I have decided to stray a bit from the issue of press freedom in the Caribbean to draw attention to a tiny British colony in the Caribbean – the Cayman Islands.
I have been following developments in the territory more closely since the advent of Cayman NetNews and its attempt to function as an independent media enterprise in the midst of what appears to be an environment not conducive to such freedoms.
On October 2, 2007, a Jamaican woman called Shellesha Woodstock gave birth to a baby girl on board Cayman Airways Flight #600 en route to Jamaica as Caymanian authorities hustled, frantically, to ensure that the child was not born on Cayman soil.
Details of the attempt to get the woman out of Grand Cayman ought to have alerted human rights advocates to gross violations of the rights of the woman and her unborn child. But there have been few lines in the Jamaican press highlighting the issue and even fewer in the Caymanian media asking serious questions about the circumstances leading to what amounts to the ‘expulsion’ of Ms Woodstock in an advanced state of pregnancy.
Now comes news that yet another Jamaican woman, unidentified by officials, gave birth in the midst of desperate attempts to ensure that her twins were not born on Caymanian soil.
Caymanian health official, Lizzette Yearwood, is quoted in Cayman NetNews as saying the measure was necessary because “the level of expertise needed for the babies’ care is not locally available.”
One would therefore assume there has been a constant flow of Caymanian women to Jamaica seeking such care for their newborn. I would like to see the statistics. Surely, the same level of care sought for the Jamaican woman and her twins should be extended to Caymanian women.
Is it just me? Or is something very, very wrong with this picture?
How far can small-island parochialism go? How uncaring? How deadly can it become?
Those with a little knowledge of the Cayman Islands would know that it is Jamaicans who have helped, more than any other group including indigenous Caymanians, to develop the tiny British colony through their work in a wide range of fields – not the least being those jobs native Caymanians resisted doing in the early years.
Today, Jamaicans need a visa to enter Caymanian territory. In an inspired move, the former P.J. Patterson administration imposed Jamaica’s own visa regime on Caymanians wishing to visit the island.
It was unfortunate that the situation had to come to the stage of tit-for-tat diplomacy, but perfectly understandable that discrimination was met with firm action.
The same has not been true in the case of discriminatory immigration policies in Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, where Jamaicans and Guyanese are not welcome.
How these countries remain evenly remotely associated with CARICOM is beyond me. Discriminatory immigration policies targeting Jamaicans and Guyanese deserve expulsion from the CARICOM circle.
To be fair to the Cayman Islands, they aren’t interested anyway, though they became an Associated CARICOM state in 1991. But what the hell are they all doing as part of the CARICOM process?
In any event, the Cayman Islands are one of the few countries in the world in which place of birth does not automatically signify citizenship or nationality.
The actions of the Caymanian authorities ought to be highlighted at the next CARICOM Inter-Sessional meeting of Heads with a view to securing the abolition of the current visa regime against Jamaicans. Same story for Turks and Caicos, BVI and Anguilla.
While I am on this subject I also want to ask the question: Why do Haitians still require visas to enter most CARICOM countries?
If we did not want Haitians among us, why were they invited to join CARICOM in the first place?
It is high time we get these anomalies out of the way. We are already seeing, courtesy the Cayman Islands, how callous and potentially deadly regional fiddling with an important issue can become.