Caribbean countries must unite in a common purpose and build solid units that will allow them to face the consequences of climate change and the pandemic in terms of food security and tourism, key factors for the survival of most of the islands.
This is the warning of historian Alfonso Múnera, professor at the Universidad Nacional (UNAL), former Colombian ambassador to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and former Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), who was invited to inaugurate the Master’s program in Caribbean Studies at UNAL.
In his lecture “Historical trajectories and challenges of the Caribbean”, the academic recalled that the Caribbean is affected by climate change, the intensity of hurricanes, floods, the increase in the volume of the sea, the deterioration of the coral reef and coastal erosion, which make it vulnerable to damage to its infrastructure, fauna, flora, coastal ecosystems, underwater systems and community.
Regarding these problems, the professor considers that “the Caribbean must speak to the world from a unified position and not from the Caribbean tradition of fragmentation, in which each island operates on its own despite the existence of international organizations such as the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the ACS.
Cooperation among Caribbean countries is also essential to address challenges such as tourism, food security, climate change and the marine environment, because only in a joint and organized manner can the problems afflicting the region be solved together.
In the opinion of the UNAL professor, the Caribbean is one of the most complex and fascinating areas to study, so it is no coincidence that there are several institutes and institutions in the world interested in analyzing its many complexities.
The region is complex because of the historical trajectories that crossed this geography, which allow it to share a common experience of the past, defined by the colonialism practiced by the European powers and their conflictive interaction, by the exploitation of resources and the native population, by the introduction of enslaved human groups from different parts of Africa and other shared processes.
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In the Caribbean economy, tourism is one of the shared activities that articulate the islands because it is one of the most dynamic economic sectors in the world due to the generation of employment, the contribution of foreign currency and its contribution to regional development.
In this sense, Professor Múnera emphasizes that in Colombia, the Caribbean has consolidated itself as the tourist region par excellence given the attractiveness of its natural resources and its historical trajectories that have left a cultural and material legacy attractive to visitors.
The effect of the pandemic
In the Caribbean region there are 12 islands that live off tourism and most of their income comes from this sector, which was affected by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing a significant reduction in state income and social groups that derive their livelihood from this activity.
“This panorama has generated economic, social and political affectations in the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Barbados, among others, with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago which has the gas and oil resources”, states Professor Múnera.
It is estimated that the region’s progress lost a decade of progress and the decline in GDP growth for the Caribbean may be 8 percentage points according to the ECLAC 2020 report.
During 2019, 7.4% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean lived with hunger, equivalent to 47.7 million people. The situation has been deteriorating over the last 5 years, with an increase of 13.2 million people undernourished.
Professor Múnera states that “a good number of islands receive between 70 and 80% of their food products from abroad, i.e. basic foodstuffs, which is serious, but it is part of the story, in which the entire economy is concentrated in one product and is exchanged in such a way that the rest of the products are imported”.
For this reason, he considers it important to take into account historical processes that, like the plantation system, could explain some of the region’s current circumstances.
“The impact of poverty on household food security will depend on the measures that governments are able to continue to take to address this crisis,” warns the professor.