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What is the benefit of a CARICOM passport?

Published:Sunday | April 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Anthony Hylton, Contributor

A few weeks ago I applied for and received a brand new passport on behalf of my now three-month-old daughter and was delighted to see the insignia of the Caribbean Community embossed on the top of the passport and the Jamaican Coat of Arms in the middle.

A few days later, however, I read a newspaper article in which a minister in the Barbadian Government was reported to have said, in substance, that his government would not allow Jamaican entertainers from the dancehall fraternity, among them Vybz Kartel and Mavado, to perform in Barbados because of threats to the morals of Barbadian citizens. It occurred to me that the several rumours/reports of arbitrary treatment of Caribbean nationalities by Barbadian Immigration officials is perhaps now being cemented by policy. This and other reported incidents caused me to ask: Of what benefit is a CARICOM passport to a Jamaican/Caribbean national?

The answer to that question invites familiarity with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community and the CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME). Among the fundamental freedoms established by the Treaty is the freedom of movement of Caribbean nationals among the member states of CARICOM, of which Barbados and Jamaica are parties. Subsequent decisions by the Heads of Government Conference of CARICOM have given priority treatment to inter alia entertainers and media workers along with graduates of Caribbean Universities to pursue employment opportunities, whether on a short term or long term basis, without obtaining a work permit. Both Jamaica and Barbados have passed legislation giving effect to the exercise of this freedom by entertainers et al.

The freedom of movement by workers and graduates is critical to the exercise of another freedom recognised by the Treaty, i.e. the free movement of goods and services among the member states. On what basis then is the minister purporting to preclude entertainers from selling their services in Barbados?

Perturbing lyrics

It is to be admitted that every government has a duty to protect the morals of its citizens and to see to the good order of its society. The minister is reportedly concerned with and perturbed by the lyrics of dancehall music and possible pollution of the citizenry. But let us examine the issue closer.

We are not here discussing the playing of dancehall music on the radio or on mini-buses or generally in the public arena. The minister is actually establishing a policy regarding the right of entertainers to travel to and appear at a fee-paying event attended by presumably adults for which there clearly is a demand.

It seems to me that at best, the minister is threatening censorship of adult entertainment which abridges the free speech right protected in all constitutions throughout member states, including Barbados. At worst, the minister's pronouncement appears to breach the rights of dancehall artistes to sell their services within the CSME and further to discriminate against dancehall artistes.

With carnival season just ending here in Jamaica, many artistes are here from Barbados performing what many Jamaicans believe are offensive lyrics and degrading gyrations integral to the soca or reggae-soca music offered up by the 'Bajan-posse'. Is this music-form any less threatening to the morals of Jamaicans?

It is my considered view that the announcement of what appears to be a policy of exclusion of dancehall artistes from Barbados is contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Treaty and would operate as a non-tariff barrier to the trade in services. It is not simply an immigration matter. It is, therefore, justiciable in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), since there is reported to be actual cancellation of heavily promoted shows in Barbados. There is also the possibility of declaratory relief being sought before the CCJ.

Treaty dishonoured?

This brings me back to the initial query, what then is the benefit of a CARICOM passport? While the new passport carries the insignia of the Caribbean Community, it remains essentially a Jamaican passport offering only the prospect of 'hassle free travel' throughout member states of CARICOM. Incidentally, the issuance here in Jamaica of the new passport with Caribbean Community insignia fulfils Jamaica's promise yet again, to meet its obligations under the CSME. We should insist that other member states fulfil their obligations so that Jamaicans, including entertainers, can realise the benefit of the bargain entered into by Jamaica under the treaty.

In the final analysis those artistes so affected, not only in Barbados but elsewhere within the CARICOM member states, should understand that the CCJ exists to vindicate their rights under the treaty.

It is full time that we clarify this and other issues arising in the course of implementation of the Treaty, so that the next-generation of CARICOM nationals will be more attuned to and certain of their rights under the treaty.

G. Anthony Hylton is Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs & foreign trade. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.