April 03, 2011

At the root of Caribbean disunity


Published by the Jamaica Observer

Sunday, April 03, 2011

UNLESS you have been too focused on the unseemly brawl between attorney KD Knight and Prime Minister Bruce Golding at the Dudus/Manatt enquiry you know that there has been sustained national outcry since Shanique Myrie revealed to this newspaper that she was the victim of an alleged cavity search that felt like a sexual assault by a female immigration official in Barbados.

The incident reportedly occurred on March 14. She also said the Immigration officer made several derogatory remarks about Jamaicans. She was refused permission to land and was returned to Jamaica on the next available flight.

SAMUDA… it makes no sense for Caribbean countries to accept and indeed to court investors from all over the world, but to resent those who take up such offers who come from elsewhere within the region

Barbadian Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Maxine McClean immediately dismissed Ms Myrie's allegations.

"There is absolutely no truth to a story carried in a Jamaican newspaper on Thursday, March 24, that a female citizen of that country was body-searched by Immigration officers on arrival at the Grantley Adams International Airport." The minister accepted a report from the chief immigration officer, after "extensive investigations" that "the claims were baseless".

By Thursday, as the controversy got extensive media and political attention across the region, the Jamaican Government despatched a team of officials to Barbados to dig deeper into the issue.

Meanwhile, the Barbadian minister appeared to be dialling back her initial assertions, suggesting that the matter must be thoroughly and calmly investigated to determine what really happened and what sanctions would be applied to anyone found to be have committed an illegal offence.

What we know at this stage is that the story told by Ms Myrie to the Observer and the story told by Barbadian Immigration officials to the foreign minister cannot both be true.

Though I am prepared to suspend final judgement until all the facts are in, it is not credible for Ms Myrie to concoct such a horrifying and humiliating story about herself. It is not the kind of notoriety that any rational person would inflict on themselves.

The specific issue is not beyond reasonable resolution. The allegations outlined by Ms Myrie are illegal under Barbadian law and I do not believe it's beyond the Royal Barbados Police to get to the truth and let the law take its course. The Jamaican woman has, quite rightly, retained counsel to protect her interests and her human rights.

But as the investigation runs its course, the controversy has again raised fundamental questions about commitment to the regional integration movement which generations of political leaders have been crafting, with limited success, for more than four decades.

Reflection of deep suspicions and mistrust

Was this an isolated incident or a reflection of deeper rifts and mistrust about the practical implementation of the various protocols and agreements about the free movement of people, capital, and goods and services?

We know that Caricom suffers from periodic skirmishes ranging from trade -- the struggle to get Jamaican patties into Trinidad is a case in point — through the upkeep and utilisation of the Caribbean Court of Justice, to immigration, as proved by the Myrie case, and recitations of story after story about mistreatment in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago of nationals from several Caricom countries.

Addressing Parliament last Wednesday, Prime Minister Golding said the most recent Caricom heads of Government meeting heard complaints from the St Vincent prime minister that nationals from his country were mistreated when they arrived in Barbados. At a meeting prior to that, a similar complaint was made by the president of Guyana.

"There are issues that we have not addressed. The deputy prime minister will confirm that at almost every Heads of Government meeting the matter is raised," Mr Golding remarked in his statement to Parliament.

In its editorial comment on the issue Thursday, The Trinidad Express acknowledged that the twin-island republic has also been fingered in the mistreatment of Jamaicans, stating that, "Jamaica has also listed this country's airports among those in the region where its citizens have charged mistreatment by officials. This is in spite of the fact that Caricom purports to be moving towards free travel between member states."

The so-called Caricom passport is honoured more in the breach than the observance and persons in possession of valid Caricom skill certificates, which identify the holder as persons eligible to move freely throughout the region, say the document is routinely ignored by border officials.

In some instances, Immigration officials do not have the authority to honour these documents because their governments did not bother to pass the necessary enabling legislation that would give the power of law to the signed agreements.

Another underlying issue is the differences in economic development. People in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, the two Caricom members with the most robust economies, often express concerns about 'foreigners' coming in to 'take' what rightly belongs to 'nationals'. Border officials probably reflect this mood when they encounter some Caricom nationals at points of entry.

In addition, the gap between what regional treaties say and what occurs in national practice is explained by the fact that there is no supra-national body to enforce the agreements because individual states and people have shown no inclination to give up their sovereignty, not even in part.

This is not an easy issue because no country will give up its right to make critical decisions about matters like security, border control and development strategy unless the alternative is demonstrably better than holding on to the illusion of sovereignty.

The European Union is often dangled as an example of a regional integration movement that works; but this did not happen overnight. And they still have holdouts. For example, the British have stayed out of the common Euro currency, holding on to the pound as their national currency.

In our region the benefits of integration have been slow in coming. Big inter-regional projects tend to falter. A case in point: Early in the 1970s, Jamaica's Michael Manley, Guyana's Forbes Burnham and Trinidad and Tobago's Eric Williams talked boldly and hopefully about a regional aluminium smelter using alumina from Jamaica and Guyana and energy from Trinidad. Nothing happened.

But while state-supported projects have faltered, business people at all levels are up and down the region investing and working even in the face of bureaucratic humbug. Big firms like GraceKennedy, Sagicor, and Trinidad Cement are all over the place.

This past week Karl Samuda, minister of industry, investment and commerce, was in Trinidad and Tobago wooing investors.

According to The Trinidad Express, Samuda said that "it makes no sense for Caribbean countries to accept and indeed to court investors from all over the world, but to resent those who take up such offers who come from elsewhere within the region".

At another end of the spectrum, Jamaican entertainers pull big crowds even in places where authorities show their disapproval of some of the lyrical content and on-stage profanities. And some don't get past the border.

It seems, therefore, that there is a real desire for mutually beneficial exchanges at both corporate and individual levels. But this has to be done in a context of mutual respect.

Skirmishes and squabbles are part of doing business; abuse and humiliation are not. For the most part the region is joined by commonalities of culture, language and the Caribbean Sea. The divisiveness that too often prevails over co-operation will, in all probability, disappear with time and force of circumstances. We may become more accommodating to one another as others far away become less accommodating to us.

Source: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/pfversion/At-the-root-of-Caribbean-disunity_8617864#ixzz1IVvEOQxS