Hurricane Maria of 2017 posed a tough question to Caribbean islands, to rebuild or not to rebuild. And a far more intriguing dilemma, can Caribbean mini- and micro-States continue to exist?
The devastation on Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Barbuda and Dominica was so extensive that it may take ten years or more, and hundreds of billions of dollars, to rebuild. Tens of thousands of Caribbean island dwellers decided that it was better to leave the destroyed isles, and rebuild their lives elsewhere; they voted with their feet.
In Puerto Rico at least 300,000 left the ravages of 250,000 wrecked houses, with a U.S.$ 90 billion rebuilding price tag. This exodus came on top of the recession of 2007, leaving a public debt of U.S. $ 74 billion. Since then and before the hurricane, 400,000 Spanish Puerto Ricans left the bankrupt island. Whether U.S. Republicans like it or not, the U.S. had to welcome waves of Puerto Rican immigrants, who all carry a U.S. passport. Soon, a West Side Story II can be written on the tribulations of the 700,000 newcomers.
The Puerto Rican U.S. Campaign that started on May 12, 1898, with an American sea, and land operation, resulted in a new U.S. territory. And after 120 years, the U.S. territory comes with a hefty bill of more than a 100 billion dollars to rebuild and refinance public debt
St. Martin could almost do the same as Puerto Rico but with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and France, instead of the U.S.A., as financier and migration destination. Thousands used their EU-Dutch, and EU-French passports to migrate to Europe, and island administrators were eager to present their rebuilding invoices to the Kingdom and the Republic.
Barbuda’s 1,638 residents were all evacuated, and since 98% of all buildings were destroyed, they have nothing to return to. The island, a sovereign nation in a Commonwealth with Antigua since 1981, cannot turn to a big brother, like the U.K., for reconstruction funds, and migration destination.
The island Republic of Dominica was also left out in the cold after nearly total destruction. Its 75,000 people not only lost their homes but also their livelihood with rain forests uprooted and gone, once a major attraction to visiting tourists. For them, there is nothing but the charity of humanitarian aid.
The two-day hurricane deflated decennia of discussions, rebellion, bloodshed and uproar by populists and nationalist who propagated the formation of sovereign mico- and mini-states in the Caribbean. This time, a Middle-Passage mass migration, goes eastward, to Europe, and north, to the U.S.
By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle