Rupturing an old friendship
The contrast is stark. Guyana covers a geographic space of 83,000 sq. miles as against the 166 sq. miles accounted for by Barbados. That makes Guyana 500 times larger than Barbados. Guyana has a population of nearly 760,000 people in comparison to the estimated 290,000 people living on the island of Barbados. That makes it twice as populous as Barbados. Guyana has an abundance of tropical forests that possess a vast and desired capacity to provide stability to the global ecosystem. Barbados does not. This mass of biodiversity and environmental resources makes Guyana more important than Barbados. Further, Guyana has plenty water and is so proud of it that this reality is synonymous with the name of the country. Barbados, on the other hand, is desperate for water. The situation is so acute that Barbados appears on what can be described as an endangered list of the 10 most water-deficient countries in the world. Because of the paucity of water, Barbados has resorted to special means and tactics to quench the thirst of its inhabitants and that of its industries.
The contrast between these two countries is not totally lopsided and none of Guyana’s assets currently make it a preferred place of abode over Barbados. In fact, Barbados has the upper hand where it matters most, in the quality of the life that people live. Barbados produces goods and services in excess of US$3 billion. The economic output of Guyana is estimated at US$1 billion making Barbados appear three times more productive than Guyana. The per capita income of Barbados exceeds US$19,000 while that of Guyana is about US$3,000. That makes Barbados 6 times wealthier than Guyana. Deposits held by commercial banks in Barbados are estimated at 133 percent of GDP while in Guyana deposits are about 61 percent of GDP. Barbados saves more than Guyana. Loans given by banks in Barbados represented 91 percent of GDP while in Guyana they represented 47 percent of GDP. That suggests that Barbados spends and invests more than Guyana.
In addition, Barbados consumes about 950,000KW of electricity while Guyana consumes about half of that quantity. That makes Barbados ‘brighter’than Guyana. Unemployment in Barbados is estimated to be 8 percent while the conservative estimate in Guyana is 9 percent.
Anyone with ambition would realize that Barbados offers more opportunities than Guyana. This reality is at the heart of the migratory behaviour of Guyanese and, until now, these economic differences have never been the source of bitter conflict. The citizens of these two countries have always had a mutual respect and admiration for each other and have shown, over the years, extraordinary tolerance of each other. To most Guyanese, Barbados is a natural ally that shares a common vision of a single Caribbean economy and a prosperous region that offers its people a good quality of life. Barbados has led Guyanese to this conclusion over the years with its positive attitude towards cooperation, collaboration and personal relationships with Guyanese.
For example, Barbados and Guyana joined together to initiate the formation of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) which later became the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). As a result of the foresight of Barbados and Guyana, along with Antigua and Barbuda, there is now the more hopeful Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) with a much larger membership. Barbados was always an integral part of this evolution to a broader economic relationship among Caribbean states. Having led the formation of the Caribbean trading bloc 44 years ago, both countries could easily be disappointed with the current state of economic relations between them.
When CARIFTA was initiated in December 1965, official trade was virtually non-existent between Guyana and Barbados and that situation has not changed much. Barbados basically still sells nothing to Guyana and buys little from Guyana. Barbados sells less than one quarter of one percent of its domestic output to Guyana. At the same time, no official record in Barbados or Guyana lists Guyana as a major exporter to Barbados. In the little trade that exists between the two countries, Guyana enjoys a two-to-one advantage. In spite of this, Barbados has managed to grow its economy substantially over the years and now enjoys a very high standard of living, one of the best in the region.
Despite being better off, Barbados has stayed with the CARICOM programme over the years and continues to work with Guyana to bring about economic and social change in the region. Barbados was a solid supporter of CARIFESTA and an enthusiastic participant in the first festival that was held in Guyana in 1972. Barbados hosted the festival in 1981. To date, Barbados and Guyana are the only two countries in CARICOM that have signed on to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), an eight-year old offspring of the Caribbean union. In addition, Barbados gave impetus and life to the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) several years ago when no other CARICOM country would.
Further, Barbados and Guyana joined efforts, over 20 years ago, to ensure the vulnerabilities of small island developing countries were addressed by the international community before it was fashionable to talk about sustainable development and climate change. The result of this effort was the inclusion in Agenda 21 of a specific section (Chapter 17 (G) on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the convening of a United Nations conference on the subject. Those efforts received the unequivocal and unconditional support of Guyana. Using official behaviour as a measure, there is no doubt that Barbados has the interest of Guyanese at heart and vice versa.
Movement of People
From the preceding narrative, it should be realized that trade and economic exchange were never the bonds that held Barbados and Guyana together. The fundamental relationship between Guyana and Barbados has always been in the movement of people and in the personal and family relationships that developed as a result of that movement. The movement of people between the two countries is rooted in the shared history and ambitions for freedom and prosperity.
The British, who were always in control of Barbados until its independence, used it as a base for its operations in Guyana until the British wrested full control of Guyana from the Dutch in 1814. Throughout the period, Barbadians, along with others from the Caribbean, were brought to Guyana to work the plantations of Demerara and Essequibo and, later on, to help manage the sugar enterprises.
The movement of people was not only dictated by economics. Religion also played a part. For many years, the work of the Anglican missionaries in Guyana was overseen from Barbados, and necessitated travel between the two countries before Guyana received its own bishopric. It was operational arrangements of this sort that set the basis for the movement of people in both directions. Even after the abolition of slavery and the gaining of independence, voluntary travel between Barbados and Guyana was undertaken for a variety of reasons.
Joined by this common history and culture, it is not unnatural for Guyanese to view Barbados as a place to go. With tourism as its main industry, Barbados also encouraged travel to the island. In addition, knowledge of the history and the awareness that Barbadians once migrated to Guyana easily surprise Guyanese when Barbadians appear hostile to them. The most recent official immigration missive against Guyanese living in Barbados is undoubtedly a source of frustration and a blow to the psyche of Guyanese. The way this policy is being executed against Guyanese is most shocking. No doubt, familiarity appears to have bred contempt.
As one who shares the culture and experience, it is difficult to understand the latest move against Guyanese. Guyanese are not the saints of the region but they have been making a positive contribution to the Barbados economy for years. That is the way Guyanese view themselves. Current contributions are seen in the beauty salons, jewellery shops, food courts and haberdashery stores on the island. The Barbados school system and the construction industry have also been beneficiaries of Guyanese skills and experience. Guyanese musicians and recording artistes (Eddie Grant comes readily to mind) have made their contribution to Barbadian life and culture as well. Banks beer, first as a product and later as an output, was introduced to Barbados by Guyanese investors. There is no official policy by Guyana that links those and similar investments to Guyana. Consequently, apart from getting remittances from its human capital, Guyana reaps little benefit from the movement of its financial capital, indicating that some favourable aspects of the Guyana brand are under appreciated and are not well known abroad.
Law and Order
Even as Guyanese question the insult, nay, the indignity that has been heaped upon them by Barbados, we must wonder if their own response to the issue is helping to solve the problem. While no one can fault President Jagdeo for making known the displeasure of Guyanese over what, unquestionably has been a level of mistreatment that has amounted to abuse, any objective observer would be puzzled by the approach adopted by Guyana. No matter how one feels about the conduct of the Barbadian government, part of the issue is one of law and order and standards by which responsible citizenship is assessed. Many in Guyana are accustomed to flouting the law and getting away with it. There is evidence that some – not all but some – Guyanese appear to expect to encounter the same gratuity in Barbados.
One can imagine how Barbadians must feel seeing the reaction by Guyana to what it considers a legitimate and sovereign matter, especially since Barbados is convinced that it is fulfilling its treaty obligations on the movement of people in the region. No one hears similar criticism of the United States of America (USA) that routinely sends Guyanese who were legally resident in the USA back to Guyana. No one sees the outrage when Venezuelan troops make incursions deep into Guyana with graver consequences for Guyanese. These are truths that should be kept in mind as attempts are made to solve permanently this vexing matter.
The most puzzling aspect of Guyana’s response is the failure of the President to temper his understandable annoyance with what in the circumstances, would have been an appropriate and, perhaps even well-received pledge to redouble his government’s efforts to make Guyana a better place for Guyanese.
There are those who feel that the seemingly diligent response of the Guyanese authorities conceals something resembling an indifference on its part. Guyana has much that it can offer its citizens and those of the region and is not taking full advantage of that reality. By way of example, it could be beneficial to both Guyana and Barbados if Guyana tried to convert its abundant supply of water into an asset for the two countries. This is just one of many areas of opportunity that could and should be exploited for the sake of friendship and prosperity for the region as a whole.