The islands of Barbuda and Puerto Rico share a history of dispossession and exploitation, occupying a peripheric position in a core–periphery world system. Yet, each island's response to COVID-19, and the subsequent effects of the pandemic, could not be more different. This paper examines how colonialism and neocolonialism affected the islands’ ability to respond to COVID-19. Barbuda relied on community traditions of support and self-reliance and was able to restrict all travel to and from the island, including travelers from the diaspora and those participating in its informal economic sector. In doing so, Barbuda effectively isolated itself from infection. On the other hand, Puerto Rico, in a protracted economic crisis, was particularly vulnerable to touristic flows, diasporic movements, and a large informal sector. The Puerto Rican response was shaped by deep politicization in the mainland U.S., which complicated an evidence-based strategy to combat the emergency. These cases show that islands, particularly those located in peripheric or subaltern spaces, cannot isolate themselves from the worst effects of COVID-19 through mere geography. Pandemics are not only driven by biological events but also by the narratives of colonialism, encompassing political, economic, and cultural factors, which determine their trajectories — sometimes with devastating outcomes.
- Puerto Rico
- health disparities
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Sociology and Political Science
- Political Science and International Relations