THE ripple effects of the landmark ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the case of the Jamaican Shanique Myrie vs the Barbados government, should shake the leaders of Caricom out of their Rip van Winkle-like slumber to honour their commitment to unhindered free intra-regional movement of citizens of the regional community.
Caricom citizens, and particularly those who, like me in years past, have been subjected to unnecessary arrogance—to say the least—by immigration officials at some ports of entry—seem to owe a debt of gratitude to Ms Myrie.
After all, it is her courage in seeking a ruling by the CCJ for some terrible wrongs she had suffered on entry and prior to deportation from Barbados between March 14-15, 2011, that resulted in the historic CCJ ruling.
The judgement has underscored the importance, indeed the tremendous value in being a Caricom citizen whose right to freedom of intra-regional movement is well anchored in the revised Community Treaty to give flesh and blood reality to the objectives of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME)—which remains a work in progress.
Caricom leaders should now give serious consideration to holding a special or emergency meeting to decide how best to collectively address the implications of the judgement.
It is a vital issue for all citizens—freedom of unhindered intra-regional movement. This is not a problem between Jamaica and Barbados. It has long been a recurring problem for citizens across Caricom, and all governments are involved.
For a start, the leaders could begin with the humble gesture of scrapping from the quasi-cabinet portfolios on responsibility pertaining to free intra-regional movement for Caricom citizens, including skilled nationals seeking employment or doing business outside of their country of birth.
At best, this portfolio, like some others, has been virtually non-functional, amid the customary rhetorical “commitment” to “One Community, One People”.
Now, the CCJ’s ruling in the case has given a most welcome new meaning to the concept of free movement within Caricom. More widely, as observed by the noted regional economist and thinker, Dr Norman Girvan, the judgement offers new life for implementation of the Revised Caricom Treaty.
For this Guyana-born regional journalist, who has been working and living in Barbados for some 28 years, after having to depart from Trinidad and Tobago and surviving controversial immigration-related decisions by governments in Port of Spain and Bridgetown—the ruling has served as a pertinent reminder of what the late Barbados prime minister, Errol Barrow, had told a Caricom Summit in Guyana some 27 years ago.
In addressing the Caricom Heads of Government Conference in Georgetown on July 3, 1986, Barrow had observed:
“If we (the leaders) have sometimes failed to comprehend the essence of the regional integration movement, the truth is that thousands of ordinary Caribbean people do, in fact, live that reality every day…
“In Barbados,” he reminded, “our families are no longer exclusively Barbadian by island origin. We have Barbadian children of Jamaican mothers; Barbadian children of Antiguan and St Lucian fathers. And there is no need to mention Trinidad and Tobago which has always been tied to us not only by the inestimable bonds of consanguinity, but the burgeoning cross-fertilisation of cultural art forms…
“We are,” said Barrow, whose vision and commitment had also resulted in initiatives to make the CCJ a reality—“a family of islands nestling closely under the shelter of the great Co-operative Republic of Guyana. And this fact of regional togetherness is lived every day by ordinary West Indian men and women in their comings and goings…”
Reflecting on that energising concept of our “Caricom family” by the visionary Barbadian leader, I thought how ironic it is for Barbados to be at the centre of the CCJ’s ruling.
However, in keeping with the letter and spirit of the CCJ’s judgement, it seems that for its practical realisation all Caricom governments would have to embark on a region-wide training programme to reorient employees in their immigration and customs services how to perform their functions in the interest of their respective nations and the Community in general.
The days of unilateral, contemptuous and hostile actions in dealing with Caricom citizens at ports of entry must soon come to an end.
More than such needed regional orientation on our togetherness as “One People of One Community”, the iconic Barbados-born Caribbean novelist and social commentator, George Lamming, in welcoming the CCJ’s judgement, said to me:
“The time is overdue for the Caribbean to be at the centre of the curriculum at all levels of the region’s education system, from primary to tertiary and not simply as a subject of geography but as an organic path in understanding who we are as one people…:”