Check out Global Voices' special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, nations are facing the growing need to access essential medical supplies such as test equipment, personal protective equipment, and respirators – many of which must be imported.
The rush to secure resources has prompted measures by powerful governments such as the United States, whose recent restrictions on that team have sparked controversy.
At a press conference on April 5, Barbados' Minister of Health and Welfare, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, said (33 ′ in the timeline) that 20 respirators destined for Barbados had been “confiscated by the United States.”
He did not elaborate.
Initially there was some confusion about whether those fans were the ones donated Barbadian pop star Rihanna, but it was later confirmed that they were from a different batch.
Despite the setback, Minister Bostic maintained that Barbados had enough respirators to meet the island's current demand (not counting the more than 150 policyholders from various other sources) – and that the Government had an “open check” for the purchase of supplies. critics.
As of April 9, the island had 48 respirators available; As of April 5, only three of the 56 COVID-19 patients in the country needed to use them.
Despite this, the measure to hinder the export of fans did not sit well with Caribbean Internet users:
More barbarism from the United States.
– Alex Rupert (@alexanderupert) April 6, 2020
Respirators for Barbados confiscated by United States – Barbados Today
More barbarism in the United States.
Disgusting. Respirators. Barbados
United States Defense Production Law
While there have been acts of philanthropy during the COVID-19 pandemic (China, for example, donated thousands of test kits to Trinidad and Tobago), those humanitarian gestures are countered by what some interpret as acts of selfishness.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, threatened to retaliate after the Trump administration allegedly ordered the health equipment-producing company 3M on 2 April to stop its export of protective masks to Canada and Latin America.
The United States Government was able to do so because of the Defense Production Act which – in addition to allowing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure any medical supplies it deems necessary – may also compel manufacturers of the private sector to give priority to the Government in fulfilling orders.
However, the 3M company refused, stating that this would curb exports and achieve the opposite effect with far-reaching humanitarian consequences.
Other countries also expressed concerns about the United States' strategy regarding supplies of COVID-19.
Even US hospitals have reported that federal agents have been “confiscating orders,” and medical personnel have complained about the lack of transparency surrounding the process.
The United States government, however, says it is employing a data-driven approach to determine where supplies should go.
Was “confiscating” the correct word?
Shortly thereafter, the Barbados Health Minister suggested at a press conference that “confiscation” may not be the right word. ” He explained: “It has to do with the export restrictions on some articles.”
To clarify what these restrictions imply, Global Voices contacted the Government of Barbados Information Service, which forwarded our questions to a representative of the Minister; to the publication of this article he had not yet replied.
The Government of Barbados did not announce how it intends to reply, but discussions between the Barbos Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United States Embassy appear to be ongoing.
However, on April 9, the Barbados Today newspaper reported that the US Embassy's foreign affairs official Larry Socha said his office had “not received any updates regarding the alleged incident from the Barbados government.”
The embassy says it is waiting for those details to continue working with the country in the fight against COVID-19.
An opportunity for innovation in the Caribbean?
The incident did not prevent people from labeling America's tactics as modern piracy:
Bluntly said, this is pure piracy. Wild west times are back !!! #coronavirus # COVID19 #Barbados #US #USES. Radio Havana Cuba | U.S. seizes #ventilators destined for #Barbados: https://t.co/9drbihU2j6
– Damian Donéstevez (@DamianDonestvez) April 6, 2020
Put bluntly, this is pure piracy. Wild West time is back! Coronavirus. COVID-19. Barbados. The United States confiscates respirators destined for Barbados.
Socha, a spokesman for the US embassy, also referred to this “unfortunate” aspect of the story, and suggested that “some people and organizations are propagating them to divide the international community.”
There is nothing more important right now than the international community coming together and those individuals and organizations that are promoting a narrative of division are doing the citizens of their own countries and other countries a disservice.
There is nothing more important at this time that the international community remains united and those people and organizations that are promoting a narrative of division are harming the citizens of our own countries and those of others.
However, on Facebook, user David Coulthrust saw an opportunity for the Caribbean:
Can a very brilliant engineer in Barbados make ventilators? I suggest we act now. Can the UWI (The University of the West Indies) accept this challenge?
In Barbados, can a very smart engineer make respirators? I suggest that we act now. Can the UWI (University of the West Indies) accept this challenge?
Such a move would not be without precedent, as one Twitter user was careful to remember:
In this time of great need for #ventilators, take some time to reflect on the early apparatus pioneered by Henry Edmund Gaskin Boyle, a son of the soil of @Barbados #Barbados Tthttps: //t.co/zxUV8OzgRi #coronavirus # COVID19 pic.twitter.com/Rs8HcGeZnZ
– Leslie Deane MBBS, MS, FRCSC, FACS (@lesdeane) March 28, 2020
In this time of great need for respirators, let us take a moment to reflect on the first apparatuses that Henry Edmund Gaskin Boyle, son of the land of Barbados, pioneered. 🇧🇧 Coronavirus. COVID-19.
A Jamaican scientist, for example, is reportedly waiting for the patent for a marijuana-based drug to be approved to help treat the symptoms of COVID-19.
However, in desperate times, many regional governments are surely hoping that the COVID-19 lesson is not that “force is the right thing”:
Barbados ’Minister of Health just indicated in a press conference that ventilators destined for the island had been“ paid for but seized in the United States ”. It's every country for itself out here and the small ones will be the biggest losers.
– Lisa Harewood (@islandcinephile) April 5, 2020
The Barbados Minister of Health has just pointed out in his press conference that respirators destined for the island are “paid for but confiscated by the United States.” It is each country on its own and the smallest will be the biggest losers.