Diaspora: The Links That Bind Caribbean Immigrants

Tony Best | 6/14/2012, 5:02 p.m.

It has become something of a rite of passage for Caribbean political leaders who direct the fortunes of the nations and territories that form the archipelago.

In recent weeks and months, Jamaica's Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, Guyana's new President, Donald Ramotar, Grenada's head of government Tillman Thomas, and a few days ago, Mia Mottley, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados came to New York at the helm of a six member delegation of the Barbados Labor Party to meet the Diaspora. What they all did was deliver an interesting message: nationals of their respective countries must continue to play an invaluable role in the further economic and social development of America's third border.

When they spoke about "the Diaspora" what each had in mind was that Caribbean immigrants across the U.S., Canada, Britain and elsewhere constituted a significant movement of people who had a common identity and an overpowering interest in their respective birthplaces.

Responding to a question at an engaging Carib News editorial board meeting last week, Mottley and her party referred to the trying economic times being experienced throughout the Caribbean, a period when tourism, foreign direct investment, trade in goods and services and a range of other economic activities were all taking a beating from the global economic depression, the Caribbean Diaspora is considered an essential and reliable lifeline.

In all, Jamaicans, Haitians, Dominicans (from the Dominican Republic), Vincentians, Guyanese, Trinidadians, Barbadians, Grenadians and others in the region send back about more than $6 billion to relatives every year and the vast sums make a substantial difference in people's lives.

What a pity, then, that Caribbean states haven't done more to integrate their respective Diasporas into national development back home, much like Israel, Ireland and to lesser extent some African states. African states have moved much faster than Caribbean nations and for good reason. One of the largest Diasporas was the movement of people from the continent, beginning in the 16th century during the Atlantic slave trade. An estimated 20 million people from Africa were forcibly transported to the Western Hemisphere and Europe, creating a legacy of a major influence on the cultural and economic life wherever they were taken, sold and brutalized.

In the post Second World War era as independence from European domination became a reality in former English, French, Portuguese and Spanish colonies, the concept of the Diaspora assumed a forceful meaning.

Unfortunately, though, far too few governments have not matched their words with concrete action. Much too often nationals abroad are seen primarily as sources of funds for individual families or for the provision of equipment for health care and educational institutions.

The reward for the Diaspora, as many governments in the region see it, is the facilitation of nationals returning home after decades abroad. The elimination of customs duties on household items was an important first step taken in the 1990s, often in the face of fierce hostility from persons who benefited from the Diaspora but chose to forget the assistance they received.