THE GOVERNMENT of Trinidad and Tobago may need to take some quick action to resolve a recurring human problem that, unless appropriately handled, could well sour the normally good relations that exist between this country and Guyana.
It involves what the Guyana Government, and more specifically its Foreign Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, has identified as "recurring, hurtful, discriminatory treatment" against Guyanese visitors at Piarco International Airport, including intransit airline passengers.
Guyana and Jamaica are perhaps the two Caribbean Community partner states—much more than others of the 15-member regional economic grouping—that often find themselves having to probe and make representations of discrimination and even hostilities against their nationals at official ports of entry within Caricom.
It so happens, that while the allegations vary from individuals and countries, the more frequent referenced complaints by Jamaicans and Guyanese have been levelled against immigration authorities in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and, to a lesser extent, the Bahamas.
On Monday, the long-serving Guyanese Foreign Minister chose to go public with her "grief" during a television interview on state-owned NCN when dealing with a range of nationals' issues on the programme The Factor.
Commenting on "negative" experiences and perceptions faced by Guyanese travellers within Caricom, the foreign minister singled out Trinidad and Tobago as perhaps "the current worse-case scenario" of harassment and discrimination against her fellow citizens and stressed that it was high time for this long-standing problem to be resolved.
Yesterday I spoke separately with Rodrigues-Birkett and her Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Winston Dookeran, to get their perspectives on what should be done.
For the Guyanese Foreign Minister, "this problem has been officially ignored for far too long, despite our (Guyana's) repeated efforts at the highest and other levels to stop this practice…."
Speaking candidly, she stressed, " I cannot sit as Foreign Minister and not only just receive reports, but actually witness with my own eyes the embarrassment, the inconvenience and ugly treatment meted out to Guyanese nationals as they are herded, separately, at the Piarco airport for no known reason, while other Caricom nationals and other travellers are allowed to continue with their flight arrangements, bound for home or other destinations…"
Rodrigues-Birkett said she was "at a loss" to understand why some specific actions to curb and eliminate the discriminatory treatment have not been undertaken by the Government in Port of Spain in cooperation with the relevant airline authorities operating out of Piarco, including Caribbean Airlines (CAL).
The evidently angry Foreign Minister noted that "CAL has its single biggest flying business among Caricom countries with Guyana and, therefore, it and the Civil Aviation Authority in Trinidad and Tobago have a moral obligation to help bring an end to "this ugly and disgusting situation affecting Guyanese travellers at Piarco airport."
In contrast, she was "pleased to note" in response to other questions, "how much improvement there has been and continues to be with Barbados, where we (the Guyana Government) once had some very serious problems with immigration authorities there…"
Later, in sensitising Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran to her lamentation over the lack of concrete action by T&T to deal with the problems facing Guyanese travellers, he responded with characteristic calmness.
"I am very concerned to learn about what the Guyana Foreign Minister has said and I intend to make an early assessment of the relevant problems to which she has alluded."
Dookeran said the Trinidad and Tobago Government was "naturally interested in fostering good relations" with Guyana and, therefore, would seek to resolve whatever "the nature of the problem, or problems…"
Good, mature diplomatic talk. Now for the dialogue initiatives by Port of Spain and Georgetown to end the complaints of "discrimination" and "unnecessary inconveniences" against Guyanese travellers at Piarco International Airport.