The relationship between Barbados and Guyana is still recovering from the openly hostile posture of a previous government, according to Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sandra Husbands.
She told Barbados TODAY that the range of shared initiatives currently being rolled out by the two countries have come after four years of hard work at the level of governments and the private sector.
“We are conscious of the fact that some tearing had gone on because of very unfortunate foreign policy positions that had been taken by the previous administration in relation to Guyana and Guyanese here in Barbados,” Husbands said.
Over the last few weeks, the leaders of the two countries have made major announcements of bilateral cooperation that include the launch of a regional food terminal and other partnerships.
But some Guyanese appear to have taken exception to the new pact, in particular an announcement from their President Irfaan Ali of plans to allocate arable South American lands to young Barbadian farmers.
Under a recent Stabroek News article, many voiced opposition to the move as they recalled the “inhumane” treatment meted out to their own in Barbados.
“Guyana gov’t forgot about the horrible, inhumane treatments Guyanese endured at the hands of Barbadians not too long ago?” asked Pat Kennedy.
“Suddenly everybody running to Guyana to reap what they sow. And while it is not wrong to help, what happen to Guyanese people? Have the Guyanese youths been provided with farmlands? Or lands to raise chicken and cattle?”
Other social media users recalled witnessing Guyanese being deported from Barbados because of “baseless insinuations and frivolous reasons”, contrary to the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
“Before Barbados became a republic they were high and mighty towards other CARICOM member states. Now that they are completely independent they are looking for greener pastures,” wrote Ravi Itwaru.
Marcy Khan added: “Guyanese people need to wake up, Bajans treat Guyanese like dogs and today this is a slap in the face for all Guyanese.”
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Husbands stressed that positive relations between the two countries date back decades.
“The challenge that we have now, unfortunately, is that the policies that inflicted those wounds on the relationship affected people at the grassroots level, the average Guyanese who sought to come here because things were difficult at home, or who were coming to do business,” she explained.
The Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade said that immediately after coming to office in 2018, Prime Minister Mottley reached out to then Guyana President David Granger with the intention of mending relations between the two nations.
Since then, the countries have discussed opportunities for trade and cooperation that included virtual talks between business leaders.
“We sat with the Consul General [of Guyana to Barbados] and went through all of the challenges that blocked trade and we were able to clear up those situations so that trade could run more smoothly, because while the impediments had been removed, this had not been sufficiently communicated in Guyana for Guyanese to understand that Barbados was open to their business and they were welcome to come,” Husbands said.
“We were a new administration with a new posture that included an open invitation to Guyanese, but people may still remember the experiences of the past. So, the question is ‘how do we communicate that to the masses that Guyanese are welcomed here?’
“What we have seen started is that Guyanese who live here have begun telegraphing back home that that change is there, but we need to do more at the grassroots level to remove from their memories the unfortunate incidents that would have taken place and to recognise that Barbados is ready and open to engagement at every level – diplomatic, government, business, community,” she added.
University of the West Indies Senior International Relations lecturer Senator Dr Kristina Hinds said friendly relations between the people of both nations dates back as far as the 19th century when Barbadians moved to Guyana to work.
In fact, she contended that while citizens are often skeptical of losing jobs and lands to regional integration efforts, the real challenges occur at the level of political administrations.
“I think that at the grassroots level, we are a lot more connected than we are at the political level, and I say this because if you look at people’s families you will see that people have family connections across this entire region,” the academic observed.
“The question now is how this kind of organic interconnectivity can be harnessed politically and economically for the benefit of the region. That, in my opinion, has been the problem with regionalism. We have done it well in some cases like the UWI to some extent, CXC has been a good example despite the recent criticisms of that organisation and if we look at entities like CDEMA that deal with the natural disasters, that is a good example,” added Dr Hinds.
But she also stressed that while regional cooperation between Barbados and Guyana in areas like agriculture and food security are important, such efforts must be broadened to encompass the entire region.
“I think it is a really useful strategy that kind of harkens back to some of the early plans for CARIFTA [the Caribbean Free Trade Association] in the 1960s and early 1970s and there was this talk about industrial planning including agricultural planning across the region.
“I think it is a good idea, but it has to be sensitive to what happens on the ground in individual countries so that people don’t feel alienated,” Dr Hinds added.