Trinidad/Jamaica row addressed at summit

Bert Wilkinson | 6/9/2016, 2:38 p.m.
The simmering years-old row between Jamaica and Trinidad over an alleged Trinidadian bias against Jamaican nationals traveling to Trinidad is ...
Flag of Trinidad

The simmering years-old row between Jamaica and Trinidad over an alleged Trinidadian bias against Jamaican nationals traveling to Trinidad is to be addressed at the highest level, with a planned visit by Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Keith Rowley to Jamaica in the coming months.

Rowley and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness held their own mini summit on the sidelines of last week’s Association of Caribbean States head of government conference in Cuba, where the issue was discussed at length.

Relations between two of the more influential members of the 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc tanked a bit in recent months after immigration officers at Trinidad’s main international airport turned away a group of approximately 15 Jamaican passengers, most of them women, saying they did not qualify to enter the oil- and gas-rich republic.

The move sparked a nasty quarrel between the two nations. Some s Jamaican supermarkets pulled Trinidadian products off shelves, and various members of the local private sector in Jamaica called for a complete boycott of exports from Trinidad.

Some Jamaican passengers over the years, young women in particular, have complained about an alleged level of ingrained bias against them in Barbados and Trinidad. The women allege that they are seen as potential drug mules, prostitutes or women looking to marry local men to obtain residency papers and later citizenship.

The current treaty setting up the regional single trading market is supposed to allow free movement of travel of ordinary citizens in the bloc, but governments across the region have at times been forced to intervene to cool down overenthusiastic immigration officers, urging discretion in operations at entry ports.

Just back from the summit, Rowley wasted little time in moving to assure Jamaicans that there is no bias and that his office is making a concerted effort to deal with the issue.

“The Jamaican prime minister and I agreed that the time has come that this matter be put to bed by the voice of T&T speaking directly to the people of Jamaica. I propose to do so myself and to show that there’s no policy of discrimination against Jamaicans in T&T. I want to reiterate as prime minister of T&T that we have absolutely no intention to allow our relationship with Jamaica to fester and to become a sore,” he told reporters.

He noted that “the Jamaicans have accepted T&T’s position that there’s no policy of discrimination against Jamaicans in T&T.”

The issue had boiled over to such an extent that Jamaica had formally placed it for discussion at a recent bloc meeting of trade ministers in Guyana, but it is unclear now that the two leaders have spoken whether it will make the agenda of the early July main summit of heads of government, also in Guyana.

But even before the Cuba meeting, Trinidad had acknowledged some level of culpability and had agreed to commence special training programs for airport staff to deal with arrivals and to improve a hospitality area for passengers turned away by immigration.