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Jamaicans Boycott Trinidadian Products After Deportation Fiasco

Categories: Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, Human Rights, International Relations, Labor, Law, Migration & Immigration, Politics, Protest, Travel

Just over week ago, thirteen Jamaican citizens were refused entry to Trinidad. According to the Jamaica Gleaner [1], the passengers were sent back on the plane carrying the Jamaican National Football team back home after a game in Trinidad. The report claimed that:

The Jamaicans said that they were not allowed to contact anybody nor were they even allowed to use their cellular phones to contact the persons who were waiting outside the Piarco Airport to receive them. They also claimed they were threatened that their phones would be seized if they attempted to use them.

The story continued [1]:

Among those turned away from her fellow Caribbean Community (Caricom) state was Anne Gordon, who was given the task of chaperoning an 11-year-old girl to see her father who resides in that country with his Trinidadian wife. However, both Gordon and the girl were denied entry, despite carrying Caricom passports.

Many Jamaicans – including Jamaican businessman William Mahfood, who happened to have been on the same flight as the deportees – were outraged by the actions of the Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Department and called for an immediate response by the Jamaican government:

 

He added:

In a recent ruling in the landmark case [6] involving Shanique Myrie against the Barbadian Government, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that where a Caricom national is refused entry into a member state, that national should be given the opportunity to consult an attorney or a consular official of his or her country, or to contact a family member. The Jamaicans maintained that they were not granted either of these rights.

Many Jamaicans were outraged by the actions of the Trinidadian immigration and called for a an immediate response by the Jamaican government. In an interview posted on Facebook, Trinidad & Tobago's National Security Minister Gary Griffith [7]said that the reason that the persons were not allowed entry was because they did not fulfill the stipulated requirements. He also had that some had given false information to the officers:

Griffith says in the case of the 13 Jamaicans last week, they also failed to convince immigration authorities that they were bona fide visitors. In fact, Griffith said in some cases, the Jamaicans lied on their immigration forms. On the weekend, Trinidadian officials released figures indicating that in the past three years, more 1,000 Jamaicans have been denied entry to the twin island republic. 
However, Griffith maintains that his immigration officers only admit visitors who meet all the immigration requirements. In the meantime, he has admitted that Trinidad and Tobago needs to make changes to its immigration systems consistent with the recent ruling in the Shanique Myrie case.

Renz Pee felt that while the incident was unfortunate, the refusal of entry was justified [8]:

The point of an immigration department is to control who enters the borders of a sovereign nation.. The Caricom legislation is to facilitate easier movement between Caricom countries.. but this does NOT mean that people who have no plan or direction on entering the shores of Trinidad and Tobago AND also providing dubious stories should be allowed to enter… If a Guyanese is entering Jamaica and gives the immigration officers the story that he's going to work for Tastee patty and upon further investigation it is found that Tastee Patty has NO knowledge of this person nor has extended any offer of employment to them.. then now the motives of the person are called into question and this person could potentially become a ward of the state as they may never return to their place of origin.. Immigration has a duty to know where all foreigners who enter their shores are, or else that is pandemonium. This situation was unfortunate but seems justified. 

In the context of the Caribbean Court of Justice's ruling in favor of Shanique Myrie [6], issues surrounding CARICOM [9] and the free movement of people throughout the region have been brought to the fore. Some in Jamaica have decided that the best response to this latest incident would be a boycott of Trinidadian products sold in Jamaica. Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have long been economic rivals and this boycott would be merely the latest chapter [10] of a long standing trade war between the two most populous territories [11] of the English-speaking Caribbean.

Jamaica's Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister A.J. Nicholson rejected the idea of boycott stating [12]that it would constitute a breach of the Treaty of Chaguaramas:

The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishes a regime where goods that are classified as being of Caricom origin are entitled to duty-free treatment on entry into each Caricom member state, unless a member state has invoked a particular exception under the treaty. It would be a breach of Jamaica’s obligations under the treaty to block the entry of goods from Trinidad and Tobago, which qualify as being of Caricom origin, as a result of the allegations of unjustified denials of entry.

One of the leaders of the boycott movement, primary school teacher Kesreen Green Dillon, was [13]interviewed [13] by the Jamaica Gleaner.

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Poster encouraging Jamaicans to boycott Trinidadian import in favor of local products.

In the Facebook group “Real Change For Jamaica”, Green Dillon expressed concern over [14] the way Jamaica supported Trinidadian products:

What bothers me is how much we buy their things and ignore ours. We do not buy things like Excelsior products but when I went to get snacks for my daughter this morning, all I saw on on the shelves and in trolleys were SUNSHINE SNACKS. It appears that Jamaicans support them more than they support themselves. To what benefit do we do that? Are they doing their part according to the Treaty of Chaguaramus (sic)?

However, Garnett Weir pointed out that Excelsior was now owned by a Trinidadian company [15]:

Excelsior is now a Trinidadian brand. The company Jamaica biscuit co. Ltd was sold to a Trinidadian company. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/19990312/business/b1.html [16]

Wayne John felt that Trinidad & Tobago has been treating Jamaica unfairly for a long time [17]:

Trinidad has consistently been treating us with disdain. They gave us a hard time when we [were] trying to export our patties there yet our supermarket is full of their products.
When they took over Air Jamaica they promised they would retain our pilots and after a while they laid them off and the last straw was last week when they detain (sic) 12 Jamaican passengers and denied them entry for no good reasons and had them in some unpleasant holding area with substandard meal. One of the passenger[s] was a little girl who was going to see her dad for the 1st time and a man who was visiting his wife for their anniversary they didn't even allow them to contact the people who were at the airport to meet them.
I say enough is enough, we don't need them nor their product.
Boycott their products and services.

Pump Cahryl Stilletos, a Jamaican living abroad, decided to join the boycott [18]:

We need a list of all the products imported from T and T and all the companies they own or operate in Jamaica, while the subject is still hot… I have already thrown my curry in the trash, it doesn't say T and T but it look look like it should be from there so one down….Although I am not in Jamaica and would NEVER visit T and T ( far more beautiful places to see )….I want to support the campaign….After this success we going to launch a campaign to get back our blue book (is what color unu passport is now)

In contrast, Rupert Francis remembered travelling throughout the Caribbean years ago and feeling welcome everywhere [19]:

I had the honor of visiting Trinidad over 4 years ago, on the last voyage of the ‘Federal Maple’ the postal vessel that traversed the Caribbean. I found all the people from all the islands especially Trinidad and Tobago very friendly and accommodating, but that was 40 years ago! From all the stories have read about the treatment of Jamaicans in our so-called ‘sister countries’, if this real which I suspect it is, the matter is downright reprehensible and unlawful. Our respective foriegn ministers must move quickly and expeditiously to make sure this does not happen again.
 
Francis continued by reminding that Jamaica has not always be in favor of unity:
 
The question is: Do we have the moral high ground from any of these vantage points? Are we doing it lawfully? It sems to me that whereas some carribbean nations are are keen about a coomon market and common heritage others have or are willing to turn their backs on us! Is this history repeating itself, remember the referandum in Jamaica, ‘Federation yes, Federation No?’ Do you remember who won? This act though is a low blow and I did not expect this, I have a lot of friends and relatives in Trinidad! They will have to turn me back!!!
 

Jamaican blog Veritas wrote that the calls to boycott Trinidadian products were misguided  [20]and showed a lack of understanding:

Let us not forget that CARICOM is not a federal state, you are not entitled to anything outside of Jamaica. Our sense of entitlement is appalling. You are a foreigner when you land at a port in Trinidad and Tobago. In my opinion, the ‘CARICOM passport’ functions like any other visa. As far as I understand visas, they authorize you to land at the port; admittance has to be a discretionary matter. It simply has to be. I am defending the right of Trinidad to refuse any person it deems ineligible because I reserve the very same right for Jamaica. 

He also added that Jamaican pride may be a big cause for the controversy:

Trinidad’s exercise of its sovereign authority hurt that pride and so we are now reacting. If we are honest with ourselves, we have always harboured the unhealthy sentiment that Jamaica is the best of the Caribbean, a capital of sorts, and therefore we have behaved accordingly entitled.  That is the source of our pride. Many of us are incredulous because we deem Trinidad a ‘spec in the sea’ and ‘two likkle fi even be a country’, an ‘insignificant’ country should never seek to disrespect Jamaica, right?

Carlton Stewart did not support the boycott either [21]:

I do not agree with a boycott of TRINIDAD AND OR BARBADOS products or services. Within the REVISED TREATY OF CHAGUARAMAS ..there are facilities to deal with issues of this nature. When we engage in a boycott we will be hurting our fellow brothers and sisters within these territories who are really not responsible for the actions of their Government or Government Departments. THE HEADS of our CARICOM COMMUNITY , they are responsible, but they move like molasses in winter on important matters. They must see us in their faces when they leave their homes demonstrating for action. It is lack of action on the part of THE HEADS. If we respond with boycotts then where will it stop, it is the HEADS, who are responsible and must be strongly urged to move using the facilities within the agreements that set up CARICOM. Christ told his disciples that they should forgive their neighbors seventy times seven, we don't even gone five times yet and we ready to throw away the baby with the bath water. CALL UPON THE HEADS TO STOP SLEEPING ON THE JOB AND DO THE WORK THEY ARE BEING PAID TO DO.

Reaction to the proposed boycott on Twitter was mixed, with many enthusiastic about the effort…

…and others feeling that it was futile, given how how much Jamaica depended on Trinidadian imports:

The images used in this post, all part of the Jamaican boycott drive, are by Kesreen Green Dillon.