By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” June 4, 2021)
“The dilemma in the quest to save lives may jeopardise livelihoods. Yet, the imperative to preserve livelihoods may cost human lives. While economies can rebound, lost lives cannot.” Prof. Wendy Grenade
One year after Professor Grenade uttered these wise words, we call on all stakeholders to spare a thought for our people, especially the poor and vulnerable. Show them love and compassion, thought and understanding rather than arrogant dictates and heavy-handedness.
Vincentians have been forced to endure a perfect storm in the last year. First, the dengue epidemic took 12 precious lives and caused sleepless nights for parents with ill children. However, this sad episode was soon eclipsed by the fear and dread of the COVID pandemic.
Early in this horror movie, to say that someone was infected with or died of COVID met with stern rebuke.
Citizens were accused of creating fear and alarm. Initially, the authorities refused to acknowledge that anyone had died from COVID. Currently, the fear machine churns news of a COVID death before the last breath.
The new taboo is to speculate that a citizen suffered an adverse effect or died after being vaccinated. After all, the COVID vaccine is touted as the cure-all hope to bring some level of normalcy to planet earth. Unfortunately, the national policy is driven by the whim and fancy of our leaders rather than objective reality.
The April 9 eruption of La Soufriere volcano compounded our problems. Up to 20,000 citizens have been displaced, turning them into virtual refugees. Evacuees were subjected to the worse kind of sledging from the more fortunate among us. Initially, they were accused of ungratefulness for not praising the government’s efforts to bring them to safety. Later, they were labelled greedy for not taking whatever was offered to eat and drink at the shelters. Most recently, word dropped that evacuees were so comfortable in the shelters that they did not want to go back to the decency and privacy of their own homes.
Spare a thought for those who were uprooted from their homes just seven weeks ago. Up to three weeks ago, residents of the red and orange zones were blocked by armed police from returning to these areas to assess the damage and clean up. And then came the order that those living south of the Rabacca River and Chateaubelair must return home by June 1.
Scant regard is shown for the respiratory health of those living in zones with the most ash and dust. The fallout from this decision could prove calamitous to children and the elderly. The government seems in a mad rush to return to a contrived sense of normalcy. With this call, the government displayed a degree of insensitivity bordering on callousness.
No other country in the Caribbean has been slammed this hard by the forces of nature, the bad-mouthing of policymakers and the economic hardship, stress and tension heralded by the unhappy happenings of the last year.
Dengue tormented thousands of parents and children. Then, just before the volcano blew its top, the government terrorised public servants, teachers and police officers with its thinly disguised strategy to commandeer them into taking the vaccine.
Soufriere’s eruption offered a temporary respite to that sector of the population as the government shifted its coercive tactics to our northern neighbours from the red and orange zones. As they scurried to safety, Culture Minister Carlos James told them, “… this is not a drill. This is a pandemic. If you enter a government operated facility, you will be vaccinated.” PM Gonsalves disclosure that cruise liners willing to ship our citizens to safety and CARICOM leaders demanded that citizens be vaccinated before they entered turned out to be false.
These disingenuous attempts to force the injection on unsuspecting Vincentians partially backfired. More than 60%of those evacuated spent what little savings they had or depended on family to rent apartments or double up with friends or well-wishers.
Our people are under so much pressure that they crave release of pent up tensions. However, Vincentians are not as irresponsible as many pious talking heads proclaim. When science points to impending danger, the citizens responded. Following the spike in COVID infections occasioned by the reckless decision by the political class to hold pre-election mass meetings, Nine Mornings celebrations, allowing an unhealthy influx of people from COVID hotbeds like New York, Miami and Toronto, citizens followed the protocol religiously. They took similar precautionary action to protect themselves from dust in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption.
Many speculated and anticipated almost gleefully a spike in COVID cases from the evacuation of citizens.
These prophets of doom and gloom looked on in horror as their predictions failed to materialise. Now they hang their latest doomsday forecast after last Sunday’s cricket game.
Spare a thought for the people’s mental health. Stop attempting to force citizens into an irrational activity that neatly fits into an agenda that may negatively impact their physical health.
Times of change, flux and chaos are the worst periods in which to govern. Periods of disaster and uncertainty also bring out the mettle in our people and leaders. Leaders can govern as though they are awestruck by power and proceed cautiously but wisely, or they can attempt to ram their policy prescriptions down the throats of those who elected them to govern.
These are perilous but exciting times in which to live. We have our challenges, but we are neither down nor out. On the contrary, our people have displayed a profound sense of understanding and courage in the circumstances. They weigh their risk and endeavour to protect their family, friends and neighbours.
Those in authority must climb down from their high chairs and offer ordinary people the level of respect they give to family and their local and foreign bigwig colleagues.
So spare a thought for the people. What we witnessed at the Arnos Vale Sporting Complex last Sunday was a collective release of a people waiting to exhale, to embrace, touch and mingle with friends and family conditions forced them to shun.
Unless we spare a thought for the huddled masses in our midst, we may continue to rule over the people for a while but never develop an enduring and endearing relationship with them.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].