Devon Dick | Lost love between Jamaica and Trinidad
Some claim that there is lost love between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, especially over issues of trade and immigration. It is anticipated that this issue will be brought to the forefront by Prime Minister Andrew Holness at today's 28th Inter-Sessional meeting of the conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM being held in Guyana. The prime minister is armed with a report from former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who chaired a review committee investigating the operations of CARICOM in relation to Jamaica.
Last month, I made my maiden visit past immigration in Trinidad and thought it weird that the immigration officer asked me twice what was the purpose of my visit and required of me to tell him the flight number of the airline on which I was leaving. However, I learnt that this was a standard question for all visitors. There have been professional Jamaicans who have been ill-treated by immigration officers in Trinidad. There have been recent instances of persons taken out of the line with one person having the dog sniff them not once but twice. However, it must not be assumed that all Trinidadians are pleased with how Jamaicans are treated at the Port-of-Spain airport. One such Trinidadian expressed righteous indignation at the immigration officer who mistreated 13 Jamaicans who were turned back, including a university student with proper identification.
However, it is not just inter-island rivalry, because I have got worse treatment at the Jamaican airport. As I went through security in Jamaica to go to Trinidad, my luggage was opened and searched after it went through the scanning machine.
In my address to the Baptist Union of Trinidad and Tobago, I argued that the way immigration officers in the Caribbean treat the citizens is due to self-hate. Many dislike anyone who looks like them. It is a deep-seated contempt for the coloured body. They assume in a stereotypical way that we are thieves, scammers and druggists. We despise the races of the region, but treat foreigners with kid gloves. We fail to recognise that we are all made in the image of God and we all have equal worth and dignity. This will not go away by discussion at the CARICOM table because of insularity and insecurity at the leadership levels.
There needs to be greater knowledge about each other as well as more cultural exchanges. Not many Jamaicans know that Barbados recently celebrated 50 years of Independence or that former prime minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, is now an Independent Member of Parliament. How many of us know the history of the territories and the names of the members of CARICOM and can identify flags? We will know the USA and UK National Anthem, but are unaware when it comes to the anthems of our sister nations. We visit Europe and the USA for vacation, but would rarely consider a Caribbean territory. We need to change these things, especially at the leadership level.
There is great appreciation at the local level. In Trinidad, one could hear Jamaican reggae music and dancehall music although it was carnival season. The Jamaican cuisine is appreciated. GraceKennedy products are popular in Trinidad. There was no gloating in Trinidad that Usain Bolt and company had lost the 2008 Olympic relay gold medal to Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaicans have studied in Trinidad and vice versa. Some, while studying, found love across the sea and got married.
Trinidad is a lovely country. It has one of the largest natural savannahs in the world. The architecture of Port-of-Spain is marvellous. The Archbishop's Palace is beside the White House, the residence of the prime minister which is under renovation. The grandeur of the palace and the nearness to the prime minister's home speaks to a time when Church and State were close and the Roman Catholic Church was king. Now Trinidad is a multicultural, multiracial and multi-religious society.
There is religious tolerance and religious holidays are observed by the nation. In Trinidad, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are respected by all nationals in spite of a Muslim leader leading a coup. Jamaica can learn about religious respect and religious tolerance from Trinidad. Baptists are not as dominant in Trinidad as they are in Jamaica. In fact, Spiritual Baptists which is perceived as a cousin to Pocomania, is far more popular in Trinidad than London Baptists.
Hopefully, the religious community will be able to make better the relationship between Jamaica and Trinidad, and indeed with the wider CARICOM community.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.