CARICOM ON TRIAL
Extracts of the presentation made by Leader of the AFC Raphael Trotman, M.P. to the National Assembly on Thursday, July 9, 2009, on a Motion seeking the protection of Guyanese in the Caribbean Community.
Mr. Speaker, Much has been stated about CARICOM and its future over the past week. We of the AFC consider it our duty to add our voices on the general issue of Regional integration, and in particular, on the issue of the treatment of CARICOM citizens in the Region, and especially, Guyanese citizens.
As a child growing up, my world view was shaped in large part by the words of my father Donald Trotman – inscribed in a book that he had written in 1973. I knew little about world peace and conflict but was drawn to his words of dedication to his children:
“To my children hoping that they will live to see a world in which conflict is replaced by Peace, iniquity by Justice and prejudice by Understanding.”
His words gave me a sense of comfort and security that I was growing up into a better more tranquil world, and especially so for us who have chosen to remain and reside in the West Indies. This was the world that those of us in the Caribbean thought we had. But as we grew as nations we realised that we are not insulated from the evils of the world. We therefore quite wisely prepared and strengthened ourselves for those external threats and challenges.
CARICOM was designed and intended to be our battle armour as we developed our newly independent nations and protected ourselves from the outside. What we never bargained for was the rise of insularity and discord within that armour. Now, not the words of my father, but those of the St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte’s “The Air Between Us (For an Expatriate)”, more aptly describe the cold treatment that many West Indian citizens now experience at the hands of their brothers and sisters:
“The air between us is like glass when we speak, our words frost
As meanings mist over, I hear you far off and muffled
I realise that you were shouting
When you walked past you were shouting
Your head bent was a scream”
For the avoidance of all doubt I wish to establish unequivocally three fundamentals truths:
1 – That when this Motion was drafted and presented for debate I had no intention of creating “public hysteria” or using the immigration issue for political purposes as has been suggested by the Guyana Head of State – How myopic that point of view is;
2 – That this Motion is about Guyanese everywhere and has nothing to do with the racial element of Guyanese who may be targeted for discrimination. I don’t care about the colour of skin of the person in peril, or about their voting choices. I am, as we all should be, concerned about their rights as a citizens of Guyana. Punta Finale!
3 – That intrinsic to, and as expressly set out within the body of the Treaty of Chaguaramus, there is the right of the exercise of individual sovereignty within each state…the right demanded and recognised within each state to make and enforce its own laws as its sees best. But I posit that there is a higher moral law of humanity that says that there must be a basic modicum of respect for the rights of citizens of any state when they are within the boundaries of another state? If I had the right to place a footnote on the Treaty of Chaguaramus it would be to say that this insistence on safeguarding our individually sovereignty is not only incongruent with the spirit of togetherness, but has led, and continues to lead, to the unraveling and disintegration of CARICOM.
On the occasion of the signing of that Treaty, Guyana in 1972, hosted the first CARIFESTA celebration and again hosted the 10th such event magnificently in 2008. Then, as we continue to do now, we have welcomed with arms wide open, our brothers and sisters from Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, Montserrat, The Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda, Jamaica, Belize, Dominica, Haiti, Suriname, and yes even Barbados. There is no bench on which they are placed to sit on arrival. I ask: What has happened, and where did we go wrong that this ignominy and disgrace can be heaped on our citizens when we are still “basking” in the celebrated sunlight of our “oneness” in culture and history just one year ago?
Even today, it is Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan who continue to anchor the West Indies cricket team to bring victory after victory, and with each victory, pride and exaltation for the Region. Before I forget, may I remind the government and people of Barbados that two of their most celebrated achievements could not have been possible without Guyanese migration. I refer to the 2000 Olympic feat of Obadele Thompson whose father is Guyanese and to the mega star Rihanna Fenty whose mother is Guyanese. This is what integration has brought to Barbados. Their first Olympic medal and their first Grammy Award. Yet they pretend not to know. Ironically, for us Guyanese, it is as Barbadian poet Edward Braithwaite says “Our colour beats a restless drum but only the bitter come.”
This is the story of Kavita; a young Guyanese woman who hails from a village on the East Coast of Demerara, Unity to be precise, home of famous Guyanese. Kavita is the single mother of two who tells me that she has suffered abuse from her spouse and from her leaders. No job and no protection from abuse. She traveled to Barbados; where after two weeks she found a job as a domestic. And then her world is shattered by the heavy knock on the door at 5 am and she is carted off and placed into a bus, her life is shattered, her possessions lost, her security torn apart. She begs for a chance, begs for an opportunity to call a friend or lawyer, she is mocked, scoffed at, and told that she has no rights. She is deported and moves from being a West Indian to being just a Guyanese.
She is Guyanese, West Indian – a citizen of CARICOM. She is discriminated against not because of her name, gender, ethnicity, or religion, but because of her nationality. This Motion is for Kavita and the hundreds like her who are, and are likely to be, affected unless we stand up.
PRESCRIPTIONS FOR AN AILING SOUL
We are the smallest economic union in the world whilst being the most threatened by transnational crime, financial crises, and climate change. Inexplicably, and ironically, we have ignored the imperative for true and deep integration and have instead held up our sovereign shields with pomp and ceremony. Our leaders have made us into caricatures for amusement and ridicule. Dr. Vaughn Lewis asks the poignant question:
“Why do these situations of heads of government’s announcements of initiatives followed by the rejection of recommendations, or hesitations in pursuit of decisions relating to paths towards enhancement of the integration process, recur so often?
Despite the travails, the trials, and the tribulations we face, we remain integrationists at heart and see this Motion as part of the reinforcing exercise that is underway. I hope that one day, and not too far in the distant future, that the views and questions recently posed by my sister Dr. Alissa Trotz can be reversed and answered.
We have a duty to ensure that the most useful outcome of the 30th Heads of Government Conference was not the Order of the Caribbean Community conferred on the Most Hon. Mr. Percival J. Patterson, ON, OCC, PC, QC, former Prime Minister of Jamaica. Therefore, we have to do some introspection, and as a matter of urgency, make some urgent, critical, and decisive decisions.
1. We have to decide whether we want to be separate and apart or integrated and interconnected;
2. We have to decide whether we are citizens with equal rights and responsibilities or separate and unequal;
3. We have to decide whether we will resolve to strengthen CARICOM by agreeing to implement fully all of our agreements and treaties, or we turn elsewhere to a place where we are wanted and welcome. We keep making the same fancy declarations and issuing eloquently written communiqués but not implementing them; and
4. We have to decide whether we want to toy endlessly with the idea of an economic union or shed our pretended cloaks of sovereignty and progress into a formidable political union as Europe has successfully done.