Antigua and Barbuda is celebrating its 39th anniversary of political independence from Britain on Monday with a message from Prime Minister Gaston Browne that the anniversary is taking place as a dark cloud hangs over the world.
“A small microbe has brought all nations – rich and poor, large and small – to their knees. We, in Antigua and Barbuda, a place from which no major disease has ever erupted, have become one of its victims in ways that none could have imagined.
“Our nation is at war with an invisible enemy. Our economy is badly weakened through no fault of our own. But, our nation did not survive hundreds of years of slavery, and another hundred and fifty years of colonial exploitation, to surrender all that we achieved. We did not rise from our knees to stand as equals in the councils of the world, to turn back the hands of time,” Browne said as he made reference to the coronavirus.
Antigua and Barbuda officially observed the independence anniversary on Sunday and in his national address, Browne said that the island did not make of itself a nation with one of the highest per capita incomes globally, to be cowered in the face of a pandemic, however menacing.
“Cowardice has never been – the way of our people. We get up. We stand up. And fight unrelentingly until we conquer the struggles and achieve our objectives. That is how we have overcome the challenges of the past, consistently creating a better life for our people. And, that is the way we will continue – cautious but courageous, careful but determined, vigilant but robust.”
Browne said he remained confident that the pandemic “like all things, this too shall pass” and as a result, Antigua and Barbuda “should not crouch down in fear; let us not shiver in dread.
“Instead, let us do what, as a people, we have always done. Let us look ahead with absolute certainty that darkness is dispelled by light. In so doing, let us celebrate our nationhood with hope and optimism, eschewing all fear.
“let us set our feet firmly on a path to recovery, girding our loins with purpose to overcome and setting our eyes on the single goal of snapping back and building back better,” Browne said, adding that his administration has done much to contain the virus here.
“We acted promptly, decisively, and in a big enough way to make a difference. Our decision to reopen our borders on June 1st, to receive passengers by air and sea signified confidence in the ability of our people to manage the risks associated with COVID transmission and was an inspiration to the entire Caribbean region.
“The lives and health of our people came first and remain first. We protected our nation against the worst cruelties to the health of our people. Without any help from the international financial institutions, we allocated scarce funds to build a fully equipped infectious diseases Centre; we expanded the number of hospital beds to three beds per thousand of the population; and we invested heavily in equipment and other medical supplies to include rapid test kits. “
The Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, however, thanked those countries, including China, India and Cuba that came to the aid of the island adding “even as we celebrate our independence, it is good to know that, in times of crisis, we have committed friends”.
Browne said he also remains confident that when the economic circumstance of the country changes for better, “my government will remember these champions and will do our best to reward and honour them for their special service”.
He acknowledged that the global impact on tourism has affected the local economy “badly” but that the government had maintained “that we would not suffer complete economic collapse, or widespread misery.
“We all know that the pandemic paralyzed the world. It forced mankind to abandon, or significantly reduce the freedom of roaming, of socialising, and of physical communing. Across the globe, mankind has been forced to remain in their habitats, conducting business and maintaining contact through a virtual world.
The latter is by itself a measure of mankind’s great creativity and innovation. It is also a tribute to our country’s vision and determination, not to be left behind in the availability of telecommunication facilities.
”My government considers the provision of affordable broadband services as a public good. That is why the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) is investing over $100M, in expanding its broadband services at affordable prices. ‘
Browne said that those facilities have kept the island as an active participant in the global financial and trading systems.
Prime Minister Browne says he remains “a fearless optimist, I remain confidently optimistic about the future of our country.
He said that his government together with all other sectors did a “comprehensive assessment of the conditions we confront; the measures we can take to alleviate them, and the plans we should implement now and in the future to build back our country better.
“That was what the Economic Recovery Committee was all about. The blueprint with the policies, strategies and programs is established – and the plan was devised by individuals spanning all sectors.
“We know what we must do to continue to keep our economy viable and our people secure, while we look forward to the passage of this terrible scourge.”
But he warned that “there is growing complacency and indiscipline that are now threatening to undermine the gains we have made and potentially expose our people to community transmission.
“Our entire nation could be endangered if any of you behave recklessly, and ignore the health protocols, which were designed to protect the entire population.
“The protocols must be strictly followed by all, in protection of our citizens, residents and visitors. We cannot afford complacent and delinquency. Our chain of success is only as strong as its weakest link.
We need everyone to be responsible. We must all be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s protector. “
Browne told his countrymen to look at what’s happening throughout Europe now with the numbers of infected persons have risen dramatically because people ignored the protocols.
“They began to treat the virus lightly. Now, the lock downs have returned; the restrictions have resumed, the economies have begun to slide. We must learn from the sad experience of Europe, of what is happening in the United States and even in Canada. Our country cannot afford another lockdown.
“That is why, I now appeal to each of you and all of you, not to make their mistake. The price we would pay for the errors and recklessness of a few would be extremely high. That is not what we want.
“So, I appeal once again, to all who dwell within our shores, to recognize that we are all together in one boat in this turbulent sea. We can sink in it, or sail out of it to safe Harbou,” Prime Minister Browne said.