The following is the text of the feature address given by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael at the 10th annual Caribbean Festival at the Prince George's Community College in Maryland on Sunday May 7, 2000. The College has over 30,000 students, a great proportion being of Caribbean ancestry. The Festival attracted thousands of students and residents. Ambassador Ishmael spoke at the opening forum in the main lecture theatre at the College.
Address by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana at the Prince George's Community College Caribbean Festival, Largo, Maryland, May 7, 2000
Madam Chairman, President of the Prince George's Community College, Members of the Faculty, Members of the Caribbean Council, Students, Ladies and Gentlemen . . .
I am indeed delighted to participate in Prince George's Community College Caribbean Festival this year. I understand that this year festival also celebrates the appointment of Dr. Ronald Williams as President of this College. I congratulate Dr. Williams on having attained this prestigious honor. His achievement has also brought glory to all of us who are of Caribbean origin, and as you know, Caribbean people always like to brag about the achievements of their nationals here in the United States. Currently, many Caribbean nationals occupy leading positions in centers of higher learning, and also in the public and private sectors in the United States and they are held in high esteem in the communities in which they work and live.
No doubt, we see Dr. Williams as more than a Barbadian; we see him as a product of the Caribbean which has produced talented sons and daughters, and which will continue to do so as long as human history moves forward. All of you who are students of this college, and especially those who are of Caribbean heritage, have a worthy example in Dr. Williams to emulate. His hard work and his determination to overcome all obstacles to achieve success should encourage all of you to do likewise, and eventually become talented students and outstanding citizens in this community and the wider world.
Remember, we are living in an period when the world economy is now being propelled by new ideas which are being developed from day to day. You are part of this new world economy, and the harnessing of your talents and the ideas you develop at this educational institution and elsewhere will certainly be instrumental in promoting human development in whichever society you live.
But the world also needs a new order of development. With the recurring problems of debt, ethnic conflicts, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, urban disorder, environmental degradation, crime, disease and narcotics facing so many societies across the globe, it is clear that we need a New Global Human Order. The ideas of a New Global Human Order were first promoted by the late President of Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan who died in 1997. Under this Order, the United Nations system, with the support of international organizations, has to play a greater role in global economic management and should have access to larger financial resources.
Urgent action is needed to utilize the gains at the end of the Cold War by further reducing military expenditure. Unfortunately, we have not seen a significant movement in this direction. If this happens, there will be a "peace dividend" which will give the wealthy countries a chance to direct more resources to a social agenda and to assist poor countries through debt relief. At the same time, there should be a Human Development Fund, managed by the United Nations, to be used for human development worldwide. This Fund can be financed by demilitarization funds and global taxes on energy, pollution and global speculative foreign exchange movements.
Payments for services by poor countries can also be made to ensure global human security. This can be for environmental controls including the protection of forests, cut-backs on expenditure for arms production and purchases, and controlling communicable diseases and narcotics. Compensation should also be paid for brain drain and restrictions on trade.
Madam Chairman, I am pleased to learn that a great proportion of the student body of this College is of Caribbean heritage. The steady growth of the Caribbean force at this institution has helped you to develop this annual unique Caribbean Festival for ten successive years. By expressing yourselves in this Festival, you are definitely standing up to be counted. That is what matters.
But I want to appeal to you not to isolate yourselves. Whatever the size of your representation, you have to develop alliances with other groupings to promote your objectives in a wider arena. I am reminded of an African fable of the elephant and the mouse. They were together crossing an old wooden bridge over a deep river, and as they did so the bridge shook and rattled, and there was fear that it would collapse. Finally, they crossed over, and with a sigh of relief, the mouse turned to the elephant and said, "Boy, we really shook that bridge!"
Well, you can shake the bridge by establishing linkages. You must make your voices heard in your various communities. What do Caribbean nationals need in their communities to improve their welfare? Do the schools need improvements in their curricula to make students more aware of the Caribbean? Are Caribbean community organizations consulted by local government authorities on a regular basis? Are Caribbean nationals included in various advisory bodies in educational, economic and political and administrative bodies? If the answers to these are leaning towards a "No", then you have to do something about it. You have to let the local political and government leaders know of your dissatisfaction. How can you do this? Well, you have to stand up and be counted. Caribbean nationals who are American citizens have the right to vote and they must ensure that they use that right to elect persons to various bodies who will represent their interests.
Unfortunately, many Caribbean nationals who have this right do not exercise it, and when things do not go the way they like, they sit back and gripe. Griping does not bring about changes; being pro-active, forming linkages with other interest groups like other minorities who have similar demands, can effect the necessary changes.
But Caribbean nationals can also participate in this process even if they are not citizens. They may hold just permanent resident status, but they can still, for example, become part of their local PTAs and thus help to influence positive changes in schools.
And while I am on this, I want to emphasize that there are thousands of Caribbean nationals who have been living in the United States as permanent residents for very long periods and have not moved forward to apply for citizenship. Such persons must be encouraged to become citizens, and the Caribbean Council of this College can play a vital role in assisting in this process. This may look like a huge task, but, as the Chinese proverb says, the man who removes mountains begins by carrying away small stones.
There is a fear among many Caribbean nationals that if they become American citizens they will lose citizenship of their homeland. Now, I cannot speak for all Caribbean countries on this issue, but I can speak on behalf of Guyana. I want to assure Guyanese nationals who are permanent residents that they will not lose their Guyanese citizenship if they become American citizens. Other Caribbean nationals should contact their Embassies to obtain information about their citizenship laws. There are some Caribbean nationals who have been badly advised, by others in their own community, that they would lose their original citizenship should they apply for US citizenship. I urge such badly-advised persons to seek the true information from their Embassies and not to jump to believe the so-called information given to them by the so-called immigration advisors.
Madam Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen . . . I also want to make you aware of a serious problem which has arisen over the past four years in the Caribbean.
Ever since the enforcement of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (which forms part of the Immigration and Naturalization legislation of the United States), a growing number of Caribbean nationals, who had become permanent residents of the United States, have been, and continue to be, deported back to Caribbean countries after completing their sentences for crimes they committed while living in the United States.
Some of these persons were convicted for serious crimes which included illegal trafficking and sale of illegal narcotics and crimes of violence, involving in some instances the use of weapons including firearms. Others were involved in less serious criminal activity, including what can be classified as petty infractions. In all these cases, these persons generally had no criminal records before leaving the Caribbean to reside in the United States. Many of them also left when they were young children and over the years have lost all family and cultural connections with their homeland.
It is unfortunate that many of those deported to the Caribbean have resorted to a life of criminal activity, some of which has been so serious as to have merited international publicity. You would agree with me that such criminal activity not only tarnishes the character of the Caribbean but reflects negatively on our citizens at large, even if they live in the United States. At the same time, Caribbean Governments are forced to spend an increasingly greater proportion of their revenues in combating crime, when such resources could be more beneficially used for social and economic development. It is of interest to note that some Caribbean Government leaders have pointed to the fact that crime rates have been increasing in the region as more and more persons with criminal records are deported from North America.
I agree that the return of these criminal deportees to their countries of origin is in accordance with the Immigration legislation of the United States which specifies that US residents who are not American citizens may be deported to their countries of origin. But this law raises several moral and administrative issues.
First . . . By sending the criminal deportees back to the Caribbean countries where there are almost no rehabilitation programs to assist them, these countries are being penalized by a State in whose social environment the criminalizing of these persons developed. Indeed, these persons have already served their time in prison, but they are now sent back by a country where rehabilitation programs exist, to countries which do not have resources to operate such facilities.
I am of the opinion that the United States has the moral responsibility to rehabilitate these persons who have completed their sentences, since their deviant behavior is a product of the US environment in which they have resided.
Second. . . Many deportees have no close relatives remaining in the Caribbean and so the traditional assistance of family for resettlement and positive absorption in the society is absent. This is especially the case with those who left since they were children. There are cases to show that some deportees quickly fall back into a life of crime, and some have been involved in acts of violence in which sophisticated weapons have been used.
Third. . . . Deportees are separated from their families who continue to live in the United States as permanent residents or citizens. Thus, the basic human rights of both the deportees and their families are affected in the course of the deportation exercise.
These are some of the considerations I raised when I sent a letter last month to Members of Congress urging them to amend the US immigration laws affecting deportations. You as Caribbean nationals in this College should give a serious examination to this matter and take a stand on it. You will agree with me that the rise in sophisticated crimes, some of which were unknown before in the Caribbean, but which are now introduced by some of the criminal deportees who can be termed graduates in their field, has a tendency to seriously undermine the peace and security of our Caribbean homelands.
Madam Chairman, I must seize this opportunity to promote a relationship between your College and centers of higher education in my country. Currently, a relationship exists between the Community College system in the city of St. Louis and the technical and teacher-training colleges in Guyana. Through this relationship, some Guyanese teachers have received training in methodology at Community Colleges in various parts of the United States. I urge the Prince George's Community College to join in this relationship. While we will appreciate any assistance this College can render to our educational institutions, we can also be hosts to groups of students and faculty who will be able to see our rich tropical forest environment, enjoy visits to our rivers and waterfalls, and learn about our history and our culture, and thus have a better appreciation of the aspirations and problems of a developing country.
Madam Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope that I have not too closely emulated a tiresome attorney who was arguing a complicated case. In the course of his long speech he quoted references dating back to the time of Julius Caesar. As he continued his lengthy argument, he noticed that the judge was fidgeting and did not seem very attentive to what he was saying. "Begging Your Honor's pardon," he said, "do you follow me?" And the judge replied, "I want to believe I have so far, but I'll say frankly that, if I were you, in order to avoid trying to confuse anybody any further, I would quit right here."
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