Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Fighting Ignorance and Bigotry

Mainly as a result of negative publicity received via the internet, Cayman Islands Health Minister Anthony Eden has issued an apology for atrocities committed against Jamaican, Shellesha Woodstock, who was ushered out of the country even after there were signs that she was giving birth. She eventually gave birth to a girl child on a Cayman Islands flight to Kingston.

The unholy haste to get the “foreigner” out of their country cost the tiny British colony in the Caribbean some brownie points from prospective tourists and investors after the ensuing bad press. That is the ONLY reason for the apology, make no mistake about it.

“The conclusion of an independent clinical auditors’ report is that Ms Woodstock did not receive optimal medical care or the support she needed in accessing medical resources,” Eden is quoted by Cayman Net News as saying.

As previously mentioned in this blog, the Cayman Islands is one of the few countries in the world with the kind of oppressive immigration laws it now has. It is impossible for a child born of non-national parents in Cayman to automatically become a citizen of the country. Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals are also openly discriminated against, leading some years ago to the imposition of visa restrictions against Jamaicans – a move quickly countered by the Jamaican government which imposed its own visa regime.

Apology notwithstanding, my question stands: What the hell is Cayman doing as an Associate Member of CARICOM?

While this happens, there is a steely silence on the issue in the Jamaican press, save for one lame editorial in the Gleaner which noted the apology “with a sense of relief, then, not victory, that we note the Cayman government has conceded to an error that led to the birth of Lateisha Julene Clarke on a flight from Cayman to Jamaica on October 2, 2007.”

Relief? What is there to be relieved about? Not long after the Woodstock incident, an attempt was made to similarly get rid of a woman about to deliver twins by hustling her back to Jamaica. The children DIED. What followed was an obscenely irrelevant debate over the adequacy of health insurance for the woman.

When this small-island-big-ego nonsense reaches deadly proportions then it is time to shout at the top of our Caribbean voices: “STOP IT!”

The countries of CARICOM need to make serious decisions about these rogue nations and territories hanging around the regional corridor. Every single country that has visa regimes to block Guyanese and Jamaican visitors should be asked the question: What the hell do you want with CARICOM?

Then we need to turn to the question of Haiti and why the discrimination against them, even by countries not threatened by the undoubted stresses of a refugee situation.

Why is it still necessary, for instance, for Haitians to get a visa before entering Trinidad and Tobago? Is this prudent action to promote greater security or plain, old-fashioned ignorance and bigotry?

Do we condone this as a region? Or do we express "relief" that something worse did not happen than the mere birth of a child in the aisle of an aircraft 20,000 feet off the ground?

Saturday, 8 December 2007

At Last ...

The half-hearted response of Jamaica to atrocities committed against its citizens in the Cayman Islands is continuing with a rather curious Jamaica Gleaner editorial on December 8, 2007.

I sincerely hope the Caribbean Community is looking on closely, at least more closely that Jamaican authorities and my media colleagues.

For what it's worth, the Gleaner editorial is keeping the issue alive ... somewhat.

EDITORIAL - Acknowledging an error
published: Saturday | December 8, 2007

In international affairs, even between countries as physically close and with a shared history as The Cayman Islands and Jamaica, an outright admission of error can be very hard to come by.

It is with a sense of relief, then, not victory, that we note the Cayman government has conceded to an error that led to the birth of Lateisha Julene Clarke on a flight from Cayman to Jamaica on October 2, 2007.

Her mother, 19-year-old Shellesha Woodstock, was giving birth for the first time.

As was reported in The Gleaner, yesterday, The Cayman Islands' "Minister of Health, Anthony Eden, conceded that errors made by the staff of The Cayman Islands' Health Service Authority (HSA) led to Ms. Woodstock giving birth on a Cayman Airways flight en route to Jamaica. Ms. Woodstock did not receive optimal medical care or support she needed in accessing medical resources. It is noted that these failures in clinical care occurred despite the fact that the facilities, staff and operating procedures are generally more than adequate to handle a case such as the one presented."

At the risk of being repetitious, this is a dramatic turnaround from the HSA's initial position, as reported in The Gleaner on Monday, October 8. It was stated then that "fitness to travel was issued after a thorough medical examination confirming that the patient was not in active labour. As a point of interest, ruptured membrane in early pregnancy is not a contra-indication for air travel. The risks and options were explained to the family who chose to travel off-island to deliver the baby and requested a medical certificate allowing clearance by the airline as being fit to travel."

The horse may have already gone through the gate (or, in this case, the baby), but the fact that there is an acknowledgement of error means that should similar circumstances arise, there is a precedent to which those in a position to make the decision can look for guidance.

Although the child, born prematurely, is thankfully in decent health, in this case there is injury of more than the physical kind to take into consideration. Ms. Woodstock's dignity must have suffered a bruising, as she gave birth to her daughter on the floor of an aeroplane, high in the sky. Those could not have been the circumstances under which she envisioned bringing new life into the world.

There is a matter that has not quite been resolved, though, that of the Lateisha Julene Clarke's nationality. At the last report, in early November, the Jamaican authorities had been leaning towards nationality in the land of wood and water, this after the child initially had no nation, both Jamaica and Cayman effectively rejecting her.

Still, it is so regretful that the situation had to arise in the first place.

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