Immigration Squabble and Boycott calls spur response from twin-island republic
They are the two strong women of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and run perhaps the two most powerful countries in the region - Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago.
Portia Simpson Miller and Kamla Persad-Bissessar are personal friends. But this friendship is facing its sternest test as a dispute over the twin-island republic's refusal to allow entry to 13 Jamaicans sparked calls for a boycott of Trinidad's products.
It will certainly test the mettle of Simpson Miller and Persad-Bissessar if they are to prevent a total breakdown of the relationship between Kingston and Port-of-Spain, even as officials in the two countries argue that "it is much ado about nothing".
Last week, a Gleaner team travelled to Port-of-Spain to get a first-hand account of how Trinidadians are viewing the present impasse.
No roadblocks to keep Jamaicans out! - Griffith
Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor
Faced with biting criticisms over his recent "Trinidad is not a shopping mall" comment, Gary Griffith, minister of national security in Trinidad and Tobago, has sought to allay fears that roadblocks are being set up to keep Jamaicans out of that country.
Coming in the wake of a decision by immigration authorities in Trinidad to refuse entry to 13 Jamaicans, including a child, Griffith's comments added fuel to a raging anti-Trinidadian fire locally.
But last week, the former army officer told The Sunday Gleaner that Jamaicans have always been, and will always be, welcome in the twin-island republic.
"It was much ado about nothing," declared Griffith, as he argued that more than 96 per cent of the Jamaicans who seek to enter Trinidad are allowed entry.
"The immigration officers have not changed their policy ... on average, for every 100 Jamaicans who seek to enter Trinidad, 96 are allowed entry. That is a heck of a lot more than the number of Trinidadians who enter the United States (US) and are denied entry, even with a US visa," added Griffith.
He was quick to reject claims that Jamaicans were facing more difficult entry requirements because of fears that they could be linked to the increasing murder rate in the twin-island republic, and for ethnic reasons.
"For all 13 cases, the immigration officers had good reason to deny them entry," declared Griffith, as he listed individual reasons why the persons were denied entry.
Better treatment needed
According to Griffith, on the day the 13 were denied entry, approximately 1,500 Jamaicans were admitted to the country through the Piarco International Airport.
"That should not be seen as we are anti-Jamaica, it is just the opposite, because if we allow persons to enter Trinidad and Tobago without their knowing where they are going to live, where they are going to work, how they are going to eat, they might end up on the streets ... and might turn to a life of crime."
Griffith, however, accepted that there is a need to re-examine how immigration officers deal with persons who are refused entry into the country, as these persons should not be treated as criminals.
"I have to admit that we need training on not so much as to who is stopped, but the policy to ensure better treatment. There is a difference about denying someone and how you deny them ... so obviously, it means that a degree of customer-service training, which I'm doing next year, is necessary."
Griffith also rejected claims that his public pronouncements, including his 'shopping mall' comment, were at odds with those from Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, who visited Jamaica during the firestorm and soothed ruffled feathers with his conciliatory tone.
"There is no problem between myself and Minister Dookeran, and there is no conflict. He spoke in Jamaica about the foreign affairs position and I spoke about the immigration matters, and our comments were not at odds," declared Griffith.
He said the Trinidad Government is committed to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the free movement of goods and people through the region.
"But I think some people believe that the CSME means that I have no job, no money but I'm free to enter the country. There might be a misconception, based on the Shanice Myrie ruling, that anybody can just enter any country, but there are immigration rules," argued Griffith.
Turning to his "Trinidad is not a shopping mall" comment, Griffith said this was not aimed at Jamaica but instead at an opposition member of parliament in Trinidad who was attempting to use the immigration issue to score political points.
According to Griffith, Trinidad remains prepared to accept Jamaicans and there is no plan to go after the 17,000 Jamaicans who the Immigration Department believe to be in Trinidad, having overstayed the time allowed.
"We are not going to start hunting down persons, listen for an accent and send them back home," said Griffith.
He expressed understanding that economic reasons could cause some Jamaicans to overstay their allotted time in Trinidad, but urged them to regularise their status.