Caribbean governments in the Carnival-playing countries of the region must be at least secretly welcoming the decision of the government of Trinidad and Tobago to proceed with hosting a scaled-down version of Carnival, dubbed a “Taste of Carnival”, all within the next month.
Given the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties faced by governments in balancing the physical health of their populaces with the mental strains occasioned by the numerous and restrictive protocols, managing the ultimate “People’s Festival”, that Carnival has become in the Caribbean is no easy task. What better opportunity to match the pros and cons than to let one’s neighbour, the Mecca of Carnival in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, take the high road and learn from the mistakes?
The “Taste” being offered by T&T has naturally aroused much interest and public comment given the deprivation of the people of the region of this customary release mechanism these past two years.
No social challenge for Caribbean governments can be as huge as that of staging Carnival in the midst of the pandemic. The very spontaneous and interactive nature of Carnival conflicts with all the dos and don’ts spelt out in COVID-19 prevention measures.
Carnival implies the very antithesis of restraint and the longer the deprivation period, the more intense is the release of pent-up emotions likely to be.
Additionally, the nature of politics in the Caribbean is such that in addition to the genuine issues involved, there is also the political factor; which way the wind is blowing. Those governments, like that of Trinidad and Tobago and our own in St Vincent and the Grenadines which opt to test the waters run the risk of incurring the wrath of both those genuinely concerned about the health implications as well as those who play on religious sensibilities. Add to this the cost/benefit analysis and one will understand the hesitancy of many governments to jump into what can become a political cauldron if not effectively managed.
T&T is therefore a convenient guinea pig, for given the short time available, the analysis can be manipulated in the context of time. The opposition parties could not wish for a better opportunity. Yet the real issues go far deeper than political expediency. Carnival is not just a “jam down” it is a serious cultural festival, part of the very essence of our society. It has also become a critical economic lever generating both foreign exchange as well as internal commercial activity, particularly among small entrepreneurs and it has implications for government finances, on both the revenue and expenditure columns.
All these must be considered along with our still far-from-impressive record of vaccinations. Can we manage a festival, notorious for gay abandon, especially having been deprived of the release these past two years?
Neither political opportunism nor religious zealotry will suffice in this crucial test. It calls for cool heads and balanced judgement as well as a willingness to compromise, and, importantly, the demonstration that we are prepared to put the collective interests of the nation first. Are we up to the task?