NASSAU, BAHAMAS- Former Director General of Culture Dr Nicolette Bethel lashed the Minnis administration for “pandering to the worst of Bahamians” in its heightened focus on illegal immigration in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
Bethel, a cultural anthropologist and assistant professor at the University of the Bahamas, called the focus on migrants, shantytowns, and rule of law as the country’s future hung in the balance “little short of evil” in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
“We stand at a moment when the very future of our nation hangs in a balance held by a political class that is too weak, too ignorant, or too cowardly to take the hard decisions and prioritize the people who are suffering over votemongering and neofascist rhetoric,” her post read.
“We are floundering and our government is crumbling from the top down. Rather than recognizing our system’s inability to respond to crisis and seeking its real and lasting reform, our “leaders” are seeking to channel their citizens’ fear and anger and helplessness against an all too familiar target: the immigrants who have lived and worked among us and alongside us for longer than we care to remember.”
Dorian decimated portions of Abaco and Grand Bahama, leaving thousands displaced and at least 60 people dead. The impacted islands represent between 15 to 20 percent of the country’s GDP, with initial estimates of around $200m in lost revenue.
Activists have expressed fears over growing tensions between Bahamians and Haitian migrants, some of whom are undocumented, displaced by the deadly storm.
In his first address to parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis sent a message to “illegals” to leave the country or “be forced to leave” as he provided an update on the hurricane’s impact and recovery efforts.
In her Wednesday post, Bethel referenced comments from another Facebook user Gilbert Morris, who noted national efforts should prioritize housing, census, sustainable food systems and healthcare monitoring, record-keeping, psychological counselling and safe clean-up.
Morris also underscored the need for “a vision, design and redevelopment plan, that includes infrastructure, homes and buildings constituted as new storm-resistant living spaces.”
Bethel wrote: “Rather than seeking to find unity so that we can rebuild a nation out of this crisis, rather than seeking to gather the best minds within and without our country to craft a new way forward, to create a country we can be proud to leave our descendants, our “leaders” prefer to go begging, to seek outside charity, rather than to build internal resilience.
Bethel’s post continued: “Here at home, our “leaders” elect to follow the very worst instincts of Bahamians instead of reminding us that we are not only small and bitter and afraid, but that we are also noble and strong and hospitable.
“This pandering to the worst of Bahamians, to our fear of the foreigner, to our admitted hate of the “other”, is abhorrent.
“It is weak. It is cowardly. It is a betrayal of the citizens and residents of this land. It makes us forget our very real strengths. And it is ultimately evil.”
In a separate Facebook post today, Bethel underscored the use of Bahamian xenophobia as a distraction from the real issue – forging a national plan to prepare for stronger storms and a direct hit to the capital.
In an essay posted to her blog, Bethel explained Dorian’s wrath was unusual but not the worst devastation dealt by a hurricane. She referenced a strong Category 4 hurricane, that was unnamed and sat for sixty hours over Nassau and Andros 90 years ago.
“Ever since Dorian hit our northern islands, I have driven around New Providence with my heart in my mouth,” Bethel wrote.
“What if it happened here? I wonder. I drive through the densely populated areas of Bain Town and East Street, looking at the derelict properties, the neighbourhoods built on reclaimed wetlands, the little houses tossed together on narrow streets and think, what if?”
“We are reeling from the loss of life and property that we have experienced this past month. Our grief and horror is sharpening into hate, into unthinking enaction of impossible policy, and our hearts are hardening to stone.
Bethel wrote: “We Nassauvians are resentful of the burden placed on our city by those who have lost everything they had, including families and friends, and we are ungenerous.”
“But for the luck … But for the grace there we go,” she added.