiving a cup of their ashes.

Caribbean citizens across America, no matter their status, are dying for an opportunity to fly and die back home instead of succumbing to COVID-19 in the Land of Opportunity.

Jamaica has also felt the short end of Washington’s COVID stick: Despite joining the pro-US Lima Group at the Organization of American States (OAS) to help facilitate Trump policy in the region after meeting the US President in Florida in 2018 and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Kingston in January, the US is now opening its airspace to deport Jamaicans it describes as COVID risks to America.

Trump’s America has also commandeered COVID-19 equipment ordered from private sources destined for several Caribbean countries, including Barbados, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Jamaica and Venezuela – apart from similar actions against equipment for Canada and Germany.

All these issues deeply affect people of African descent (Black people) in the USA and their relatives in the Caribbean, but some at home and abroad are repeatedly pointing accusing index fingers at China instead, without each time realising their thumbs are pointing back at them.

Selective Amnesia?

Like everywhere else, not everyone has a good understanding of how China operates; and likewise, not all Chinese are communists and they too are subject to Fake News.

Some China critics have been understandably influenced negatively and therefore misled by the way the real graphic impressions were presented, but some have also chosen to become willing victims of selective amnesia and joined the UK and the USA to attack China, while remaining largely quiet on Cuba’s leading role in the global fight against the virus, with clear emphasis on helping its Caribbean neighbours, alongside China and Venezuela, in the COVID-19 fight.

For example, while 53 Cuban doctors and nurses were dispatched to Italy at the height of its crisis, more than twice that amount were later dispatched to Jamaica and Saint Lucia — and hundreds more to nine more CARICOM member-states.

The US intercepted millions of dollars’ worth of Chinese COVID-19 aid shipped to Cuba by private entrepreneurs led by Alibaba ex-president and chief executive, Jack Ma, who also dispatched similar air shipments directly from China to countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as in Africa, Asia and Europe.

China, Cuba and Venezuela have also collaborated to use Venezuelan national aircraft to create necessary emergency air bridges through new and extraordinary back-channel routes to beat the worldwide commercial flight bans that have stopped delivery of essential medical supplies internationally to provide supplies to CARICOM states, including neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Naysayers

But instead of acknowledging the life-saving prospects, some Caribbean citizens ended-up echoing reverberations of concocted ‘concerns’ pregnant with racist intonations, like whether Venezuela was knowingly supplying its mainly Black Caribbean neighbours with expired and/or wrong medicines.

Two neighbouring leaders — Drs Ralph Gonsalves and Keith Mitchell, the two longest-serving in CARICOM — also got into an avoidable neighbourly West Indian spat over who said what about how each other was handling COVID-19 border restrictions, described by the former Vincentian lecturer in Philosophy and Politics in a subsequent related his letter to his Grenadian colleague and fellow holder of a Doctorate (in Mathematics) as a ‘village dog fight’.

Caribbean citizens, like others around the world, were among those who first took turns to jokingly ‘pappyshow’ resident Chinese and treat them like they were automatic Coronavirus transmitters, boycotting their restaurants and treating even those born or living in CARICOM nations (as nationals, ‘economic citizens’ or working) – including those who never left the island since last year before the virus appeared — like they had all just returned from Wuhan.

Beijing rightfully blasted the racism and xenophobic treatment of its citizens abroad, but without much support from Caribbean voices, some of which instead joined the anti-China chorus led by London and Washington.

The eternal anti-China naysayers and others remain focused on claiming, even believing without proof, that China developed COVID-19 with nefarious intentions, blinding themselves to the fact that Beijing quickly suspended individual rights in the collective interest, pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into combating the crisis within its closed borders and deployed all necessary human resources to all fronts.

Divine Intervention?

Caribbean countries were mainly cautious in their response to COVID-19 that ranged from wait-and-see to urgent implementation of recommended measures, including quiet acceptance of Cuban medical brigades and Chinese medical aid after it became crystal clear, from global trends, that really bad days are still ahead and not too far away.

Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet started one of his weekly press conferences in Mid-April with a lengthy prayer for Divine Intervention to Bless and Save Saint Lucia from COVID-19s most harmful effects being seen elsewhere.

Truth is, thank God or our Lucky Stars, short of AIDS, the Caribbean has escaped Chikungunya, Ebola, H1N1, MERS, SARS and all the other global health threats that have served several other purposes, including pharmaceutical giants in Europe and North America investing in cures that cost too much to benefit those most in need – like with AIDS — with costs varying upward according to geography instead of affordability.

World pandemics have a long history of political propaganda manipulation, starting with the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-19 that started in mid-western USA, but was so-named because the Spanish King and Queen and other members of the Royal household did not hide the fact that they too were affected by a flu that took the lives of scores of millions of people across the world, at a time when there was no understanding of the ailment, or a cure.

One hundred years later, there are governments in Europe that have banned or restricted COVID-19 press coverage unless officially authorized — and China is being accused of wanting to use the 2020 pandemic to deliberately reduce the global population in a world where there are Chinese in every nation.

Eyes on the ball

It would serve well for some Caribbean China-watchers to keep their eyes focused on the ball, instead of helping shift the anti-Beijing propaganda goalposts through selective ranting and raving at a time when people are actually beginning to ‘die like flies’ — not in China, but around the world; not because Beijing didn’t warn the world early enough, but simply because too many nations started taking the virus seriously very late.

On April 15, the number of persons affected globally had passed two million with over 148,000 deaths, the numbers in America and Europe continuing to expand exponentially, while politicians showing more interest in economic management than managing the health crisis are pressing for US states and European nations to start ‘returning to normal’ by reopening businesses.

Four EU member-states have hastily followed the UK’s ‘herd’ approach and agreed to start a ‘mass testing’ experiment encouraging youth, self-employed and small businesses, as well as primary and secondary students, to ‘return to normal’, just to test if and how the virus would spread — and agreeing to return just as fast to lockdown mode if the ‘herd approach’ fails again.

Repeated Warnings…

Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister is as much in a hurry as President Trump to ‘reopen business’ and indicated that, with the COVID-19 numbers stabilized and no deaths recorded, he would wish for a return to that level of normalcy in early May.

But this is in stark contrast with the projections and warnings by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Regional Director General, Dominican Dr Clarissa Etienne, that the worst is yet to come and the region needs to prepare for things getting worse before getting better.

Besides, the WHO Director General, Dr Ghebreyesus, has all this past week again repeated his earlier early-warning advice to all countries that it is still much too early to lift restrictions, but to instead gird their national loins for more bad news from COVID-19.

The American president continues to live in Lala-Land on COVID-19, treating it like a political challenge he must overcome to get re-elected in November.

He’s resorted to use of piracy and seizure, acquisition and other means of taking-hold of purchased and/or ordered medical equipment manufactured in America for overseas markets, commandeering production facilities through activation of wartime legislation while blocking Chinese medical aid to Cuba and Venezuela and deporting Caribbean citizens in the name of national anti-COVID-19 protection.

Formulae for Success

All predictions are that COVID-19 will not only have devastating effects on the region’s health infrastructure, but that economic decline will be even more devastating without outside help.

It would therefore be better for Caribbean political pandits and pundits to avoid being blinded by the glaring anti-China propaganda staring them in the face and instead focus on how best they can contribute to a discussion on what the Caribbean has to do right now, to stem the apparently irreversible COVID-19 tide.

The time is ripe: The WHO Director General and Pope Francis, as well as the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) have all called for debt forgiveness and cancelation, especially for small states struggling to fight COVID-19; and the UN Secretary General and CARICOM leaders have also indicated this is not a time for imposing restrictive sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, or for the US to pull vital resources from the WHO.

Getting external help for the Caribbean has never been impossible, but it has always depended on how the case is made and to whom, by who and on whose behalf, where and when – and conditions attached.

The UK and the European Union (EU) have for over six years been avoiding and evading CARICOM’s 2013 call for Reparations for centuries of Slavery and Native Genocide.

It would do the region much better if its best brains focused at this time on finding formulae for success in collecting on its long-overdue Reparations debts before the end of COVID-19, if only to remind the world, yet again, of the continuing need for European apology and atonement for Slavery and CARICOM’s continuing quest for Reparatory Justice, especially in these COVID times – and beyond.

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