The Bahamas is very much open for business

Dear Editor,

The news about a Category 5 hurricane transiting The Bahamas has received widespread and worldwide media coverage.

Dorian was the most powerful and destructive storm ever to hit the region, with 20-foot-high wave surges, and wind gusts up to 220 miles per hour.

Most news reports failed to take note of the unprecedented, compassionate response of the U.S. president and his administration in providing relief supplies and medical care, as well as the full force of the U.S. military, to the hardest-hit areas. Nor did they address other matters of immediate concern to American businesses and government officials.

Most people assume that Dorian left the whole of The Bahamas in ruins.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Cataclysmic though it was, Dorian affected only 10 percent of The Bahamas’ 180,000 square miles.

Without minimizing the damage or destruction caused by the storm, across 90 percent of The Bahamas you wouldn’t know there’d been a Category 5 storm, or any storm at all. Believe me when I say The Bahamas is very much open for business.

Second, with fully one quarter of its population directly affected by Dorian, and despite the extraordinary efforts of the Trump administration to date, The Bahamas nonetheless faces a continuing humanitarian crisis. Approximately 75,000 Bahamians were directly affected by Dorian, with local churches and stadiums continuing to shelter 10,000 displaced residents.

The generosity from individuals and companies delivering rescue and relief has been overwhelming, whether it’s cruise ships, container ships, on down to medics, medical equipment and medicine. Still, from a humanitarian, economic and geopolitical standpoint, more can be done.

For example, temporary work visas. The U.S. administration should consider issuing anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 temporary work visas for a minimum of six months to displaced Bahamian workers.

Bahamians don’t want to emigrate to the U.S., nor are they at risk of overstaying their welcome. Bahamians want to live in The Bahamas, full stop. In tandem with the Bahamian government, the U.S. Border Patrol should consider expediting a process wherein temporary visa recipients could work in the U.S. on a short-term basis, at no cost to state and federal budgets, immigration officials or American taxpayers.

With a scarcity of employees in the hospitality and service industries, the benefits of offering temporary work visas to displaced Bahamian workers would be a win-win for both U.S. businesses and Bahamian employees.

Alliance with the Bahamian government: American companies have been quick to offer help to The Bahamas, but more proactive help is required.

Power plants, hotels and housing and communications infrastructure are among the areas most in need of substantial American capital investments — all of which offer extraordinary opportunities for a wide variety of U.S. businesses.

The Chinese threat: if the U.S. doesn’t step in, the Chinese will — and have already. In Dorian’s wake, Bahamian and Chinese officials committed to continuing their bilateral relationship, the goal, according to one source, being to “get a better distribution of our population throughout the archipelago”.

For years, both the State Department and the Department of Defense have been concerned about the Chinese presence so close to the United States — and unless they take proactive steps to counteract this incursion, they are right to be worried.

In short, the U.S. could surpass its already-extraordinary efforts by offering short-term work opportunities to afflicted Bahamians, thereby providing much-needed breathing room to the area as it struggles to rebuild.

In turn, U.S. companies would benefit from welcoming a temporary, limited influx of Bahamian workers, while continuing to invest more aggressively in The Bahamas, with the promise of substantial long-term returns.

Both would go a long way toward discouraging the Chinese government from encroaching more than they have already on a region situated just 40 miles off the U.S. coast — a longtime concern and red flag for U.S. government officials.

For over three generations, my family has had direct ties to The Bahamas, its government, business leaders and residents.

Six million U.S. visitors visit The Bahamas every year, of which four million arrive via cruise ship.

The U.S. and this administration have already shown their desire, expertise, generosity and resources in helping the Bahamians dig out from an historic natural disaster. But with China continuing to expand its geographic footprint, from an economic, humanitarian and state department perspective it’s imperative to take things further.

As a longtime Eleutheran homeowner, I was deluged with calls and emails in the days and weeks after Dorian passed through. Friends wanted to know if my house was still standing. One called to wonder if he should cancel an upcoming wedding trip.

These well-intentioned calls left me grateful but also disbelieving. Again I can’t re-emphasize it enough: The Bahamas is open for business. So don’t hesitate. Make a reservation, book a flight, hop a cruise — and see for yourself.

– William A. Douglass

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