I listened ‘drop-jawed’ as Governor Martyn Roper made the announcement of the impending arrival of a contingent of British military officers with three civilians among them. One rationalisation for such a visit is ostensibly to help with hurricane preparation. Hurricane preparation in a time of COVID-19 … Give me a break! This announcement smacks of 19th century colonialism and could be out of the playbook of [Rudyard] Kipling or [George] Curzon or some other like-minded colonial.
I remain at a loss to see the necessity of this mission, since by the most recent briefing from [Police] Commissioner [Derek] Byrne there is [not] (nor has there been since the curfews) any threat to the peace, order and good governance in these islands. The history of such intervention in the recent past in these islands has, according to my recollection, been far from ideal.
Consider in the mid-1990s when an influx of Cuban refugees came within a hair’s breadth of overwhelming Caymanian society. Our social control forces did a commendable job until the then governor, against the advice of his elected Cabinet, insisted on yielding to the demands of the Cuban exile-seekers to exercise ‘their right to demonstrate’ and released them from the tight lockdown.
At that point, our brave policemen and prison officers seemed like they were about to lose control. Fifty police officers were recruited from the UK. The effectiveness of this contingent, ostensibly recruited to bring relief, gave as much trouble as the Cuban exile-seekers, who seemed hell bent on going to the US.
The British police officers, lost in this exotic paradise (the Cayman Islands), spent an inordinate amount of time indulging themselves at the then Royal Palms Hotel. Such was the breakdown that a few had to be shipped home prematurely. After approximately two months, the remainder returned from whence they came, leaving the society stuck with a $5 million bill (the cost of their recruitment) plus the expense of accommodating the Cuban troublemakers, who thank God, eventually left our shores. But alas, this is always the story in Paradise and the Plantation.
Fast forward to Hurricane Ivan and what did the Cayman Islands receive from Great Britain? Not much by way of concrete assistance, and what little that was, came grudgingly and at the eleventh-and-three-quarters hour. May I remind our readers that as proud Caymanians, we have never been grant-aided.
As a frontier society, Caymanians have throughout the history of devastating hurricanes and other challenges, looked to heaven and their own ingenuity and experience. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, my colleague, Gilbert McLean, the then minister of health, brought in a team of psychologists and mental health specialists from Canada to assist our people through the stress and upset.
As minister of education, I procured, for gratis, the services of a counselling psychologist, Dr. Jerome Brodlie, a gentleman whom I met prior to coming into politics. Dr. Brodlie gave counselling sessions and workshops for our teachers and frontline education staff. These two interventions greatly assisted our people in navigating those stressful times.
Can someone explain to me why at this time we are importing a contingent of military men and their civilian minders rather than bolstering our mental health counselling and ancillary services?
I have gone on record previously as stating that we should be preparing for an increasing number of stress disorders. This is not conjecture on my part, rather it is the opinion of psychiatrists, mental health experts and international pundits. COVID-19 is going to change the world, and by inference the Cayman Islands, in ways not previously experienced.
There will be ‘a new normal’ and, in the most ideal of circumstances, social behaviour, among other things, will be profoundly affected. Heaven forbid that we in these islands should become so narcissistic, so disruptive, so greedy and so ignorant that we sacrifice social distancing and staying at home and abiding by the curfews for the opportunity ‘to hear the cash register ring’, or for some other senseless indulgence, or that we should look to some military contingent for relief.
No! This is not the time to bring a contingent of military officers. Rather, this is the time to set up mental health counselling, parental assistance programmes, financial counselling and ancillary services. This is the time to ensure that the aftermath of this pandemic is not as costly as the pandemic itself.
J.A. Roy Bodden