Trinidad and the freedom of movement

Published: Thursday | December 5, 2013 Comments 0
Edward Seaga
Edward Seaga

At the London Conference in 1953, the issue of freedom of movement raised difficulties between Trinidad and the small islands. Trinidad demanded that there should be restrictions on migration while the smaller islands lobbied for a federation that facilitated freedom of movement. It was agreed that the preamble of the Constitution should "recite as one of the objects of Federation that there should be the greatest possible freedom of movement for persons and goods with the Federation". With these main elements of the structure of the Federation dealt with satisfactorily, the 1953 London Conference ended. But the agreements reached soon began to unravel after further discussions at home by each territory.

The issue of freedom of movement resurfaced directly after the conference. Trinidad was still not satisfied with a decision to have the federal powers deliberate on this issue. A meeting was held in March 1955, in Trinidad, specifically for this matter. At this meeting, a decision was made to let the recital in the Preamble of the Constitution stand, but the subject of freedom of movement should be reverted to the Concurrent List (issues placed on the Concurrent List had to be resolved by unit governments).


The issue of freedom of movement resurfaced again at the Standing Federation Committee Conference held in Jamaica in 1957. A proposal was made and accepted by the Committee "that all Federal citizens should be allowed to move freely to the capital island, for any purpose whatever from the inception of the Federation" (J. Mordecai, 1968). This was changed in a behind-the-scenes negotiation by the St Lucian delegates. The new resolution passed granted freedom of entry for persons travelling to the federated units on business or seeking employment connected to the construction and establishment of the capital.

Migration within the Federation of the West Indies, which was discussed on the second day of the London Conference in 1957, also ended in a stalemate and a growing tension between Trinidad and the Eastern Caribbean Islands began to surface. Trinidad was adamant that there should be no freedom of movement and restrictions should be implemented, while the Eastern Caribbean Islands argued against a federation with restrictions on freedom of movement. Jamaica was Trinidad's only friend on this issue. Manley offered a solution by proposing the establishment of a committee to study the problems and present proposals. This was sternly resisted by most of the smaller islands. According to Ebenezer Joshua, chief minister of St Vincent: " ... if we have decided that those who migrate to their sister territories should be thrown out, the people of this West Indies generation and posterity will never forgive us for having come here and continued the structure of a bald and barren Federation where people are limited within their own units. I urge you not to delay not to limit freedom of movement." (J. Mordecai, 1968).


The conference ended with more uncertainty than when it began. Tensions were mounting as the two prominent islands - Jamaica and Trinidad - were unable to get their way. The smaller islands became frustrated with the approach taken by both Jamaica and Trinidad, creating a rift within the federation. A resolution was passed to hold another Inter-Governmental Conference to further discuss these issues in 1961.

The Inter-Governmental Conference in May 1961 was more constructive when compared to the 1959 and 1960 conferences. It started with a passionate speech made by Steven of Dominica:

"We are here to save the Federation, to save ourselves in the eyes of the world. It would be a thousand pities if we should come here at his time in our history and make a mess of the things which we began to do. We have come here in the spirit of compromise and to take and give. If, as an emergent nation we cannot compromise without throwing principles overboard, I don't think we need go on any further with this conference" (J. Mordecai, 1968).

This speech seemed to have somewhat of an impact on the delegates because by the end of the conference agreements were reached and a resolution was passed to hold a conference in London where these proposals would be enacted.

Reflections on the recurrent problem of freedom of movement of people and goods are still likely to continue because it has never really been fully settled.

Notes taken from the autobiography of Edward Seaga: My Life and Leadership Volume 1.

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