I took my first trip into outer space this Easter. Actually, it was my first trip into the single domestic space, since this was created at the start of this year, essentially to facilitate travel during Cricket World Cup. Under this arrangement from February 1 to May 15, visitors to the region bearing the CARICOM Special Visa will be free to travel to all of the other nine countries as if they were a single nation. What did I sense? Did it feel that I was moving seamlessly from country to country? It is hard to say, given that there was nothing really different about the Air Jamaica trip between Barbados and Jamaica, via St. Lucia. I was proudly sporting my CARICOM security bracelet, given to me at GAIA as if I was entering some fancy night club event, or just Agrofest. It did not offer me any special privileges: I got the same plastic goblet of "Love Bird" champagne during the flight. When I arrived in Kingston, it clearly confused the Customs official, who wanted me to fill out paper work that I knew was not necessary, and told her that she was doing "useless bureaucracy". But she insisted that I needed to go back to Immigration to have my Customs form stamped. As they say in Jamaica "Fi wa, missus?"
But here is the real rub. Single space means little without single currency. My wallet full of B$ had to make space for Jamaican dollars, which at 67 to 1 US$, meant a fatter back pocket. What made me laugh more was that my Scotiabank card issued in Barbados does not work in Jamaica. But I can use my US-issued bank ATM card to withdraw either Jamaican $ or US$ from a Jamaican Scotiabank ATM! There's something very not right about that. Well, soon exchange controls will be liberalised in Barbados so I will have to wait and see what that brings.
During my "space walk" in Jamaica I had the good luck to be able to watch Davis Cup tennis, with Jamaica playing Netherlands Antilles, and then go to watch CARIFTA's swimming championships at the National Stadium. While we were celebrating in one way or another a sense of regionalism, we were definitely not all equal. Jamaica's PM tried to make it seem that we were all seen as equals, but it's really not so. We don't treat those Dutch and French Antilles as if they are part of "our" region, and we don't have them in CARICOM. But we play against them and swim against them; it's just too bad if they have to deal with a bunch of problems at airports to pass immigration and Customs. I thought about the Bahamians splashing to gold medals at CARIFTA, with their dollars, pegged 1-to-1 with the US$ but not able to change them in Jamaica, and also not being part of the single space. Do we really want to help regional integration or force people to do things outside the region? Because, it's perhaps much easier to do the latter.
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