Friday, 15 February 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
As the year 2013 opens citizens and residents of our tiny nation are locked in an intense debate over what it means to able to call one’s self a True National of Antigua & Barbuda.
This is by no means a new debate. It has spanned some three decades – dating from the late seventies – when the government of the day adopted a tacit policy of opening the national door wide to practically unlimited immigration from countries both near and far. Whatever one may think about the origins of the policy, the facts are that the “open door” attitude had become so ingrained by 2004 that the new administration that took power in that year continued the by now traditional open door policy, practically without skipping a beat.
The reasons behind this “opening” of Antigua & Barbuda are manifold, and are steeped in the political realities of the time. The present day consequence of that longstanding policy is that this country has become the most cosmopolitan in the Caribbean Region and certainly among the most cosmopolitan in the world. More than any of its former British Empire – now British Commonwealth – neighbors, Antigua & Barbuda is undergoing a self-imposed process of domination by incoming elements. Whatever national culture might have existed, if one had been permitted to flourish in a supportive environment, is being submerged by a rising wave of “invading” influences.
That this is so is glaringly obvious to even the most casual observer. One of the truisms of the evolutionary process is that invasive species, entering a new territory and bringing with them superior adaptive abilities, are capable of out-competing indigenous species to the extent of possibly supplanting them within what was formerly their exclusive environment. This process is all the more virulent when invasive species find allies within that new environment, local species with whom they can develop (for instance) a symbiotic relationship.
Part of the ongoing socio-political tragedy of Antigua & Barbuda is that this pernicious symbiosis is essentially what has occurred. To begin with, it is natural for immigrants coming into a new environment to be more generally energetic and enterprising than locals, as well as more tolerant of risk. Immigrants are also prone to compromise, and are willing to accept living conditions and terms of employment that locals would tend to decline. A major symbiosis, inimical to the welfare of citizens, therefore immediately sprang up between local employers and flexible immigrant labour.
Even more devastating, however, was the symbiotic relationship that developed between immigrant voters and the local political directorate, who exploited helpful voting arrangements to recruit fresh supporters to replace locals, who were voting with their feet. One outcome of this divisive policy was a tendency of the political directorate to pander to non-national supporters, as a response to dwindling support among native-born voters. This process led eventually to the corrosive situation obtaining today, where a thunderhead of bitter resentment hangs over relations between non-nationals and nationals, who openly accuse immigrant voters of depriving the native-born of their control over the political process.
One significant result of this bitter carping is that “native” Antiguans and Barbudans focus virtually all their spleen on Commonwealth citizens migrating to our islands in search of a better life. It is rare, indeed, for native-born Antiguans and Barbudans to display any great degree of personal antagonism toward persons of non-Commonwealth origin entering their homeland.
Significantly, and with the active support of a political directorate desperate for inflows of foreign capital, individuals from outside the Commonwealth – from the United States, the European Union, the Middle East and China – have quietly occupied the commanding heights of the local economy, pushing the less enterprising native population to the sidelines.
And all this has occurred while that same native population has essentially closed its eyes to an ongoing process of re-colonization – preferring to expend its venom on poor immigrants from other Commonwealth Caribbean countries who have the misfortune to look very much like themselves.
In adopting this attitude native-born Antiguans and Barbudans are demonstrating clear evidence of their own self-hatred. They are not alone in suffering from this spiritual illness. This mental disease, a product of centuries of mental conditioning, is common to all Commonwealth Caribbean peoples, who are capable of blinding themselves to the activities of people of other racial groups while focusing “like a laser” on the actions of their Caribbean brothers and sisters.
A celebrated example of the abuses that can spring from this “self-discrimination” is now receiving due attention from the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Jamaican national Shanique Myrie alleges that in March 2011, after being allowed entry into Barbados for a one-month stay, she was taken by a female immigration officer to a bathroom where she was allegedly “finger raped”, abused with foul language, threatened and then denied entry.
The government of Barbados has been accused of violating its obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (the CARICOM Treaty) and a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government decision in 2007. According to Myrie’s lawyers, denial of her right of entry was “unjustifiable, arbitrary and thus led to discrimination.”
The Jamaican government has joined itself to the case, arguing that it has substantial legal interests in the matter: any judgment rendered will establish a binding precedent for all CARICOM member states. The CCJ has supported this position.
The stage is set, therefore, for deliberations at the highest levels of our Caribbean justice system on a case that will put our fundamental Commonwealth Caribbean self-hatred on trial. It is most significant that the matter revolves around the behavior of the Barbados immigration authorities.
Barbados has, over the years, acquired a reputation for being the Commonwealth Caribbean country with the most hostile and chauvinistic attitude toward nationals of other Commonwealth Caribbean nations – members of the same CARICOM “family” that has supposedly been attempting to forge a single unified Caribbean nation since the late 1950s.
The sad truth is that Barbados is not alone in harboring a hostile and discriminatory attitude toward nationals of sister CARICOM territories. Natives of all the other “sister” countries display the same discriminatory attitude toward people who look like themselves – while smiling, bowing and scraping in best colonial style for anyone who looks like a member of a superior race or economic class.
In this, our new tourism mono-culture has taken over from and built upon our history of subservience – and the self-hatred that such subservience breeds. We will know that Commonwealth Caribbean peoples are coming of age when we begin to treat each other the same way we treat people who look different from us.
Until then, we seem set to continue discriminating against ourselves.