The thought-provoking article by Barbadian artist Annalee Davis Thoughts on the ‘Amnesty’, which first appeared in the Stabroek News of 25 May 2009, has drawn attention to the human implications of the treatment of Caricom nationals in Barbados and the alarming rise of anti-Caribbean xenophobia in our region. This must concern everyone who cares about the quality of human and social relations among members of the Caribbean ‘family’ andthe impact on Caribbean integration where it matters most–at the level of ordinary citizens.
Another alarming aspect of developments in Barbados is the risk of ‘tit for tat’.Caricom is the largest single market for Barbadian manufactured exports. Caricom visitors are the second largest category of Barbadian tourism. Barbados derives benefits from being an airline, travel hub for the Eastern Caribbean. A large number of regional organisations, with their Caricom staff and dependants, are based in Barbados. Barbados is both recipient and source of foreign investement with the rest of Caricom. Retaliatory actions against Barbados by other Caricom states for perceived uinhumane and discriminatory actions will leave Barbados and the, entire Community poorer.
There needs to be a reasoned, region-wide method to handling this question. First, it seems to me that the principle of free movement throughout the Community that is enshrined in the Revised Treaty is quite unrealistic. However, there is no reason why honouring existing commitments in respect of freeing seven occupational categories cannot be maintained. The numbers involved are relatively small. The problem arises with occupations like construction, agriculture and tourism when host economies that have been booming enter a period of recession. Some region-wide management system for this is necessary. And it should be comprehensive in the sense of speaking to several issues. One approach would be to grant temporary work permits for such categories of workers, or a regional guest workers type scheme aimed at filling labour market shortages which may be inherently temporary because of construction ‘booms’.
Second, a consistent and humane approach to exisiting undocumented Caricom nationals must be adopted, if intra-Caribbean human relations at the popular level are not be poisoned for a generation. The proposal of a regionally agreed five-year amnesty for undocumented Caricom nationals from the Coalition for a Humane Amnesty seems to me to be eminently reasonable.
In addition governments, civil society, religious organisations and concerned individuals should actively discourage public expressions of stereotyping, hatred and abuse directed at Caricom nationals. Political parties should also be pressed to subscribe to a Code of Conduct that prohibits the use of such inflammatory statements, which are akin to racism, in election campaigning.
This might seem to be radical and even anti-free speech but if you think about it, there are many precedents. Many countries internationally have laws on the books that criminalise anti-Semitism and other forms of racist abuse; even homophobia. I don’t know how many Caribbean governments would tolerate for long public expressions of blatantly racist sentiments, whether directed at white, black or East Indians or at any other ethnic category. The social, economic and political consequences would be simply unacceptable. In the present circumstances Caricoms from another country are an ‘ethinicity’. We simply cannot have a situation where people are publicly denounced or targeted because they look or dress in a certain way or speak with a particular accent; or are made into a political football, and have no means of defending themselves. Let alone police raids in night clubs, bus stops etc in the dead of night. That is a prescription for a human relations disaster.
We would like to have your comments on this and and on the questions raised by Ms Davis.