By Sir Ronald Sanders
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States of America and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto)
It has been interesting to read the responses in Editorials and Opinions in some regional media, concerning the decision by the two main political parties in Antigua and Barbuda to abolish work permits for nationals of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries and the Dominican Republic.
The significant thing in the Editorials and Opinions, is that while they have freely expressed opinions on the decision made by the two main political parties in Antigua and Barbuda to deal with this long contentious issue in CARICOM, they have been silent on the attitude of governments and opposition political parties in other CARICOM countries. The exception to this has been the Editorials in the Jamaica Gleaner.
There is no question that the two political parties in Antigua and Barbuda have now put the cat among the pigeons in CARICOM. The decision of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) and the United Progressive Party (UPP) to liberalise the system by which CARICOM nationals migrate to, and work in, Antigua and Barbuda, raises questions about how far other members of the Caribbean Community are prepared to go to realise the purposes of the CARCOM Treaty.
The Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda allows its nationals to bestow citizenship on their grandchildren wherever they are born. Many of those grandchildren from the Dominican Republic took advantage of this Constitutional right to migrate to Antigua and Barbuda. This situation – unique to Antigua and Barbuda – is not relevant to CARICOM. Therefore, it is not discussed here.
When the Revised CARICOM Treaty was signed in 2001, it committed all the Governments who were its ultimate signatories “to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community”.
The governments raised the expectation that their people would be able to travel to each country freely; that they would have a single currency; and that there would be no duties and tariffs on goods moving from one country to the other. That was why the notion of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) was born – the nations of CARICOM would become one community and one market. The exception was The Bahamas, which does not participate in the group’s single market and economy arrangements.
Throughout the existence of CARICOM, preceding the signing of the Revised Treaty in 2001, it member states have had a chequered history regarding the acceptance of the movement of people between them.
The exemplary country, during its previous economic heyday up to 1973, was Guyana, which welcomed Caribbean migrants from the region – a welcome that was taken up by many from Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent who, among other things, became farmers in Guyana’s productive agricultural hinterland.
Now with its wealth in oil and gas, Guyana has once again become a magnet for Caribbean migrants and businessmen.