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Avellon Williams 

ST. JOHN’S, ANTIGUA- Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in an interview that the United States should increase financing and aid to the Caribbean region to help it cope with the impact of climate change and recovery from the pandemic.

Browne stated that many countries in the region are facing debt loads equivalent to 100% of their gross domestic product (GDP), adding that many have relied on loans from China because of the favorable terms offered by Chinese banks.

Regions facing debt loan /Courtesy/

He said that the U.S. should pay more attention to the Caribbean region in order to avoid any mass migration of people.

“If people are unable to live in (Caribbean) countries, then clearly they’ll end up on the shores of the United States as refugees.”

In the last 10 years, China has lent over $4 billion to Caribbean nations, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, much of which has been used to build infrastructure.

According to Browne, the conditions of these loans are better than those of multilateral agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and borrowing from Chinese banks should not be construed in a political sense.

A request for comment was not immediately responded to by the U.S. State Department.

Caribbean tourism-dependent countries saw their economies contract by 9.8% in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the IMF, which was reported last year.

Islands struggling to recover from the pandemic /Courtesy/

A significant number of small island nations struggle to get aid because multilateral agencies tend to classify them as middle- or high-income nations based on per-capita GDP measurement, which does not take into account the higher costs or the vulnerability posed by climate change.

Changes to the criteria supported by the U.S. would provide a significant boost to the Caribbean, Browne said.

Browne said he did not see evidence that the United States would use its influence to effect change at multinational financial institutions.

He said the majority of $336 million in U.S. aid to Caricom countries goes to Haiti, with just about $70 million going to the other 13 countries. These countries have an estimated population of 7.5 million each.

Like other countries in the region, Antigua and Barbuda, a nation of two main islands and several smaller ones in the northeastern Caribbean region has faced growing expenses from extreme weather events.

The before and after of Hurricane Irma’s destruction /Courtesy/

Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda in 2017, leaving all buildings uninhabitable and forcing the evacuation of all residents for nearly 18 months. Reconstruction costs exceeded $200 million.

Despite bearing most of those costs, Antigua and Barbuda received only $169,000 in aid from the United States in 2019, Browne said.

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Avellon Williams