Today we’re all West Indians.
United under the maroon flag, we possess a power so magical that with a single win, we transformed Dwayne Bravo’s inanity into a global anthem of victory. Champion! Champion!
Under the unity flag of West Indian triumph, however, lies the troubling West Indian reality of a divided people wedged between past and possibility.
These you will find on any given day, languishing on deportation benches at Piarco International Airport. While Jamaicans have been the most vocal on the issue, a large number of Guyanese, too, are among the Caricom nationals being turned back at their first point of entry into Trinidad and Tobago.
Lured by Caricom’s boastful declaration of free movement within the region, each had arrived here assuming an automatic right to entry for six months only to be thrown into immigration limbo, their airline tickets instantly reduced to wasted money.
On the heels of their disappointment has developed an ugly acrimony which is fuelling anger towards Trinidadians. Occasionally, as happened last week, it rises to a threat to boycott all products from T&T.
In this pitched battled, Caricom nationals and T&T immigration officials square off against each other as equal victims of the policy incoherence created by successive governments.
It has been almost 15 years since that day in July 2001 when then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday signed the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Less than six months later, he was out of office, passing to Patrick Manning T&T’s signed commitment to a Caricom Single Market, supported by the free movement of people.
It would be another five years, 2006, before the single market would take official effect but, within two years, it was clear that the Manning administration was not fully behind the CSME.
The following comments by MP Colm Imbert in a 2008 parliamentary debate of a no-confidence motion against PM Patrick Manning are revealing:
“The former PM—the member for Couva North—he is the one who signed the revised treaty of Chaguaramas, binding all of us in this country to all sorts of things to do with Caricom, without reciprocity. It is the member for Couva North that did that—advised by the member for Tabaquite (Ramesh Maharaj) and by the member for Siparia (Kamla Persad-Bissessar)… So clearly the member for Couva North didn’t know what he was doing when he signed, advised by you…”
(Tdad Guardian, Aug 2008)
Declaring that Caricom’s mechanisms were too slow for integrating the region at the rate that was needed, Patrick Manning put his energies into fast-tracking a new regional bloc even as the Caricom Single Market continued to unfold.
Following a whirlwind tour of the region to pitch his proposal, he settled on a “coalition of the willing” in which Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St Vincent and St Lucia would come together in a political union.
As in the case of Panday’s signing of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in 2001, the people of T&T were spectacularly omitted from Manning’s failed pursuit of his integration plan.
And there they have stayed, muddling their way through Caricom’s new regime, unclear of what to expect from the new system and what its expects from.
Much of the confusion that has Caricom travellers in tears comes from immigration decisions based on definitions of “undesirable persons” and “charge on public funds.”
The judgment delivered by the Caribbean Court of Justice in the Shanique Myrie case was explicit and detailed enough on both to have provided clarity and guidance to immigrations authorities and the general public alike across the region.
But that judgment has turned out to be a lost opportunity for re-aligning national policies, re-training immigration officers and sensitising the Caricom public about the implications of the new free movement regime.
Based purely on anecdotal sources, it would appear that the ruling has provoked a heightened insularity and antipathy against Caricom visitors in some Caricom countries. Perhaps, it has to do with the judgment’s position that “where national law does not conform with the parameters laid down by Community law, it will be the latter that ultimately must prevail.”
Until we are brought to a fuller understanding and appreciation of how the national interest resides in the regional interest, the idea that Caricom law should prevail over national law will be a hard pill to swallow especially among those accustomed to wielding unfettered power.
As if CSME simply does not exist, much of the commentary following the recent outcry from the group of deported Jamaicans suggest an indignant rejection of any such idea.
Indeed, at the highest levels of the past and current administrations, very senior officials have seemed unfamiliar to the point of clueless about the implications of having signed the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the Shanique Myrie judgment.
Within the European Union, national sovereignty versus Union commitment is an issue forever on the boil as interests collide and the parts negotiate with the whole.
In the United Kingdom, the collision has been serious enough to force the June 23 referendum which will decide whether the UK stays in the EU or not.
Within Caricom, the issues are almost never before the people. Acting in our name, governments commit us to agendas about which they know very little and we know even less and in which we have no say at all.
Then, knowing where their bread is buttered and their votes are counted, they dismiss their signatures at the first sign of hometown trouble, leaving the task of integration to who else but the West Indies cricket team.