What’s happening in Abaco should never happen anywhere in The Bahamas.
People are scared, scared for their lives, scared for their property, scared for the future and wondering how long they can – or want – to cope.
How did these sun-dappled isles, just a year ago known as the laid-back, friendly, yachting capital of The Bahamas, slide into a state where nothing is safe and little is sacred? How did its thriving capital Marsh Harbour and the town’s outlying, historic settlements disintegrate from idyllic places where locals and second homeowners bonded into the kind of criminal pandemonium where one business, broken into six times since January, doesn’t bother to call the police because “they don’t answer the phone, they don’t show up, they don’t take a report”?
If you hear what Abaconians are saying, you will quickly conclude that in Abaco the culture of theft is spreading faster than the coronavirus.
Abaco Chamber of Commerce President Ken Hutton doesn’t mince words.
Man finally gets generator, stolen eight hours later
“On Sunday, I gave one of our employees a new generator that had just come in, a small dual fuel 3kw. We had a big one in the store and he just wanted to run a fan in his house so I gave it to him,” says Hutton. “It was stolen eight hours later - while it was running. He didn’t even have it for a day.”
Generators are at a premium. With inconsistent power since Hurricane Dorian tore through the Abacos and Grand Bahama a year ago this month, and with water supply still not fully restored those who remain on the island depend on generators daily.
One resident, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said all the police have to do is stop every pick-up truck going around one of the three roundabouts on Great Abaco if it is carrying a generator and ask to see the invoice or importation documents. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, my boss man gave it to me.’ Prove it with a letter of gift and if it’s new, with the invoice attached,” he suggests.
Lumber, tiles, PVC pipe, cable and other materials are stolen off job sites. Some say materials are stolen “as soon as they get here”. Another said houses in town that Abaconians and a few second homeowners are trying to rebuild or refurbish post-Dorian are “broken into so fast people are giving up trying to fix up".
Nearby, a new shanty town is growing, this time with solid concrete block homes and modern metal roofs. No one seems to know what to do about what they call “the problem", meaning poor people of diverse backgrounds, including Haitian, essential to the work force, but now homeless after Dorian swept out to sea the former shanty towns where they lived and where their micro-businesses flourished.
While the rest of the country measures time in before-COVID and after-COVID, Abaco marks it in before and after Dorian.
Here’s Hutton again: “We got hit by an historic storm that was followed by a pandemic. I guess now we are waiting for an alien invasion.”
Action before anger turns to rage and rage explodes in bullets and bloodshed
If Abaco is going to make a comeback before anger that is growing daily turns to rage and that rage explodes, two streams of activity must take place, according to various sources.
First, security has to be seriously stepped up. The last time residents felt safe, a few said, was when the Jamaican Defence Force was there. That was October of last year.
Abaconians acknowledge there has been a slight uptick in police presence since publicity about crime erupted, but they believe it is a long way from where it needs to be. They are angry and they want action to stop the stealing, They are calling for zero tolerance and no more looking the other way.
Robin Hood does not live in this forest where everyone, rich and poor and in between, is feeling the pain, they say. They no longer have a newspaper in which to express themselves. The Abaconian, too, was blown out to sea.
Secondly, if there is any hope of getting businesses, residents and second home owners to rebuild, government must extend concessions and exemptions for a minimum of another two years. Travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, while considered critical to COVID containment by the medical community, have all but wiped out the year of 2020 for rebuilds.
Part of the real tragedy of Abaco lies in the fact it had the chance to start over and become a model for a high-quality, admirable island lifestyle with green building, backyard farming and cottage industry. It could have learned from tradition, reinvigorating its boat-building industry that produced winners like the native sloop Abaco Rage, the famed Abaco dinghy and long before airplanes took to the skies, wooden ships that carried cargo and passengers. Abaco pine is still highly treasured and the skilled finish carpenters and craftsmen of Abaco could have created the equivalent of a High Point, NC hand-crafted furniture capitol in The Bahamas.
Abaconians have always been resilient but every individual and every community has a breaking point. This would not be the first time Abaco tried to take matters into its own hands. Remember the Abaco Independence Movement (AIM) when citizens of the northern isles decided to create their own nation as The Bahamas was itself becoming independent? That was quickly quashed by the British who threatened to send in marines, but right about now, Abaconians might just welcome some additional outside enforcers of the law.
Fiercely independent, proud and productive, Abaconians have often made their mark in the international arena.
Locals and expats who showed us the high road creating ambitious organisations known around the world like Friends of the Environment and Every Child Counts have been harshly tested by the double blows of Dorian and COVID-19. If they survived those threats to their lives, they deserve peace and respect or I fear the rage that lies just beneath the surface of this society will boil over and these islands, so sorely bruised by back-to-back hits and heavily armed for hunting, will be ablaze in a war of bullets and bloodshed.