The significant impact on our region due to the war in Ukraine

Below, is an abbreviated version of a talk held by Dr. Scott B. MacDonald on June 23, 2022, at a panel discussion hosted by the University of the West Indies. Dr. MacDonald and I currently work with other experts for Global Americans/High-Level Group on Climate Change in the Caribbean.

Introduction

The Russian invasion has continued to shift geopolitics and geoeconomics. The tsunami of economic sanctions leveled against Russia by the West clearly underscores the tearing apart of the global economy, with Russia’s economy increasingly tied to China’s as well as other non-Western countries, like India (a major buyer of discounted Russian crude oil), Iran other non-democratic states, such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Myanmar. 

Though the battlefields of Europe are far removed from the Caribbean, there is an impact, on a region seeking to recover from the harsh economic downturn caused by the COVID pandemic. There are direct and indirect implications, the latter being more profound.

The CARICOM-Russian trade relationship is not significant

According to the International Monetary Fund’s Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS), trade between the Caribbean is under USD billion; among CARICOM members it’s probably below USD 500 million. In terms of imports, Russia ranks 87thwith Jamaica and 99thwith Barbados. Regarding Caribbean country exports to Russia, Russia ranks 98thfor Barbados and 33rdfor Trinidad&Tobago. Ukraine’s trade presence in the Caribbean is even smaller. In terms of foreign direct investments, Russia is a minor player in the Caribbean, with a few exceptions in mining and energy. Rusal (the world’s second-largest aluminum company by output) has holdings in Jamaica and Guyana. Russia’s main economic focus in the Caribbean is Cuba and Venezuela, the former consistently in need of Russian help, and the latter, a play on oil.  

CARICOM’s response to the Russian invasion

CARICOM countries were part of the 141 countries at the United Nations that condemned the Russian invasion in March. Cuba and Nicaragua joined China and India in abstaining. A majority of Caribbean countries also voted to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council, which passed with 93 in favor, 58 abstentions, and 24 against (including Cuba).

A number of Caribbean countries (mainly in the Eastern Caribbean) decided to restrict economic transactions on the part of sanctioned Russian entities or individuals including the suspension of Citizen by Investment programs vis-à-vis Russian and Belarusian applicants. 

The Bahamian Central Bank issued a directive to financial institutions “against doing business with sanctioned persons and entities of Russia and Belarus.”Also, efforts are being taken to help freeze Russian assets. Such efforts are likely to have a negative impact on those sectors in the Caribbean that are involved in offshore financial business activities. 

The indirect impact of the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Caribbean

Whilst the direct impact is minimal, the indirect consequences of the Russo-Ukrainian war are significant. One major area is food security. Prices for food are on the rise, which can be traced back to the role played by Russia, and Ukraine in world food production.

It is not only food. The key to food production is the products that go into making fertilizer. In this, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all play a role. Russia and Ukraine together export 28% of fertilizers made from nitrogen and phosphorous. This puts pressure on food supplies and on food production costs – all of which are inflationary and becoming a problem around the world (consider the June 2022 food price riots in Ecuador).

What it means for the Caribbean

Food security is increasingly a concern. This is particularly worrisome considering the high level of dependence on food imports through the Caribbean. That’s just for food. Oil prices are another major concern. This war has helped push up international oil and natural gas prices. While this benefits fossil-fuel producers, in Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad&Tobago, it is a blow to the rest of the region. According to Goldman Sachs, oil prices are expected to average $140 a barrel between July – September 2022, and remain around the $135 a barrel through the second half of 2022 and into 2023.

The economic landscape for Caribbean policymakers is not encouraging

Economic growth has returned for 2022, but will it last? The Russo-Ukrainian War is likely to push Europe into a recession. Considering that Europeans are one of the major markets for Caribbean tourism, this hurts. The inflationary dimensions have prompted the U.S. Federal Reserve, to raise interest rates. For the Caribbean, this means that the U.S. will either experience an economic slowdown or recession, both of which could put a dent into regional tourism. 

Rising interest rates in the U.S. are going to make borrowing more expensive. This constrains the ability of governments to protect the most vulnerable of their populations from food insecurity, building up resilience from the ill effects of climate change, and diversifying their economies away from heavy dependence on tourism to broader blue and orange economy strategies. The Russo-Ukrainian War is one more reason to continue to push in creating an economically more self-reliant Caribbean.

With that in mind, it is worthwhile to conclude with a quote from 19th-century Russian writer Anton Chekhov, “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”

Willemstad, Curaçao

Het Haatvirus op Curaçao

Mocht u nog twijfelen, bestaan haat, racisme en discriminatie echt op Curaçao. Na de laatste uitval van een radiopersoon en vader van de Gevolmachtigde minister (GevMin) dat Nazis meer Nederlanders hadden moeten afmaken omdat een Europees Nederlandse journalist zich kritisch had geuit richting zijn zoon, dacht ik: moet ik nu lachen om deze onzin? Maar na de zoveelste haatspraak tegen buitenlanders, de LGBTQ+, Aziaten, Joden, om maar enkelen te noemen, is het lachen me allang vergaan.

Hoe zou vaderlief het hebben gevonden als die jounalist had gesuggereerd dat de bemanning op een van de slavenschepen vanuit Afrika naar ons eiland, de voorouders van de GevMin had moeten omkieperen in de Atlantische Oceaan? Waarschijnlijk hadden dan minder mensen hun schouders opgehaald. Dan zou het een witte aanval zijn geweest op zwarten. Want wat me hier opvalt is dat sommigen ervan uitgaan dat racisme een éenrichtingsverkeer is. Dat is niet het geval. Haatspraak is niet beperkt tot één ras, geslacht of religieuze instelling.

We hebben onszelf jarenlang zoet gehouden met de overtuiging dat er geen haatvirus hier bestaat omdat ” tientallen verschillende nationaliteiten naast elkaar wonen”. Wij zijn dus tolerant is de conclusie.  Fout.  Anti-racist en anti-haatzaaier zijn , betekent niet elkaar tolereren maar in daad en woord strijden opdat iedereen, ongeacht ras, huidskleur, geslacht, religie, sexuele voorkeur of moedertaal, dezelfde rechten en plichten hebben om zichzelf te kunnen zijn.

Menige geïnstitutionaliseerde discriminatie bestaat niet meer. Een van de laatste strijden die moedige mannen en vrouwen hebben gevoerd, is tegen wettelijke discriminatie van vrouwen. Institutionele discriminatie tegen de LGBTQ+ blijft daarentegen bestaan doordat sommige groepen, vooral Christelijke organisaties blijven volharden dat gelijke rechten niet van toepassing zijn op mensen met een bepaalde sexuele geaardheid. We hebben weer moedige mannen en vrouwen, ongeacht hun sexuele voorkeuren, nodig om deze discriminatie tegen te gaan.

Het haatvirus wordt vooral in stand gehouden middels onze hedendaagse taal(gebruik).  Hoe vaak hebben we niet gehoord: “Zij is zwart maar mooi (of intelligent of fijntjes)”.  Benamingen voor groepen zoals kulibedjisabachihouse negro worden nog steeds gebruikt. Hoe vaak hebben wij niet in de kranten gelezen dat de 45 miljoen tellende Yoruba bevolking in Afrika een stam is, maar dat dat woord nooit wordt gebruikt voor Ijsland welke slechts 350,000 zielen telt? Of dat Amharic, een taal die 2000 jaar bestaat, met een eigen alfabet en die door 65 miljoen mensen wordt gesproken, een dialect is?

Ons taalgebruik is bepalend. Weinig mensen zeggen openlijk: ik ben racist of haatzaaier. Maar dat betekent niet dat het klopt. Het haatvirus is te vergelijken met het coronavirus: met het blote oog niet zichtbaar, maar uitermate besmettelijk en onderhevig aan mutaties. We moeten net als het geval van het coronavirus, werken aan het tegengif. Goed letten op ons taalgebruik en dat van onze omgeving. Als het een groep discrimineert of pijn doet, moeten we ermee ophouden. We kunnen niet in het midden blijven, hopend dat dit weer overwaait of het onder het tapijt schuiven. Vroeger of later ontploft er een bom.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Si bo no ta lesa buki ta meskos ku si bo no por lesa ni skibi

Luna pasá den un trein di Haryana pa Uttar Pradesh (India), mi ta ripará sigur 50 hende rònt dimi ta lesa buki. Fasiná, mi ta konsultá despues algun sitio elektróniko i konstatá ku India ta e pais ku mas ta lesa (midí kuantu página ta lesa diariamente) mundialmente.

CBS tampoko tin sifra riba esaki, pero bo ta ripará rònt dibo, speshalmente den salanan di espera (Bentana di Informashon, Imigrashon, Kranshi) no tin hende kasi ta lesa buki.

Lesamentu ta empoderá hende, stimulá pa wak un punto di vários ángulo, amplia konosementu, drecha vokabulario i outografia. Segun a outor Mark Twain: The person who doesn’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read.

Serka nos, Biblioteka Nashonal i kuido di e bukinan eiden no ta haña atenshon di hendenan den Fòrti i Staten. E mayoria di nan no ta lesa ni tin lesamentu na pechu. Por ta un sorpresa ora bo tende nan masakrá nos idioma? Por ta un sorpresa ku nèt nan ta kritiká tur ku a invertí den nan mes, a bai skol i tin un título?

Na otro pais lidernan den komunidat manera Obama, Oprah, Bill Gates ta papia di bukinan ku nan ta lesa/rekomendá. Serka nos esei ta deskonosí.

Luna pasá na Sri Lanka, mi a saka potrèt di un biblioteka den un tènt riba e plasa di protesta pa kambio di régimen: Books are the greatest weapon in the People’s Revolution.

Foto: Colombo (Sri Lanka), Mei 2022 (Alex Rosaria)

Kisas mas impaktante ta loke e outor, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai a bisa: Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war.

Mi ta stimulá lesamentu, rekomendando un (1) buki pa luna riba mi ‘blog’.

Willemstad, Kòrsou

The refinery discussion highlights the limitations of our democratic system

I’ve written extensively about the deficiencies in our Western-style democratic system 1,2 which has undergone little reform since trias politica, and the American Revolution of the 18th century. This system mainly calls for elections, multi-party systems, and the separation of political powers. However, it’s built to (practically) only consider the present over the future making it inadequate to develop a satisfactory approach to dealing with future citizens.

This couldn’t be more obvious than the discussions regarding our refinery versus concerns about the future of fossil fuels and the environment. Yesterday an older gentleman who’s in the petrol business told me: we should sacrifice the environment for 10 more years to make sure the refinery reopens. Like him, many argue that Curaçao’s largest pollution source contributes little to the global climate problem. True. Like many also, we fail to realize that as a small island it will not take much for our lives to dramatically change due to climate.

Don’t get me wrong. Compared to other forms of government, democracy is still the best way to hold rulers accountable. But, the fact that our decision-makers consider the present, neglecting long-term environmental concerns, and issues such as genetic manipulation, changes in agriculture & livestock, and population decrease, compromises the choices of future citizens. 

The future of those too young to vote or who are not yet born has never been on the agenda of those in power today. We could say: “when those (future) kids are grown up, they can get elected and change things”. The problem is that the effects of the decisions today may be irreversible and the damage has already been done.

There are no simple solutions, but we could stop magnifying our own needs compared to those of future citizens. We need new institutions, and devices such as independent long-term planning bureaux, and think tanks. Also, democracy must be more inclusive. Foreigners with permanent residence in Curaçao must be able to vote. They’re bound by our laws but don’t have a say. This is unfair. We could also think of lowering the voting age to 16 years.

Willemstad, Curaçao

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We’re moving backward on key equal rights principles

A huge reversal is taking place in the four corners of the world on key equal rights. If the current trend continues, it could take generations just to be where we were before moving backward.

In Turkmenistan, the new president just enacted a law making it a crime for women to have beauty enhancements done to their bodies. In fact, last month security forces raided a restaurant forcing women to uncover their faces to check if their lips or other parts have been treated with botox. The new law is based on an ancient local custom, Adat, which essentially says that women should stay home and have children. Female fertility has been declining in Turkmenistan and it’s being blamed on girls who focus on beauty.

At home in Curaçao, the Christian churches, including Catholics are pushing their extremist agenda against equal rights for LGBTQ even after the independent Court ruled that the prohibition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. The churches launched a despicable attack disqualifying the then President-designate of our Common Court based on his assumed sexual preference. In their perverseness, they didn’t care about the damage inflicted on our administration of justice and rule of law. Yet, Fòrti has the backs of these churches, apparently as long as the money keeps flowing.

In the U.S. another attack on women’s rights to choose is being played out with the probable reversal of Roe v. Wade, which protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. If history is our witness, women will not stop having abortions. With the reversal of Roe v. Wade, women will be stopped from having safe abortions.

How long will our brothers and sisters have to suffer while we stand aside and look? Perhaps we’ll jump into action the moment our own rights are trampled? Maybe we should realize that the time for justice and equality is not tomorrow, not in 100 years, but always today.

New York City, U.S.A.

Referèndum sin un lei di referèndum ta garantia pa desaster

Figurabo koriendo bo outo riba un kaminda ku hopi bògt, awa ta kai, zeta plamá riba asfalt, pero bo ta primi gas ta bai. Ta riba e ruta ei nos ta ku tur e gritunan pa referèndum siendo ku no tin un lei di referèndum. Tene un refèndum sin un tal lei ta hasi e choke inevitabel.

Pakiko mester di un lei si ya nos a tene referèndum sin un lei spesífiko? Mi ta menshoná tres (3) motibu.

Pasombra ta importante sa kuantu hende tin ku vota pa esaki tin bálides. E mester ta 10%, 30%, òf mas ku 50%? E islanan di BES si tin un lei al respekto. P’esei e referèndum di 2014 na Statia no tabata bálido, pasombra solamente 45% di esnan ku derechi a bai vota. Na Kòrsou no tin klaridat.

Pasombra nos mester sa na ki momento un opshon ta gana, spesialmente si ta trata un kambio konstitushonal. Ku 50,01%? Òf 66.7%? 75%? Mayoria pais tin esaki debidamente determiná. Na Nevis 62% di poblashon a vota pa sali for di federashon di St Kitts and Nevis, pero lei ta bisa ku pa kambio konstitushonal mester di 66.7%.

Tambe ta importante determiná si nos ke pa un referèndum riba kambio konstitushonal ta obligatorio (bindend) òf no-obligatorio. Obligatorio ta nifiká ku polítikonan mester ehekutá e resultado. No-obligatorio kier men ku ta e polítikonan ta disidí si ta ehekutá e deseo di pueblo, òf no.

Nos a yega di tin referèndum kaba. Realmente nos lo ke bolbe purba nos suèrte sin transparensha ku asta a kondusí na hendenan ku a bisa ku e último tabata froudulento? Ta parse ku nos ta preferá grita referèndum pa loko sin sikiera pensa kon legalmente ta e mihó manera pa organisé. Kisas ta esei ta e intenshon. No bin ku regla ya ora ‘nan opshon’ no gana, hasi ko’i shouru i sembra mas divishon.

New York City, USA

China is dealt a major blow by very small islands in the Pacific: Hopefully, we’re paying attention

The PAR/MAN Administration presented the Chinese Communist Party’s representatives as the saviors of our economy

I’ve written before about the new Cold War in the Caribbean between the U.S. and China. Lesser known is a similar Cold War thousands of miles away in the Pacific between, again, the U.S. and China. The reason for mentioning the Pacific is that this week something remarkable happened that caused China a major embarrassment.

China offered some Pacific Islands including Fiji, Kiribati, Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu millions of dollars in assistance and loans and a free trade agreement. In exchange, Beijing would train their police forces, provide cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water. The contents of this ‘security pact’ that normally are strictly confidential, became known because they were leaked.

In a 9th inning effort, the Chinese President tried to convince these islands that: “China will be a good brother”.

The Chinese Foreign Minister who was present in Fiji for a virtual meeting with the region thought this was a done deal. Yet, in the end, the small Pacific Islands rejected China’s offer because of concern with ‘China’s brotherly love.’, and a plain lack of confidence in Beijing. What happened this week is a major blow to China which assumed it could continue to overrun (small) developing nations with its wallet diplomacy.

Hopefully, we can learn from our Pacific Island politicians who rejected Beijing’s imperialistic diplomacy.

Unfortunately, China’s servants in Curaçao are still trying to convince us to go into business with Beijing. Remember the CEOs of major local State Companies toasting champagne with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) representatives (see picture)? Let’s not forget that those representatives are still on our island and have the ear of many a politician.

Chennai, India

Nearshoring is replacing offshoring. Are we going to ride the waves of change or be passive onlookers?

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a new Cold War in the Caribbean. This time China battles the U.S. contrary to the old Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets.

This is where the U.S. Western Hemisphere Nearshoring Act which was passed last month, comes in. This legislation promotes manufacturing in Central, South America, and the Caribbean in order to reduce U.S. dependence on China.

First, we need to define nearshoring. According to Global Negotiator, nearshoring is the transfer of business processes to companies in a nearby country, whereby both parties benefit. Nearshoring is a derivative of the business term offshoring.

This means that whilst the U.S. used to look to the far east for products and services, it now wants to promote these goods and services made available in our Hemisphere. There should be no doubt about the geopolitical component of this legislation: to reduce U.S. dependency on China and rekindle the historic friendship with its neighbors.

Nearshoring makes business sense: closer proximity allows for cheaper and quicker transportation, less environmental burden, similar time zones which improve communication, reduction of cultural and language barriers, and better control of supply chains and quality.

Where’s the beef for Curaçao? We’re not going to be the next major automotive or aerospace industry production giants, but we can become an important technology and financial hub with the key being human capital, including Curaçao’s diaspora.

The new legislation also creates a low-interest loan program, administered by the International Development Finance Corporation to induce companies to move their factories from China to our region. Under this proposal, companies would get tax benefits such as duty-free trade with the U.S. for 15 years.

In order to benefit, we should reform our outdated economic structures, improve productivity, and have a globally competitive workforce. Most of these reforms are included in the stalled deal with The Netherlands.

We could also repeat the errors of the past and ignore the opportunities as we did during the first Cold War. The U.S.-sponsored Caribbean Basin Initiative should ring a bell.

Let’s hope this time we’ll ride the waves of change, diversify our economy while raising the standard of living, and not remain stuck in the status quo.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Petishon na Reina pa muhé i hende pretu no vota pasombra nan ta bobo: ki lès nos por saka?

Un grupo pudiente di hòmber ‘blanku’, a manda un karta pa Reina Wilhelmina na 1938 pa no duna derechi di voto na muhé i hende pretu pasombra nan no tabata madurá intelektualmente pa vota. P’e grupo, diskriminashon tabata hustifiká.

Kiko tabata e motivashon? Nos promé Kiesreglement (1936) a hasi posibel pa promé biaha vota pa 10 (di 15) miembro di Staten na 1937. Hòmber di 25 aña òf mas, ku un entrada mensual f 1,200 òf mas, ku a paga belasting i tabatin 7 aña di Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs, por a vota. Solamente 2,100 hòmber di un poblashon total di 90,000, a vota na 1937.

Dòktor a bira e bos kontra di e diskriminashon aki. Pero, den hopi sektor, asta su partido, Curaçaose Roomsch Katolieke Partij (CRKP), tabata pensa ku e pueblo lo no ta kla pa e tipo di emansipashon polítiko aki. Apesar di kontratempu, Staten a bai di akuerdo ku algun kambio chikí ku a pèrmití mas hòmber vota.

E firmantenan di e karta ya menshoná, tabata razu ku Staten a aprobá e kambionan den Kiesreglement i ta pidi Reina riba 29 òktober 1938 pa destruí e desishon di Staten. Permití hende bobo vota lo ta peligroso pa demokrasia. Ta rechasá e petishon riba 14 febrüari 1939.

Mi artíkulo no ta simplemente un pida historia. Despues di e lucha pa derechi igual den pasado, lo bo kere ku nos, desendiente di víktimanan di diskriminashon, sigur lo sa pa no diskriminá un minoria basá riba preferensia seksual. Awe e poderoso iglesia i sektanan kristian ta usa plaka brutu pa infuensiá opinion i Fòrti pa ninga e minoria LGBTQ+ derechi humano. Meskos ku 80 aña pasá nan tambe tin un hustifikashon ku nan ta saka foi un buki. Doloroso ta ku meimei di esnan pro-diskriminashon, tin hende ku ta yama nan mes ‘Gomista’.

Awe mayoria ta husga ku tabata robes di lucha kontra derechi igual di muhé i hende pretu firmando un karta 80 aña pasá pa Reina. Awor, tin ku warda 80 aña pa realisá kon hipókrita i robes nos ta awe pa deskriminá i ninga derechi igual pa un i tur?

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Fuente: Archivo Nashonal

When it comes to our neighbors we don’t care that much

Next June, the 9th Summit of the Americas (the Summit), will take place in Los Angeles bringing together leaders and stakeholders from the countries of North, South, Central America, and the Caribbean promoting cooperation, and inclusive economic growth based on shared democratic values.

But, we won’t be represented. Unfortunately, we barely pay attention to or make an effort to join such regional or hemisphere-wide gatherings. Our myopic decision-makers are simply too consumed with The Hague.

In an earlier article1, I mentioned some topics worth discussing with the U.S. and the region: climate change; pandemics; corresponding banks, and commerce. It’s timely since the U.S. intends to give its allies in Latin America, and the Caribbean, more attention. And, it’s expanding the U.S. Consulate (activities) in Curaçao. Disengaging allies has empowered China in our hemisphere and the U.S. knows it.

This is not the first time I’ve suggested being more engaged with our region. I recently approached a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to find out whether Curaçao is excluded from participation in the Summit because of its constitutional status.

He told me that whilst generally only full members of the Organization of American States (OAS) can participate in the Summit, non-independent states (like us) do have some level of participation through a relationship with an OAS observer country, in this case, the Netherlands. This doesn’t mean a seat at the Summit table but can provide some level of presence.

A second option is through the parallel civil society, and private sector (NGO) tracks that make up the Summit universe of activities. 

It may be too late this time around, but Government and NGOs should follow up with the U.S. Consulate General and The Hague to look into possibilities to link up with these alternative participation methods. If not today, next time. The point is that we can’t afford to sit idly by when it comes to our region.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

1https://alexdavidrosaria.wordpress.com/2021/07/21/new-us-consulate-general-hopefully-more-than-a-new-building