Last Week’s News: A Strip Search in Barbados

Where to begin.

When I first read about Shanique Myrie on Caro’s (@carybbeancee) blog I was shocked.  I cringed, winced, and heaved a heavy sigh.  Ms. Myrie’s telling of what she says happened to her at the Grantley Adam’s airport in Barbados is disgusting (click here to read).  It’s hard to read.

Most women don’t even like going to the OB/GYN.  I tolerate it better than some of my friends and women I’ve talked to about it…though a consensual event for health reasons, it is just uncomfortable to have that cold speculum inserted.  At least the hardened plastic ones are not as cold as the metal ones.   Ms. Myrie’s allegations are shocking and just plain unpleasant to read about and imagine with that reference point.

Shanique Myrie (Image from the Jamaica Observer)

Now, at this point Ms. Myrie’s story has not been verified and that an investigation is underway.  But some things are just not making sense to me.  Chief among them is what incentive does Ms. Myrie have to lie?  And if she is lying, why make up such an extreme story? A story that was sure to attract attention, close scrutiny, and put Barbados on the defensive and force GOJ’s hand?  Maybe she didn’t think it all the way through and was just pissed at being denied entry…but no that doesn’t quite make sense given the nature of the story.  Also, where is the other lady with whom Ms. Myrie said she shared a room and cot after the strip search and verbal abuse concluded? Surely departure records are available to track her down and get her statement about what Ms. Myrie looked like – her demeanor, the attitude of the immigration or customs officer who escorted her to the room, and what if anything did Ms. Myrie say to her about why she was being held at the airport.  So yes Ms. Myrie’s story has not yet been verified but at the moment…I’m inclined to believe her.  I’d be most disgusted if it turns out that Ms. Myrie is lying but then so be it; this incident points to much more serious issues that need to be addressed.

Another niggle is the response of the Bajan government.  The Bajan authorities have denied that the event took place and essentially contend that Ms. Myrie is telling tales.  They say that there is no record of a strip search. *blank stare* O that’s right, folks who do despicable things of this nature usually record them properly and leave a paper trail (forget the Nazis for a moment, they’re the exception).  Additionally, as a general rule, I tend not to trust an accused entity to investigate allegations of its wrongdoing.  Especially when an article appeared in today’s Barbados Today about similar allegations of mistreatment by Bajan immigration and/or customs officials, this time involving a  Ghanaian , Evelyn Mensah.  So what sort of investigation of Ms. Myrie’s allegations was conducted? Who was interviewed? What records were checked? Who conducted the investigation? Is there a special and somewhat removed (i.e. insulated from bureaucratic and political pressure) committee or body meant to investigate allegations of this kind?

A Jamaican relative who has lived and worked in Barbados for a decade had this to say when I shared Caro’s blog with her:

The story has been making the rounds.  Not a new situation.  Also not new is the general attitude of the officers to Jamaicans.

Now that someone has told their story and was also brave enough to put their photo in the papers (a real person), it will be interesting to see how the Barbados Immigration authorities and the Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacts to what has been an ongoing problem.

Wow.  She’s usually a calm and straightforward woman but not even an ounce of shock?

So what do Bajan authorities admit? That Ms. Myrie’s behaviour raised suspicions, and that she was questioned and searched  because she said at first that she would be staying with a female friend but Mr. Husbands (from the Bajan government) says that “closer investigation however revealed she was actually staying with a Barbadian man, who actually facilitates the entry of non-nationals into the island.”  Pause.  Free movement of goods, people, labour, and services anyone? More on that later.  Wait, what happened to Mr. Husbands’ initial assertion that Ms. Myrie was a victim of human trafficking?  If she was then where is the formal report to the Jamaican government? What evidence of human trafficking? Who’s the human trafficking facilitator? Where did this idea of human trafficking come from? As of this post, Ms. Myrie is standing by her story:

I am not lying. They humiliated me and searched me like I was an animal. They can carry me back to the Barbados airport and I can show you every room they took me into. I can identify the woman who defiled me. They are the ones who are lying

All that said, I don’t agree with Jamaicans (on The Rock and in the Diaspora) who think that we should boycott Barbados and its products and services because of this incident.   In my opinion that’s a short term solution to much deeper and serious problem.  It also does nothing to address the more pressing issue of Ms. Myrie’s case.  All it does is salve our anger and bruised national pride.  This incident requires action and resolution.  Don’t get me wrong though: being angered and outraged at Ms. Myrie’s story is absolutely 200% justified.  Right now I think it more prudent that Ms. Myrie get counselling and legal representation (apparently her lawyer is Anthony Hylton, Jamaica’s former foreign affairs minister and member of the Opposition in Jamaica…for some reason this bothers me and it’s nothing to do with the quality of the represenation that Mr. Hylton or his firm can provide). Ms. Myrie’s case requires the intervention and support of her national government.  So far there’s been some action by the Jamaican leadership –click here (the GOJ’s response) and here (the Jamaica Manufacturing Association’s response) to see reaction and action by Jamaica’s leadership.  In Barbados, the Jamaican Association is meeting this week with Jamaican officials who will be in Bim to discuss the Myrie Matter.  The sentiments expressed by my relative were echoed in the correspondence from the Association — this story isn’t new and some of you reading this email may have been subjected to poor treatment as well.  What’s really going for Jamaicans (and other Caribbean people) in Barbados? (While we’re at it, what’s going on for other Caribbean nationals in Jamaica?)

I know that not all Jamaicans behave themselves when they visit other countries.  Shit, we don’t even behave ourselves in Jamaica! But if what Ms. Myrie says is true and it turns out that she was brutalized because she’s Jamaican then we have a serious problem.  Some Jamaicans may have brought bad behaviour and illegal activity to Barbados but not all of us – dare I say the majority – are bringing that baggage with us.  How the hell can it be that this woman was brutalized in this way simply because she’s Jamaican?  Frankly, those kinds of assumptions and resultant ignorant behaviour is something I’d thought (hoped?) would only come from non-Caribbean folks…shouldn’t our fellow Caribbean people be less likely to give into the stereotypes or judge Jamaicans on the basis of the behaviour of a few.  Oops.  Bottom line for me though is that one cannot use the actions and bad behaviour of a few in a group to guide one’s interaction and treatment of all members of the group.  For example, I don’t now think that all Bajans are evil, abusive people.

CARICOM – The Caribbean Community. Economic and political unity…who buys it?

And briefly on CARICOM: Ms. Myrie’s story likely illustrates that the general Caribbean population has not bought into the idea of economic and political unity.  Is the buy in mostly at the top (given the issues raised in that article about Ms. Mensah’s case)? If so, what to do about it? How much support does CARICOM have at all levels of Caribbean society? So what to do? Admit that CARICOM is a myth, a sham and move on on our separate ways or address the disconnect that Ms. Myrie’s case likely illustrates, get broad public support, and move forward together? I personally think that small island states like those in the Caribbean have little hope of doing well in today’s global economy or even in our region by standing alone.  That said, CARICOM moves so damn slowly it’s no wonder that the general Caribbean population doesn’t take it seriously. And I don’t think that the international community – especially our biggest and most powerful neighbour the United States – takes CARICOM seriously.  I attended a trade talk (it covered the Latin American & Caribbean region) just last Thursday and was chatting with one of the attendees at the post-talk buffet; he pointed to the West Indies Cricket Board not the University of the West Indies as being the best run Caribbean institutions.  The WICB?! Jesus, we can barely choose a cricket team or decide on salary without a ruckus.  Meanwhile, CARICOM  was described as powerless, a waste of time, and moving at a glacial pace.  The person could not understand why we Caribbean people couldn’t get it together for our own sakes… especially since when we (Caribbean people) move to other countries we excel.  He called us one of the most successful immigrant groups in the U.S.   These views aren’t gospel but they are a window into how we’re viewed by outsiders.  What are we going to do about it? Another referendum or public education and actual, real, quantifiable action together?

As for Ms. Myrie: enough high level meetings and statements back and forth in the media, it’s time to conduct a thorough investigation, get the truth and come to a resolution.

15 Responses to “Last Week’s News: A Strip Search in Barbados”
  1. Aurie says:

    oh wow, i had no idea about this story….you were right about the original article being a difficult read. we really need to figure this thing out and get back to the common decency that used to set our region apart from other places. i’m keeping the faith even though events like these, among others, can really try me.

    • Thanks for the comment, Aurie. I agree about common decency…the alleged actions by the Bajan customs officials are really based in that. I was discussing this issue with a friend earlier this evening and we debated whether this was a moral or legal issue. I think that it’s both: legality of Bim ability to decide who enters its country but the manner in which it was done is a moral issue: it was plain wrong. As for the aftermath: that’s now a legal and diplomatic issue. My faith in human decency is tried as well…

  2. Carole-Anne says:

    Well written as usual. I hope Ms. Myrie is able to put this experience behind her mentally, emotionally and legally. I also hope that CARICOM can get its act together. I know many persons in JA hate the idea of it, but I think it would be a great accomplishment once approached properly.

  3. Miss Goodas says:

    Very good points. I hope this isn’t a 2k11 Tawanna Brawley incident. I find the Bajan officials lack of concern alarming.

    • Ms. Mottley is right: an impartial and thorough investigation is needed. However, we do not need to be hushing this up especially since it seems like that’s been happening with other Jamaicans and Caribbean nationals. The image of the country is at stake so I understand her – perhaps – patriotic reasonings for it. But bigger things are likely in issue now, chief among them the treatment of Caribbean people by other Caribbean people and a ignorance about our common heritage and experiences. There’s also the glaring issue of the formalized institution of Caribbean unity: CARICOM. Obviously ordinary Caribbean people need to be having this discussion about how we relate to and interact with each other; too much top-down CARICOM and not enough support from the wider population. Foundation is week and needs attention.

  4. henery george says:

    some west indians are coming in to barbados doin g prostitution and drugseven sending drugs by boat off ours shores if they dont do things according to or laws dont come here when america lock up buju banton why the jamaciams did not complain? to the barbados police and the immagration department keep on doing the good work if you dont like our laws well dont comein here as we know jamacians never like us remember who was the prime minister of thewest indian federation when pull out wasnt a barbadian tell them go about bring there crime rate down wasant duffus now lock up by the us not a friend of the present prime mister of ja?

    • Mr. George – Thanks for your comment and for reading my blog. To be honest when I first read it I wondered if it had slipped past my blog’s SPAM filter. I do not know which segment of the Caribbean you’re referring to re: prostitution and drugs in Barbados but surely it cannot be only the fault of non-Bajans that these ills exist in Bajan society. And you must have missed the strident criticism, weeping, moaning, and sorrow about Buju Banton and his escapades in Florida. Jamaicans surely did complain; many don’t like the verdict handed down and think that he was framed, many are saddened that such an important man in our cultural and musical history has been convicted of this crime. Don’t think I’m overstepping my bounds here by saying that all of us are ashamed but still love him. And we still love our country. One person’s misdeeds or triumphs do not define our country.

      If this is the kind of conduct you wish the Bajan authorities to do with regard to visitors to the country then I am truly horrified. Bim depends on tourism and maintaining a pristine(or at least solid) image of a country that is welcoming and open to folks. FYI – tourists are discerning people. And this especially applies to the kind of tourist that Bim seeks to attract. Why do you think that this incident will not sour them on Bim? I mean even with their tourist dollars, what would prevent them from falling victim to the whims, fancies, and prejudices of Bajan customs and immigration officials? So irrational is the apparent impetus for the disgraceful treatment of Ms. Myrie that it creates uncertainty in potential visitors; how does that help the “tourist product.” That, sir, is xenophobia. Not a great label to have even remotely associated with a country. This incident – and apparently consistently poor treatment of Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals by Bajan customs and immigration authorities – is quite serious. Not only was it a gross invasion of Ms. Myrie’s body but it is an assault on her dignity. It offends me as a woman to read of what (allegedly) happened to her. I’ve been planning to go to Barbados for some but now I hesitate, not only because of the treatment but the Bajan authorities’ response.

      I agree that those who don’t wish to obey the laws of a country should not go there. Perfectly reasonable. It is, however, unreasonable for the actions of some wayward nationals to be used as the standard by which all Jamaicans are judged. And even if that is the standard, the treatment meted out to Ms. Myrie is beyond anything that is reasonable, moral, or sensible. It was plain disgusting and unacceptable. I don’t dislike Bajans but surely this incident could give me and others grounds to do so? Is that what you prefer? I should hope not. Hatred never helped a soul.

      Regarding the Federation: yes Jamaica pulled out. Really can you blame a country just ready to taste independence and self-governance to see that “compromised” for regional integration? But Jamaica didn’t pull out willy nilly; there were what it considered legitimate reasons (come back for a future blog post on that matter). Further, the countries have come together again and have come much farther than before. Yet we seem to be hampered by ignorance, and, pardon me, but your post illustrates that perfectly. The ignorance is of our history, the consequences of dissolving the Federation, and the stark reality of the 21st century global economy especially our region. A full understanding of these issues would surely lead to a more measured and sensible approach by officials of a Caribbean government.

      Mr. Coke (nickname “Dudus”) was a resident of PM Golding’s constituency. They were perhaps friends. I don’t deny that Mr. Coke’s extradition request and the events in Tivoli that began on May 24, 2010 were bad for Jamaica. But what does that have to do with Ms. Myrie? Mr. Coke’s alleged illegal behaviour, Mr. Golding’s and the JLP’s ineptitude have little bearing on how Barbados treats a visitor and responds to reports of that ill treatment? Yes, Jamaica has much work to do on its internal affairs but, please, don’t seek to absolve the Bajan government and its agents responsibility in this manner. It does not work.

  5. Carole-Anne says:

    Mr. George,

    First of all, everyone is entitled to their opinions… however, I have to disagreee with you about the Barbados police and immigration department doing a good job. If they were doing such a wonderful job, then why are all these complaints (and not just from Jamaicans) being reported?

    It is a well known rumour that there is a love/hate relationship between Bajans and Jamaicans… also between Bajans and Trinidadians… it’s something that I personally hate to admit, but there is evidence undocumented and now… it’s being documented.

    I believe, as Ms. Mottley said in her article in Nation News, that both governments ought to stop talking and figure out the best way to fix this unfortunate situation. In my opinion, I don’t think that you should applaud their efforts without first seeing if the accusations by Ms. Myrie and many others are in fact correct (which they seem to be as days pass by).

    And for the record, when Buju was arrested and finally charged, Jamaicans DID complain and quite loudly too.

    Finally, this blog post was not condemning the country of Barbados in any way, shape or form. Rather it was condemning the unwarranted actions of the two female immigration officers and imploring that justice be sought.

  6. shumpynella says:

    FYI – Buju was arrested on charges and imprisoned in the U.S. To my knowledge, no charges have been brought against Ms. Myrie by the Bajan government.

    If folks from Caribbean islands would just read, we wouldn’t be facing many of these issues…and I don’t mean brainless reading. Do we as Caribbean people, Jamaicans included, have a full understanding of our history, human rights, and the many social and political forces affecting us daily? If we did, then you, Mr. George, would never be author of: “some west indians are coming in to barbados doin g prostitution and drugseven sending drugs by boat off ours shores if they dont do things according to or laws dont come here.” You’re dangerously unaware if you cannot acknowledge the cycle that promotes these activities among ALL West Indians (so you know, there will be no supply where there is no demand).

  7. shumpynella says:

    also, is West Indian = Jamaican?

  8. Astley says:

    Very good post. Henry George’s comment shows so much ignorance and insensitivity. No one has a problem with the Barbadian authorities doing their jobs. But what happened to this woman is not, and could never be, standard procedure?

    • Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment! I don’t quite know what to make of Mr. George’s comments but I hope that my response to him is at least adequate. I sincerely hope that this (alleged) treatment is not standard procedure…because there are other methods of checking someone for drugs (e.g. X-ray machines at the airport and hospital, a specially trained dog, or plain ol’ observation). Therefore it seems likely that this treatment was intended to be humiliating and violative and vengeful….because she’s of a particular nationality. Horrifying indeed.

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