By Caribbean News Global contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia – In a Facebook post, John Peters argues that the “COVID pandemic has exposed the true nature of Europe, which was manifested during the days of colonialism, the propensity in the art of plunder.”
At this juncture, debates over culture, patrimony, diplomacy, ownership/distribution of COVID-19 vaccine and efficacy data consumes the minds of most. Besides this is the prime minister of Saint Lucia utterances that “colonialism has a conscience” and his practice of machiavellian resonates in the [non] governance of Cabinet and the government of Saint Lucia.
Ancient origins and cliché can advance the reality of the times, as referenced by Peters from a famous platform speech by then prime minister George Chambers, that echoed the most memorable line of his political career. In a political meeting for the elections in 1981, he bellowed: “In this election, it is dog eat dog and vice versa”.
Forty years later recalls Peter’s “this phrase remains a gem to me, and one which so correctly described our present situation. Well, in this pandemic it is dog eat dog and vice versa, as every nation is seeking its own affairs.”
As far as I observe, the COVAX Facility “seems to be far into the future, and the promises will not be fulfilled as planned.”
Lets us examine three components:
- According to PAHO/WHO, Saint Lucia is among the 15 Caribbean countries that will receive just over 2.1 million doses of COVAX vaccines by May 2021.
At the 6th special meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Authority, World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus revealed that “to bridge the vaccine gap in the region, he has spoken to vaccine manufacturers specifically about the situation in the Caribbean.”
The OECS Authority highlighted the challenges that SIDS faced in terms of vaccine equity and lamented the fact that the OECS had not yet received any vaccines from the COVAX Facility.
- The USA has focused its vaccine assistance on Mexico and Canada, two major trading partners, with their surplus AstraZeneca vaccine being sent to both countries.
The plan is to “loan” approximately four million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico and Canada, the details of which are still being worked out according to press secretary Jen Psaki.
“Our first priority remains vaccinating the US population,” Psaki added. “Ensuring our neighbours can contain the virus is a mission-critical step, is mission critical to ending the pandemic.”
The White House recently announced that the Joe Biden administration has met the goal to administer 100 million vaccines. “I know that out of our collective pain, we will find our collective purpose: to control the pandemic, to save lives, and to heal as a nation,” Biden said.
- Let’s return to Peter’s observations that the government of Trinidad and Tobago was recently involved in a diplomatic spat with India, with prime minister Dr Keith Rowley correctly taking a position that his country will not grovel for a dose of vaccine.
Immediately following the diplomatic slur by India, Dr Rowley had direct talks with the Chinese president and it would appear that Sinovac, which is anticipated to be approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the end of March 2021, will form a major component of the vaccination programme of that country.
Peters recommended that Saint Lucia should not pin all its hopes on the COVAX Facility as it now seems unlikely that our allocation will be sent soon. Morevoer, he says: “We need to begin to be aggressive at the diplomatic level and look elsewhere.”
Prime minister Gaston Browne has rightfully asked the president Biden administration to send some of the surplus AstraZeneca vaccine to the Caribbean.
“Pointing out that the Caribbean is the third border of the United States, Browne argued that as the safety of the US would be imperilled if Canada and Mexico are not inoculated to achieve herd immunity, similarly the US would remain at risk if CARICOM countries are neglected.
“Prime minister Browne explained to president Biden that the Caribbean region “is among the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic”. Consequently, he said: “ Our economies have experienced shrinkage of up to 30 percent; unemployment has risen to over 50 percent in some cases; poverty has expanded everywhere; and our revenues have declined precipitously, forcing us to increase debt which we have had to incur at high rates of interest”.
“Saint Lucia’s abject failure to stand up on matters of principle at the Organisation of Americal States (OAS) is for another time,” Peter’s noted. “Nationalism is on the rise and in that context, vaccine diplomacy is floating to the surface with the rising tide. Saint Lucia needs to be prepared,” he said.
In a comment on Facebook Mark Hennecart writes: “Given the emerging research and evidence which suggests that the lockdowns have not contributed to a reduction in the number of COVID-19 deaths, we are very likely to observe an increased hostility in the conduct of international relations, regarding the global vaccination programme.
“Sadly, even when we should expect more alliances, treaties and agreements at the bilateral and multilateral levels, to the exclusion of the Caribbean region and many of its smaller territories, rather than negotiate collectively at the CARICOM or Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) level, we are each going our separate way.”