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40 years of what

This week I read in the press the outcome of the meeting of the heads of Government of the Caribbean Community. They have agreed on two key issues that should boost economic growth across the region. It was stated that they have agreed to give immediate consideration to:

(i) The design and execution of a resource mobilisation strategy to facilitate targeted interventions by Governments to catalyse and ignite growth in CARICOM States;

(ii) Adoption of a stabilisation and growth agenda which emphasises the removal of constraints on competitive production as well as a proactive facilitation and support for the private sector aimed at catalysing growth in critical economic sectors.

Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, as Head of Government with Lead Responsibility for the CSME was given responsibility for advancing the decision.

I would be hard pressed to explain to the man in the street what that actually means and I wonder if they would even care. I am all for Caribbean integration and I know that it is a necessity for us to come together in order to survive, but what does all of this rhetoric really mean? What does it mean to my friend who was travelling from Jamaica to Barbados last week and was in transit in Trinidad where one of her four children was refused entry?

When I heard this story I could not believe it! My friend and her family moved to Jamaica last year and she and her four children were coming back for a holiday. She and her children are all Barbadian and she is married to a Jamaican. A couple of days before she was due to fly back she realised that her five year old son’s passport had expired and she would have to deal with it when she got back.

Their flight to Barbados was scheduled to pass through Trinidad and she was told that she might have problems entering Trinidad because of the expired passport. They took measures to contact the Chief of Immigration in Trinidad and got permission via e-mail to permit his entrance.

Unfortunately the permission was not communicated to the immigration personnel at the airport so when she and her four tired and hungry children arrived in Trinidad, she was told that her son was not permitted to enter the country. She had planned to go by a friend’s house to get a couple of hours rest before taking the early morning flight to Barbados.

This poor woman and her four children were kept at the airport for over two hours dealing with a female immigration officer who outright refused entry to the child. In the end they were allowed to leave only after my friend agreed to sign a document which stated that the five year old was officially denied entrance into Trinidad.

Now I know that we have laws and they must be obeyed, but my goodness, do we not have hearts? Was the woman unmoved by the sight of this lady with four tired, hungry children who were not even staying in the country but were in transit on the way back to Barbados? Is this really the functioning of one Caribbean and one people?

The theme of this year’s Heads of Government meeting was 40 years of Integration: Celebration and Renewal. What is there to celebrate when we have passports that say CARICOM on them but we don’t really have freedom of movement? What renewal are we talking about when we’re still battling with some of the same issues years later? I mean Barbados and Trinidad are still working on a fishing agreement since there has not been one since 1990.

The Prime Minister is reported to have said: “Now the differences that usually occur are differences that among leaders and governments. But when differences between leaders and governments are happening, the lived experience of the average man and woman in CARICOM continues — they don’t stop living regional integration … and that is what will ensure that the regional integration movement survives.”

Will all due respect I must disagree with that statement to a point because the differences among leaders do impact what happens at the ground level. Just ask the fishermen who have been imprisoned in Trinidad or my friend whose child was refused entry into Trinidad.

Having said that, I do believe that we cannot allow what happens (or does not happen) at the governmental level to impact our relationships with one another. We have to find ways to help each other and work together in spite of their shortcomings and I am encouraged to see that happening in some spheres.

The number 40 in the Bible usually signifies a period of testing or trial. The children of Israel were in the wilderness 40 years, Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days and there are many more examples. The CARICOM movement has survived (in a fashion) the period of testing. Let us hope that it will now begin to procure the benefits of the Promised Land.

* Donna Every is the CEO of Arise Consulting Inc. which provides business and motivational training and advice to help individuals and organizations fulfill their purpose. She has written five books and has just released her second novel, The High Road.

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