Barbados finds itself caught in yet another nine day wonder about regional integration and how the movement of our Caribbean brothers and sisters should be treated at our borders. That this discussion can again raise its head in 2016 is both disappointing and interesting.
The CARICOM Passport is now in its eleventh year of issue. The rationale for the passport was to signal the commitment of regional countries to the principle of freedom of movement and the deepening and widening of the Caribbean Community.
In addition to the regional benefits of the document, there was an urgent international justification for the initiative. Various Caribbean countries were having challenges with the security aspects of their passports.
In response to international concerns, CARICOM countries therefore decided to have a common document with common security features. This was also cheaper since the cost of a common passport could be shared as opposed to the cost associated with creating and maintaining different moulds.
Having started the process of introducing a single CARICOM passport in Suriname in 2005 and concluding with Belize in 2009 with all of the other countries completing the process within the time span, we have now come to 2016 to discover that the spirit of a single passport has not accompanied the issuing of the document.
In the European Union, EU travellers are able to enjoy boundary-less access to member countries. CARICOM countries, however, are still uncomfortable in each other’s company. We are still placing restrictions on our fellow CARICOM visitors, such as the necessity for a return ticket during travel.
Restrictions like these go against those traditionally observed for the holder of a passport for a particular region or country. Usually a citizen of a country is not required to have a two way ticket when visiting other ‘states’ or ‘parishes’ of his homeland. It follows as obvious to me then, that if we, the 15 member states of CARICOM, have issued a common passport that we intend to belong to one ‘country’ for the purpose of travel.
The naysayers get boisterous. They immediately jump into the discussion with a lament that the Caribbean does not have the resources to manage this kind of uncontrolled movement. They start to become concerned about healthcare drains and movement of the criminal element. I think that this type of panic betrays our capacity to find viable solutions to our problems.
The criminal element in the Caribbean is adept at using the sea both to ply their trade, and to enter and leave our Island homes. Why are we losing out on the investment and other types of potential that Caribbean movement can have because of the criminal element?
With respect to the concerns about healthcare and other amenities, I think this too is a simple problem to solve. Any person travelling to another CARICOM country on a one way ticket can be charged an upfront levy to be facilitated entry.
We pay airport taxes as a routine part of buying airline tickets for travel in the region. So why not a tax to facilitate integration necessities such as bolstered health and transport systems? This idea is nowhere near a refined solution but it shows that if we are truly interested in finding ways and means of facilitating free movement and deepening integration, it can certainly be done.
I find the debate about Caribbean integration re-occurring just about two months before the Presidential election in America to be a significant dose of irony. Most Caribbean people have loudly endorsed Hilary Clinton and affirmed her as their president-of-choice-in waiting. Has any of these Clinton supporters stopped to ask how she lines up on the issue of Caribbean Integration?
As Secretary of State in 2010, Clinton presided over the launch of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). The project received a budget of 45 million dollars in the first tranche. In explaining the significance of the CBSI, Clinton praised it as a collective movement by Caribbean countries to address problems of crime and border security.
She noted that with the Caribbean working together, it was feasible to see gains in the objectives instead of the problems shifting from one protected domain to another less protected one.
Clinton, from the time she was the First Lady of America, seemed very supportive of Caribbean Integration. This is not surprising. It must be better for America to receive one begging bowl from the Caribbean than to have to keep track of various little ones.
With Clinton assuming the Presidency of the United States of America, there is no doubt in my mind that the Caribbean will be required to press on with making the regional integration effort more workable and streamlined. Something tells me Clinton is not coming to do business with any one, one Island State.
So, historically true to form, the people of the Caribbean will not take the lead and show that they are capable of making their own informed choices. We will wait until the integration agenda becomes a demand imposed on us from outside. Sadly, I do not believe that that type of genesis is what a Caribbean integration movement should arise from.
It should be obvious to us by now that all of these countries share common strengths, common weaknesses and the ability to become a great nation collectively. None of these islands is inherently better than the other and the only determining factor to migration is economic opportunity.
If we put our heads together and ensure various opportunities for Caribbean nationals in various islands, migration patterns will be a lot steadier. Instead of using our energy to fight about who comes to whose territory, we should all be raising our voices to query the status of the CBSI and how much real money and gain has the region got to date.
The Caribbean has got as far as it can go as a collection of little broken, volatile, open economies. Our strength is now in numbers, but you’ve heard granny say so several times. Haven’t you?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: [email protected])