Integration and social contagion
The legal luminaries will no doubt continue to debate the validity of the CCJ’s verdict in the Myrie’s case. I have no real problem with the decision. I don’t think the Barbados team proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The much-condemned behaviour of some immigration officials is symptomatic of an increasingly pervasive crudity in Barbadian culture.
What concerns me now is a decision that could have great implications for Barbados’ sovereignty in relation to our capacity to control our borders at a time when it seems the world beyond those borders appears to pose an increasingly grave threat to the maintenance of law and order, the preservation of life and limb and the constructing of a civilized society. My sole concern, therefore, is with the “social contagion” that could result from a decision that affords non-Barbadians “a right of definite entry”.
How far exactly do the integrationists in the region want to push the movement? Some seem to favour the idea of CARICOM countries becoming one country, with virtually no internal borders. A NATION columnist writes about “a new regional nation . . . putting together what has been unnaturally put asunder because of limited political vision”.
When did the people of Barbados or any other Caribbean state sign up or vote for “a new regional nation”. Where is our Caribbean parliament elected by the people? Where is our Caribbean flag, our Caribbean anthem? Why should any political leader with “a temporary lease on authority” singlehandedly commit ordinary citizens to project that could have far-reaching repercussions for the very culture of this country?
The regional integration movement has historically been supported by academic elites who are drawn to an often sentimental notion of One Caribbean, the “All ah We is One” mythology’. It is an interesting intellectual concept but one that I am not sure has deep roots in the hearts of ordinary Caribbean people. The Jamaican novelist John Heare once noted that the West Indies Federation failed because it was imposed from above. I am not sure that the Caribbean people at large are any less insular than they were in 1962 after nearly 50 years as independent states.
The second more viable justification for integration has been the economic argument. We are too small to survive as small states. Barbados sells and exports an appreciable quantum of goods and services to the region, hence freedom of movement is vital. Is this a good enough reason to alter our immigration laws at a time of growing regional social upheaval?
One night on the CBC Evening News I heard the then Commissioner of Police Mr Darwin Dottin, say with reference to the free movement of people: “In the same way that the skilled persons will move, the criminals will move too.” A young Jamaican entered Barbados and in two weeks, on one weekend he had broken into three jewellery stores in Bridgetown.
We talk of freedom of movement as if only the professionals will want to move about the region. We live in very trying times. The forces of law and order, police and judicial systems are in retreat. The Bulgarians are among us as maybe the Jihadists.
Alarmist, they will say. Remember when a drive-by shooting was only something that happened in South Central Los Angeles or Bedford Stuyvesant in New York?
The CCJ’s ruling weakens Barbados’ capacity to control migration and increases the possible deleterious effects of free movement. Barbados still enjoys a reasonably high level of social probity, much higher than elsewhere in the region.
I was talking to an 11-year-old Jamaican child living in Barbados. He was telling me about the beauty of Jamaica. I did not need convincing. I too had seen Dunn’s River Falls on a sunny day as the tourists climbed.
“So which country do you like living in more, Barbados or Jamaica?” I dared ask. “Well,” he replied, “Barbados is definitely safer.”
It turned out his doctor had been murdered in Montego Bay. Barbados may be in decline but there are no equivalents to the Shower Posse gang of Tivoli Gardens, Kingston or the Bone Crusher gang of Montego Bay.
The Economist of May 29, 2010 noted: “The gangs’ weapons are of military calibre. They have deep roots in Jamaica’s society, they make money by extorting cash from local businesses and selling drugs through the Jamaican diaspora in New York, London and Toronto. Some of the proceeds are invested in building a parallel state,” but the Un-intelligentsia would have me believe that “All ah We is One”.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a report on Jamaica condemned what it described the “unrelenting violence” against the nation’s children. It noted that 16 children were murdered over the first four months of this year. We must be careful when in myopic search of so-called economic development we run the risk of sacrificing our sovereignty and visiting an intolerable contagion upon ourselves, our children and our children’s children.
• Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and social commentator; email [email protected]