THE ripple effects of the recent landmark ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the case of Jamaican Shanique Myrie vs the Barbados Government should awaken the leaders of Caricom out of their Rip van Winkle-like slumber to honour their commitment to unhindered free intra-regional movement of citizens of the community.
No less a person than the community's Secretary General Irwin LaRocque has chosen to go public with his interpretation of what the CCJ's judgement means for the 15-member regional economic integration movement now marking its 40th anniversary.
LaRocque thinks that the regional court's ruling "would cause a shift in the way affairs of the community were conducted... It has also cemented the community's rules-based system and continues to engender a high level of confidence (in) addressing decision-making in the nature and effect of community law, obligations of member states and rights of community nationals..."
As the community's leading public servant, Mr LaRocque's positive spin could well be appreciated. But, as the old saying goes, "the fruit of the pudding is in the eating". We must therefore await the relevant policy decisions and specific implementation initiatives to come from the highest organ of Caricom, namely the Heads of Government.
The citizens of Caricom, and particularly those who, like me in years past, have been subjected to unnecessary arrogance — to say the least — by immigration officials at some ports of entry, seem to owe a debt of gratitude to Miss Myrie.
After all, it is her courage in seeking a ruling by the CCJ for some terrible wrongs she had suffered on entry, and prior to deportation from Barbados between March 14 and 15 in 2011, that resulted in the historic CCJ ruling.
The judgement has underscored the importance and tremendous value of being a Caricom citizen whose right to freedom of intra-regional movement is well anchored in the revised Community Treaty to enable making a reality the stated objectives of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) that remains a work in progress.
As a consequence of the historic CCJ ruling, Caricom Heads of Government should give serious consideration to holding a special, or emergency meeting to decide how best to collectively address the implications of the judgement.
Freedom of unhindered intra-regional movement is a vital issue for all citizens. This is not a problem between Jamaica and Barbados. It has long been a recurring problem for citizens across Caricom, and all governments are involved.
For a start, the Heads of Government could begin with the humble gesture of scrapping from the quasi-cabinet, the portfolio responsibility pertaining to free intra-regional movement for Caricom citizens, including skilled nationals seeking employment or doing business outside of their county of birth.
At best, this portfolio, like some others, has been virtually non-functional, amid the customary rhetorical 'commitment' to 'One Community, One People'.
Now, the CCJ's ruling has given a most welcome new meaning to the concept of free movement within the community. More widely, as observed by the noted regional economist and thinker, Dr Norman Girvan, the judgement offers "new life" for implementation of the Revised Caricom Treaty.
One regional family
For this Guyana-born regional journalist — who has been living and working in Barbados for some 28 years, after having to depart from Trinidad and Tobago and surviving controversial immigration-related decisions by governments in Port-of-Spain and Bridgetown — the CCJ's ruling has served as a pertinent reminder of what the late Barbados Prime Minister Errol Barrow had told a Caricom Heads of Government Conference in Georgetown, Guyana on July 3, 1986:
"If we (the leaders) have sometimes failed to comprehend the essence of the regional integration movement, the truth is that thousands of ordinary Caribbean people do, in fact, live that reality very day...
"In Barbados," he reminded, "our families are no longer exclusively Barbadian by island origin. We have Barbadian children of Jamaican mothers; Barbadian children of Antiguan and St Lucian fathers; and there is no need to mention Trinidad and Tobago, which has always been tied to us, not only by the inestimable bonds of consanguinity, but the bourgeoning cross-fertilisation of cultural art forms...
"We are," said Barrow -- whose vision and commitment had also resulted in initiatives to make the CCJ a reality — "a family of islands nestling closely under the shelter of the great Co-operative Republic of Guyana. And this fact of regional togetherness is lived every day by ordinary West Indian men and women in their comings and goings..."
Reflecting on that energising notion of the 'Caricom family' by Barrow — one of the quartet of key architects for inauguration of the regional integration movement (the others being Dr Eric Williams, Michael Manley and Forbes Burnham) — I thought how ironic it is for Barbados to be the country of reference for the CCJ's ruling in the case initiated by Miss Myrie.
George Lamming's call
However, in keeping with the letter and spirit of the CCJ's judgement, it seems that for its practical realisation all Caricom governments must now embark on a region-wide training programme to reorient employees in their immigration and customs services how to perform their functions in the interest of their respective nations and the community in general.
The days of unilateral, contemptuous and hostile actions in dealing with community citizens at ports of entry must soon come to an end.
More than such needed regional orientation on our 'togetherness' as 'One People of One Community', the iconic Barbados-born Caribbean novelist and social commentator, George Lamming, in welcoming the CCJ's judgement, said to me in a brief interview:
"The time is overdue for the Caribbean to be at the centre of the curriculum at all levels of the region's education system, from primary to tertiary, and not simply as a subject of geography but in fostering an organic path in understanding who we are as one people..."