Kaieteur News – Cubans should not be penalised because of the alleged discovery of a human trafficking ring involving Haitians. Nor should legitimate Haitian travellers be deprived of their automatic six-month entry into Guyana simply because some of their compatriots are suspected to be transitioning Guyana en route to Brazil.
Brazil is already reeling from a large influx of Venezuelan refugees. The flood of Haitian immigrants has caused Brazil to engage the Guyana Government on the issue.
The Brazilians have been exerting pressure on the Guyanese Government to stem the flow of illegal Haitian immigrants entering their country through Guyana. Many of these Haitian immigrants are using Guyana as a transit point to enter Brazil to seek employment or to go to other South American countries such as Chile.
Less than one week ago, the Guyana Government indicated that it was going to review its immigration protocols and impose such lawful restrictions that it considers necessary in the circumstances. This decision was arrived at following the discovery of what the government believes was a human trafficking ring from Haiti.
Guyana’s Attorney General had indicated that the Government of Guyana was moving in the direction of requiring visas for Cuban and Haitian nationals to enter Guyana.
It has not taken the government long to act. The axe has come down. The President of Guyana has issued an Order 9 of 2021 revoking the Immigration Order of , which had entitled Haitians to a six month automatic entry into Guyana. This revocation Order was published in the Extraordinary Official Gazette of June 22, 2021.
The new visa requirement for Haitians is in clear violation of Guyana’s obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which required a six-month automatic entry for Haitians. While the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community have not unanimously approved of this measure, they do not need to. It is a legal entitlement under the Treaty. As such, the decision to impose visa requirements on Haitians is in violation of the Treaty and thus appealable to the Caribbean Court of Justice in its exercise of its Original Jurisdiction.
In 2018, the Caribbean Community accepted a legal opinion, which argued that Haitian nationals were entitled, as members of the Caribbean Community, to a six-month automatic entry into other member states. In accordance with this decision, the APNU+AFC government moved quickly to issue Immigration Order granting Haitians a six-month automatic entry.
Barbados and Dominica had done the same. However, they have since reversed gear after facing a pushback at home.
A number of Haitians are presently working in Guyana. They have found employment in various professions including porters, waiters and security guards.
The Cubans are also working here. They can be found in almost every store on Regent Street providing translation and sales services. They are also working in the construction sector for far less than Guyanese. Stories have even been circulating that they willingly work 12-hour shifts as labourers, masons and plumbers for a mere US$25 per day. No Guyanese would work those hours for such a sum.
The Cuban Government had long been pressing the Guyana Government to impose such requirements. In April 2018, a team from Guyana had met with a team from Cuba during which the Cubans pressed for restrictions under the pretext of regularising migration. Guyana, however, at the time was resistant to any such restrictions claiming that anyone who left Cuba legally and entered Guyana in the same way, was welcome. But reports also indicated that the APNU+AFC government was examining the issue of visas for Cubans.
A visa requirement for Cubans would hurt the business community. During the pre-pandemic period, it was estimated that around 2,000 Cubans arrived each week in Guyana. Many of them came for appointments at the United States Embassy and to do their medicals which are required as part of the processing of their permanent residence applications to the United States.
Thousands also came as traders. It is estimated that Guyana earned through sales, hotel rentals and food about US$100M from the Cuban presence, which was four times what sugar was earning.
A visa requirement for Cubans would hurt businesses and would impact negatively on those landlords who have built massive apartment buildings for rental to Cubans. It may also see many of those Cubans who work in stores in Guyana’s commercial district having to leave.
Cubans also are known to try to get into Brazil. But this is believed to be a trickle when compared to Haitians. As such, there is no reason for visa restrictions to be imposed on the Cubans since there is no known or suspected Cuban human trafficking ring.
Many employers are eager to have Cuban and Haitian employees. It is difficult to find Guyanese to work in certain sectors. But with both the Cubans and the Haitians, they are willing to do the work that Guyanese shun.
With the economy expanding, it will become extremely difficult to satisfy the demand for workers. As such, the government should carefully consider the wisdom of this backward step to impose visa requirements on Haitians and to consider doing the same for Cubans.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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