Barbados offers help to neighbouring hurricane-affected islands

By Lincoln DePradine

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart (left) and Haynesley Benn, Consul General for Barbados in Toronto

Barbadian Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, says his country quickly reached out to Dominica and all the other hurricane-affected countries of the Caribbean, offering logistical support, technical assistance and help with the “management of their human resources challenges’’.

Earlier this month, Hurricane Irma battered several other countries in the region, including  Barbuda, Anguilla, Tortola, Turks and Caicos Islands, The Bahamas, and the US and British Virgin Islands. Last Monday, Dominica was severely hit by Hurricane Maria.

Prime Minister Stuart, who met with reporters in Toronto on the weekend, said up to Saturday, he had not spoken to Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, but there had been communication through letter.

“I tried to reach him by telephone, only to realize that the entire system had been knocked out. Therefore, I had to try to communicate with him through the Caricom Secretariat,’’ Stuart noted. “He did write a letter to me indicating that any kind of assistance that Barbados can render he’ll be glad to have.’’

Barbadian assistance to Dominica, Stuart said, has included supplying the island with nurses. “We’re aware that since their hospital was damaged that dialysis patients, for example, have to get their treatment and as recently as Thursday, the minister of health indicated that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was in the process of entertaining patients in that situation,’’ he said.

The Barbados ministry of education, too, “has been receiving requests from Dominica, in terms of students who need to continue their education and who are requesting to be absorbed in our educational system during this very difficult period’’, Stuart said.

The prime minister suggested that internationally recognized celebrities, like Barbadian pop star and cultural ambassador Rihanna, have been quietly contributing to the hurricane relief efforts in the region.

“They’re not just individuals out there on frolics of their own; they’re managed. And, I think that their managers will determine how they communicate and what they communicate in the context of this kind,’’ Stuart said.

“They, ultimately, still have to be answerable to their managers. I think that in the fullness of time when a little more of the dust settles, we’re all going to be very pleased with what they did, even though we weren’t hearing from them what they were doing to contribute to the relief effort.’’

Stuart is leader of Barbados’s ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The party has been in office since 2008 and is seeking a third consecutive term at soon-to-be-held general elections.

“I have an implicit faith in the good sense of the people of Barbados. They’ve always judged and judged wisely. I will leave it to them,’’ Stuart said in commenting on his election chances, adding: “I don’t go into anything to lose.’’

The Barbadian leader was in Toronto as the keynote speaker at the 10th annual “Errol Barrow Memorial Dinner’’, which coincided with the 10-year celebration of DLP Barbados (Canada).

Stuart, in response to a reporter’s question, confirmed that the Barbados is considering a series of new crime-fighting measures, including giving more power to police. However, he insists there is no worry of Barbados becoming a “police state’’.

“Barbados is still committed to the rule of law and Barbados is not going to become any police state. So, whatever the police do has to be done within the context of the provisions of Barbados’s constitution,’’ Stuart said.

Adriel Brathwaite, the attorney general of Barbados, told a recent meeting of the country’s hotel and tourism association that, as part of a plan to tackle the island’s crime rate, government was contemplating giving police the power to search people’s properties, even if there is no suspicion of a crime.

The idea was immediately opposed by lawyer and political activist David Comissiong, who warned the government about venturing down what he called “a very slippery slope”. The government, said Comissiong, must be careful not to violate the rights and civil liberties of Barbadians, in the name of crime-fighting.

On Saturday, Stuart echoed Brathwaite’s remarks. “We have been looking at a number of legislative measures, the object of which is to put the police in a better position to deal with, for example, gang violence and gang-related crimes,’’ the prime minister said.

“So, the attorney general is not wrong that we have been looking at ways to make police activity more effective. But, I issue the caveat that in trying to make police operations more effective, we intend – at every step of the way – to ensure that the constitution of Barbados is respected.’’