Something has gone seriously wrong with immigration policies within CARICOM when staff and students of The University of the West Indies (UWI), of all places, could be blocked at the point of entry. For, of all the categories of regional travellers, those within the UWI system have long enjoyed the privileges that come with being priority agents of integration.
The harsh truth is that it is a privilege that has been squandered by UWI’s own failure to play its part in anchoring the integration movement through its generations of graduates, its research and curriculum agenda, and its role as a champion of regional integration. Having participated in whittling away its own authority on the regional question, UWI now finds itself in the ironic and inevitable position of queuing up with “the others”.
The new tone of belligerence within CARICOM immigration circles has emerged of late as a nationalistic backlash to the CARICOM Court of Justice’s (CCJ) judgement in the Shanique Myrie case.
Stung by the enormity of their legal commitments to regionalism under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, island officials are openly trying to wiggle their way out by means both fair and foul.
Integration as policy and people
In Trinidad, the problem is far greater than the arrogant simple-mindedness of Gary Griffith, Minister with responsibility for immigration. Griffith is merely the most vocal member of a substantial constituency throughout the region that has stood outside the door while, inside, the integration conversation proceeds among ranking officials.
Ever since the British began preparing to leave the Caribbean, those who have been charting our future, first through Federation, and when that collapsed, as a free trade zone under CARIFTA and then CARICOM and its single market and economy, have approached integration as a policy without people, dispensed from top-down, with the emphasis on economics and politics.
On the ground, there has been quite another reality of people, their culture and society, organically building on the layered history of collaboration that knows that long before we were divided, we were integrated.
History of Caribbean integration
For the First People, the Caribbean Sea was a single integrated space of many communities to be negotiated by foot and canoe. Division came with the arrival of Europe and its many warring flags: Spanish, Dutch, French, British, Danish and German.
On the ground, in the shadow of the flags, integration persisted as an act of subversion among the conquered and enslaved. The grandest among them was the material and tactical support given by self-freed Haiti to Simon Bolivar in his wars of Independence in Latin America. More than a century later, in 1937, workers collaborating across the waters of the British West Indies, organising and plotting for better lives, would, on cue, trigger their own rebellions against the status quo, thereby changing the region’s history forever. Throughout it all, the movement of people has been a primary feature of Caribbean society.
Today, many Trinbagonians and other CARICOM citizens have relatives in Panama where ancestral uncles went to help build the Panama Canal. In Guantanamo, Cuba, the game of cricket survives as a memory of those who left the British West Indies to settle there, in search of work and a better life.
This Caribbean culture of inter-culture offers the most relevant cultural base for building an integration movement solidly from the ground up. Instead, taking their cue from the British colonial federation agenda, the region’s political elites have single-mindedly pursued a borrowed template for economic integration at the expense of cultural integration. Locked out of the process, the people derail this notion of integration at every opportunity to do so, even as they pursue their own ideas of integration.
Relevance of the Shanique Myrie case
The Shanique Myrie judgement is indeed a watershed case- both for CARICOM governments who have been sauntering towards integration, making as if, and for us, the people, who have not been paying attention to what our governments have been doing in our name.
In this twilight zone of integration, along has come the CCJ with the Myrie ruling to blow the lid off CARICOM’s Pandora Box and shake us out of our complacency. Suddenly, governments are face-to-face with the binding consequences of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to which they have committed themselves while we, the people, are brought rudely awake to the realities of free movement.
Not for the first time, we have the unseemly spectacle of politicians having come to office with little to no information relevant to the task of governance. The current administration might well be worse than most in terms of its unpreparedness. No series of retreats or crash courses have been able to compensate for its lack of knowledge about the processes, protocols, laws, treaties and other instruments of government. Sadly, it is a feature of our politics that political parties prepare themselves mostly for winning on the assumption that once they’re in, they’ll have absolute power to do whatever is to be done.
Clearly, we can’t go on this way, with ignorance piling up on ignorance. At some stage we must grasp the responsibility for knowing more in order to do better.
The need for popular support
The hostility that is now threatening to engulf the integration movement needs to be understood for what it represents- as the absence of people in the integration process. As committed as we might be to regional integration, we have to accept that it cannot be forced along without popular and meaningful support.
If the integration movement is to endure, it will need us to take a deep breath, call off the dogs and open up the issue for public debate. It is time to put regional integration on the political platform. If we believe in it, we should also believe we can persuade each other that it is better to face the future together than to do so alone.
Copyright, Sunity Maharaj