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Caribbean neighbours at war?

By Barbara Gloudon

 SO, we are preparing to go to war with Trinidad and Tobago. Make that Trinidad alone. We have no problem with Tobago. I don’t even think some of us who are getting ready to place an embargo on goods imported from T&T have even given a thought to the pretty little island which is part of the “enemy territory”. But, who cares...it is Trini-land that we are vexed with.

This is not Federation time, but some seem to be thinking: Don’t federate wid none a dem. Don’t eat dem roti, dem sweet biscuit, dem hot pepper sauce. Don’t dance and prance in the streets imitating their bacchanal. Fire fi Carnival! Seriously? Deport all steelpans...Go back to mento banjo. Don’t get married to none a dem. That last one is kinda difficult for me. I’ve been married quite happily to “one a dem” for nuff-nuff years. It would be hard to break that habit now. Leave well alone.

So, let’s get real. Instead of war, let’s see how we can make peace. Why can’t we sit down like adults and find solutions to mutual problems—like the highly unreasonable trade imbalance. Throwing a tantrum about Trinidad—remember, Tobago not in this—because they sent home 13 of our people the minute they set foot on Port of Spain soil, figuratively speaking, is not the grown-up way to deal with the problem. On the other hand, our Trini neighbours must stop being suspicious of every Jamaican who lands at Piarco airport. Some of us are actually family.

We all have to stop deluding ourselves. It is no secret that our people have scattered all across the region looking for work, which explains why when others see us coming, they go on the defensive. It is a habit which began with our forebears who, in long-gone years, made their way to Cuba and Panama and sundry other distant lands, known and unknown, to “get a work” to support themselves and family back home. Ever since then, we have been “colonising” other people’s territory until they get vex and “show wi bad face”. Other Caribbean people have the habit, too, but all is not quite well with us. When we go to see our neighbours, the welcome mat is saved for tourists.

In the “comess” (Trini word) and “preckeh” (Jamaica talk), the matter of the 13 whose landing at Piarco and their hasty shipment back here is fomenting disaffection. Inter-Caribbean movement should come easily, but it does not. Some of us are afraid of some of us. The Treaty of Chaguaramas does not guarantee that we can just turn up in each other’s place to do as we please, but that’s what some people seem to believe. The Shanique Myrie verdict has reinforced that idea. It is being pointed out now by Trinidad’s PM that immigration officers have the discretion to say who goes and who stays. 

For too long now, good people have been lumped together with the bad. That doesn’t help. If our people went to Trinidad on legitimate business, then we need to head to the conference table ASAP to determine what went on. Why were they not welcomed?  

The T&T Prime Minister has offered to dispatch her foreign minister to consult with his equivalent here—the sooner the better.

Not too long ago, on a visit to Port of Spain, on perfectly legitimate business, I got the full Piarco treatment. I was questioned to within an inch of credibility and finally let through, my self-assurance a little shaky. Did I look like a person with criminal intent? Had I come to make off with manufacturing secrets or the template for next year’s Carnival costumes? A great shock awaited.

When I dragged my bag, which had been set aside, over to be screened, I couldn’t resist asking the Customs officer why was it isolated? After he had rummaged through my meagre belongings, he muttered that they were “having a problem with some of your people”. My people? Very quietly, he told me the story of “one of your people” who had landed from Kingston a few days before.

She had a very peculiar shape which didn’t seem right. She allowed a body search and it turned out that there was an artificial “structure” created to conceal the deadly white powder. Ah-oh! Was that why I was treated so, because I was one of “your people”? Since then, I travel with as much documentation as possible.

We have plenty to talk about with our neighbours, and it is not just to exchange travel tips. Some people on the street here believe that the reason for friction could well be the fact that, in recent times, Trini-people have come here and have met violent deaths in strange situations. At the other end of the line, some of “our people” are abandoned in Trini prisons —if reports are to be believed—with the dreaded five-letter word (drugs) hanging over their heads. It is said that it is the bad apples are making it hard for the rest of us. We have to get real and seek to get full disclosure and understanding about the new atmosphere of discordance which has surfaced. 

For those who are not aware of the history of discontent which has dogged trade within the Caricom area, read Caribbean Challenges by Sir Shridath Ramphal and associates, highlighting some long-standing regional issues. It may come as a surprise to learn that “there was a time when Jamaica had to answer complaints by St Vincent, Dominica and St Lucia against exports of goods by Seprod, the oils and fats people, then one of Jamaica’s biggest manufacturing enterprises. Charges were also levelled against Serv-Well, who manufactured fridges and stoves—yes, we used to do that here. Competitors complained about “subsidies” and other “unfair practices”. Sound familiar?

As public reaction to a proposed consumer boycott of Trini imports grows here, our government is warning against possible effects. Some private sector voices are urging caution, too. The question, though, is: why is the situation so lopsided? Why must we always be the buyer and so infrequently the seller? I would imagine that it is an even more important question to resolve: Why aren’t we producing the things which other people want to buy? Yeah, yeah, we have many obstacles to production, but can we really do nothing to bring about a change? It is a question we cannot put off indefinitely.


• Courtesy Jamaica Observer

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