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Beyond barrel children
George Alleyne Wednesday, January 18 2006
While the positive impact on many regional economies of remittances from Caribbean nationals living and working in the United States of America cannot be challenged, nonetheless the negative social backlash on the main recipients, the so-called barrel children, cannot be ignored. And despite the fall out from the terrorist attacks on New York of September 11, 2001, which resulted in a loss of tens of thousands of jobs held by Caribbean emigrants, among others, and the continuous adverse effect of the shift of jobs and services largely to China, India, Mexico and other areas of Central America, remittances still contribute somewhat to the foreign reserves position of several Caricom countries. In turn, the remittances have not only assisted, say Jamaica, Antigua, Dominica and Eastern Caribbean States with payments for imports and external debts, but have helped to turn needed money around within the respective economies.
But they have been all too often at tremendous social cost, where children are the principal recipients, to the children and the communities in which they live. Admittedly, several of the children have gone on to attend Universities and other tertiary institutions, along with acquiring needed skills, but for the burden of barrel children the psychological scars have been great and have been troubling factors unto the second, third and fourth generations. There are negatives that can clearly never be in dispute, and even though a minority of the children may experience feelings of total or near total rejection, there have been cases where, resenting the “neglect”, they have turned against society. But not all of the remittances are for the upkeep of children. Indeed, a not insubstantial portion of it is a hedge against the emigrants’ retirement and goes toward the paying off of mortgages on homes they plan to occupy when they can no longer work and the cruel winters are a disincentive. In addition, some of the money goes into mutual funds or other forms of investment. Another plus is the financial support of ageing parents, many of whose productive lives lie far behind them.
Admitttedly, some of the Caribbean nationals who migrated to the United States of America and other countries, leaving young children behind, and perhaps dazzled by the lure of the proverbial grass being greener on the other side, and tales of “life in the big Apple”, or Miami and the list is long, may have done this because they could not find regular, meaningful employment at home. It is relatively easy to criticise them, but in many of the Eastern Caribbean islands, for example, where for years agriculture had been a principal source of employment, the agricultural sector, with specific reference to raw cane sugar and bananas has seen the eroding of its decades-old lifeline, guaranteed prices and preferential entry quotas under the 1975 Convention of Lome. And if the eroding was not enough, the recent increase in hurricane activity has provided agriculture with a double whammy.
With global free trade threatening to choke the economic life of the region, the employment avenues have become narrower. Many Eastern Caribbean countries have what can only be described as uncomfortable marginal growth. As a result, over the years, several of them have turned to offshore banking. Antigua and Barbuda, for example, established a Financial Sector Authority in 1998, while St Lucia would later actually add International Financial Services to its Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. In February of 2001, in the spirit of the St Lucian government’s new outlook, CMC — Bank Crozier International, became the country’s first duly registered bank, opening some nine months later.
But even as Caribbean countries, in an effort to earn money, stimulated offshore banking, the world’s more powerful countries launched attacks on offshore banks in the region alleging that they were avenues for money laundering. The attacks were both hypocritical and cynical coming as they did from nations themselves adept at the art of money laundering, and particularly as the Caribbean countries concerned had taken careful steps to avoid the nonsense that the major economies trumpeted they were doing.
A lasting answer to the many economic problems faced by the region and in danger of their being multiplied, must lie, however, in the ability of not simply individual states, but the entire Caribbean Community of Nations establishing a special fund to train nationals to acquire required skills to facilitate the attracting of investments to the region. Trinidad and Tobago with its more than a decade of uninterrupted economic growth must, at both the public and private sector, seek to stimulate investments in the English speaking Caribbean. Remittances may have assisted, even though the cost has been great, but the answer lies in the determination and courage of the Caribbean countries to forge a policy of “all for one and one for all” out of the crucible of their colonial past.
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