A call for Diaspora action

A call for Diaspora action
Photo by George Alleyne

Barbados Member of Parliament, Kerrie Symmonds believes that amidst US Democratic Primary for 2020 presidential campaign members of the Caribbean Diaspora must flex muscles to protect the region of their birth or descent.

Symmonds has said that as front runners Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, former Vice-President, Joe Biden, and former Texas representative, Beto O’Rourke canvass for support, the hundreds of thousands of persons of Caribbean extraction who are among constituents of these contenders must press the case for better treatment of the region.

“Those senators will be going into Queens in New York, into Chicago. They are going into every large city doing what politicians must do, beg for support.

“But they can’t set the agenda for themselves. The agenda must be set for them,” Symmonds said.

With most persons of Caribbean extraction traditionally voting Democrat, Symmonds said regional governments must make the Diaspora voters more aware of issues affecting the region and demand representation on them by these presidential hopefuls.

He made the call against a backdrop of changing and increasing demands that international financial agencies put on the Caribbean and the destructive effect of those ultimatums on regional economies.

Symmonds, the island’s tourism minister, brought up the matter of soliciting support of the Caribbean Diaspora, especially in North America at this time, as the Barbados parliament was in the process of amending another piece of legislation to suit new requirements of international bodies controlled by the developed world, such as the Financial Action Task Force, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In fact, the less than one-year-old government has found itself amending a slew of its laws to keep itself abreast of changing stipulations of these organisations controlled by the US and European Union.

The changes are imposed on small Caribbean nations under threats of trade and other economic sanction penalties.

Barbados was particularly heartbroken after dramatically reducing all its corporation taxes from as high as 30 percent to five per cent or less across the board in December in response to an OECD demand, only to be hit with a blacklisting from that organisation months later.

Other Caribbean countries, who used the hosting of international businesses as a legal revenue earning mechanism have similarly found themselves frequently altering laws in response to the impositions while seeing a reduction in the resident international businesses that fear these powerful bodies.

“It’s a never-ending story,” Symmonds said of the shifting goalposts being set for Caribbean governments.

While the Caribbean jurisdictions feel pressure from reduced earnings as many international businesses leave, regulators of developed countries are putting on another squeeze by threatening exorbitant fines on financial links that are vital to regional banks in carrying out transactions.

In what is commonly referred to as ‘de-risking’ financial houses that process international transactions of Caribbean banks are shedding their relationships with the regional banking sector because they risk heavy fines from US and European governments if money sent to or transferred from the region is suspected of being part of a laundering scheme.

This unilateral action, without evidence, not only has the potential to affect all regional business but even those members of the Diaspora who habitually remit money to loved ones in the region.

“Let us reach out to our diaspora. There is no better time than now,” Symmonds said of Caribbean persons resident in the US where elections fever is building.

“We have to get that to the top of mind in the awareness of the people who have a right to vote,” he said, adding, “we have been reluctant to flex that kind of muscle because … I don’t believe we fully understand the influence that we have.”

“When it comes time for elections … [politicians] will learn to listen and internalise people’s problems.

“Now is the time for us to bring this movement in the United States of America.

“Similarly, Great Britain is not far away from having to confront this [elections] too, nor Canada and the voices of the people who are affected must be heard.”

“We are small yes, but we have influence, we have voice. Collectively we have power and we must flex that power in the interest of people we represent because this is governance from across borders.”