Reconciliation with Trinidad

Michael BURKE

Thursday, December 05, 2013    

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It is the season of Advent. It is a time of hope. Christians around the world use this season to reflect on the sinful world that Jesus Christ came into at Christmas. As an extension of that we look at our own sins and seek forgiveness before the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.

For us to live together as a Caribbean region, we need to learn to forgive each other. The threat of a boycott of Trinidad's goods is not just a knee-jerk reaction. The tension between Jamaica and other territories in the English-speaking Caribbean has been with us since the days of slavery. In the days when sugar was king, Jamaica was regarded as the pearl of the Caribbean. It was the high price of sugar from Jamaica that built the palaces and castles in Great Britain.

At the time the Jamaican landlords looked down upon their counterparts in Barbados -- and this was before Trinidad was won to the British crown in 1797. In any case, the soil type of Trinidad was more suited to rice. Their oil would not gain value until the mechanisation of travel and electricity.

As a reaction to looking down on Eastern Caribbean (EC) peoples and calling them "small islanders", the EC nationals disliked being called Jamaicans while living in England. This was during 'Empire Windrush' when thousands from the Caribbean went to live and work in England between 1948 and 1961.

The Eastern Caribbean citizens reacted by "'ganging up" against Jamaicans in every conference, forum and whatever else. Whichever way Jamaica voted, they voted opposite. And it was this ganging up that helped to destroy the West Indies Federation.

Sir Alexander Bustamante could never have convinced Jamaicans to vote against Federation in the 1961 referendum were it not for centuries of tension between them and us. In the end, the main reason the referendum vote was 'no' to Federation was disinterest. The deliberate confusion of the public by the Jamaica Labour Party, by not addressing the Federation issue in their campaign speeches, was another factor.

In December 1973 we had the beginnings of the world oil crisis. Jamaica was now forced to turn to Trinidad for some of its oil imports. Jamaica got poorer as more and more of its foreign exchange was used up to purchase oil from its oil-trading partners, including Trinidad who wanted US dollars for their oil.

And Trinidad got richer, especially when their precious tar used by nations, including Jamaica, for asphalted roads is added to their oil sales. So in 1999, when Jamaican cricketer Courtney Walsh was deposed of his captaincy by the appointment of Trinidad's Brian Lara, what with all the earlier tensions, there was talk about a boycott of West Indies cricket by some Jamaicans. I came out against the idea in my columns at the time, just as I opine today that a boycott of Trinidad's goods would be very foolhardy now.

Why offend Trinidad further when we need their oil and asphalt until we use more solar and build enough houses that we can asphalt our roads with cement? Why do that when we also need their reliable payments to the University of the West Indies? In any case, some of our large companies have branches in Trinidad, so they do in fact buy from us.

In the 1960s, Sir Alexander Bustamante was prime minister and Robert Lightbourne was minister of trade and industry. In those days, we imported goods, especially toys, from Japan. Somewhere around 1966 the hue and cry was that Japan would not take our goods. Lightbourne then announced that Jamaica would no longer take goods from Japan. What did that do?

It certainly did not hurt Japan. But it did mean that the Government had an even harder time selling Jamaican goods. At the time, Jamaica was flexing its muscle and mistakenly thought that our newly achieved political independence meant that we could strut about the world like roosters. And some of us want to make that same mistake again, this time with Trinidad.

Once again, a single immigration officer takes it on himself to flex his power. It happened in The Bahamas in the 1990s, when Jamaican-born attorney Chester Stamp was assaulted. The immigration officer got a prison sentence. It happened again, in more recent times, in the celebrated Shanique Myrie case in Barbados. And a few weeks ago 13 Jamaicans were denied entry into Trinidad.

The immigration officer may have been angry that a Trinidadian national was killed in Jamaica in recent times. I offer my condolence to the family of the Trinidadian slain on our shores. I am aware that it is ice-cold comfort to the Trinidadian's family and friends that the Trinidadian was not killed because of her nationality. Our serious crime problem and its historical reasons are no excuse.

But, while the immigration officer in Trinidad certainly abused his discretionary powers by condemning all Jamaicans for the death of the Trinidadian, to his credit, he is nationalistic and feels a bond for a slain fellow citizen. We need some of that nationalism here.

I welcome the move by the Trinidadian Government to train immigration officers, and I welcome the summit between their minister of trade and ours. The recent meeting of our foreign minister A J Nicholson and his counterpart Winston Dookeran will definitely aid the healing process". True, it would be gracious if the Trinidadian Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar were to offer an apology to the 13 Jamaicans who were innocently refused for entering Trinidad. To be fair to Mrs Persad-Bissessor, it might be political suicide for her to offer such an apology to the 13 Jamaicans who were refused entry. She heads a coalition government made up of four political parties. Whether one knows Trinidad's domestic politics -- and I make no such claim -- all coalition governments, anywhere in the world, are fractious. Such an apology might cause the coalition to fall apart.

But if we do not swim together we will sink together. Let us learn to live with each other and let us learn to forgive. The best time to do this is in Advent, as we prepare for the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ.

ministers meet.jpg

Jamaica's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator A J Nicholson (left) shares a moment with and his Trinidadian counterpart Winston Dookeran share a moment following a meeting in Kingston on Monday.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar

PERSAD-BISSESSAR... could have graciously apologised





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