The Diaspora Debate
Thousands of people of Caribbean origin live outside the region, by some estimates about two-thirds.
Many return regularly to visit making them a key tourist market.
They also contribute to regional economies through remittances, a major source of revenue for the region.
Some in the diaspora want more of a say - and more involvement - in what happens 'back home'.
But, how much of a say should that be?
How engaged are the Caribbean and its diaspora?
Is it about more than sending money back home?
Have your say
Please keep comments short and to the point.
Listen again to BBC Caribbbean InterActive call-in discussion programme on the diaspora aired Thursday 19 November
As a member of the Jamaican diaspora living in the US, I believe that we should always have a voice back home as long as we
remain citizens of our homeland. However without a vote in our respective homelands, which are predominantly democracies,
how official or effective will that voice be?
M Lawrence had it right. There is a difference between remittances and taxes. Diaspora West Indians do not pay taxes, they
send money direct to families and the families do not directly use this money for the same purposes as taxes - any tax on
remittances is treated as a tax on those receiving the money, not those sending it.
For a country like Haiti, the reintegration of the diaspora will be essential to its development and rehabilitation. Haiti
has some serious legislative challenges in making this happen, namely amending the constitution to allow for more than one
citizenship. A strong diaspora allowed to participate in their adopted lands and their homelands with ease could be the perfect
bridge between the efforts of Haitians (both internal and abroad) and their friends and allies who are trying to make a difference
in the country. Governments in our region should be actively keeping the diasporas integrated. Countries like Dominican Republic
and and Mexico serve as regional examples to follow, even if they are not perfect (especially the former).
We vote for decisions that affect our daily lives where we live. I live in the UK and vote in the UK in respect of the decisions
which govern my life where I live - how much tax will I pay, what price will I have to pay for food, what schools policy will
my children face, what access will I have to health, etc. Those who live "back home" do the same where they live. So, the
idea that I should be able to vote for decisions back home that would not affect my daily life where I live here, would I
feel be difficult to justify - would be perverse and inequitable.
Some of us who have migrated from the Caribbean are paying taxes in the respective countries where we now reside. Yet some
do not even bother to go out and vote in those places as to how our hard earned monies should be spent. What give us the right
to do so to the Governments from where we came.
More attention need to be given to upgrading and strengthening government institutions. Knowledge transfer are forms of development
that should get proper policy attention.
Despite the diaspora’s contribution to the region’s economies through remittances, and other source of revenue for the region,it
is a fact that the region does not give back.
I recently asked my final year Caribbean Geography class at the University of the West Indies what they thought about having
members of the Caribbean diaspora vote in Caribbean based elections: nearly everyone was opposed to this. However, when I
raised the idea of the diaspora having a specific representative in parliament (which has been discussed in the context of
Jamaica), people were much more open to this, and saw it as a useful compromise.
The rules of the electorate are entrenched in the constitution; presently there is a residency condition to meet and members
of the diaspora may attempt to do so - it may be expensive but possible; the diaspora or expatriates or whatever name the
sociologist coined ought to show that theirs (like the Indians, Pakistanis, Jewish) is a force to be reckoned with, not merely
sending remittances before any constitutional changes are made to accommodate the diaspora, which ultimately affects us at
home and most importantly must benefit the nation state.
The question of the Caribbean diaspora, apart from its romantic attachments, has two important features. First, if these people
are citizens of Caribbean nations, then what are their legal and political rights? Should they have a right to vote and participate
in the politics of their nation? Or living outside their home state deprives them of this right? Then there is the equally
important question of being part of the brain drain. If they are, does the state they are domicile in, the host nation, have
a duty of reparation to the home state which funded the individual's education?
My people, when will we learn? Ask yourselves this: without the efforts of the Jewish lobby throughout the world, especially
in the US, what would the state of Israel be?
The Caribbean diaspora should have more say in the region since it is the diaspora that many leaders there and political parties
turn to for financial support in crisis and in political campaigning season. Yet Caribbean nationals overseas are not considered
important beyond being the 'moneybags.' It is time the rule that prevents those with dual citizenship from serving in office
in the islands is repealed since the Caribbean diaspora is really by extension, the Caribbean.
The fact of the matter is you cannot sit comfortably abroad and complain about what is going on in the islands. When you decided
to leave for whatever reason, you gave up the right to complain. If you want to make a difference then go back and get involved
in the system and work to make it better, but until then don't complain. You can't have it both ways.
The young democracies in the Caribbean, especially Guyana, do not want to engage the diaspora because they think that with
the experience and the outspoken it will be an obstacle for their corrupt agenda.
I have heard the opinion being expressed that there are more nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis living outside of the Federation
than who live here. I am happy that in our electoral system we do not exclude them from voting. They are lobbied during every
election and multiple hundreds of them come home to vote every election. If Commonwealth citizens can vote in my country,
my nationals where ever they roam must be able to have a say "back home".
As a young Jamaican that was born and raised in Canada, I have come to think that the chief responsibility of the people of
the Caribbean diaspora is to ensure that the young people know the history, and by extension the culture, politics and and
sociology, etc. of the Caribbean. The older generation of Caribbean people are leaving their kids who were born in places
like Canada, the UK and the US without a solid foundation and education in Caribbean knowledge writ large. Food, music and
the incessant Caribbean Association gala dinners we hold in the diaspora hardly constitute a firm foundation in Caribbean
education. The diaspora needs to focus less on how they can get involved with the political, social and economic processes
back home and begin to work with much more fervent diligence to give their children an education on the Caribbean.
In February 2009, when the big strikes started in Martinique and Guadeloupe while no media were covering these events in Europe,
I was amazed to see how French Caribbean living in Paris and other cities in France, decided to manifest their anger and their
support to the islands. That´s the sign that Caribbean living abroad can not forget where they are from!
Often the diaspora uses the justification of seeking a better life in these metropolitan countries for what I consider to
be an abandonment of their country; and while in most cases some of my Caribbean people fair better overseas, I can’t help
but feel a sense of abandoning the fight from those who choose to leave. We who choose to stay behind are the ones trying
to make our small island nations what we want them to be – granted it is taking an inordinately long time; but we are not
as blessed with resources like the more developed nations, and we have not began to vociferously demand better governance
like we should. I have noted comments about sending money back home in this discussion; the commentators say it like it is
a favor being granted to the islands. While these monies circulate through the economy, they are sent to family members. Let
the diaspora do more than complain about the state of affairs of the small island nations they left behind for greener pasture
– let them put their money where their mouth is; come back home and make that change they want to see.
There may be a conscious decision to avoid people of Caribbean origin who live outside the region due to disputes about land
ownership. This must be one of the greatest dilemmas in our relationship with people back home.
The contributions from the diaspora must not go unnoticed. My country over the years has attempted to maintain contact with
the diaspora. Often in matters of national policies or issues, the diaspora is engaged through consultations abroad. The question
arises, should persons in the diaspora be allowed to vote? From a logistical standpoint, this would be very difficult and
costly to the State. In addition, should the diaspora be engaged in choosing representatives, when we who live in the Caribbean
have to bear the direct consequences? They outnumber us and they do not bear the direct consequences of their political choices.
Regarding the issue of members or the diaspora complaining that they are tired of sending money back home, they must remember
that often they are sending monies back to their (relatives). So is it that they are making a conscious decision to neglect
their families? While they are overseas doing their necessary toiling, they must remember the broken family structures left
behind, and the resulting social consequences. Again, the diaspora has contributed significantly, a contributions they should
continue to make, no just because it benefits them directly, but as a matter of patriotism. Further, there is need for improved
engagement between the Caribbean diaspora and us in the Caribbean.
I know if a lot of immigrants read this what I am saying would find themselves in similar situation so while it is all good
to say and make it looks as though we are running away from our home it is not the case. So while we enjoy a great deal of
remittances we are still at a loss because the good and educated people have left our shores and a lot of us are not getting
the respect we deserve in the west and other developed countries.
You can't want my money, but aim to deny me a vote and the right to participate in that process.
There is nothing stopping the Diaspora from organising itself to have more of a say and be more effective in what happens
back at home in the Caribbean. Why would anyone think that this must extend to being able to vote is beyond me! I am from
Dominica, I live and work in the UK, I vote for a local MP to get the type of infrastructure and services that I want to live
in here in the UK. Why should I also want to vote in the local elections in Dominica? I do not have to live with the outcome
of my decision but others who have chosen to live in Dominica will. I ask you, is that democratic? If the Diaspora wants more
involvement they should learn from the NGOs/ civil society organisations and get themselves organised to deliver.
91 nations around the world have some provisions for their citizens abroad to be part of the political process.
The level of engagement between the Caribbean and its diaspora can be much improved. Members in the diaspora should participate
and exert some degree of influence on policies affecting issues in the Caribbean.
Caribbeans in the diaspora should get over it. Remittances are made for the express purpose of supporting familial ties. That
those funds then get tallied as part of national GDP is, at best, a tertiary result. If by "want more of a say" it's meant
more control in the management of those nations’ affairs then the diaspora ought to send their monies directly to the coffers
of the governments in which they want more control. Those so inclined can pool their monies and send it as a large grant,
doing so regularly irrespective of personal opinions about the party in power. This would give those direct government remittances
a sense of force majeur to which the local politicians should have to pay attention. See how quickly that catches on.
We are about tired of sending money back home, and receive no respect. We want the right the vote during elections. We want
to have a say since we contribute to the economies of our respective nations.
Those within the diaspora ought to have some political say in the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica, seeing that remittance
has direct economic impact and consequence as well as the touristry revenue they generate. Their impact ought not only be
passive, but they ought to have say in how the money they generate is used.