Minnis’ Heat Level: Cold-hearted Burials at a very Chilled Pace

  • +Hubert Minnis’ reaction to Hurricane Dorian has been frustrating.
  • +He faces great disapproval after Abaco’s burial service.
  • +Several other issues challenge the Bahamas at the moment.
Source: The Tribune

Why is Minnis’ temperature Chilly?

Answer: He has been incapable of coordinating a significant governmental response to a historic natural catastrophe.

It has been nine months since the Bahamas faced Hurricane Dorian,  the strongest Atlantic hurricane documented to directly impact a land mass”. As the eye of this storm hit the northern part of the country with winds up to 298 km/h, it destroyed more than 13,000 homes, left more than 2,500 people missing, displaced more than 10,000 residents and caused estimated losses up to 7 billion dollars (more than half of the country’s GDP). The fatidic day of September 1st 2019 does not seem months away in the Abaco islands and the Grand Bahama, where the trail of destruction is still physically and emotionally visible, in great part due to the government’s incapability of an effective response.  

The 700-island archipelago is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy led by Prime Minister Hubert Alexander Minnis since 2017. He was able to win power during the May 2017 elections, where he defeated Perry Christie’s Progressive Liberal Party in a 34-5 parliamentary split. Minnis, a physician by career, is the leader of the conservative party Free National Movement and has been in charge of the government’s (feeble) reaction to the hurricane.

After the category 5 storm – the highest on the Saffir-Simpson scale – the government passed the Disaster Reconstruction Authority bill in order to create a ministry that would be in charge of managing the reconstruction of disaster zones by assessing the needs, distributing funds and coordinating international and national agencies throughout the efforts. However, many members of the opposition have seen the establishment of this body as red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy that can be and is, highly politicized. And unfortunately, the controversy over the governments’ response has overshadowed a truly effective action. 

After millions of dollars’ worth of international donations for relief efforts over these nine months, Minnis’ government has not been able to significantly help its people. Most of the northern islands’ residents remain without proper access to electricity, water and shelter, the country’s finances are near collapse as they reach estimates of 85.6% debt to GDP ratio, unemployment levels have skyrocketed to 50% and controversies over the treatment of Haitian immigrants after the storm are making headlines. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 reaches the archipelagic state, Minnis’ governance does nothing but worsen the situation.  

What is changing Minnis’ temperature?

Answer: The cold-hearted and nonsensical management of corpses.

When Hurricane Dorian quieted down and the Bahamian people were able to leave their shelters, they encountered a dreadful image: the dead bodies of their friends and families scattered around the remains of their homes. This horrifying image should have been present as briefly as possible, but it was not until May 22nd of 2020, nine months after the hurricane, that the government decided to bury the unclaimed bodies that were found that day.  

Throughout these nine months, the 55 victims have remained in a trailer in Abaco while the government struggled to collect and match their DNA samples with their possible relatives. However, even with the help of the International Red Cross, this has not been possible. Regrettably, unless the government manages to obtain the DNA results, the affected relatives will not be able to claim their very needed life insurances. Officially, the hurricane has only killed 76 people (including the 55 victims that were recently buried), as under the current law “there is a seven-year period before anyone can be declared dead in absentia”. This legislation also leaves the relatives of the more than 2,500 missing people without the possibility of claiming the insurance.

The burial service, postponed several times in the midst of the global pandemic, cost the taxpayers a polemic figure of more than $375,000 (the original allocated budget was $75,000) and has been highly criticized. Besides forcing the attendees to witness the funeral from afar, the names of the deceased were not called, the date of the service was announced on short notice and the official announcements have been persistently caught with misinformation. The disapproval was such, that one of Minnis’ MPs has called for an inquiry on the procedure. It was distressing enough for the Bahamian people to face a natural disaster of such extent, but now they also have to face the government’s deplorable response, which for many has been “wrong and disrespectful on the highest level”. 

What is driving Minnis?

Answer: He’s trying to amend his actions and divert attention.

There are not a lot of people who understand the reasoning behind the timeline of these burials. The government claims that the delay was due to a combination of the DNA profiling process and the restrictions presented by the pandemic-triggered state of emergency, but to this day no DNA matches have been obtained and the burial service ended up taking place under the state of emergency anyway.

And so, the Prime Minister has merely acted out of pressure from the opposition and the northern residents, who have persistently condemned the management of these bodies. It is likely that this was also done out of desperation as the Bahamas enters another hurricane season with the victims of the previous one still stored in a trailer. Either way, the proper time to act with regards to the victim’s relatives and the overall affected community has long gone. What started as an attempt by Minnis to do things prudently and appropriately has resulted in a long and heartbreaking agony for the Bahamian people. 

What does it mean for you?

Answer: This isn’t the toughest challenge the country is facing.

It is preoccupying to see the ineptitude with which Minnis has “resolved” this issue, especially considering that the Bahamas will now have to endure much more complex difficulties. On the one hand, the high levels of debt and unemployment constrain the government from taking proper action as it faces the reconstruction of islands after Dorian and the dangers of the current pandemic. Moreover, the income from tourism, which adds up to 60% of the country’s GDP, has halted and will not resume for a while due to the disastrous conditions of some parts of the country along with the  commencement of a new hurricane season and the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. 

Likewise, Minnis is prioritizing other aspects of his political agenda as he uses Haitian immigrants as scapegoats in this crisis. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 500 Haitian survivors have been deported after Hurricane Dorian and the government has prohibited constructions in the shanty towns that host most of these immigrants. These plans have been in Minnis’ agenda since he set foot in power, and has been persistently condemned by human rights groups for previous attempts to push these measures through. But now that the attention has shifted to other many issues, he has free room to roam. 

Laura Escobar Díaz

External Contributer