Leave Trinidad Alone!
A friend of mine recently accused me of being a political conservative. He went on to point out that such a characterization will undoubtedly cause me to find myself on what he described as the “wrong side of history.” The characterization and accompanying condemnation arose as a result of my defence of Trinidad and Tobago in the ongoing drama surrounding the decision of immigration officials in that country to refuse entry to thirteen (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 unforgiveable sin, a politically conservative sin and possibly even an unpatriotic sin. Jamaicans in our righteous anger and pride have condemned Trinidad and Tobago in this 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, and wish to share my unpopular thoughts on the issue.
I must first of all express how terribly disappointed I am 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 thirteen (13) individuals who sought admittance to Trinidad. No matter that fact, we have become caught up in the whirlwind media sensationalization and launched an attack on the Caribbean Community, how dare they disrespect our nationals?! What about free movement?! I agree, what about it? You see, 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/she chooses. That would be lunacy. Let us not forget that CARICOM is not a federal state, you are not 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 like any other visa. As far as I understand visas, they authorize you to land at the port; admittance has to be a discretionary matter. It simply has to be. I am defending the right of Trinidad to refuse any person it deems ineligible because I reserve 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 is a right reserved only for a citizen of the country. Why would any reasonable person demand such unrestrained access? 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?
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. Many of us are incredulous because we deem Trinidad a “spec in the sea” and “two likkle fi even be a country”, an “insignificant” country should never seek to disrespect Jamaica, right? We took the same stance on Mugabe’s comments on Jamaica. Meanwhile, the United States rejects us in droves every single day and we sit pretty smiling at that, with little more than a peep. In our quest to satisfy our wounded pride, we have gone as far as accusing Trinidad of “badminding” Jamaica for our achievements. I admit myself baffled at that argument, because we have such precious little to ‘badmind’. We are on auto pilot, veering on the edge of a political, economic and social abyss, who would ‘badmind’ that? 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 mek it worse for the good. It is unfortunate, but true. Let us put our pride aside and accept the realities.
Finally, the calls for Jamaica to secede from CARICOM are misguided at best and stupid at worse. I usually place great store on history and that history tells me such a move would be disastrous. Jamaica was incapable of standing alone in 1961, and we are woefully incapable of doing so in 2013. The secessionists argue that Jamaica has not benefitted 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? And what of the Caribbean Court of Justice? We have shunned its appellate jurisdiction but it was still able to dispense justice on behalf of one of our own. These things have to count for something, we must count them as benefits. I concede that there have been serious issues relating to trade, for example. As a result, I cannot in good conscience argue with those who wish to voice their displeasure at unfair trade practices by boycotting Trinidadian goods, that would be an individual choice. However, the answer cannot be that we just jump ship as a country, we tried that before and we paid a terrible price. Instead, let us be clear on the issues and put in place the appropriate mechanisms to resolve the concerns and enforce the relevant decisions and resolutions. We need to demand more from our government, send a clear signal that we expect more advocacy on our behalf. The simple truth is that we are stronger when we stand together than when we stand divided. Let us not be so proud that we repeat our mistakes.
Pride goeth before destruction; our haughty spirits may just go before our fall.