Sat | Dec 3, 2016

CARICOM is not a federal state

Published:Tuesday | October 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

A friend of mine recently accused me of being a political conservative. He went on to point out that such a characterisation will undoubtedly cause me to find myself on what he described as the 'wrong side of history'. The characterisation and accompanying condemnation arose as a result of my continued defence of Trinidad and Tobago in the ongoing drama surrounding the decision of immigration officials in that country to refuse entry to 13 Jamaican nationals.

Apparently, defending the right of a sovereign territory, particularly Trinidad and Tobago, in the exercise of its legitimate right to decide who can and cannot enter its borders is an unforgivable, unpatriotic sin. Jamaicans, in our righteous anger and pride, have condemned Trinidad and Tobago in the matter and many have gone as far as calling for the secession of Jamaica from the Caribbean Community - CARICOM. I take strong exception to this nonsense.

I am terribly disappointed in my fellow nationals for the irresponsible and sensational manner in which the situation has been dealt with. I am particularly disappointed in the Jamaica Observer for the inflammatory manner in which it crafted the story on the issue. Many, if not all, of us have no understanding of the facts which led to entry being denied to the 13 individuals who sought admittance to Trinidad. No matter that fact, we have become caught up in the whirlwind media sensationalism and launched an attack on the Caribbean Community.

Concept of free movement

I cannot accept that the architects of the concept of free movement envisioned that it should grant automatic and unrestrained access to a foreign national to any country in the region he or she chooses. That would be lunacy. If indeed the founding powers intended that, I would urge the present leadership of the region to move with urgency to correct that anomaly.

Let us not forget that CARICOM is not a federal state; I do not believe we are entitled to anything outside of Jamaica. Our sense of entitlement is appalling. You are a foreigner when you land at a port in Trinidad and Tobago. In my opinion, the 'CARICOM passport' functions as a visa of sorts. As far as I understand visas, they authorise you to land at the port; admittance has to be discretionary. It simply has to be.

I am defending the right of Trinidad to refuse any person it deems ineligible because I reserve, and would vigorously defend, the very same right for Jamaica. I am not at all comfortable with the idea that any foreigner, no matter their nationality, should have automatic access to this country's borders I contend that that is a right reserved only for a citizen of our country. Why would any reasonable person demand such unrestrained access to a foreign state?

We are hypocrites, too. When CARICOM member Haiti was struck by that devastating earthquake recently, and many Haitians turned up at our borders desperate for admittance and 'free movement', we demanded the Government send them back. Many of us were angry any money was even spent to accommodate them for the period they were here. Is it that free movement only applies when we want it?

False sense of pride

What really troubles me about all this is the nagging feeling that most of us are angry because of our false sense of pride. We have always been a proud, and, as one of my colleagues pointed out, reactive people. Trinidad's exercise of its sovereign authority hurt that pride and so we are now reacting. If we are honest with ourselves, we have always harboured the unhealthy sentiment that Jamaica is the best of the Caribbean, a capital of sorts, and, therefore, we have behaved accordingly entitled. That is the source of our pride.

Pride aside, how about we accept the fact that statistics are not in our favour? Most countries have instituted visa requirements against us because we do not have a good track record for international conduct and behaviour. We have to accept that. The bad have made it worse for the good. It is unfortunate, but true. Let us put our pride aside and accept the realities. The security minister of Trinidad and Tobago is no doubt using this well-known anecdotal evidence to support his crude assertions.

Finally, the calls for Jamaica to secede from CARICOM are misguided at best and stupid at worse. Jamaica was incapable of standing alone in 1961, and we are woefully incapable of doing so in 2014. The secessionists argue that Jamaica has not benefited from our involvement with the Caribbean Community. What of the University of the West Indies? What of the Caribbean Examinations Council? What of the collaboration between member states on important issues and initiatives ranging from climate change to public health?

Let us demand more of the foreign minister A.J. Nicholson. His policy of appeasement has clearly failed. The simple truth is that we are stronger when we stand together than when we stand apart.

Ricardo Brooks is a vice-president of the Jamaican Association for Debating and Empowerment. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ricardo.brooks@live.com..