Impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Caribbean countries
The Caribbean – a tourist’s dream destination
The Caribbean has established itself as a tourist’s dream destination with sunny beaches, turquoise waters, and a light and always smiling lifestyle. In the Covid-19 pandemic, it became apparent that many governments of Caribbean states relied too much on this image.
Cuba’s tourist investments
During the last years, Cuba, for example, has built more and more hotels also in lesser known, but also beautiful, parts of this country. This is a legit step to expand away from tourist hotspots like Havana, Varadero or other well-known Cuban places.
The suffering of Caribbean people
Juan is 55 and lives in the southern part of Cuba in a small village. The village where he lives has a beautiful beach, nice fisher boats in the harbor and a music festival once a year. Juan has a small shop, where he sells everything one needs throughout the day. In addition, he has a well-furnished apartment under the roof of his house, which he rents to tourists. His two sons who live and work abroad send him some money every month. So, compared to his fellow Cuban or even Caribbean people he is well situated and it looks like he was prepared for every situation.
But then came the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the global lockdowns there are no more tourists renting Juan s apartment, his small shop is now only frequented by local buyers, the sales are hardly covering the costs. The money that his sons can send is massively reduced, as one has lost his work due to the Covid-19 crises and the other earns less. While it is always supposed by outsiders that Caribbean people can easily cope with adverse circumstances, this situation is new and in some cases cancels all income streams of the Caribbean people.
Cuban and Caribbean governments’ problems
However, not only Juan is impacted, but the whole Caribbean who has for a long time lived from the longing-place-to-be image. While Juan still has some foreign currency that is accepted with pleasure, his Cuban government is in dire need for more. Cuba is suffering from heavy US sanctions and has problems to serve its debts since the end of 2019. Two times since then Cuba had to ask for a postponement of payments. Therefore, Cuba has to save foreign currencies and only few goods are or can be imported.
This is problematic as 70 to 80 % of the calories that are consumed by Cuban people are imported. This is not only a Cuban problem: 7 of the 15 members of the Caricom import more than 80% of used calories by their Caribbean people: e.g. Jamaica (see article about Kingston and „Discover Jamaican History and Culture“), Trinidad and Tobago. The Bahamas import even more than 90% and are at the top position.
Consequently, not only currencies are a desired good, even more essential things like wheat are, too. This led to projects of the Cuban government to push Yucca planting as part of their root can be used to bake bread of. However, space for planting is also a rare good.
Caribbean high tourist season
Unfortunately, the situation will not get better: It is apparent that the main tourist season that normally lasts from November to February will fail. A vaccine against the Coronavirus disease is to be expected at the end of 2020 only.
Mistakes and outlook
Some mistakes have been made if you judge now retrospectively. Food security has been sacrificed for the benefit of tourism. Essential food products are less and less grown and more and more industrialized food is imported. Many Caribbean people rely heavily on money transmitted from their relatives living and working abroad, the so-called “remesas”. They build a second pillar of income (apart from tourism) for the Caribbean. Due to global lockdowns and economic recession these remesas drastically dropped. As they are a big part of income used for consumption, this aggravates the difficult situation. More of these remesas should be used for investing purposes, has been warned by economists. Only 10% of people getting remesas have started a small businesses allowing them to generate some own income.
A deep recession might be looming over Cuba and some other Caribbean countries.
However, there might be a considerable backlog of people outside the Caribbean for spending their holidays in this incredible beautiful area of the world after more security over the Coronavirus disease is given with a vaccine.