By RON FANFAIR
While promising to investigate alleged mistreatment of Caribbean nationals living in Barbados, that country’s Prime Minister says he’s not backing down from his government’s new immigration policy targeting illegal migrants.
David Thompson announced last May that Caribbean migrants could apply for amnesty if they have been in Barbados for more than eight years, but other undocumented nationals have until December 1, 2009 to regularize their status or face deportation.
The new policy could affect hundreds of Guyanese and other Caribbean nationals living in Barbados, some of whom have complained that Barbadian immigration officials have treated them unfairly.
Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo has spoken out about the alleged mistreatment of Guyanese in Barbados and the only South American country in CARICOM has asked Barbados to explain recent dawn raids on the living quarters of Guyanese suspected of being in the country illegally.
“They are entitled to express their views,” Thompson told Share while in Toronto last weekend for the annual Democratic Labour Party (Canada chapter) fundraising dinner. “I do not wish to prejudge the complaints that were formally made and sent to us from Guyana, but the comments in them identified that there were some hardships, but nothing illegal. So Barbados simply did what it was doing according to the laws of the country. That’s what our immigration officials are required to do.”
St. Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves also challenged the policy, saying Vincentians, Guyanese, Grenadians, St. Lucians and Jamaicans are being discriminated against by Barbados and that CARICOM member states are not living up to the spirit of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that recognizes free movement as an essential element of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
“I think that the comments that he made were not justified …. We came to an understanding that the countries would not be able to implement full freedom of movement and some countries were even given the right to put a hold on any further development. Our position in Barbados is that we would seek to accommodate them over time and we did so.”
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper after delivering the feature address at the political party’s fundraiser in Scarborough, Thompson addressed the current crisis in West Indies cricket. The senior players boycotted the home series against Bangladesh because of a contract dispute and the West Indies Cricket Board fielded a makeshift team for the Champions Trophy tournament that started last Tuesday in South Africa.
CARICOM leaders met via conference call two weeks ago after mediation talks headed by eminent Caribbean diplomat Sir Shridath Ramphal failed. The board said late last week it had embraced CARICOM’s six-point plan aimed at ending the bitter feud.
Thompson said, however, that he’s uncomfortable with CARICOM’s intervention in the dispute between the board and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA).
“I think that cricket is at the lifeblood of Caribbean integration and our pride, and it’s the symbol of Caribbean excellence,” he said. “Therefore, when things go wrong, it affects all of us. It’s part of our civilization. I am, however, not sure that the solutions being applied are necessarily the best ones.
“I think that perhaps the focus on administration over the question of the game of cricket is in itself questionable and I think that trying to throw the responsibility of cricket administration upon the heads of government is not something that’s going to solve it either. That will only lead to a situation where, as in other things, special bleeding will start to emerge from countries in respect of the individual players.
“If you put the heads in, the next thing you could expect is that they will want some say in the selection of the team. I am not involved in any selection of any cricket team. There have been teams with and without Barbadians. I am not about to take up anybody’s fire rage with relation to selection of a team and therefore I think that involving the heads could create a situation where the selection process could get muddied.”
Prior to coming to Toronto, Thompson and his government laid out the red carpet for 110-metre hurdler Ryan Brathwaite who returned to the island for the first time last Thursday since becoming the first Barbadian to win a gold medal at a major track and field event. He achieved the historic feat at the World Track and Field championships in Berlin last month, breasting the tape in 13.14 secs.
The PM appointed the athlete ambassador-at-large and promised that his government will fully support him in his preparation for the 2012 London Olympics.
“There was hardly a dry eye when that young man entered the arena at Kensington Oval last Thursday,” said Thompson. “It was not only his spectacular achievement, but the message that he sent to young people born of modest means in relative obscurity and who were able through sheer perseverance and hard work to achieve their goals…There were very few people in Barbados who even knew of him before his accomplishment and CBC (Barbados’ public TV broadcaster) did not even carry the race which is a national disgrace, but I will not deal with that now.
“It (Brathwaite’s performance) was like a bolt of lightning and reminds us probably of the fact that sometimes there are Barbadians who do great things. Ryan Brathwaite has made all of us proud and the refrain 13.14 (his winning time) is now a chorus that binds all Barbadians.”
The Canadian-arm of the DLP has been very active since its formation three years ago and its president, Reynold Austin, attended the party’s last annual conference in Barbados. The DLP was elected to office 20 months ago.
While outlining his government’s list of accomplishments in challenging economic times, Thompson said his biggest disappointment was his government’s inability to “get Barbadians across the political divide to down their political weapons and hop on board the political re-development train.”
“It’s not that we fear or worry about their connivance,” he said. “Rather, it’s unfortunate at a time when the world is seeking to emerge from the worst economic downturn in 70 odd years that Barbados is not as focused or as prepared as I would like it to be to capitalize upon and exploit the immense opportunities that will abound.
“So even though we are here as a party, I think that the current partisan political polarization is unprecedented and it is one of the challenges that I will continue to confront and wrestle with during the course of the coming months.”
Austin leads the DLP Canada executive board that includes retired banker and former Black Business and Professional Association president, Hugh Graham, Grant Morris, Marsene Maloney, Franklin Greaves, Heather Barker-Roberts, Harold Eastmond, Charles Gittens, George Griffith, Margaret Haynes, Steve Kirton, Michael Stanford, Keith Trotman and Alex Waithe.
By RON FANFAIR