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Last updated: 01 March, 2011 - Published 14:37 GMT
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The Diaspora Debate
Airport scene
People in the diaspora make up a huge share of the region's tourists

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.

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?
West Palm Beach, Fl

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.
Ironically a number of the responses on the forum which call for representation and a vote have been from people living in the USA which was founded on the notion of "no taxation without representation". Maybe we should all remember that the reverse applies; "no representation without taxation" unless these diaspora persons fall below the income tax line (which is doubtful if they can afford to send money to another country on a regular basis).
Kingston, Jamaica

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).
Alexandre Viard
Chicago, USA

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.
I do not see that giving me the means to vote in St Lucia could not be the right or fair way for doing all this. Stopping short of that, we need constructive discussion about the alternatives. I quite like the idea of a parliamentary representative for overseas nationals, but there are many more equally valid ones.
Peter Matthew
London, England

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.
Pete Douglas
Montreal, Canada

More attention need to be given to upgrading and strengthening government institutions. Knowledge transfer are forms of development that should get proper policy attention.
Gairy Didier
Roseau, Dominica

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.
Barry Douglas
Atlanta, USA

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.
I think it is a complicated issue. I have been conducting interviews with Jamaicans living on the island and overseas (including some returning residents) as part of a research/documentary project and I have encountered a broad range of viewpoints.
There is a concern, however, by many members of the Jamaican diaspora that they not only be viewed as simply a potential source of income. Many people would like to collaborate on a range of cultural, economic and political activities that cross national boundaries.
Susan Mains
Kingston, Jamaica

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 diaspora ought to be a social, financial as well as a political lobby.
Mayaro, Trinidad&Tobago

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?
Then what about ownership of their creativity, any intellectual property rights which come out of their education, should the home state have a claim to part-ownership in this?
Remittances are not the same since that is a matter of individual choice.
This is a bigger issue than it is often treated by politicians and the media.
Hal Austin
London, UK

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?
Let me tender a guess, they would have about as much clout as Caricom does.
Without the engagement of the diaspora, the Caribbean will never reach its full potential. We must forget about the live abroad vs live a yard ting. If not we our region will remain beggars for remittances.
My two pence.
London, UK

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.
Felicia Persaud

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.
Miami, Florida, U.S.A

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.
Gerry Lewis
Toronto, Canada

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".
Larry Denville Vaughan
Cayon, St. Kitts-Nevis

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.
Anthony N Morgan
Montreal, Canada

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!
Losange Magaly
Miami, USA

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.
E Gabriel
St. Lucia

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.
Finbar Sonny-Richards
Derby, England

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.
Trelson Mapp
St. Vincent and the Grenadines

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.
The truth is not being told.
A lot of us send back money home to build homes, buy cars and help develop our countries and sometimes in our communities we still pay a heavy price. At the same time we have to also understand that there is two sides of this story and one is we were not told that a lot of our parents were fooled about better living and working conditions overseas and this in several cases were never ever met. We were tricked and robbed of our resources; that is our brain and labour (skills and experience).
Brooklyn, NY, USA

You can't want my money, but aim to deny me a vote and the right to participate in that process.
Kendrick Helem
Bronx/St Vincent

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.
Gerald La Touche
Roseau and Birmingham
Dominica and England

91 nations around the world have some provisions for their citizens abroad to be part of the political process.
Given that the Caribbean, more than any other region of the world, has so much of its population living overseas. It is about high time that the CARICOM members join those other states.
Nigel Henry
Malden, MA, USA

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.
Arlene M Roberts
Brooklyn, NY, USA

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.
It’s an uncomfortable viewpoint to hold when one reads the reports of crime, incompetence, and things that from our seat abroad seem just stupid taking place in Caribbean society. But alas, when it’s time to right a ship that’s gone adrift often the best people to do so, are the ones on-board. The diaspora wants more control then go home and agitate, take part in the discourse for the control and change we seek. Yes, it will mean discomfort. But isn’t worth it if that’s what you really want. Otherwise, don’t be lulled by the belief that because we send our money we should have a say on the national level. The IMF and other world donors already do that and the situation isn’t much improved.
M Lawrence
Brooklyn, NY, USA

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.
To date, the only thing we have received is lip service from our government officials. What passes off as a "serious" dialogue with the community abroad is basically nothing. They are not serious about making us a part of the process.
Pauline James
Brooklyn, USA

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.
Consequently, I do believe they should be given voting rights to offer some balance to the pork barrel politics on the Jamaican frontline, as well as offering some measure of objectivity and distance from political coercion on the ground, as well as group think, and the bias of tribalism living in the Jamaican context can bring. The literate or more educated diaspora may also help to bring counter balance to the significant number of Jamaican voters who are illiterate and barely functionally literate and the general pervasive air of ignorance and apathy that affect the voters in Jamaica
Yannick Pessoa
Montego Bay, Jamaica

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