CHRISTMAS Day 2019 was marked differently everywhere.
Across Europe, celebrations were marred and marked by Security, Climate Change and Inclusivity considerations; the holiday returned in Sudan after being banned in 2013; and Israel only allowed about 150 Christian Palestinians to attend celebrations at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (where Christ was born) on Christmas Day.
Security barriers were erected across entrances to mass Christmas Day marketplaces to prevent repetition of last year’s terrorist attacks, ice rinks were banned in France in the name of Climate Change sensitivity, and there were efforts in Britain to introduce gender and other ‘politically correct’ sensitivities into everything from how Santa Claus is displayed to how the Baby Jesus is referred to in age-old carols.
But even as people sat to chow their meals over the holidays, the global health and nutrition honchos were warning that the world is too dependent on four crops – wheat, rice, corn and soya beans – which provide two-thirds of the foods consumed by people the world over and on which dependency needs to be largely reduced with and through expansion of diet diversity.
Waiting to Exhale
As the last day of the first decade of the 21st Century approaches, the world awaits and approaches 2020 with bated breath.
China and Russia ended the year stronger both individually and together, the US-Iran standoff has rekindled fires that can burn beyond that region, India is facing a severe backlash from its anti-Muslim immigration and citizenship act, Lebanon and Iraq remain without governments following widespread people’s protests and Israel is approaching a third election in less than a year with an impending constitutional crisis in a country without a constitution.
France remains in turmoil, NATO remains in a crisis over its very existence and the new leadership in the European Union (EU) will have to devise new ways to manage without the United Kingdom (UK) after it exits in 2020.
The UK and the USA have been torn apart, their voters and politicians divided down the middle over Brexit and Impeachment, respectively, ahead of an expected new post-Brexit cross-Atlantic trade agreement between London and Washington that’ll be more advantageous for American capital.
The African Union (AU) finally signed a common continental free trade agreement that can work economic wonders in 2020 and beyond and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize was another 2019 hallmark for the continent from which humankind and civilization emerged.
As the year ends, Australia continues to burn under wild fires, serious mopping-up continues following a 200 kilometers-per-hour Christmas Day typhoon that razed through the Philippines, and New Zealand continues counting losses from the volcano eruption that turned a holiday destination into a wasteland of horror.
Waiting to exhale, people everywhere are basically saying goodbye to a year that brought untold damage from Climate Change and Regime Change, most earnestly looking forward to the start of better with the emergence of the second decade of the Roaring Internet Twenties, but with more uncertainty than hope.
Crises and Opportunities
Like other developing countries everywhere, the Caribbean is facing a mix of crises and opportunities shaped by history, economics and politics while the world’s powerful nations reshape the world order to their own image and likeness at the collective expense of the powerless states.
Small-island states in the wider Caribbean face, in addition to all others, the calamitous reality of rising sea levels, more frequent and dangerous hurricanes, marine resource depletion and endangerment and the disadvantages of survival in a shrinking global arena.
2019 was another year in which the Caribbean spent more on imports than exports, ate more foreign food than grown in the region and governments seemed unable to do more than just ride the high tides and rough waves — and hope for the best.
Another area CARICOM did not shine brightly in 2019 was on the Reparation front.
The Reparations Call made by the region’s leaders in 2013 for the European Union (EU) to start discussing an approach to Reparatory Justice for Caribbean nations touched and shaped by European slavery has received no positive response from Brussels six years later, but the issue is now a serious agenda item in the USA that’s being addressed by Democratic Party presidential hopefuls ahead of the November 2020 poll.
Caribbean government in 2019 also hosted visits by the Presidents of Ghana and Kenya, following which hundreds of Ghanaians have been promised jobs in Barbados’ health sector and a shared Caribbean embassy will be opened in Africa in 2020 to hopefully facilitate a modern and mutually beneficial rebirth of African-Caribbean links through a progressive reversal of slavery’s hideous ‘Middle Passage’.
Guyana also experienced the after-effects of the ruling APNU coalition’s loss of a December 21, 2018 parliamentary confidence all year long, as the country raced to adjust to the discovery of oil offshore, while also preparing for a March 2020 presidential election to determine which of the two major parties will rule a new Guyana propelled by petro-dollars, at least up to 2025.
For all of 2019, after three successive hurricane hits in less than five years, Dominica led the way as the world’s best example of how to build a Climate Resilient nation after destruction — until the political hurricane of December 6 that shook the Nature Isle harder and longer than any tropical storm.
The Dominica election offered many lessons about how different Caribbean election campaigns have become in these changed times, featuring new elements ranging from use of social media, Fake News and violence to assaulting religious leaders publicly, openly attacking citizen voters, threatening national security and flatly rejecting certified poll results.
But, following on the electoral experiences in Bolivia in October, Dominica’s December poll also led to a necessary closing of ranks among CARICOM member-states at the OAS to prevent flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the island by elements seeking to use the OAS Election Observer machinery to impose externally-generated political diktat on Dominica in the name of electoral reform, as so tragically happened in Bolivia just weeks earlier.
Under Saint Lucia’s Chairmanship on both occasions, CARICOM in the second half of 2019, indeed twice united collectively against external intervention in the Caribbean: first in July against any form of military intervention in Venezuela, then in November against intervention by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro in the internal pre-election affairs of Dominica.
Amidst it all, the Caribbean is being warned and advised from within and without to start taking measures in these new and changing times to really and ultimately reduce its dependence and vulnerability levels as much as possible in a world that’s becoming increasingly hostile to the interests of developing countries.
Old and New
Powerful states are consolidating their positions globally and regionally and new alliances are being created to sustain old or create new partnerships across the Caribbean.
Money continues to be spent by rich nations that could well end world poverty and take poor nations and people onto new roads through peaceful paths, with estimates of US $739 Billion to be spent on Christmas (between the UK and the USA) for 2019 – a sum equivalent to the total US Defense Budget for 2020.
Mere slices of those vast amounts can lift hundreds of millions in scores of countries out of poverty and put them on a new lifeline for a better future, but such thinking is not what drives the considerations of the 1% who control 99% of the world’s wealth at a time when ceaseless pursuit and accumulation of endless capital continues to drive decisions by those who continue to believe that ‘Greed is Good’.
2019 revealed, more than ever, that voters can be much less interested today in allegations of corruption against leaders than in exercising their powers to keep or remove them, as seen in the USA and Israel where both leaders are describing formal investigations and/or criminal charges against them as ‘witch hunts’ by political opponents.
Closer to home, all the international and Social Media propaganda regarding Citizenship by Investment programs or allegations of ‘Sale of Diplomatic Passports’ did not have the intended effect on Dominica’s December internationally-supervised polls.
Praying with Hope
Saint Lucians are ending 2019 with the common satisfaction of not having had another Christmas Eve Trough and praying with hope for similar expectation that the last night of the first decade of the 21st century will not be like that of the last night of the 20th Century, when incensed assailants violated the sanctity of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with acts of blood and fire at the cost of lives of a priest and a nun.
The region continues, however, to be one of the finest examples of religious diversity in the world, as manifested in the peaceful coexistence of a Muslim mosque next to a Jewish tabernacle as a rare tourist attraction in Surinam.
Hindus, Muslims and Christians also continue to share both power and prayers in Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago, despite all the inherited traditional ethnic, faith-based and cultural differences over time.
So, as the popular Saint Lucian calypso by the late and legendary Mighty Carro beckons: ‘Where do we go from here?’
This is a central question that’s also a common denominator for Saint Lucia, the Caribbean and the world as 2020 beckons on nigh.
The answers will vary from country to country, but in each case people will be expecting governments to do more than they usually or normally can or actually do, to address the burning issues that drive the increasing numbers of street protests seen in 2019 from Algeria and Sudan, Argentina, Chile and Colombia, Ecuador and Haiti, to Hong Kong and Lebanon, Paris and London.
Expect the Unexpected…
Elections are due or expected in several CARICOM countries in 2020 and there’s increasing evidence that in this new day and age, more Caribbean electors can be more than willing to use ruling parties’ manifestos as grounds for prosecution at elections, while others simply continue to back their donkeys and jockeys all the way in first-past-the-post electoral horseraces, no matter what.
Horseracing is now destined to be more than just a novel national sport in Saint Lucia in 2020 and beyond, the first thoroughbred noses to past the Vieux Fort winning posts on December 13 also ensuring there’ll be much related election horseplay and political horsing-around will become more than just a hot turf club issue whenever the next General Elections are called, whether prematurely in 2020 or as due in 2021.
Saint Lucians have demonstrated having a clear will and a continuous way to change government at each of the last three elections (in 2006, 2011 and 2016) after each ruling party failed to deliver on campaign promises or to live up to national expectations.
Should historic trends prevail for the same historical reasons and 13-year-old norm not be subject to unexpected electoral climate change, there’ll be every reason to expect a fourth swing of revolving-door regime change after the next electoral horserace.
But today, politics is no longer predictable by polls that can also tend to be poles apart from results, or by expectations that don’t include the unexpected.
This makes 2020 predictably unpredictable for reasons ranging from the widely-known to the relatively unknown, meaning political parties everywhere will have to work overtime finding ways to read the new signs between the old and new lines that have so many times, in recent times, ruled-out the ways of old as no longer applicable in this the Internet Age of Artificial Intelligence, when the Caribbean still has yet to learn how to eat what we grow, buy what we produce and appreciate who we are.
Notwithstanding (or because of) all the above, here’s hoping – and hopefully not against hope – that 2020 will be the year that will bring the needed changes that are still so long overdue, yet still so anxiously awaited by Caribbean citizens at home and abroad.
In that regard, Here’s to Hopes for Plenty in 2020!