The year 2020 threw many things at us and so tested our individual resilience and certainly that of nations and the international system. I wish the readers of this column a kind and productive new year. There are several issues to follow in the new year from the local, regional, and international levels.
Just as the globe was very slowly and cautiously turning the corner on this virus with the production of vaccines, predictably, new strains have emerged. While scientists in leading research centers test the vaccines against the mutated variants found in Britain and South Africa, more certainty and clarity will evolve.
The roll out of this vaccine in the Cayman Islands is a crucial part of the strategy to have the borders of the country opened by the end of March this year. The Premier has explained that visitors will be required to be vaccinated prior to travel and produce a negative COVID-19 test before arriving and a second negative test on arrival. This in addition to other public health requirements. Travellers not meeting these requirements will have to quarantine. With close to two million people dead from this virus and a world economy severely affected, the national voluntary vaccination plan is important. The global solution is in the vaccines. The more of us vaccinated, the better we are to defeat the virus and the quicker a return to ‘normalcy’ and especially for the local economy to fully rebound.
Another issue to keep an eye on is how the education system makes up for time lost in the delivery of education due to the virus. Luckily, the very effective way in which the government has handled the crisis has limited the negative consequences on the teaching and learning process. The effects of lost learning must not be underestimated. As necessary as online and hybrid strategies are, the face-to-face opportunities are superior, and we must be concerned about gaps in learning and their implications.
The May General election should be consequential and with the January 20 deadline for registration to vote, I use this means to encourage unregistered voters to do so.
On the regional side, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is having widespread economic, social, and political effects on Latin America and the Caribbean.
As reported by the Congressional Research Service of the United States, ‘As of December 15, 2020, the region had over 14.1million confirmed cases (19.4% of cases worldwide) and almost 473,000 deaths (29.2% of deaths worldwide). Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru have the highest numbers of deaths in the region, and Brazil has the highest death toll worldwide after the United States.’
The virus has decimated the tourism sector, slashed trade, and reduced remittances to CARICOM countries. Each country has revised growth figures downwards except for Guyana now the fastest economy in the world largely due to its new oil wealth. With a projected 26.21% growth in 2020, Guyana is the fastest growing economy in the world. Guyana’s growth is expected to come in at:12% in 2021, 49% in 2022, 28% in 2023.
Its GDP of $6.81 billion (2020 Rank: 150) is expected to more than double by 2025 to reach $14.08 billion. A report from Bloomberg stated that with such figures, Guyana’s GDP will grow 14 times as fast as China’s next year. Further projections by the IMF had showed that real GDP will grow by 4.8 per cent in 2021, 20.6 per cent in 2022 and 26.2 per cent in 2023.
Guyana must do everything to avoid the oil curse of poor governance, mismanagement of oil resources and acute corruption. It has an amazing opportunity at development and transformation of the lives of its people with positive repercussions for the rest of the Caribbean.
The desire for greater regional integration has clearly subsided and must be reinvigorated with emphasis on deeper relations with Cuba especially with a new and likely more friendly government in the US.
More voices in more of the independent countries of the Caribbean are calling for independent Caribbean countries, which have not done so yet, to permanently cut their constitutional link to the British monarch and become republics. Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, Antigua, and Barbuda, and the five other independent countries of the Eastern Caribbean still have the Queen as head of state.
The Barbadian government has announced that by November of this year, it intends to become a Republic, ending its status as a constitutional monarch. In doing so it will join countries such as Trinidad and Guyana which are already Republics. A republic is a country that has no link to a monarch.
The British monarchy, as Professor Simeon McIntosh, Caribbean legal luminary argued, arising as it did from the unique features of British constitutional history, was suitable for Britain: but, he maintained, constitutional structures must emanate from their local circumstances, and so, as a matter of sovereign authority, Caribbean governments should work to cut the umbilical cord with the United Kingdom, as a matter of high importance.
I fully support these sentiments. Independent Caribbean countries, as a matter of national dignity and self-respect, must move expeditiously to make their constitutional frameworks that of a Republic, that is one having no links to a monarch.
I was thus pleased to read that Barbados plans to remove Queen Elizabeth as titular head of state and replace her with a ceremonial president from the Caribbean island.
On the international side, the transition to a new President in the USA has global implications. Much of what happens in the economies of the rest of the world will be linked to how the USA deals with its own colossal and immediate COVID situation.
How will the new government deal with issues of race made violent and poignant with the killing of George Floyd? These issues are deep, institutional, and urgent.
Its policy and attitude towards China will be crucial. For some scholars, the USA is a waning empire, China, a rising one. The USA must ‘get back into the world’ by giving its support to the United Nations and other global bodies and institutions. The UN is the only truly universal global organization. Food security is an urgent issue. So too climate and the matter of global warming. The UN has reported that the decade has been the warmest in recorded history and that we have a decade to significantly curb carbon emissions and avoid catastrophe.
Many other global issues await the new US President. Inequality and exclusion are at the center of most urgent and dire issues facing the global community whether it be development, climate, or illusive attempts at global peace.