Cover Photo: Arthur Daniel/Trini Jungle Juice
Good For The Goose But Not The Gander: Grenada’s Government Treatment Of Covid-19 Spotlights Classism
Covid-19 has become a global health crisis that challenges the capacity of public actors to connect the dots between sustainable health and economic vitality in a context of extremely fluid circumstances.
Following the immediate outbreak of Covid-19 cases, Grenada, like many countries in the Caribbean, took the route of imposing a nation-wide lockdown that saw the closing of national borders, schools, workplaces, restaurants, and other establishments. On June 18th, 2020, the Ministry of Health announced that there were no active cases of Covid-19 on the island. The Grenadian government has since lifted the lockdown and reopened the country’s borders and businesses. Since then, only one (1) case of Covid-19 has been recorded, an imported case of an individual returning to Grenada. In other words, there are no community spread cases of Covid-19 in Grenada.
Still, the government remains steadfast in disallowing the occurrence of carnival-related events—at least it seemed that way. It was the senate’s tabling of the Covid-19 Cancellation of Carnival August Celebrations Bill 2020, on July 31, 2020, that officially suspended all carnival-like activities on the island for the year. Days specially reserved for celebrations (August 10th and 11th) were declared as regular workdays.
In sharp contrast to this directive, permission was extended to private individuals to host extravagant cocktails, brunches, and yacht parties amidst the carnival season. The sheer cost of attending these events made it clear that they were intended for the well-to-do and elites of society. Private promoters were even given the green light to stage their carnival show entitled “Cyber Monarch”, a virtual reimagination of the annual Grenada Soca Monarch Competition. This event took place on August 7th, 2020, and was attended by private sponsors at the National Stadium, where there was little enforcement of COVID-19 protocols.
Despite the lack of policing at these events, the authorities have been well-disciplined in regulating gatherings at village shops and bars that are most frequented by citizens of the lower class. It was reported that the police demand closure of these establishments by 9:00 pm. This tough crackdown on assembly at community spaces, coupled with the cancellation of J’ouvert (the parade of the “Jab Jab”), effectively removed avenues for the average man to de-stress in a time that imposes great worry.
As can be imagined, the ordinary citizens, who comprise the lower class, feel disadvantaged and unfairly targeted by how the COVID-19 regulations are enforced. Indeed, there is a glaring disparity in the way regulations apply to lower-income persons versus upper-class people. Exceptions are made for persons who possess the financial means to enjoy carnival-affiliated festivities, contrary to the government’s declaration that all such activities would be banned. At the same time, the reins remain tightened on the average man who cannot afford to attend those costly events. Through this lens, it is visible that there is a double standard that favours the interests of the upper-class.
The unevenness of the government’s approach can further be examined in terms of finances. The carnival season is a cash cow for citizens engaged in the service and food industries. Shopkeepers and bar owners particularly rely on the season’s social gatherings to sell their foods and drinks, which are highly desirable commodities. The cancellation of carnival activities denied them the opportunity to maximize earnings. Further requiring that they close their doors early, in light of the cancellation, adds insult to injury. On the other hand, persons who have interests in the cocktail events, brunches, and cyber Soca Monarch show are allowed to profit. It appears, then, that the plight of the poor man is disregarded in these times.
The masses have begun to realize the classist nature of the government’s provisions. Many Grenadians took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the action to revoke the carnival celebrations. Adorned in old oil and chains, citizens stormed their villages and towns, uttering vibrant chants. Gouyave, the town of the parish of St. John, was one of the most populated areas with “Jab Jab” revellers. One reveller vibrantly exclaimed that “mass mus’ play”. Another reveller, when speaking on the hypocrisy of the government’s decision to authorize a cyber Soca Monarch after having cancelled all carnival-related events, commented that “allyuh making money and we missing mass!”
To be clear, the raison d’être of this article is not to argue for citizens to be allowed large gatherings that are unregulated by the authorities. Although, a few pages can be taken from the island of Barbados and how it has managed to allow certain Crop Over events while maintaining adequate COVID protocols. This article merely seeks to shed light on how the government’s COVID regulations for the carnival season unfairly favoured persons belonging to the upper-class, while isolating lower-income individuals.
Why should avenues be created to allow only one class of people to celebrate the season, while none were provided to the regular man? As the adage goes: “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Deliberately excluding lower class people from carnival activities may not have been the intent of Grenada’s government but sadly this was the end result.
It must be noted that the government/police foresaw that persons would play Jab Jab especially in light of the cyber Soca Monarch and did some smart policing. No one was arrested and the Royal Grenada Police Force just observed the gatherings to ensure that the situation didn’t get out of hand.