JUST LIKE IT IS: Going wrong way
The lead story in last Thursday’s DAILY NATION caused many Barbadians considerable concern. Headlined In And Out, the sub-head was: Bajan Fishermen Released From Jail, But Still Can’t Leave Tobago.
Having spent 17 years representing Barbados abroad, I know and appreciate the importance of representation in foreign lands, having been accredited to six. In this case, the country involved is a fellow Caricom state 300 miles across the pond.
It is universally known that a key responsibility of sovereign governments is to promote and protect the welfare of their nationals. It was therefore most disappointing to read that after a week, one detained fisherman said “he had not heard anything from any Government officials from Barbados. The only people who have spoken to us are Miss Mia Mottley, officers from the Fisherfolk Association and Mr Johnathan Morgan”.
They are private citizens. Why was a Foreign Affairs officer not sent to Tobago? Or our Port-of-Spain-based, long-standing Honorary Consul Audley Walker?
Particularly disappointing is that with this Government being a month short of four years in office, Barbadian fishermen are still being detained by Trinidad and Tobago coast guard and taken to court, bearing in mind Mr David Thompson, when Opposition Leader, saying that agreement could be reached over a bowl of fish soup in Consett Bay.
Earlier this year, when Tobagonian authorities were acting up, I drew attention to it on a call-in programme. A gentleman sounding remarkably like then Caricom Ambassador Denis Kellman came on air asking if there was a shortage of flying fish or fishermen were being interdicted.
He has been elevated, the flying fish season has just started, a pack of ten selling for $20, and ten of our fishermen cannot leave Tobago until December 6. Having been made a minister, Kellman may be under a gag order and his silence considered golden.
He also said it was a matter for his former boss, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She has said nothing so far publicly, a situation which we hope will not continue much longer in the spirit of follow the leader.
I congratulate Ambassador Robert “Bobby” Morris on his appointment. A good one. I wish him well, fully conscious that his formal involvement must await presentation of credentials.
Last year, the new prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago used having recently taken over as an excuse for tardiness in addressing the outstanding matter. Now in office over a year, she has had enough time to be properly briefed by her technocrats to sit down and settle this matter for perpetuity.
Bearing in mind what is happening in the waters east of the Caribbean where trawlers from Japan and Taiwan are plundering our fish resources, Caricom’s leaders need to work out and implement a multi-lateral agreement to settle our problem in the best spirit of regional co-operation.
Fish is an important part of the healthy diet of all Caribbean people and the same way that extra-regional fishermen can leave Asia and travel so far to deplete our fish stock, common sense and a spirit of regional togetherness need to drive us to give primacy to our own fisherfolk and our populations’ needs.
On my last posting to London (1995-2003), on one of my monthly stocktaking visits to Tooting Market in South West London, I was gobsmacked to see a long line of Barbadians buying unprocessed flying fish at £1.99 each. My fishmonger told me they came from Taiwan, a modern triangular trade.
Further investigations revealed the fishermen used to throw them back into the sea until advised that they were much sought after by the Barbadian population in London. The crowded fishmongers substantiated its validity. The flying fish row, called “citrus caviar”, is a cherished London delicacy.
The invasion of Trinidad businesses of our markets stands out like Nelson’s statue in Heroes Square. I recall the late David Thompson reportedly telling thousands at Haggatt Hall in 2008 that when he became Prime Minister and the ink had not dried on the sale of Barbados Shipping & Trading to Trinidad’s Neal & Massey, the sale would be aborted.
He came to power, the ink had not dried and the sale of Barbados’ biggest conglomerate went ahead. Since then, the Trimart group also passed into ownership of Trinidad and Tobago’s other major conglomerate, McEnearney Alstons. So our two major supermarket chains are owned in Port-of-Spain.
In key areas of tourism and banking, Trinidad and Tobago also owns substantial businesses here. Cynics speak of a new tri-state – Trinidad, Tobago and Barbados.
While not condoning our fishermen trespassing into Tobago’s territorial waters in search of our national staple, immigration detaining them two weeks bespeaks administrative inefficiency and political indifference.
Raking in and repatriating Barbadian millions, they should show greater understanding and mutuality to mitigate the ugly realities disfiguring the Caribbean landscape.