Ironically, before there was the Caribbean Community (Caricom), there was free movement of persons during the colonial era. But once we became independent, governments — intoxicated with the illusion of sovereignty — immediately instituted work permits and visas.
Now, Caricom is an advanced state of fragmentation, riven by centrifugal forces born of economic implosion and petty nationalism. Absent is the salutary influence of farsighted political leadership. The ultimate root cause is the lack of any genuine sense of community.
Fleeting moments of community existed when the West Indies cricket team was world champions, the University of the West Indies (UWI) clinged tenuously to regionalism, and there were glimpses when we lose ourselves in the revelry of playing Mas around the Savannah in Port of Spain.
Our leaders meet twice a year to recite the Beatitudes of Caricom unity and chant the mantra of common purpose. But the people feel no connection to goals and few of us fully understand the platitudes of integration or the working of Caricom.
Haiti, Belize and Suriname know they are only included in Caricom in a formal sense. The Bahamas only wants formal membership in the Community but not in the CSME. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is moving ahead with its own sub-regional integration, convinced that the so-called Big Four — Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago — mean them no good.
Guyana longs for the days of preferential arrangements for sugar and Trinidad longs to be free of its mendicant neighbours. Jamaica blames the implosion of the manufacturing sector on imports from Trinidad. Belize becomes more a part of Central America each day and integration with Florida is a preferred option for The Bahamas.
Barbadians worry about the invasion by Guyanese, Trinidadians feel there is a swarm of Grenadians. Everybody fears the potential tidal wave of Haitians. And there is a region-wide apprehension about the violence-prone Jamaicans.
Nowhere is the lack of community spirit more evident than in the treatment meted out to Caribbean people as they try to move around the region. The immigration officials are among the most destructive elements undermining the goodwill for integration.
These often uncouth, abusive self-appointed guardians of national xenophobia perpetuate daily atrocities which generate hostility. They are not chastised for their offences because there is tacit support for their actions.
Admittedly, Jamaicans have a track record of violence, drug trafficking and illegal migration attracting visa requirements from which nearly all other countries are exempt. All Jamaicans are suffering because of the reputation and behaviour of the "bad" Jamaicans.
How can anyone forget the furor of intemperate statements and appalling lack of diplomacy spawned by the complaint by Jamaican Ms Shanique Myrie that she was finger-raped in a cavity search by a female immigration officer before being thrown out of Barbados last year? There are numerous examples in every country but incidents involving Jamaicans are particularly high.
The last thing we would want to see is all our countries resorting to a tit-for-tat behaviour. Because then it would no longer be Caricom but a 'Carry go bring Come' community.
We must move urgently to restore our sense of a Caribbean community sharing a common heritage.