For the average Cayman Islander, it could be the uncle who always seems to drink too much, the teetotaler brother-in-law who could stand a Cabernet or two, the new-moneyed cousins who won’t stop blabbing about their possessions, or the jealous ones who can’t help begrudging them for it, vocally. There’s the sibling who showed up with the sole intent of roping someone in on his latest get-rich-quick scheme, the doe-eyed aunt who’s already reaching for her checkbook, and the wizened grandfather threatening to strike him from the will, again, and this time for good.
For the Cayman Islands as a whole, it could be the neighboring countries whose forays into independence have resulted in something closer to failed nation status than triumphant nationhood. Or smaller territories who grapple with similar obstacles as we do, in areas such as criminal justice, public accountability, financial services, tourism, disaster preparation and waste management.
In the broader context of the global assemblage of peoples, there are few more apt illustrations of familial dysfunction than the Caribbean region, of which Cayman (lest we somehow manage to forget) is a member.
Circumstances of culture, geography and history forge ties that bind inexorably, to one degree or another, and while this Editorial Board is of the opinion that the nature of our relationships with our Caribbean half-brothers, stepsisters and second-cousins-twice-removed should be as circumspect as possible, those relationships nonetheless do and must exist.
And one of the greatest benefits that Cayman can derive from our Caribbean identity is to observe what our extended family is doing, and to learn from their mistakes.
And so we turn our attention to the Bahamas – who, as some may recall, essentially bequeathed its North America banking industry to Cayman beginning in the late 1960s because of politically induced turmoil, increasing racial tensions and (as it proved, economically suicidal) protectionist policies. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for us, the Bahamas’ loss proved to be Cayman’s gain.
Recently, the Bahamas’ actions in the area of immigration have grabbed international headlines, which we hope local officials have read in earnest, for our neighbor is again providing us with an example of what not to do.
Inconsistent application of immigration laws in the Bahamas has, over the decades, fostered a dramatic rise in the number of Haitian migrants (many of them with unclear, at best, legal residency status) — who now make up 10 percent of the Bahamas’ population. In an attempt to crack down on illegal immigration and tighten the country’s borders, the Bahamian government announced a series of new immigration rules, including that as of Nov. 1, everyone living in the Bahamas must have a passport of their nationality — a tricky prospect for the large number of Bahamas-born children of Haitian migrants.
However, what has attracted the high-profile ire of human rights groups and other entities, was not so much the substance of the law, but the manner of enforcement, which the global media is portraying as rather draconian. From the Associated Press: “On the first day new immigration rules took effect this month in the Bahamas, officers in green fatigues swept through poor sections of the capital filling two yellow school buses with dozens of people who couldn’t document their right to be in the island chain.”
From our perspective, it seems the Bahamas has, while pursuing a solution to a localized problem, created for itself — at the very least — an international public relations problem.
The lesson for Cayman is, particularly when foreigners are involved, foreign eyes are always watching, and foreign tongues can spread information that can cause real reputational damage. It’s a lesson we should avoid repeating.