There is perhaps a no more distinctively inquiring mind today among CARICOM leaders about what exactly is meant by “hassle-free” travel than our Prime Minister’s –– we aver much too late.
After all, it was in 1990 in the Grand Anse Declaration, agreed upon overwhelmingly by CARICOM Heads of Government, that of December 1 of that year CARICOM nationals should be free to travel within the Community without the need for passports. And, so embraced was the decision among our leaders, that it was submitted to the West Indian Commission (an inter-governmental task force), which in its 1991 Progress Report issued as one of six areas for immediate action, this matter of hassle-free travel.
“Hassle-free” then, much as the Caribbean Court of Justice has ruled it is now, referred to freedom of CARICOM nationals to travel “into and within the jurisdiction of any member state without harassment or the imposition of impediment”.
It was envisioned that this ideal state of affairs would foster a greater sense of community and encourage heightened intra-CARICOM tourism. Clearly, from then until now, implementing this hassle-free travel notion has been fraught with challenges: among them continued strict territorial control and non-action by inertia.
There was designed to be, through the hassle-free travel understanding, “common lines at ports of entry” for citizens, residents and CARICOM nationals, in place in all member states, except –– for some unexplainable reason –– The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago. It would turn out that implementation would not be as easy as initially conceived by esoteric heads.
There was even talk of the CARICOM Passport, as a “defining symbol of regionalism” and the intended nemesis of entry hassle and impediments during regional travel.
And in the face of the seeming impracticability of it all –– given border security concerns, worry of the flooding of illegal immigrants and fear of the elusive criminal element by some countries –– CARICOM heads would sign off on the Conference Decision of 2007 and sit again in August of 2011, reiterating their measures for “hassle-free” travel in CARICOM.
All that a travelling CARICOM national would require were a valid passport with at least six months validity; a return airline ticket; an adequate amount of money to meet living expenses; information (name, complete address and contact details) for his or her accommodation; the name and full details of his or her host or sponsor; where possible, documentation confirming the purpose of the visit; and the name and telephone number, preferably the mobile number, of anyone meeting him or her at the airport.
The premiss here, of course, is that only law-abiding CARICOM nationals would be travelling, a notion devoid of any thought of the professional and cultured hitmen, gunmen, murderers, kidnappers, robbers and con artists who blot the Caribbean landscape; and whose daring escapades are featured nigh weekly – certainly monthly – in the traditional Press and other social media.
And therein lies the problem. Our leaders of today, much like the colonial masters of the past, sit in their ivory towers constructing lofty ideals purported to be for the benefit of the “masses”, without profound thought for practical implementation and for any realistic consultation with the functionaries at ground level.
Our Prime Minister boldly states to admiring party supporters and the faithful that “there is no hassle-free anything in life”. We concur; but do his fellow CARICOM leaders? And did he make this point when they last met?
Those who fancy themselves as being more of Caribbean regionalists than others, and steep themselves in the theory of blanket travel and blind acceptance of everyone to Barbados would be better advised –– and counselled –– to step down out of the clouds.
We are for Caribbean integration, Caribbean trade and Caribbean travel, but the practice of these must not hold destinations hostage to criminality, mayhem and fear; the practice cannot exempt common sense.
We will tread carefully on the reasons one would have for wanting to spend six months in Barbados. We do not hold the intimated view of the Prime Minister that such a person must be without a good job necessarily. There are Caribbean people with plenty money (the wealthy) and even more time (the comfortably retired). But we sympathize with Mr Freundel Stuart in his agony –– in his state of being between a rock and a hard place.
As a legal mind and one who lives “by the rule of law”, and who would not be part of “any banana, plantain or fig republic”, Mr Stuart will have to show us the mettle he is made of in accepting the Caribbean Court of Justice’s Shanique Myrie ruling and its implications for Immigration law and convention in Barbados, and at the same time consolidating our autonomy in securing our borders and safeguarding the interests of his national constituents.
However the Prime Minister manoeuvres between his fellow CARICOM Heads and his Immigration officers and border police right here at home, he cannot leave at sea the latter, who must now be public relations as well as security agents.
CARICOM we most probably need; but we must take great care how we continue to fashion it, ever so mindful of Oscar Wilde’s observation that when the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers