Caribbean rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria

How many have you visited? Read about? Know the history of? Who do you follow from these places on social media? What newspapers and magazines do you read that regularly report on the Caribbean and Caribbean issues?

While reading weather updates about Florence and Isaac, I realized that almost every weather report I read referred to hurricanes approaching or headed toward “the Lesser Antilles.” I tweeted this:

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The weather shorthand used serves to actually eradicate the entire region, as storms are reported mostly with the focus on what might possibly affect the U.S. mainland. We are unconsciously programmed to clump together the different places and their unique circumstances.

We already know that far too many mainlanders were not even aware that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the U.S. I guarantee they know even less about the rest of the Caribbean.

Another introduction to the Caribbean is via film. I can think of no better place to start than Peter Bailey’s latest work. 

Watch the trailer for “The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders”, the second and most personal film from Peter Bailey’s highly-anticipated Paradise Discovered series capturing the voices of hurricane survivors throughout the Caribbean. Based on the New York Times’ Op Ed Bailey wrote while repairing the roof to his family home, the award-winning author and journalist  brings to life the days between September 6 – September 20th when both category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall in native St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Unbreakable depicts the heroism and resilience of residents of the tiny US territory who weathered what historians have called the storms of the century.

He writes:

The voices amplified in the film represent a cross section of Virgin Islands’ society. From my 75 year-old mother’s defiant prayers, to Governor Kenneth Mapp advocating on our behalf to President Trump and high schooler Indira’s compassion for her classmates alongside Julius Jackson and my high school classmate Nathaniel Phillips cooking up dishes to serve the community, our NiteCap Media team sought to capture the beauty from this historic event in our islands’ story. The story of Anique Thomas-Harrigan who lost her husband Ishmael “Tarik” Harrigan is heart wrenching yet her strength is inspiring.

On my birthday last year I was at a distribution center with my neighbor Tony and local journalist Kelsey, both featured in the film, stocking goods to distribute to the community while I myself dealt with losing a roof and existing without electricity for 93 days.

The next day I was walking on rafters, trying to maintain my balance with Robert Buckmire, hurrying to build the best makeshift roof as hurricane Maria approached. In the last graph of this piece Paradise Lost which I actually finished writing before Maria arrived I elude to it being possibly the last thing I ever write. In all honestly I didn’t believe I would have lived to share this story, but since God saw it fit to keep me here I plan on making sure what we the unbreakable Virgin Islanders accomplished is never forgotten.

Part 1 of his series is an introduction to Anguilla

In this first offering from a series that promises to be culturally transforming, an array of voices including Pam Webster, the island’s Opposition Leader, legendary reggae singer Bankie Banx and even Bailey’s mother Anita Bailey share their hopes for Anguilla’s future since surviving the storms. The film also sheds light on the Anguilla Revolution like never before.

‘Paradise Discovered: The Anguilla Connection’ film debuts in Anguilla

ANGUILLA–Patrons attending the informal “official” viewing of the film “Paradise Discovered: The Anguilla Connection” on the grounds of the Sunshine Theatre, Sandy Hill, on Saturday evening, July 9, experienced an exquisite and heart-wrenching storytelling documentary. Produced by Peter Bailey, it captures a cross-section of Anguillians recounting in their own voice, their very personal and unscripted experiences during and immediately following Hurricane Irma. It also records conversations with Anguillians who provide personal stories and insight into the condition of island life from the pre-Anguilla revolutionary days up to the present. The unscripted stories, told with crystal-clear honesty, humour, reflection and hope, powerfully capture the strength of the people of Anguilla.

Producer Peter Bailey, whose mother is from Anguilla, grew up in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, and received his degree in journalism from the University of Delaware. He interned at the infamous Village Voice in New York, then worked at Time and Newsweek magazines before moving on to The Miami Herald. At The Miami Herald, he created the award-winning “On the Margins” series where, for the first time, the paper covered the issues and stories of the city’s impoverished population. His book Magic City: Trials of a Native Son was published in 2010.

These film clips are just an example of a way to begin to get acquainted with the Caribbean. I realize that we all have diverse interests and issues we view as most important to us. I do think that Daily Kos readers can find a little bit of time to become better acquainted with our neighbors whose lives and histories are intertwined with our own. 

My second suggestion is that if you are a regular Daily Kos reader, why not take a few minutes to read or skim the articles posted in Black Kos twice a week? Black Kos is the sole place on Daily Kos that regularly covers news and culture from the Caribbean and the rest of the black diaspora. The founder and managing editor, David Reid (dopper0189), is a Jamaican-American who was profiled here last year. Sure, you may find a story posted outside of Black Kos that is an exception, but those exceptions are rare. I have no way to gauge how many people actually read it weekly, and can only tell you it averages 50 recommends.

Frankly, that’s pretty pathetic on a site that has such a huge readership (I’m biased since I write there every other Tuesday and am one of the editors). It could indicate that folks mistakenly think you have to be black to read Black Kos (the majority of readers are white, reflecting this site’s demographics). Or it could indicate that far too many Democrats here aren’t interested. I hope not. I have always found an engaged readership when I post here on Sundays. Give it a shot. Check out the comments section as well for the Twitter roundup (here’s a link to a sample), which always has news from the Caribbean. 

A third suggestion (which I mentioned as a question) is to find Caribbean writers and journalists to follow through Twitter and Facebook. There are also Caribbean blogs and literary journals. Some are published here in the states. For example, I read Calabash

Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters is an international literary journal dedicated to publishing works encompassing, but not limited to, the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanophone and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. The Journal is especially dedicated to presenting the arts and letters of those       communities that have long been under-represented within the creative discourse of the region, among them: Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, Maroon societies, and the Asian and Amerindian societies of the region. Calabash has a strong visual arts component.

Newspapers like The Guardian provide far better coverage of Caribbean news than most U.S.-based media.

Read up on the work various international organizations and foundations are doing. Keep an open mind and explore the issues that may arise from various perspectives. It is too easy to simply take a “left” point of view and bash all  development and throw around the words “vulture capitalism.” Yes, there are exploiters. Caribbean history is rooted in exploitation and slavery. Modern-day nations want to develop business, exports, and grow their economies. Trade is part of that. Caribbean nations also encourage tourism, which plays a major role in island economies. Tourism also has its downsides, particularly when discussing environmental impacts. Where questions and conflicts arise is when the largest part of the profits accrue to investors who are not locals. This does not mean that locals don’t exploit their own people. It is too easy to simply back the elected governments of nations who benefit from a highly stratified class system.

Take the current situation in Barbuda, for example. We should be aware of it because it is linked to a prominent U.S. Democratic liberal figure: Robert de Niro.

Barbuda was literally almost wiped off the map by Hurricane Irma. Antigua and Barbuda are joined at the hip in an unequal alliance which favors the more populous Antigua. Barbudans have communal land rights, which the government of Antigua has undermined in order to bring in outside development—notably from Robert de Niro.

The Caribbean paradise Barbuda has been owned by descendants of the island’s former slaves for nearly 200 years. In the wake of hurricane Irma, is their ownership at threat from a government land grab?” Barbuda is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean”, says a Barbudan man. But all is not well in the formerly unspoilt jewel of the Caribbean, which Princess Diana once called one of her favourite places on earth. Her favoured hideaway, the K club hotel, went out of business in 2004, attracting the development interest of Hollywood legend Robert de Niro. “I went there on a day trip and never forgot it”, says the star. But his ever expanding “Paradise Found” project has been met with stiff opposition from protesters, who question the nature of the mogul’s contracts with the government. “Robert de Niro don’t know what he is taking on. We unite when you come on the land rights”, says Daphne Thomas, a Barbudan now living in England. Under the island’s historic slavery reparations, she still has a share in the island’s communal land arrangements, as do her children. But following new land legislation, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has been accused of reversing these powers, paving the way for developers like De Niro. “Its a big land grab – to please who? The foreign investors. Not to please the local people…”, says one protestor.

From many Barbudans’ perspectives, De Niro is an exploiter. From the Antiguan government’s perspective, he is a welcome developer. De Niro sees his role as a helper—especially post-Irma.

Where do things stand now? Work on a new Barbudan airport, which would favor tourism and development and potentially harm the environment, was halted by an August court ruling. As of Sept. 11, that injunction was lifted.

This is food for thought, and I hope some of you will decide to explore more. I’ll be doing more of that in upcoming stories.

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