The right move?

The last five years or so there has been much interest, debate, and contention regarding the free movement of CARICOM nationals and general intra-CARICOM migration in Barbados. Both popular and unpopular discourses and actions were overflowing into the domestic space of Barbados as well as in the regional integration movement.

At the end of the 33rd regular conference of the CARICOM Heads of Government in St. Lucia, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados, while accepting that he has to do the right thing, may have signalled something that this author has been arguing for quite a while.

Barbados obviously has made some errors in its approach to the migration segment of regional integration, and it has unearthed some of the hidden and subtle suspicions that have characterised interactions with each other in this region.

For the record, Barbados is not the only guilty actor; the same behaviours of non-compliance or alterations from originally agreed positions hold fast and are displayed in several participating member states. However, Barbados has more often than not succeeded in building a reputation of being progressive as far as Caribbean regionalism goes.

On this related issue of non-implementation and non-compliance regularly cropping up in the scheme of CARICOM integration, Norman Girvan has continuously been arguing that “at the root of CARICOM” is an “implementation deficit problem” and it is debilitating for the region because of “the impossibility of reconciling insular sovereignty, as a legal construct, with effective regional action, as an operational necessity”.

Security especially as it spills from migration and immigration practices is problematic in the region. Barry Buzan an international theorist on security issues, argues that security “encompasses several important contradictions and a host of nuances, all of which can cause confusion if not understood”. In Barbados and CARICOM, there are too many uncertainties and ambiguities that remain in the legal arenas for which the participants have failed to resolve.

There is never-ending suspicion of each other among the states and it filters down throughout the societies; it is this scope of affairs that is captured by Girvan and Buzan. As far as what this article calls securitising moves — and according to Jef Huysmans — “insecurity is an outcome of a process of framing that integrates social and political relations on the basis of security rationality” — these come about by one group of actors interacting with multiple actors that are drawn into the socio-legal framework.

Securitisers are our political leaders and elites, and very often they make claims which in turn sow seeds of fear by using elements of nationalism and cultural norms to suggest to local audiences that the CARICOM national and intra-regional migration are things to be feared.

In fairness to Barbados, the securitising actors are defending positions that continue to surface at increasing rates and narrowing intervals regarding intra-CARICOM migration in Barbados.

Discord, fracture, discrimination, and other forms of negative discourses fill the public spaces, and they become repeated and internalised so that it is not unusual then to hear of questionable treatment by Barbados’ authorities.

The allegations of forms of ill-treatment by Barbados, that is state and non-state actors, are indicative of the lines of uncertainty that exist in the legal and regulatory systems intended to facilitate intra-CARICOM migration. For example, and given the wording of Article 45 in which there is much assumed to be hanging upon the states’ notion of intent with its commitment regarding the meaning and spirit of CARICOM, Barbados is regularly accused of drifting away from the intent of the Article.

This evidence is manifested in a situation that has developed and which was discussed last weekend in St. Lucia. The CHOG in 2009 agreed and made it an official declaration that all CARICOM nationals entering another jurisdiction would be automatically granted leave of stay in the other CARICOM country for a period of six months. Barbados is one of the participating states that moved away from this arrangement and had split the six month period into two segments of three months each.

Since then, Stuart (2012) has stated that by not granting the automatic six-month stamp of entry, it “has been seen as not implementing the agreement of Heads of Government and therefore we’ve taken a decision to revisit that and that to look at the automatic six months stay subject, of course, to all the security and other considerations that attend visitors when they arrive at our ports of entry”.

In essence, in substantiating a position that Barbados was shifting away from its agreement, the Barbados position became somewhat altered by the conclusion of the 33rd regional regular conference of the CHOG.

The participating member states that are prescribing actions which question Barbados’ commitment and performances on intra-regional migration, notwithstanding other integration policy areas, are in effect, adding to the social constructions of security and insecure conditions.

Many, while not overlooking the official positions that Barbados has taken over the years which indicated Barbados’ willingness and lead roles in Caribbean integration and the establishment of a single market and economy, can rightfully point to Barbados’ recent drifts.

In fact, regional institutions, in terms of public records and statements, have contended that Barbados has out-performed and surpassed the said participating member states in terms of policy implementation, but at the same time, most fingers have recently pointed to Barbados as a main culprit in anti-CARICOM national sentiments, and in actions which appear contrary to the spirit of CARICOM.

It is precisely these sorts of occurrences that are pointing to the fractures which are often influenced by the securitising moves impacting on several actors and CARICOM relations. Securitising actors are socially and politically creating contentious areas of interstate and inter-societal relations regarding the implementation and non-implementation of already agreed policy preferences. At the same time, audiences are lending legitimacy to the action responses of the securitisers.

To this end, the specific performances otherwise accounted for as the securitising moves, have direct impacts on the governance decisions and actions emerging in the social arenas of national and regional jurisdictions of Barbados and CARICOM respectively. It is not necessary to be critical of Barbados’ Prime Ministers, but what is useful is that as PM Stuart has done, the political class and elites in Barbados must try to be as informative as possible and not show worried about always meeting popular expectations.

Barbados cannot, as PM Gonsalves had earlier warned about cherry-picking, connect with only those things that appear in Barbados’ interests. Barbados must negotiate from positions of strength, and equally work towards the full implementation of those things that it has agreed upon, even if in hindsight, these decisions may not be popular. They are established norms, practices and a regulatory regime within CARICOM that needs certainty if CARICOM is to work for the good progress of all.

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