‘Jackass seh di worl’ nuh levle’ is a Jamaican proverb or saying (if you will) – which loosely translates to, ‘ Jackass says that the world is not on a level playing field.’ This is the phrase that came to mind when I read of and heard about the incident which occurred on March 22, 2016 involving the detention and subsequent return of twelve (12) Jamaican citizens from Trinidad to Jamaica. It appears that the Jamaica 12 were not even allowed to step foot out of the Immigration lounge. Incidentally, I also recalled another incident in 2011 when a Jamaican female was subjected to similar treatment, albeit in Barbados. Both incidents are disturbing to me as a travelling member of the Caribbean community. It is worrying on so many levels. You see what Jamaica has in common with these two other islands is that we ALL are a part of a regional conglomeration known as CARICOM- the Caribbean Community. (Formally this brings together 15 states in the Caribbean namely Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Suriname, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago).
The objectives of the Caribbean Community are to improve standards of living and work; the full employment of labor and other factors of production; accelerated, coordinated and sustained economic development and convergence; expansion of trade and economic relations with third States; enhanced levels of international competitiveness; organization for increased production and productivity; achievement of a greater measure of economic leverage; effectiveness of Member States in dealing with third States, groups of States and entities of any description; and the enhanced coordination of Member States’ foreign and foreign economic policies and enhanced functional cooperation. Source: http://www.caricom.org.
Therefore my first concern is in the form of a question -what are the two incidences an indication of? My researcher mind already sees the trend, because there are other such incidences it is just that these two are the more recent and most publicized. You see dear readers the formation of the CARICOM was not an easy feat. [In fact] it was the result of a 15-year effort to fulfil the hope of regional integration which was born with the establishment of the British West Indies Federation in 1958. The West Indies Federation came to an end in 1962 but its end, may be regarded as the real beginning of what is now the Caribbean Community. I grew up hearing my father talk about the issues and challenges leading to the establishment of CARICOM. Just as with the formation of the European Union, there were countries more in favour of joining than others. I learnt, through anecdotal stories, that the eastern Caribbean islands were most in favour whilst there was some hesitation by Jamaica and others. To delve deeper into the historical background may be quite an interesting read for another article, but I can’t help but wonder…Are we being punished for the past misdeeds and utterances in the time of the hesitation? Are people still ‘carrying feelings’ and are now sticking it to us in anyway they can? The answer to these questions and the context may then give a base indication of the problem.
Further historical background shows Jamaica being, by the last quarter of the 18th century,the richest colony in the British empire. This prestige extended to the 19th century. Jamaica could justifiable stake claim to have made a major contribution to Britain’s dominance on the world stage. The island continued to experience good favour until its post -independence era. Incidentally, BOTH Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago gained independence in 1962, with the power to control their domestic and external affairs. It is also helpful to highlight some other significant events which occurred during this time. Natural gas was discovered in Trinidad in 1971, while Jamaica’s main natural resource was bauxite which was discovered in the 1940s. The subsequent establishment of the bauxite-alumina industry shifted Jamaica’s economy from sugar and bananas. By the 1970s, Jamaica had emerged as a world leader in export of these minerals as foreign investment increased. So the stage has been set from 1962 between at least Jamaica and T&T for competitive growth…however several factors contributed to the erosion of most of Jamaica’s advantages. So much so that the island comparatives table will illustrate how much T&T has surpassed Jamaica.
Secondly, under Article 45 of the Treaty of Chaguaramas (which established CARICOM in 1973) the CARICOM nationals are able to have and enjoy freedom of movement secured by the Member States. More importantly, Article II of the same Treaty includes said freedom of movement as one of the fundamental human rights and freedoms. Therefore for the GOTT to state in its official response the reason that the ‘Jamaica 12’ were denied entry was because they were “deemed likely to become charges on public funds” makes this case ‘curiouser and curiouser.’ The Jamaicans would have done their due diligence before expending the resources to travel to the twin island republic. Airfare cost is not an inexpensive undertaking. In turn, aren’t people innocent until proven guilty… how were the ‘Jamaica 12’ en masse, so deemed. Shouldn’t there be a case-by-case determination? I mean the direction my mind is taking me may be misleading but I can’t help but sense some discrimination.
Thirdly, you see having travelled to that island on at least two occasions I remember being subjected to some questionable situations, at Immigration and on the island. I remained gracious and dignified. I am always going there for professional conferences anyway but I tend to dress casually for air travel…On a particular late flight from Miami to Trinidad an Immigration Officer at Priarco was deadpan serious about confiscating my camouflage printed carry on luggage with its content-necessary for attendance at the conference. He was unmoved despite my calm explanation and even after my request to remove the much needed content. It took a Supervisor a brief intervention at which point I was allowed clearance and sent on my merry way, fully intact bags and all .
In conclusion, I am using an historical lens to paint a picture for the narrative of the story. The table entitled Island comparatives offers a comparative analysis using some key indices and affords the readers the opportunity to come to some conclusions about the push- pull factors at play. All this is a classic case of free movement in search of economic opportunities. However it, may be that there are some sibling rivalries and the sibling with the most marbles is withholding them and sometimes may not be playing fair. But since it is their marbles we have to decide if we want to play or not. We should therefore seek to understand a lot more of the history of our region and decipher the root causes for discord and disunity, which could be inadvertently affecting our relationship with each other. Perceived or real, while there may not be a level playing field we need to derive a common ground.