As nations around the world scramble to secure PPE and ventilators to fight the global pandemic, the US is on the offensive and blocking the Caribbean region from getting much-needed equipment.
n an earlier story, we posted, it seems as though (20) ventilators destined for Barbados was seized by the US. The shipment was part of the $1.4 million in assistance pledged by Barbados-born international pop star Rihanna.
A statement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) read confirms that the agency is working to prevent distributors from diverting personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as face masks and gloves, overseas.
It reads: “To accomplish this, CBP will detain shipments of the PPE specified in the President’s Memorandum while FEMA determines whether to return the PPE for use within the United States; to purchase the PPE on behalf of the United States; or, allow it to be exported.”
Over the past 7-10 days, some Caribbean countries have had their containers of ordered PPE blocked by CBP.
This blockage follows the Defense Production Act signed into effect by President Donald Trump on April 3. The order gave the federal government more control over the procurement of coronavirus-related supplies, but it also allowed the administration to ban certain exports.
In the past week, three Caribbean nations —the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, and Barbados —have all had container loads of personal protective equipment purchased from U.S. vendors blocked from entering their territories by US Customs and Border Protection.
“We are talking about personal protective equipment; we’re talking about durable medical devices and gloves, gowns, ventilators as well,” Bahamas Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands told the Miami Herald.
On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection informed a shipping company that its Nassau-bound shipment of medical supplies could not be offloaded in the Bahamas and the containers had to be returned to Miami “for inspection.” But even before that, Sands said the Bahamian government had already been fielding multiple “complaints from freight forwarders and shipping companies that they were having challenges clearing certain items.”
“Over time, that grew to a crescendo with certain persons having the same experience,” he said.
The blockade experienced by Caribbean nations followed. Countries affected include Barbados, Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas.
During Friday’s Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House, President Trump acknowledged the high demand for the United States’ ventilators and testing kits, which Caribbean health officials have said are also banned from export.
He said, “We’re the envy of the world in terms of ventilators. Germany would like some, France would like some; we’re going to help countries out. Spain needs them desperately. Italy needs them desperately.”
However, when approached by a McClatchy reporter about the Caribbean and the accusation that the U.S. was blocking personal protective equipment in certain cases, Trump implied that the shipments were being caught up in drug trafficking and seizures.
On April 01, the President announced that the US was sending warships to the Caribbean to stop illegal drugs.
“Well, what we’re doing, we have a tremendous force out there, a Naval force, and we’re blocking the shipment of drugs,” he said. “So maybe what they’re doing is stopping ships that they want to look at. We’re not blocking. What we’re doing is we’re making sure; we don’t want drugs in our country, and especially with the over 160 miles of wall, it’s getting very hard to get through the border. They used to drive right through the border like they owned it, and in a certain way, they did.”
He continued: “What we’re doing is we’re being very tough and we’re being tough because of drugs and also human trafficking,” he added. “We have a big Naval force that’s stopping, so maybe when you mentioned that, maybe their ships are getting caught. But we are stopping a lot of ships and we’re finding a lot of drugs.”
Caribbean heads of state are holding an urgent meeting on Wednesday to discuss ways to curb the spread of the pandemic in the region – a call made by CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados.