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Undermining Caribbean unity

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It is hard to believe that we in the Caribbean are living in the 21st century, if we listen to some of the statements of our political leaders.

The scramble for power and position seems to bring out the worst in most of them, and we in turn, often get carried away with their reckless utterances. Currently, every attempt is being made in Barbados to stir up controversy over the candidacy of Mrs. Mara Thompson, widow of the late Barbadian Prime Minister Mr. David Thompson, in contesting the by-election for the constituency of St. John, vacated by the death of her husband.{{more}}

Now, the Opposition Barbados Labour Party is perfectly entitled to challenge her candidacy, if it can find relevant grounds. However, her eligibility was never legally nor constitutionally challenged. Instead, the BLP has chosen narrow nationalism and rank opportunism as the basis on which it is appealing to, not only the voters of St. John, but also the citizens of Barbados, not to endorse her. This is a lady who has been, for all intents and purposes, save for the constitutional quirk, the virtual “first lady” of Barbadian society. If aspersions had been cast about her “nationality”, they were not mooted openly. Now, because she stands of the verge of retaining St. John for the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP), her acceptability is being questioned.

If the BLP wished to ask the voters of St. John whether they should vote for Mrs. Thompson simply because of her connections with her late husband, it is entitled to do so. However, the lady has qualifications of her own, which would undermine any such claim. Additionally, while we must guard against nepotism and dynastic practices, we must, at the same time, be careful not to discriminate against perfectly capable persons on the grounds of family connections. Each person must be taken on merit.

To sink to the grounds of country of origin represents a low in our regional politics. Imagine, in this Caribbean of ours, a virtual melting-pot, where almost everyone has some relative in some other country, we are trying to discriminate on the basis of where one was born! We, who boast and brag about the achievements of Caribbean immigrants in all parts of the world and who are only too eager to point to the “Caribbean roots” of this or that world-renowned personality. We, who have welcomed the rule of all kinds of non-Caribbean people! The single, practical example we had as a political entity, the West Indies Federation (1958-1962), was conducted with a foreigner, Patrick George Thomas Buchanan-Hepburn, known as Lord Hailes, as Head of State (Governor General).

When one talks of Mrs. Thompson as being a “St. Lucian” wishing to represent “Barbadians”, then we are no better than the racist, right-wing Tea Party folks in the USA, who question President Obama’s legitimacy, on the grounds that he was not “born in the USA”. One can hardly get worse than that. Ridiculously, the person who is leading this charge is none other than the person who, until 2008, had responsibility at the highest political level in the Caribbean Community, CARICOM Prime Ministerial level, for overseeing the regional integration process, Mr. Owen Arthur, former Prime Minister of Barbados. The irony is that Arthur himself had attacked the late Barbadian leader for promoting narrow Barbados nationalism, where immigration policy is concerned. What conclusions must we, the citizens of the Caribbean draw from such positions? Do both sides of the political divide in Barbados have the same song-sheet, merely changing the order of the hymns, depending on whether they are in office or not? What of our other regional politicians? Are they any more principled? Above all, what is the real commitment to regional unity and integration and to the “One Caribbean” concept we so glibly espouse?

Even a cursory examination of electoral disputes around the region would reveal that, in furtherance of their political and personal aims, our politicians are prepared to make sacrificial cows of even our most precious principles and ideals. Challenges have been mounted, in Jamaica, Antigua, St. Kitts and Dominica, for instance, as to the eligibility of persons to provide political representation, not on the grounds of their records, but based on some constitutional requirement concerning their alleged dual citizenship. It is as if a scamp born in the Caribbean has more right to represent us than a proven patriot who happens to hold US or British citizenship. One can only imagine if that citizenship happens to be Cuban or Nigerian.

I may be foolish, but, for me, the appropriate lessons to be learnt is that if we have constitutional and legal restrictions governing who is eligible to provide representation, then we need to address those anomalies. We cannot, at this juncture in history, remain bonded to a past of colonial division. Frankie Thomas was not born here, but that did not prevent him from making a far greater contribution to Vincentian cricket and social development than many who have “birthright” qualifications. Your country of origin is as irrelevant in today’s world as we all hope that skin colour will become one day. Those who subscribe to those views put forward by Mr. Arthur and others of his ilk are doing a great disservice to Caribbean unity.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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