Dear Editor: In the 1940’s to 1960’s, Caribbean people moved up and down the Eastern Caribbean islands even though the islands were separated by miles or kilometres of water.
Many of us who were born in Saint Lucia have maternal or paternal grandparents who came from neighbouring islands. My maternal grandfather came from Grenada and he was a tall man of dark complexion who had children with women of light complexion (called Shabines) in each island he settled. To my knowledge he had at least 14 children with seven different Shabine women in the Eastern Caribbean.
During these good old days, before the existence of CARICOM, LIAT and OECS, the small islands were colonies of England and people moved across the Eastern Caribbean archipelago using coasting boats which were essential to trade among the islands. It seems transportation became a nightmare among the islands after the islands got their independence in the 1970’s, during which time the coasting boats stopped sailing and CARICOM and LIAT became well-known institutions of the Caribbean.
Independence brought with it different passports for each island and Immigration and Customs requirements which “protected” our porous borders from the mass movement of our Caribbean people (who could all be our distant cousins) but allowed easy access for North American and European tourists and investors.
The OECS countries recently took a giant leap forward, over the back of CARICOM, by enacting free movement arrangements for our OECS nationals. Though we now have the freedom to move, as our grandparents once did, we cannot consider this “free” movement because of the prohibitive airfares that LIAT charges for travel within the OECS.
Where are the coasting boats and ferries which will move OECS people and their possessions along these small islands at reasonable costs as we try to avoid the lost Luggage In Air Terminal scenario? How will the unemployed married St. Lucian man in Grenada return to his loving and forgiving wife in Saint Lucia after his Grenadian jabal has thrown him and his meagre possessions out of the house he just bought for her in Grenada? He will soon discover that he can only ship his clothes back to St. Lucia via LIAT Quikpak, DHL, FedEx or Amerijet through Miami.
In recent years there has been a declining birth rate in Saint Lucia and other OECS countries and I think that OECS free movement is exactly what we need to reverse this trend. I will not be following in my grandfather’s footsteps as I am afraid of AIDS and I cannot afford to pay all the child support which will be required after I inject new life into these islands.
Going forward I would like to be able to drive my vehicle unto a car ferry in Vieux Fort then roll off in St. Vincent and maybe Grenada with only my Saint Lucia driver’s licence as identification. That’s my idea of OECS Free Movement. What is yours?