Former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson has challenged Caribbean nationals in the Diaspora to stand up and defend their territories against verbal attacks aimed at belittling their countries of birth.
While encouraging nationals to play their part in their adopted country, he reminded them that they constitute a formidable force for the development of the Caribbean and there’s nothing disloyal about speaking up for the spaces in which they were born and nurtured.
“You are not doing a disservice to your country when you defend Caribbean interests wherever they arise,” he said at a town hall meeting in Toronto last week. “Anytime anybody says something bad about your country, you have a duty to come out to the defence of that country. Concerted action to protect Caribbean interests can also promote vital interests in your host countries on subjects where we share common concerns. When you look at incidents that are taking place in Ferguson and Baltimore or even in the United Kingdom, we in the Caribbean can teach other people by way of example how it is possible for different persons of various ethnic backgrounds to live and learn together in harmony.”
Though important to remain loyal to their respective Caribbean countries, Patterson called on nationals to find a way of forging a united front as a Caribbean family because the problems and concerns they face go beyond whether they are Jamaican, Grenadian or Vincentian.
“We are a transnational people not restricted to territory but defined by culture which extends across territories,” he said. “The importance of the Caribbean Diaspora in the economic and social development is enriched when we forge an inseparate partnership between us and we are reminded that ‘all ah we are one’.”
The theme of the event was “The Caribbean Diaspora – Borderless Possibilities”.
Jamaica’s longest serving prime minister before stepping down nine years, Patterson said Jamaica and other Caribbean territories are lands without borders and he urged nationals in the Diaspora to create partnerships and form synergies to build the region while continuing to make meaningful contributions to Canada and other countries in the Diaspora where they reside.
“Many of you have reached the top of the ladder by dint of hard work and despite all the climatic changes to which you have grown accustomed,” he said. “And yet you have remained passionate to your homeland. You care about its future, you understand the culture and I want to say to you that you have had and will continue to always have a very important role in the growth and development of your country of origin. It has not been an easy road, but although you have lived here, you have never turned your back on the land of your birth because ‘nowhere nah better than yard’.”
Many nationals in the Diaspora send remittances back to the Caribbean to provide sustenance to family members.
While the money transfers also support Caribbean countries’ economies and account for a significant percentage of the region’s gross domestic product, Patterson urged nationals to find ways and means in which remittances can be of even greater long-term value.
“You have to look at other possibilities so that you are not (only) sending your money to deal with school fees, health expenses and with items of consumption, but you are also investing and that is partly to ease the pressure upon you because if you make the right investment, there is a time when you will not be required to send anything from what you earn because that money is earning dividends on your investment,” he said.
“It’s important to the national economies because the foreign exchange that come in from remittances and, in the case of Jamaica, are second only to what we earn from tourism. It’s more than the money from the World Bank, the International Development Bank and even the International Monetary Fund. So if we could find a way of mobilizing those savings, we could also be able to generate greater circulation of money within the economies without having to rely on external sources of financial development. That is something I really want members of the Diaspora community to look at together with us in the Caribbean.”
Patterson, who celebrated his 80th birthday last month and was married to late Guyana cabinet minister, Shirley Field-Ridley, who died suddenly in 1982, acknowledged the large number of nationals who have excelled in every field of endeavour and considerably contributed to elevating Canada.
He said Canada has benefitted significantly from the Caribbean brain drain and in some cases have received the cream of the crop of Caribbean intellectuals and skilled tradespeople.
“Some of my classmates came to study in Canada and never returned,” he said. “They are here today retired, having reached the pinnacle of their respective professions. Just recently, Canada was looking for assistance with its port development. They came to Kingston (Jamaica) and in one weekend scooped up everybody at our Port Authority. When we invest in education, it’s not charity. It’s enlightened self-interest.”
The leader of the People’s National Party for 14 years, Patterson encouraged nationals to become politically involved in Canada and the other countries where they live.
“Don’t be hesitant about political engagement in the country where you reside because if you don’t have a voice and if you don’t exert an interest in choosing those who represent you, then others who have different interests are going to choose who promote their interests and yours will be neglected or ignored,” he said. “If you doubt me, nobody who is a Jew anywhere is hesitant in the least in defending Israel and if you also notice America’s treatment of Cuba which became a domestic issue as a result of the strength of the lobby in the United States which heavily influenced America’s policy.”
Earlier this year, Cuba and the United States announced they would restore ties that were severed in 1961.
“We in the Caribbean have always said it was wrong,” he said. “You can’t get from the Caribbean to the United States without going through Cuban airspace and all the tourists that come to our shores have to pass through that airspace. We are glad that, once again, the hemispheric family can be united.”