Our Caricom leaders went to Washington to meet with the president. They say they went to talk to him clearly by which they mean they spoke their minds.  As we say in the Caribbean they went to tell Bush what they had to say.

Our Caribbean chieftains, modern-day African chiefs, went to the Big Chief of America and made it clear to the world that they did not go to beg but to speak their minds.

I find it interesting that this time they should emphasize that they did not go to beg.  Begging has become such a common feature of the diplomacy of Caribbean leaders that some one or two of them must have had the sense and the courage to tell the others, “Fellows, when we meet the big chief this time don’t beg im for nothing.”

I am glad that for once our leaders declined to beg. It has become such a part of our culture to parade our dependency all over the place! It is always disgusting to behold our well dressed leaders of the Caribbean driving around New York in limousines, meeting their three-pieced envoys and preparing all kinds of documents to get one more handout from the United States.

I know that we are small and poor communities but we declared our independence! We have taken on the trappings of self determination, so when are we going to learn to support ourselves. Instead of begging for everything. We beg for a school and we do not maintain it, because when it deteriorates into dereliction we can always beg for another one. The essential difference between our politicians has become not that of policies and programs but their ability it beg.

It is good to know that this time they did not go to beg. They ain’ had no pocket in they waistcoat and they ain’ walk with no money bag. This time they went to tell Bush wha they got to say. They went to talk plain.

We know we have to take care how we interpret talking their minds to a man like George Bush. Caribbean people have a way of talking their minds to white people in a way not to hurt or upset them but to leave them feeling as friendly as possible. That’s what we learnt from the days of slavery and the many years of neo-slavery. We regard it as rudeness to tell white people what we say.

I hope that it was not like that in that big meeting between the Caricom leaders and Bush. I hope they raised the matter of the hardships which Caribbean people face when for some reason we find it necessary to visit the United States of America.

Imagine, the Caribbean lies next door to the United States of America but if we want to visit the USA, we have to get a visa. We are a part of America nestled right in its bosom, so why can’t we just visit America, just show our passports and other relevant documents. Why do we need a visa in the first place?

The people of the British Virgin Islands do not need visas to enter United States territory.  So why should other Caricom nationals? But the visa is much less galling than the requirements to get it. To get a visa to visit the United States of America, a Caricom national from Eastern Caribbean must visit the island of Barbados in the farthest  corner of the Eastern Caribbean.

That’s where the embassy is so if we want to get a visa we have to go to the embassy and get one of the embassy officials to put the stamp in our passports so that we can have clearance to enter one of the portals of the great United States.

Once upon a time a citizen of St. Kitts-Nevis who wanted to go to America could send his/her passport to Barbados with a friend who would take it into the embassy and get it stamped in a few minutes. If the line happened to be long on a certain day it would take something more than just a few minutes, but a friend in Barbados could spare the time.

Sometimes the passport went to Barbados and if the officials on duty felt for some reason that they could not grant the visa they would have it back to the messenger with the request turn down

The large majority of the people from the Eastern Caribbean who apply for non-immigrant visas do not get them because the white American massa suspects that our people want to go to the United States not to visit but to live.

So what? America is an important part of the hemisphere. It controls much of the hemisphere’s resources. America should be duty-bound to share the hemisphere’s resources with the rest of the hemisphere.

Unfortunately, this is not the current thinking of the rulers of the United States. They think that they should close their borders to protect their resources from the rest of the hemisphere and to deny even those who want to visit the right to do so.

A matter such as this is one which our leaders should raise, without relent, when they get a chance to speak with the leaders of the United States of America. I hope they raised this matter with George Bush.

If they did not, they should call another meeting with him and raise it because it is a source of real hardship on the people of the Eastern Caribbean. A citizen has to travel to Barbados in person, meeting all the heavy expenses of airline fares, hotel fares, taxi fares together with an unconscionable non-refundable application fee in US dollars and sometimes return to our islands without the visitor’s visa. For poor people this is a huge waste of hard earned money just to satisfy the whims of an enormously rich nation.

The way the United States treat our citizens, it is not as if we share a common history and belong to the same neighborhood. They treats us with the same level of hostility that they reserve for unfriendly states. Our leaders should point this fact to George Bush.

Our Caribbean leaders must negotiate with the United States for the same open borders which we in the Eastern Caribbean offer to their citizens. This is the essence of mutual respect and equality. This is the basis of the nationalism of the region.

When this concept of mutuality and nationalism is tested and tried, our leaders will be able to shed the image of “Calypso Boys” who could only make jokes and beg.

It is time for our leaders to portray an image of serious people representing people who are serious and if they are serious in their recent announcements, that they did not travel to Washington to beg, this should lift our spirits and give us hope in the Eastern Caribbean.

At long last, our leaders are ready to deal, as representatives of sovereign countries in the Caribbean with some of the more pressing relationship problems which exist between the United States and the Caribbean.

The border problem is only one of the many issues which our leaders must take up with the North American neighbour.

The other serious issue that our Caricom leaders should address if they have not yet done so is the need for a change of attitude by the United States towards our two Caribbean brothers Fidel and Hugo.

Our Caricom leaders should emphasise to the leaders of the United States that both Cuba and Venezuela are sovereign States and that it is wrong in international law to interfere with how they run their country.

Our leaders should form a ring around Castro and Chavez against the encroachment of their two independent nations. They have the right to try out a different way to govern their country than the one which George Bush is accustomed to in the United States.

The people in this rejoin are convinced that both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are genuinely interested in loosening their poor people from the grip of poverty and placing them on a level where they could enjoy better living for them and their next generations.

It is true that they did not try to do this by the capitalist method of filtering materialism from the rich to the poor, but that does not give George Bush the right to try to destabilize their government and set back the hands of the economic clock.

The Caribbean leaders should tell Bush what they have to say on this matter and tell him so in strong unequivocal Caribbean language.