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If these Caricom leaders fail…

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

We have learnt over the years, by dint of hard experience, multiple disappointments and numerous heartaches, not to hold our breath when Caribbean Community (Caricom) heads of governments make decisions at their annual summits.

The one obvious thing that Caricom leaders have in common is their ability to articulate issues, often carrying entire nations wide on wings of oratory, only to have them, in the end, dash their collective foot against a stone.

Still, we can't help but feel a twitch in our national loins at the latest announcement from the heads that all member States of the community are to have in place procedures on the refusal of entry of Caricom nationals to their territories by August 1, 2018.

That piece of exciting news was brought by the current chairman of Caricom, Jamaica's own Prime Minister Andrew Holness, representing one of the best decisions taken at their 39th summit which ended last week in Montego Bay, St James.

The Caricom chairman says that the procedures will guide border officials on how they should treat nationals who are refused entry, with a pledge to safeguard the rights of all community nationals moving across the region.

The Caricom heads also agreed that a harmonised form will be used by the country's immigration departments when refusing entry.

Of great significance is the fact that the leaders have set a firm date – August 1, 2018 – on which the new procedures will come into effect. It is something to which we can hold them. And Jamaica, Guyana, and Haiti will let out a big sigh of relief if that is achieved.

Nationals of these three countries, in particular, have felt the sting of their citizens being refused entry to other Caricom countries without any real justification other than an immigration officer's subjective suspicions.

Sometimes it is not so much about the refusal to accept the nationals in accordance with the stipulations of the Caricom freedom of movement arrangements, but it is how badly they have been treated while being refused entry.

We assume that these new guidelines will be followed and that where they are not, swift corrective action will be taken, up to and including recourse to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its original jurisdiction, which interprets the Caricom treaty.

We have no doubt that one of the reasons Caribbean citizens are not warming to the proposal to have the CCJ be the region's final court of appeal is the undesirable way in which some of them are treated while politicians watch and do nothing.

Our people are watching to see how the politicians will act to demonstrate that they take their decisions seriously and how much they can trust them to bolster the integrity of the CCJ by supporting its rulings and keeping their intrusive hands off.

We sincerely hope that the promised procedures will come into effect on August 1, which would carry symbolism for Jamaicans who celebrate Emancipation Day on that day.

If Caricom leaders fail to do this one thing, it will reinforce the deeply held cynicism about the regional movement, and it will be a long, long time before this generation comes to trust our leaders, if ever.