Good News for Caribbean Integration, or Not
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(22 April 2017) — I like good news. I welcome any news that indicates, even marginally, that Caribbean integration is on a positive path. It is a sad fact that good news on Caribbean integration has been a rarity. There has been a great deal of dissatisfaction with the pace of implementation of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME). One major issue is lack of full implementation of the free movement of nationals of CARICOM member states in the region.
It is natural that the two most populous CARICOM states, Haiti and Jamaica, would have the largest number of their nationals travelling throughout the region. Does that mean nationals of Haiti and Jamaica by their sheer numbers are likely to face greatest scrutiny and barriers to regional travel? With regard to Jamaican nationals, there have been vexing issues related to the treatment meted out to them by the immigration services of Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago.
Perhaps there is no denying that large numbers of Jamaicans, as well as Haitians, seeking entry to these two countries may be doing so for economic reasons. After all, Barbados and T&T were reputed for many years as having the strongest economies among CARICOM member states. Thus there is an economic magnet for lower income individuals looking for jobs to have a desire to migrate even temporarily to these two countries. Many jobs seemed to be available; some of which T&T and Barbadian nationals were seemingly uninterested in. The story of low income immigrants all over the world is that they fill jobs not attractive to the natives.
A year ago, the number of Jamaicans refused entry to T&T had reached disproportionate levels leading to charges of discrimination, and possibly illegal actions, by T&T immigration personnel. When entry is denied, the conditions under which they were detained were described as unfit for humans. This issue received lots of media attention, and Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (JMFAFT), Senator Kamina Johnson Smith was forced to engage with her T&T counterpart on immigration and trade issues, the latter also a bone of contention between the two countries.
Now the good news, or is it? Senator Johnson Smith announced there is a reduction of 82% of Jamaicans refused entry to T&T for the period March 2016 to March 2017. According to Jamaican media reports, Senator Johnson Smith hailed the new data as “a great success” and the result a reflection of the collaboration between the Government of Jamaica and the Government of T&T. Collaboration is of itself a good indication of how issues between CARICOM member states should be resolved. This level of commitment to dialogue over disputes between and among CARICOM member states is a sign of maturity among the democracies of the Caribbean. But how much value should we place on this report without knowing the underlying factors affecting the data?
A Jamaica Gleaner (April 20, 2017 online report) quoted Senator Johnson Smith as commending the T&T government for having met certain commitments to improve the processing and accommodation of Jamaicans at port of entry. She also suggested that Jamaicans are now better informed travelers as a result of information provided to them by the MFAFT. The Ministry is credited with doing its job – a normal expectation of its function. However, the report did not address the level of travel and the category of Jamaicans who are, or are not traveling to T&T.
What seemed to be missing from this obviously positive report, however, are possible contributing factors to this significant reduction in entry denials. Data is always useful and necessary to support findings and conclusions. On the other hand, data is open to multiple interpretations and manipulations (no motive suggested here), especially when absent explanation that leaves unanswered questions. A few rhetorical questions come to mind:
- Have negative reports in Jamaican media in the past year on the economic difficulties of both T&T and Barbados reduced those countries’ attractiveness to Jamaicans seeking employment; thus impacting on the cadre of low income Jamaicans likely to travel to, and be refused entry to T&T?
- Were Jamaicans, in general, influenced by reports of the ill-treatment of fellow Jamaicans by T&T immigration authorities to the extent fewer Jamaicans wished to travel to T&T?
- Were the total numbers of all Jamaicans travelling to T&T during the period in question at the same level as they were for the period prior thereto?
- Is the T&T government admitting more, or less Jamaicans of all economic status?
I am not asking these questions to cast aspersions on the veracity of the conclusions as given by Senator Johnson Smith. Both Jamaica and T&T are to be commended for this positive outcome. I am simply raising awareness of the challenges to data collection and processing across the Caribbean region, which generally leaves important questions unanswered. I am also recognizing there may be deficiencies in the data on which decisions are made and conclusions reached. Motives for the desired outcome is also a consideration when evaluating the collection and processing of data.
As Caribbean people (also applies to all countries and regions) we should be vigilant and curious about the motives of our governments, especially when data is used to influence perceptions and opinions. How and for what purpose data is collected tend to influence outcome. Whether it is data on crime, the economy, or any other human security indicators, credible data collection and processing is important for any well-organized society. The media and civil society have a responsibility to query government conclusions based on data. We all win, as a well-informed public is better able to ensure trustworthy governments.
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward