The spread of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, has put a strain on many countries around the world as they struggle to contain the outbreak and provide resources for their citizens. Smaller Caribbean nations are struggling to protect the lives of their citizens against the coronavirus with limited resources and their allies in the West aren’t looking to help them.
A spokesperson from U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed to the Miami Herald last week that the agency is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to prevent distributors from sending needed personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as face masks, ventilators, and gloves, to overseas territories.
“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,” the statement read.
Three Caribbean nations —the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, and Barbados —have all reportedly had container loads of personal protective equipment purchased from U.S. vendors blocked from entering their countries by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The blockade was linked to President Donald Trump’s April 3 signing of the Defense Production Act. The order gives the federal government more control over the procurement of coronavirus-related supplies and it also allowed the administration to ban certain exports.
“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. Sands continued to explain how the Bahamian government had already been fielding multiple “complaints from freight forwarders and shipping companies that they were having challenges clearing certain items.”
Barbados has a similar incident with a shipment of 20 ventilators being blocked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In the Cayman Islands, eight ventilators and 50,000 masks that were produced and purchased in the U.S. were removed from a Grand Cayman-bound ship in Miami.
After the ministers of nations went public, the White House issued a statement to address the accusations.
“The United States, like many other nations, is currently experiencing a high demand for ventilators, masks, gloves, and respirators that is straining available supplies and production capacity,” a senior administration official told the Herald. “President Trump has made clear that this Administration will prioritize the well-being of American citizens as we continue to take bold, decisive action to help slow the spread of the virus and save lives.”
The official also said that the administration “is working to limit the impacts of PPE domestic allocation on other nations. The United States will continue to send equipment and supplies not needed domestically to other countries, and we will do more as we are able.”