You don’t need to be an articled clerk or lettered economist to prove the adage that if your lower the price of an admission ticket you often will get more bums on seats. It is as true for the church bazaar as it is for Caribbean aviation.
And yet, season after season, government after government, the people of the Caribbean Community are given every possible disincentive to explore the 15-nation Community to which they belong.
With as much as 80 cents on the dollar of an island-hopping airline ticket going to a Consolidated Fund or a bloated airport authority coffers, it is no wonder that the CARICOM Single Market – forget about a Single Economy part – struggles to gain acceptance by both the governor and the governed in our region.
Successive administrations in this country – every single one in the last two decades – has not hesitated to levy additional rates on airline tickets, as if to fly from here to Grenada was a sin worthy to be taxed, like alcohol or tobacco. It is now much cheaper to fly to sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida – distance 1,605 km – than it is to Grenada – 261 km away.
But we are convinced that the almost instinctive reaction to tax intra-regional travel into oblivion stems from something far more familiar to the Caribbean psyche, and no less disturbing.
Inherent in every dollar of a ‘security fee’, every ‘passenger’ or ‘airport fees’, every levy and impost on each and every airline ticket sold to a Caribbean person is a palpable aversion to their travelling beyond their own shores.
It is wrapped up in a deep and abiding suspicion of each other, from the personal to the prime ministerial.
Colleagues and associates, who have been flying as teenagers on school trips, as young college students abroad, and finally as adult professionals and fun-seekers, all reach a sobering, saddening conclusion. It is our sad duty to report that at the Caribbean’s air and seaports – from airline check-in counters to security personnel to immigration and customs officers, port police and guards – airport personnel dole out a decidedly negative approach toward intra-Caribbean travellers in sharp comparison to non-nationals.
No single country does this worse than the other. All are guilty of profiling, suspicion, the absence of benefit of doubt, passing the buck, blaming the passenger, and a comparative lack of respect.
In open defiance if not oblivion of circulars, memoranda, announcements, court rulings and international treaties, CARICOM airport officials – best described as one CARICOM leader as ‘tin gods’ – preside over the dominance of fellow CARICOM nationals. As in colonial times, the population is cajoled into action along archaic lines threatening with prosaic punishment, inviting either criminal prosecution or immediate imprisonment.
No, not all are like that. But enough of them are.
That a region of the world most dependent on tourism is so disdainful of those who contribute so heavily to it explains why no country’s economy is clearly thriving – each one’s mediocre state is, we suspect, tied to their treatment of those whose ancestors took the same trip on the same ship.
If this resonates with you, then your reaction is likely one of resigned acceptance, complete with knowing nod of the head.
And on it goes.
Some commenters have remarked about the “special treatment” offered to nationals who turn up in traditional garb and gab, from Rastafarians to Guyanese nationals.
One journalist noted that profiling is at two levels: visual/racial profiling and secondly, nationality profiling. Guyanese people encounter this so often in so many airports that the legendary requests have become stuff of humourists.
Historian Gordon K Lewis wrote about this scourge of thought, if somewhat splenetically and phlegmatically, in his tome The Growth of the Modern West Indies. Simply put, Caribbean people struggle to trust each other. Fragmented by oceans, splintered by slavery and colonization, our deep-seated suspicion has led to epic failures of regional integration, not least of which is the collapse of the 1958 West Indies Federation.
These suspicions are no less evident in the latest episode of the CARICOM soap opera, now playing in Port of Spain. The subject was Grenadian honey last time, we believe. Before that it was Jamaican patties, and before that, flavoured milk, and a panoply of goods we blindly buy from Northern sources but view with risible suspicion in this part of the world.
And now, it is back to intra-regional travel, where local economists trot out well-worth shibboleths in service of the status quo – the Caribbean “lacks critical mass”, our economies are too small to support low fares, Caribbean airlines need high fares to subsidize intra-regional travel.
We’ve heard it all. And it is past time we continue to demand more of Caribbean producers – that they sell their wares at appreciably lower prices to encourage more air travel by Caribbean people themselves.
But it starts with fighting against attitudinal norms, ingrained in brains for centuries. Our region can no longer afford historic hatreds and deep-seated doubts and fears.