Grasping for CARICOM flavour

Much has been written about Jamaican immigrant lawyer, Ronald Mason’s articles in which he railed against his country remaining as a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Mr. Mason pushed the focus onto the merits and demerits of the CARICOM especially its Single Market and Economy but while I will return to those substantive matters in coming posts, I feel compel to look at a matter, brought up by Mr. Mason which has attracted passing comment but not given significance given the weight of the others he’d exposed.

That matter is name-calling, stereotyping and labelling.  As black people, we protest public stereotyping and labelling such as Anne Coulter’s comments: “Aw come on people, a black woman flying a plane? You know she got that job through affirmative action.  … Oh come on don’t be coy. I know you’re all thinking it! I just have the courage to say what everyone on this plane is thinking. Am I right?”

As I read that with Mr. Mason’s comments lurking in the background, I couldn’t help but ask is Mr. Mason courageous and right?

In the relevant segment of his “Kick CARICOM to the Kerb” part one, Mason reminded me of a “good ole-fashioned cuss-out” among

Caricom-Flag

Caricom-Flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

neighbours so I sensed his despair and frustration with Jamaica’s remaining ‘tight’ with its CARICOM neighbours … “the peoples who populate those islands 1,000 miles away,” and were not playing fair in the relationship.

Mason’s fumed about what he termed Trinidadians’ over-bearing, suffocating attitude and Bajans’ bombastic self-importance; but are those attitudes well-established and broad-based among those nationals that we can hail them deep-seated cultural traits? Do we ( I am a Bajan) as a matter of course extended such behaviour to our CARICOM brothers and sisters?

Unlike Mason, who said he had a “period of enforced residence with some of them at a particular North American university and … in Jamaica”, I have been educated at the University of the West Indies and as such experienced two rewarding and challenging periods immersed in a potpourri of Caribbean culture. We mixed, mingled, argued and shared during formal class, study groups and national weeks (where national organisations celebrated and showed-off their culture – food, dance, music national dress etc.).

Obviously, people also grouped in familiar bunches, based on alma mater, parishes and country of origin but we had our regional mixing and at times we shared with a national from another country that which we did not share with our hometown friends. We took them to our houses on special occasions when they were away from their homes and families. We kick off our shoes at their apartments near campus. It was personal thing not a country-related one.

As mixed nationality groups, we enjoyed our friendships and yes, we sometimes fell out when bombastic, pompous, over-bearing and selfish attitudes got in the way. Those de-friended were Bajans, ‘Lucians’, Grenadians, Vincies, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, and so on. We also forgave each other and were tighter than before or were merely civil but we learned to respect and appreciate each other. It was and is a human thing not a national thing.

We argued over country differences related to all aspects of our culture (food, sports, dance-moves) as well as matters, including immigration and trade that is be-devilling our road to unity. We didn’t solve those issues but we recognised that we were making a difference through our interaction with each other; we continue to show and spread the benefits of our togetherness.

Many of us still ‘shout out” each other on Facebook, Skype or the traditional telephone; we follow each other progress and call one another with an urgent ‘must-do-now” favour knowing that years have passed but the kindness and love live on and will guarantee a positive response.

We’d teased Trinis about carrying the label of insatiable ‘party-lovers’ but we knew many who said ‘no’ to a good fete and instead opt to burn the midnight oil beating some books. We’d laughed with Jamaicans about being stereotyped as aggressive but argued passionately and in consonance that this label was fitted by white man’s history that painted the Maroons and the Caribs with an in-appropriate brush.  Instead we admired the Jamaicans’ creativity, their sense of adventure and will-power to overcome obstacles.

My lists could’ve be longer, but I think the picture has emerged that we learnt that people were individuals not items boxed and labelled by stereotypes. But I could’ve sharpen the focus of the picture by telling you of the many inter-Caribbean national couplings and marriages that resulted and then I could’ve  framed it by revealing that the accents of many among us very so influenced and transformed by our interaction that we teased each other about who had a “CARICOM accent”. Such was the experience at UWI.

Let me take it from the UWI plane, less it be seen as merely a student thing. Take my challenge and visit Barbados’ Fairchild Street Bus Terminal where the state-owned buses make their final passenger stop. I’ve nicknamed that meeting place the CSME; accents of all CARICOM flavours abound; CARICOM nationalities, perhaps with the exception of Haitians and Bahamians, eat, drink, argue, watch cricket and ply their wares, there. I’ve never heard any major discord based on nationality, there. Yes, they argue about who should make the West Indies cricket team and cite island biases for some decisions but they cheer and egg-on everyone dressed in the maroon.  Understanding and appreciating each other’s differences while embracing similarities grow unity in these environments.

We need to get our people from standing underneath their individual national flags and stereotyping and name calling others in the region? (Mason isn’t the only one with his type of mantra.) Part of the answer is getting CARICOM nationals to know more about each other; and to experience more of each others’ physical company as we did at UWI and as others are doing there now and at other meeting places.

Mason indirectly noted the “importance of geographic, cultural, interpersonal relationship among people” in building regional unity as he referred to the Eastern Caribbean. “Schooners and ferries bridge the islands in the east. They have a basis for this creature called CARICOM,” he said, a point which was well made and should be taken.

His articles, therefore, heavily underlined the need for greater communication within CARICOM, a point relevant even in this decade of speedy multi-faceted communication tools. In this communication mix, I believe that reasonably-price intra-CARICOM travel and communication is necessary, not only to increase trade amongst us in goods and services but also to improve our inter-personal relationships, which will engender trust, mutual respect and understanding.

Of course, that communication exercise will call into play the stony, thorny issues of immigrant and border officials’ stances as well as the role of LIAT, but we should never fear problems that are our own making. I will return to those matters in posts dedicated solely to them.

Passport_of_Suriname

Passport_of_Suriname (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe non-verbal communication is also important and therefore just as I uphold the need for national symbols I long for regional ones.

I crave seeing our CARICOM flag fluttering at many strategic places throughout Barbados and the region. So you will understand why my heart is swelling after reading a recent CARICOM Secretariat advertisement of a CARICOM song competition that will give birth to an official CARICOM song to be played at CARICOM ceremonial occasions, nationally, regionally and internationallyI look forward to singing it was as much vibrancy, ownership and meaning as I do my national anthem or our cricket “Rally around the West Indies.”

Given my post, Britain’s attempt at a la carte European menu overtones the Caribbean , I believe the perspectives in this reblogged post will be helpful to my readers. It is well-written, thought-provoking and has some interesting lessons for us within CARICOM as we struggle which similar issues.

I especially note the discussion about immigrant. It gives a view on integration and immigration which we in CARICOM should consider; secondly it helps us to look at our people’s role in Britain as immigrants. I will consider some of the views and make a post soon.

Benjamin Studebaker

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold an in-out referendum on British membership of the European Union by 2017. This is a very bad idea. Here’s why.

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Britain’s attempt at an à la carte European menu over tones the Caribbean

On several occasions in recent months, I’ve had to convince myself and others that regional integration is beneficial to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. In those instances, the European Union’s (EU) model of integration served well as an example of countries with differences in language, culture, levels of development and economic strengths admirably navigating the rewarding but sometimes stormy waters of regional integration.

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Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Commun...

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The EU member-states have met challenges similar to those facing our regional movement – such as thorny issues related to free movement of people, capital, goods and services as well as single currency – and the 27-nation EU is still intact. So, many Caribbean experts argued that with the political will to adopt some of the measures the EU employs especially regarding ceding of a degree of national sovereignty to a supranational institution, we could make our regional integration movement, more effective.

Alas, Euro-sceptics are growing in numbers in Britain – judging from the opinion polls – in the aftermath of an economic recession that showed up defects in the currency zone. As a result, some countries including France and Germany wants to see a new federal Europe with more fiscal oversight so that the Euro can have a better chance of survival. Britain’s Prime Minister sees this as “changing the nature of the organisation” and believes his country is “perfectly entitled, and not just entitled but actually enabled … to ask for changes.”

In fact, his Conservative Party which includes a healthy bunch of sceptics, is advocating a “repatriation of powers” from Brussels (EU headquarters) to Britain. I foresee a psychological blow for CARICOM, even if it does not affect the thinking of the political directorate; it is likely to add vibrancy to the voices of voters who oppose the movement. Once this negatively affects their ‘political capital’, politicians will be dragged along.

So my ears and eyes are strained towards the Netherlands  where Cameron is expected to deliver a keynote speech on the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU, on Friday. He has already said that he will give British “voters the prospect of ‘real change’ .

We also know that he will touch on the freedoms, which he acknowledges represent a key reason to be a European Union member, particularly the movement of people. Note that he said:  “Should we look at the arguments about should it be harder for people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits… frankly we should.”

Cross reference that comment and sentiment to the remarks and goings-on within CARICOM where government officials and citizens continue to lock horns on immigration issues. Barbados has had verbal battles over who should have access to its free health care and other aspect of its social services.

Generally, that country along with Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago have been heavily criticised for their handling of CARICOM nationals especially Guyanese and Jamaicans entering their territories. In fact Barbados has been taken before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on an immigration issue.

As a Caricom national, who supports integration, the news out of Britain is disheartening. First, the EU was our model, therefore Britain’s serious consideration of a departure, even if it is not realised, does not represent a good example for a fragile CARICOM movement.

I recognise Britain has to do what is good for Britain. But against that background, I recall that only a few months ago Barbados and Jamaica’s business people separately were furiously calling for action accusing Trinidad and Tobago of using non- tariff barriers to keep out their goods, while oil-rich – by Caribbean standards- Trinidad & Tobago were heaping its comparatively cheaper goods on the shelves of its neighbours. Jamaicans were making an arguable though not winnable case regarding the benefits vis-à-vis the costs of integration and there was renewed agitation among Jamaicans that they should leave CARICOM.

In addition, decisions made at the CARICOM level have met opposition or some other stumbling blocks to their implementation in individual territories. Sometimes  ‘agreed-to’ policies and regulations are rallied back and forth with changes of governing political parties in countries.  A Caricom with a supranational body like the EU’s therefore looked attractive but this rumbling within structure is unsettling.

One positive note though is that PM Cameron wants to stay in the single market describing it as in ‘the UK’s economic interest to remain a full member of the EU to enable the country to influence the direction of the single market.’

Will Britain be able to renegotiate terms? On Friday, the world is expected to get a clearer understanding of Britain’s conditions for participating in the EU. We already know the opinion of the France’s Socialist President of  France François Hollande regarding Britain repatriation of powers. Hollande who considers that Europe is for life said: “I believe that treaties are meant to be complied with. This discussion could take place, but Europe is not a Europe in which you can take back competences. It is not Europe à la carte.”

If Britain does not get to ‘pick and mix’ from the European integration menu, how long will it wait for a referendum to tell if it will leave the EU? We’ll see. Already some commentators gives Britain the upper hand. According to her aides Chancellor Angela Merkel see the UK as taking “advantage of other European states as they struggle to save the euro and keep the most debt-laden nations, like Greece, Portugal and Spain, from dropping out of the European Union.”

For us here, the debate could point us to some of the challenges and solutions in adopting a single currency; however it could unfortunately make us very wary of that route and lead to inaction.

For now, it is one step at a time. The first is to listen to Cameron’s speech on Friday and gauge the reaction from government leaders and experts in Europe, in the region and around the world.

Related articles

Is the United States bullying Caricom countries into the ground or is the US blind-sided by the desires of large corporations?

smooth barbados rum

Wow … Nothing beats a glass of Barbados rum!

My days of toasting the New Year with a glass of smooth belly-warming Barbados rum are under threat but that is inconsequential. The real issue is that the rum industries of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are hanging on the region’s ability to get the United States to support fair trade.

Given the US’ recent behaviour to the region, I am fearful. Who wouldn’t be when a big bully is carrying the whip? I shudder.

The United States gives its territories, the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico, a tax rebate which according to a 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service provided Puerto Rico with US$371 million and USVI with almost US$100 million in 2008. The worrisome issue for the Caribbean is that this money helps finance companies in the USVI and Puerto Rico that produce and promote rum for the US market and compete with Caricom rum producers globally.

muff rum

In other words, they get a subsidy. We are talking about big brands like Bacardi Limited in Puerto Rico and the USVI’s Cruzan Rum, which is owned by United States spirits owners such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.

The subsidy has the potential of luring other rum producers to those territories, following the example of London-based Diageo PLC. That company is expected to start full production of the Captain Morgan brand on St. Croix this year “in exchange for a chunk of the excise-tax revenue estimated at US$2.7 billion” under a 30 year deal.

In fact, Diageo is getting “a new plant built at taxpayer expense, exemption from all property and gross receipt taxes for the length of the deal, a 90 per cent reduction in corporate taxes, plus marketing support and production”. The New York Times described these incentives as “so rich they are doubled the cost of actually producing the rum.”

So technically, you can say Diageo will be producing rum free of cost and with a bonus to the company. This is what Caricom producers will be competing with on the global market.

Our … distilleries need to export rum in order to survive. But bigger subsidies in the U.S. islands means we don’t get a level playing field for our exports, and it’s going to affect both small and large producers ….” That is what Anthony Bento, managing director of the 80-year-old Antigua company that makes English Harbour Rum told the Associated Press.

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Commun...From a CARICOM perspective, it is a lot of unfair money being pumped into these US territories’ rum industries; money that represents a subsidy; one actionable under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. It is not what trade liberalisation, in name or in spirit.

We have to fight this bad behaviour by the US, but we are severely hamstrung. Note that  as Caribbean governments were using diplomatic channels to effect a settlement, the United States’ fiscal-cliff bill, passed on New Year’s Day extended the offending tax break by two years.

Not surprising! Diageo spent US$2.25 million last year on lobby and has engaged the services of former Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott to push its case on Capitol Hill. These large corporations have the fire power to get themselves in the right positions.

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Jamaica Rum… reigns supreme!

It looks as if the Caricom governments will have to go the WTO route. Accessing the WTO dispute mechanism costs money though some help is provided for us, small fishes. But even if we win, the United States may simply ignore us or at least make it impossible for us to get a speedy settlement. Our rum industry could die in the meantime.

My views are based on how hegemonic US dealt with Antigua after the WTO 2004 and 2005 rulings in favour of that small country in an on-line gambling case against the US.  Reading what Antigua and Barbuda’s High Commissioner to London, Carl Roberts said eight years later (December 2012) to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body offers nothing but despair. He said:

Over the years since our last WTO proceeding in this matter, our government has not been sitting idly by. Nor have we been imposing unrealistic or unbending demands upon the United States. In point of fact, Antigua and Barbuda has been working hard to achieve a negotiated solution to this case.”

“We have tabled proposal after proposal to the US government, and attended session after session, in pretty much every case involving our delegation travelling to Washington, D.C., in hopes of finding some common ground.

“But to date, the United States has not presented one compromise offer of their own, and in particular the USTR (United States Trade Representative) has made, to our belief, no sincere effort to develop and prosecute a comprehensive solution that would end our dispute.”

Therefore, from where I sit in the Caribbean, it looks as if the US wants to run us off the economic map. It is not only rum in the mix; I think about the bananas and sugar, industries the Caribbean once had. Economists call us price takers. In effect, on a world scale we produced such small quantities that we had no effect on price. It we left the market no one, but ourselves, would’ve noticed.

In the 1990s, the US responding to the cries of their companies such as Chaquita Brands International, complained to the WTO about the banana regime operated by the European Union. The WTO upheld the US case and small insignificant Caricom producers were among those adversely affected. Our countries, struggling under dis-economies of scale could not produce at a price competitive with large countries given their wide expanse of fields and large multinational corporations. The banana and sugar industries in our countries heard the death knell. Thousands were thrown out of work and into poverty.

Some Caricom governments hoped that their off-shore financial sector would shore up their ailing economies; but that attempt at diversification was squeezed by the United States and other large countries citing tax havens to implement international rules and regulations that stifle the growth of such centres.

Even marijuana farming and exportation in the Caribbean is locked off by the United States. On moral reasons, I agree with that action, but what can I think when I see states within the US legalizing the drug as their country try to stamp out its growth in the Caribbean.

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Guyana has the oldest rum producing distillery. It can be found on the Demerara River banks. Caribbean rich with rum making experience.

Are our small countries to produce only hungry beggars for that is what will happen if the US stamp us down at every turn? That will be left for us?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF)?  The IMF to dictate our lives in exchange for a few dollars worth of loans?

I know the United States is looking out for its capitalists’ interests but why not let the Caribbean do its fishing instead of grudgingly dropping us a fish? If we are price takers, can we at least be left with something to take that price? Is the position from which big countries operates one of unadulterated greed? I once believe not but today I am unsure!

Level the playing field in the rum industry and give our industry a chance!

Rum is Caricom’s biggest agro export. According to data from the US International Trade Commission (USITC), the Caribbean bloc’s share as a supplier of rum to the US market has fallen in recent years. In 2000, it accounted for around 70 per cent of the total, 50 per cent in 2008, and 42.3 per cent in 2011, equivalent to US$38.7 million.   Barbados and Jamaica are responsible for most of the deliveries (two thirds), followed by Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. In 2011, PR recorded US sales of US$148 billion, four times more than Caricom.

 

Needy and Anxious

Help! Information is needed. Action may be needed!

I shuddered as I read that Haiti is issuing permits for companies to mine gold and copper in their lands. I agree that Haitians need jobs, unemployment is 52 percent; their economy needs stimuli,  but my stomach fell to my toes as the relevant news item darted up at me from my computer screen.

Blame my desire to see Haiti achieve the best or blame the news media, research tools and my inquiring mind which have led me to conclude that in too many mines worldwide, even those of developed countries, security features and general working conditions have been the source of much concern.

Haiti is Third World, plagued with political instability. I use the categorisation, Third World, which I detest on purpose, because it carries all the negative connotations which added to this mining business flicked on my alarm switch.

Poor education and health standards along with the resulting high level of ignorance about critical matters in the mining business among a very hungry poor population offer no comfort to me as I watch from the outside.

My lessons from Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, springs painfully to mind as I try to analyse the unfolding events. I know nothing about the investors nor the decision makers at the mining companies and I am not saying that they are bad human beings but I fear. I need to know.

Manise Joseph, 16, looks for gold. People in the village of Lakwev in north-east Haiti have been digging for gold since the 1960s. Photograph: Ben Depp

Manise Joseph, 16, looks for gold. People in the village of Lakwev in north-east Haiti have been digging for gold since the 1960s. Photograph: Ben Depp

Who will be watching out for Haitians employed in the mines?  Who will monitor safety, health and pay conditions; are these people competent and enabled?  Wages are already low with 75 per cent of Haitians earning less than US$2 per day, will the pay fit the tasks?

Who will prevent the exploitation of the country’s resources, including its people? Who will walk away with the lion share of the profits? These are important questions!

The answers are critical considering the enormous issues about the marginal level of the Rule of Law in Haiti which was raised in a United Nation 2010 report .  This Rule of Law, as the report noted not only relates to “the police, corrections and the judiciary.”  (Read carefully and grasp the  direness.)

It (the Rule of law)  is also about land registry, civil registry, building codes and commercial laws; it is about the State’s capacity to collect taxes and to guarantee a certain level of judicial security that can promote investments and job creation, to, ultimately, encourage economic development.

According to the Guardian online newspaper, the companies applying for mining permits were working with little government oversight. We all know that companies are about profits not regulations.  This is a sorry situation ripe for exploitation of man, country, animal and anyone or anything else standing in the way of high profits.

Commenting on this worrisome poor state of monitoring, geologist Dieuseul Anglade, the former director of Haiti’s mining agency, was quoted as saying: “The government doesn’t give us the means to supervise the companies. Most of our budget goes to salaries. We don’t really have an operating budget.”

I added this to Eurasian Minerals president David Cole‘s boast that his company “controls over 1,100 square miles of real estate” and investor Mickey Fulp‘s note that “It is obvious there is substantial geopolitical risk in Haiti, but the geology is just so damn good”; and the result was that my alarm bells reached deafening decibels.  Protection of the environment; ensuring appropriate labour, safety and health standards; and preventing the exploitation of man, animal, and country must be ensured.

Join me in this quest for answers and let us find methods to agitate for the best conditions for Haitians.

Thanks for participating in the poll.

Are we independent?

“You could take off that yellow and blue and stop celebrating Independence, a dot like Barbados could be independent? Even large countries ain’t independent.” It is Avram’s voice. She was provoking me but I was too busy relaxing peacefully; too lost into my thoughts about frivolous subjects to take her on.

She burst out singing; “No man is an island” in her off-key sometimes bass cum soprano cum tenor voice. I couldn’t take it no more so I shouted out: “First, Barbados’ colours are gold, ultramarine plus black for the Broken Trident; you start wrong so you must end wrong.”

My alter ego is extremely persistent. She is also a strategist who carefully picks battles to lose or to win. Her goal is winning the war and I am always trying to defeat her.

“You are right, I started wrong and I’ve ended wrong. On reflection, wearing national colours is about patriotism, not independence” she said, “but I remembered all you said a few days ago about globalism and regional integration and I was trying to reconcile them with this independence thing.”

“Cooperation, cooperation not dependence,” I was saying but she was talking through my chant, not listening.

“Yes, yes, Barbados has a right to choose, so it is independent, like China and the United States” she taunted.

What I told you! Avram is a strategist; all she wanted was to set me thinking deeply. She succeeded. She won. My mind is in havoc.

First, I tried to understand independence. I saw a young person leaving his parental home with his mum and dad’s blessings and their expectation that he will support himself financially – pay his loans and living expenses- not run back home often begging and crying for help.

I draw an analogy with Barbados and its former mother country, England, part of the European Union and then I checked out Sir Ronald Saunders’ articles. He is a former diplomatic and would have reliable and sound information. But his comments left me gloomy.

It is not overstating the case to say that EU (European Union) assistance to the Caribbean for its productive sector and infrastructure is an essential component of government revenues, allowing them to spend on social welfare programmes,” he wrote. “If EU assistance is reduced, Caribbean countries can expect to see an expansion of poverty and a reduction of social welfare programmes, with an attendant increase in unemployment and violent crime.”

O Lord, we independent Caribbean countries begging our former mother countries, I cried.

But Barbados is solid I cried. The World Bank isn’t giving us concessionary loans and in fact it mentioned Barbados as one of those “countries (that) graduated from the aid recipient list (because it had) reach high income status and remain there for a few years.”

So Barbados standing on its own feet; I felt proud to be a member of an independent nation until I reached for the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

“Caribbean will mount a diplomatic demarche to forestall the reduction in foreign aid through further graduation. If this is successful it is likely to be only a temporary reprieve. For the time being, there is Chinese aid and PetroCaribe but the middle-income countries of the Caribbean must reconcile themselves to being forcefully weaned off aid and on to the international and local financial markets.”

I gleaned from the article that Barbados is among those countries that has to be forcefully weaned off so how independent is it?

Avram came in the room again grinning and carrying several pamphlets. “Look I’ve found a description of Barbados it is a popular one in journals.Barbados

“Barbados, she read “has a small open economy. ‘Small’ refers to the country’s inability to influence the price it pays or charges when doing trade with the rest of the world.’ Wait, Barbados doesn’t have a say, it relies on others to set prices for its products,” she added.

Check here, she said. “Government remains very concerned over the extremely high dependence on imports to meet domestic food requirements, which has placed Barbados in the category of Net Food Importing Developing Countries (NFIDCs) with approximately 74 percent of food requirements being sourced through imports” she read.

Stop! Stop! I cried covering my ears with my hands but she went on telling me about the World Trade Organisation where we had a say but too few experts to analyse effectively, to lobby, to negotiate and we being led by the powerful countries. “Weak words, weak vote,” she stressed.

She said we didn’t stand a chance in this globalised world where multilateral rules were set by international organisations turning us into robots and shoving things down our throats that we can’t swallow but try to because we wanted favours.

She said rules about poverty, privatisation, land zoning, children per school ratio and so on were set by multilateral organisations that don’t have a clue about our cultural nuances and the effect of these things on our lives. She said they fool Barbados that it has a vote but power and influence are asymmetric and we were on the lighter side of the scale, so our vote is a blank.

“You don’t see that we can’t take flying fish to England for Maggie; they say Barbados carry on back yard slaughtering but we didn’t start swine flu nor bird flu, yet they punishing us and speaking about phyto-sanitary standards. You think if we were independent, we would let them bully us, we would put a non-tariff barrier in their way too.”

She went on to talk about the International Monetary Fund visiting Barbados ‘two mornings’ and tell us how to run our economy, making us raise our Value Added Tax to 17.5 per cent. I shot back that the IMF told big England about their fiscal deficit so why not Little England, the nickname given to Barbados. But Avram was winning and she wasn’t quitting.

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A rainbow of hope for Barbados’ future

So I screamed that at least we aren’t like Turk & Caicos Islands where Britain sent an officer to run their affairs nor we weren’t like Montserrat where England could sanction public officers. I know that was a powerful blow, so I ran into my room before Avram could recover but peep out to shout out to all Barbadians,“let’s plant food and produce more goods; stop buying so many imports that run down our scare foreign affairs; buy local.”  

I then hollered to the top of my voice. “Happy Independence Barbados” and I slammed the door in the face of Avram and all other naysayers to Barbados’ economic and social health.

Immigration squeezing unity

300px-West_indies_cricket_board_flagA few Sundays ago, I declared the coming week, West Indies Week,” and went viral soliciting all Caribbean people to join in a frenzy of celebrations. Who in the cricketing Caribbean region could avoid celebrating after the underdogs, the West Indies cricket team thrashed Sri Lanka at home?

I shouted to my Caribbean people home and abroad: “Eat oil down; ackee and salt fish; cou-cou and flying fish; crab and callalloo; salt fish and green fig; cook-up; curry and roti; pepperpot; mountain chicken; lobster Dominic; and so on.

“Don’t touch Yorkshire pudding or hamburger, this week. Wear all the West Indies cricket shirts you have… if you don’t have, buy. And, please raise Caribbean flags, high.” Instructions were flying. My internet connection crawled under the hefty load of to and fro-ing e-mails.

Suddenly so, ‘bam’ my West Indies flag broke at half-mast. Mourning started. Caribbean unity was awaiting a decision on a leg before wicket appeal made by Jamaicans.

That Sunday the  Jamaica Observer newspaper carried an article in which a Jamaican woman said she was mistreated by  officials at the Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados. This was not the first time such a claim was made so some Jamaicans were furious with Barbadians, calling them “Barbarians” as they vented anger off and on-line. One gentleman urged his government to issue a travel advisory warning Jamaicans against travelling to Barbados, which was nicknamed ‘the dot’.

Incensed Jamaicans saw the matter as another example that 190px-JAMAICA_CC_PASSPORTthe Caribbean Community (Caricom) was not beneficial to their country and Julian Archer cried: “Give us back our Jamaican passport. No Caribbean Community Passport around here.”

I deplore abuse. I hate discrimination, no matter whether it is based on gender, ideology, race, nationality, class or creed. I wasn’t at the airport so I cannot give evidence about the facts of the lady’s allegation. However, the claim reminded me that immigration issues within the Caribbean Community need a serious examination. Weshould also  educate our Caricom nationals adequately about the provisions of the Single market including free movement of people.

Times of plenty are more favourable to integration than hard times. Economic conditions  in the Caribbean are now difficult. The recession continues to bite into our heavily indebted economies; and the conditionalites imposed by lending agencies like the International Monetary Fund have brought turbulence to the economic and social conditions of our people. Circumstances are therefore pushing them to search for opportunities outside their home territories.

Traditionally favoured destinations have, however, tightened their entry rules. For example, the United States has raised visa application fees and demanded that these applications be made electronically perhaps believing that ‘economic refugees’ are likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide. Even friendly countries, like Britain, the former mother country of many CARICOM nations are becoming less welcoming to us.

Last month, we read that St. Lucians and Vincentians were now required to have visas to enter Canada. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is concerned about human trafficking; fraudulent travel documents and the excessively high number of asylum seekers from those Caricom countries. So the world is getting jumpy about how people enter their borders and Caricom nationals are now forced to look inward with added vigour.

Human trafficking and use of false documents are not problems exclusive to large countries. Barbados was cited by the United States Department of State among countries not doing enough to protect victims of this evil. Checking the flow of illegal drugs through the island’s sea and airport is also a battle. This combination can make some of the officers who monitor the island’s sea and air port more officious than normal.

None of these factors, however, can justify abuse. My view is: if in doubt about a visitor’s reason for entry, turn him back but don’t mistreat him.

Flag_of_CARICOM_svgSome Caricom nationals however will ask; “why deny me entry, I have a Caricom-labelled passport, I should have access to any part of this region? They believe the region is their home and nobody has the right to shut a door against them at any of its ports. That speaks to the Caricom under construction; the current Caricom is one whose borders are opening incrementally.

We must also remember that community members are all sovereign states with rights to protect their borders. Even the Europe Union, with its elements of federation and supranational institutions, have immigration issues. In April, Brussels threatened the United Kingdom with court action for failing to implement certain EU directives on immigration. All is not perfect there.

Look at the United States, their nationals have had border concerns. I recall Miss America 2003, Susie Castillo, crying after she was body-searched at Dallas airport during an inter-state trip.

The region is  not alone on these issues but we need to find rational solutions for our challenges. It is crunch time when nationals of a Caricom country suggest that its government should put its defence force on standby in case another Caricom country doesn’t take action on an immigration matter.

WEB-bimpassport_w216It is also serious when Barbadians fear travelling to Jamaica and Jamaicans conjure up images of being man handled at our ports of entry. I have faith though the Myrie case now before the Caribbean Court of Justice will produce an approach that will affect how the region handles border matters and this will even out some of these bumps along the road to integration.

In the meantime, let’s continue to dance and sing ‘Rally around the West Indies’ and  let us share our oil-down, jerk chicken and cou-cou and flying fish with each other.