Roseau.– It’s still easier to travel from the Caribbean to the capital cities of its former colonial powers on the other side of the Atlantic, than it is between neighboring islands separated by mere kilometers. The colonial past of the Caribbean which Dominican politician and historian Juan Bosch described as “the imperial frontier” continues to mark its present day reality.
Integration efforts, which began last century after the majority of nations in the region gained their independence, are seeking to overcome the cultural, linguistic, and economic barriers inherited from centuries in the eye of the storm of global power struggles.
However, the latest test of Caribbean integration came in an unexpected form: nature, with three strong hurricanes hitting the region in less than a month.
Dominica, which was battered by Hurricane Maria’s 250 kilometer an hour winds, was witness to the solidarity of neighboring countries also affected by these natural phenomena and among the first to share their resources with the sister island, where eight out of every 10 homes were left practically uninhabitable.
SUPPORT FROM THE GREATER CARIBBEAN
“Cuba and Venezuela were among the first nations to offer a substantial response, arriving here with search and rescue teams and supplies,” stated Cuban Ambassador to Dominica, Juan Carlos Frómeta, speaking to Granma.
A permanent medical mission from Cuba has been offering services on the island since the 1990s, with some 20 doctors, nurses and health technicians already based there when the hurricane hit.
Just 72 hours after Maria struck, a Cubana de Aviación ATR aircraft carrying a search and rescue brigade and 10 specialists from the Henry Reeve Contingent, was among the first to touch down at a flooded Melville Hall Airport.
Later, at the beginning of October, an advanced mission traveled to Dominica to assess the possibility of expanding Cuban aid to other sectors.
Meanwhile a Cuban boat transporting humanitarian relief, two brigades of linemen and forestry workers, who will help restore the island’s power system - completely destroyed by the storm - and clear forests stripped bare by the force of the winds, is scheduled to arrive on October 20.
Likewise, Venezuela sent a search and rescue team, while its helicopters and planes provided vital help transporting emergency personnel in the initial days after the hurricane.
“I think, in a situation like this, we have seen a very swift response from nations from the so-called Greater Caribbean,” stated the Cuban Ambassador.
The Cuba-Caricom (Caribbean Community) Summit, still set to take place in Antigua and Barbuda in December, will be another opportunity to continue expanding collaboration and for the emergence of new initiatives, added Frómeta.
He went on to highlight the support offered Dominica by neighboring islands in the eastern Caribbean region.
Technical resources from Antigua and Barbuda, severely hit by Hurricane Irma just days before, helped to establish communication with the country during the most critical hours of the storm, which destroyed practically all communications towers on the island.
In the meantime, Barbados’ coast guard deployed boats to transport technical personnel and supplies, while the government of Trinidad and Tobago sent helicopters to deliver equipment to remote areas, rescue the injured, and provide emergency services.
The Dominican Republic also opened its hospitals to receive emergency patients, many of whom were transported by the country’s naval forces.
In 1991 Caricom established its Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), which includes 18 nations of the region.
The CDEMA has been working on the ground since before the hurricane hit and is currently supporting reconstruction efforts in Dominica, including shelter maintenance and housing construction.
On October 13, in honor of International Day for Disaster Reduction, the agency’s executive director Ronald Jackson, highlighted the importance of building regional institutional capacity and infrastructure able to adapt to climate change and increasingly severe natural disasters.
“The recent impact of hurricanes Irma and María shows that we must address the vulnerabilities of the Caribbean,” added Jackson.
A REGIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM
As happens in many places following large-scale natural disasters, desperation in the initial days following the disaster led to disturbances and looting by the population in Dominica.
Thus, security became a key issue to ensure that aid and resources arrived and were equally distributed, above all among the most vulnerable sectors.
“Our small police force was overwhelmed by the level of destruction caused by María,” stated Superintendent of Dominica’s Police Force, Richmond Valentine speaking to Granma.
“We couldn’t mobilize a single one of our vehicles; the city was impassable, flooded by river water, mud, and sand. We didn’t have any communication, electric lighting, or cell phone service,” he recalled.
Valentine highlighted the importance of the organization’s Regional Security System (RSS) to disaster response and recovery efforts.
The mechanism is activated in disaster situations affecting any Caricom member-state. Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Barbados and other nations within the area sent dozens of officials to Dominica just hours after the storm.
“We are responsible for security, reconstructing buildings, and the distribution and management of relief supplies,” stated Atlee Rodney, Antigua and Barbuda’s deputy commissioner of Police and commander of the RSS operation in Dominica.
“It’s important that we work together as a single Caribbean,” he added. “No country can tackle these problems on its own.”
Valentine, who works directly with members of the RSS in Roseau, rejected the notion of any kind of animosity between officials from neighboring countries and local forces.
“We have done joint training in the past. We know each other,” he stated. “Their commitment to helping a sister island and willingness to remain for as long as necessary, is clear.”
Meanwhile, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, thanked Caribbean countries for their support; noting that “on the morning of September 19, Maria tested the resolve of Dominicans,” and “our Caribbean neighbors… all have passed this test.”