The Caribbean Passport (CARICOM)

written by A. L. Hart Havens on May 1, 2022

The easing of coronavirus travel restrictions across the world, at least temporarily, has been a much-welcomed development in the view of vacation-deprived North Americans and Europeans in the mood for an extended Caribbean vacation. This unanticipated turn of events, in combination with the incredible amount of positive feedback about the recent article covering South America’s Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR), has served as inspiration to write about a similar organization that exists in the Caribbean region — the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Compared to the relatively large and populous South American countries of Mercosur, the Caribbean Community primarily consists of small islands with very low populations. However, while the Mercosur region is overwhelmingly dominated by the Spanish and Portuguese languages, the numerous countries, territories, and dependencies of the Caribbean Community are almost entirely English-speaking.

Geography of the West Indies

Known for its pristine beaches and tropical climate, the Caribbean is home to 7,000 islands and more than 30 distinct political jurisdictions consisting of independent republics, commonwealth realms, overseas possessions, and other dependent territories. The Caribbean islands, the vast majority of which are uninhabited, have a combined population of 43 million and a total land area roughly equal to that of the US state of Colorado (106,000 square miles; 276,000 square kilometers).

For all intents and purposes synonymous with the now-antiquated term West Indies, the Caribbean is a world region where European colonialism is still alive and well and where British, French, and Dutch possessions abound. Other European powers that have held Caribbean possessions at some point include Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and Denmark.

On this note, the three major islands of today’s US Virgin Islands — Saint John, Saint Thomas, and Saint Croix — were successively acquired by Denmark over the course of the late 1600s and early 1700s, and the islands were collectively referred to as the Danish West Indies over the ensuing centuries. Oddly, the language spoken by the African sugar plantation slaves and their descendants in this Danish colony came to be known as Negerhollands (literally Negro Dutch), a vernacular that has garnered the attention and fascination of a number of linguists due to its mysterious origins and very unique set of linguistic and cultural influences.

Negerhollands is based on the relatively obscure Zeelandic dialect of Dutch but evolved to exhibit vocabulary and other linguistic features borrowed from Danish, Spanish, English, French, and various African languages. Although various theories exist, it is not certain how this novel Dutch creole vernacular suddenly emerged in a Danish-ruled colonial territory. Further study of the language will be difficult, however, as Negerhollands ceased to exist as a living language in 1987 with the death of its last remaining speaker.

Denmark sold the territorial possessions of the Danish West Indies to the United States in 1917, which coincided with the American entry into World War 1. However, one of the minor islands, Water Island, was owned by the Danish East Asiatic Company at the time and not by the Danish government. The EAC eventually sold Water Island to the US government in 1944 (while Denmark was under German occupation) but the island was not incorporated into the US Virgin Islands until 1996.

With regard to the geography of the Caribbean, the region’s boundaries are Florida in the north, Mexico and Central America in the west, South America in the south, and the Atlantic Ocean in the east. The Caribbean archipelago can be divided into three major geographical regions — the Lucayan Archipelago, the Greater Antilles, and the Lesser Antilles. The Lucayan Archipelago is situated off the southeastern coast of Florida and encompasses the Bahamas and the British overseas territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It does not include the Florida Keys.

The Greater Antilles, located in the center of the Caribbean Sea, includes all of the major Caribbean islands and consists of six jurisdictions — Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico (US), and the Cayman Islands (UK). The Greater Antilles account for 90% of the land area and 90% of the population of the entire Caribbean islands.

Keeping a rough mental overview of the Caribbean’s Lucayan Archipelago and Greater Antilles regions is a relatively straightforward task, but only a seasoned world geography guru could sit down with a blank map of the Caribbean’s third region, the Lesser Antilles, and correctly identify each island. This is because the Lesser Antilles, which forms an arc across the eastern and southern Caribbean Sea, covers 24 tiny island jurisdictions, the majority of which are overseas territories and dependencies of Western European countries.

The Lesser Antilles can be divided into three subregions — the Leeward Antilles, the Windward Islands, and the Leeward Islands. While it is certainly easy to get confused here given the similar names, it is also important to keep in mind that some disagreement exists regarding the assignment of certain islands to the three (ill-defined) subregions.

The Leeward Antilles, which form the southwestern section of the arc of the Lesser Antilles, are located just above the northwestern Venezuelan coastline and encompass the Dutch territories/dependencies of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (colloquially known as the ABC islands). A few Venezuelan offshore islands are sometimes included in the Leeward Antilles.

Following the arc’s northeasterly path from the Leeward Antilles, a traveler will next encounter the Windward Islands, which include the jurisdictions of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, and the French overseas region of Martinique. Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados are sometimes classified as part of the Windward Islands, although they are often viewed as outliers with no fitting allocation to any of the Lesser Antilles’ three subregions.

North of the Windward Islands along the eastern Caribbean arc lie the Leeward Islands, which stretch across the countries of Saint Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda as well as the US territories/dependencies of the US Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands, the British territories/dependencies of Anguilla, Montserrat, and the British Virgin Islands, the French territories/dependencies of Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, and Guadeloupe, and the Dutch territories/dependencies of Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, and Saba.

Interestingly, American and Canadian citizens residing in certain states and provinces are eligible for passport-free travel to many of these Caribbean jurisdictions by utilizing an enhanced driver’s license, a little-known resource featured in the Liberated Services article entitled The Enhanced Driver’s License as a Passport Substitute.

An English-Speaking Caribbean Union

The Caribbean Community, colloquially referred to as CARICOM or CC, is an intergovernmental organization of Caribbean countries, overseas territories, and dependencies that aims to facilitate intra-regional travel, promote economic cooperation and free trade, and provide for the harmonization of standards, laws, and norms.

The organization emerged in 1973 with the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas by its four founding members — Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, and Jamaica. Today, Caricom can be described as a semi-integrated economic and political union of English-speaking Caribbean countries and dependencies.

Caricom is the most important intergovernmental organization in the Caribbean region, outshining both the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in scope and significance.

Caricom consists of fifteen full members (Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago). Caricom’s full members include eleven Caribbean-island countries, one Caribbean-island overseas territory (Montserrat), and three mainland Caribbean countries (Guyana, Suriname, and Belize). Cuba, the Caribbean-island jurisdiction with the highest population, land area, and nominal GDP, is not part of the bloc, although a bilateral agreement was signed in 2017 aimed at improving Cuba-Caricom trade relations.

If any single country were to be designated as Caricom’s most influential member and de facto power center, it would be Trinidad & Tobago, which is the southernmost Caribbean-island nation and located less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Venezuelan mainland. Trinidad & Tobago has the bloc’s highest nominal GDP by a clear margin, it’s third largest population (behind Haiti and Jamaica), and is the birthplace of the Caricom organization. While the Caribbean Community’s Secretariat, the organization’s highest administrative body, is based in Georgetown, Guyana, the Caribbean Court of Justice, which adjudicates disputes among Caricom member countries and is bloc’s highest court of law, is located in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago.

Of the bloc’s fifteen full member countries, ten have populations below 400,000, eight have a land area smaller than 300 square miles (775 square kilometers), and all fifteen have a nominal GDP of less than $25 billion (USD).

It is worth noting that all of the organization’s full members are predominantly English-speaking with the exceptions of Haiti (French) and Suriname (Dutch), and that Guyana and Suriname are also associate members of Mercosur. Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana were covered in the Liberated Services article entitled Obscure Countries of South America.

Caricom also has five associate members (Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Turks & Caicos Islands), and eight observers (Aruba, Colombia, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten, Venezuela).

The Caribbean Single Market and Economy

Enacted in 2001, the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) seeks to provide for the free movement of people throughout the Caricom bloc. However, the arrangement currently applies only to certain Caricom citizens such as those who are skilled professionals, sole proprietors, company managers, and university graduates.

In addition to the free movement of certain types of Caricom citizens and the aforementioned harmonization of laws and norms, the CSME also aims to eliminate intra-bloc tariffs and foreign exchange controls, impose uniform external tariffs, allow for the free movement of capital, and permit Caricom-country businesses to operate in any other Caricom country at no disadvantage under the law.

The mutual recognition of other Caricom member countries’ professional accreditations and educational degrees has facilitated this freedom of movement, although the organization is still a long way away from full and uniform implementation. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether there will ever be an EU-inspired free movement of unskilled labor across the Caribbean Community.

However, it is notable that the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States), not to be confused with the globalist-friendly OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), does in fact already function in a way that is similar to the EU with regard to residency privileges. It has also adopted a single currency across the bloc’s full member countries (the Eastern Caribbean dollar), although it does not issue a common-design OECS passport.

The seven OECS members, all of which are full members of Caricom, are Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), and Monserrat. OECS’s associate members are Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, and Martinique.

The CARICOM Passport

Twelve of Caricom’s fifteen full members issue various shades of dark blue passports showing CC and Caribbean Community at the top of the front cover above the country’s name and national coat of arms. Haiti, the Bahamas, and Montserrat are the three that have yet to issue the Caricom-themed passport.

Montserrat is a British overseas territory and is Caricom’s only full member that is not classified as a sovereign country. Montserratians are issued passports showing British Passport at the top of the front cover and Monserrat at the bottom. All five of Caricom’s associate members are also British overseas territories that issue British passports, none of which contain any reference to the Caribbean Community on their covers.

The passports issued by British overseas territories generally do not offer quite the same degree of visa-free travel as does the ordinary British passport, which incidentally has recently transitioned from the EU’s standard burgundy red to a dark blue in the wake of Brexit. However, there are a number of complicated caveats when it comes to British nationality that can affect visa-free travel privileges. These can depend among other things on a British national’s status as a British citizen, a British overseas citizen, a British overseas territories citizen, a British overseas national, a British subject, or a British protected person.

It is notable here that Caricom member Barbados withdrew from the British Commonwealth in November 2021 and in doing so replaced Queen Elizabeth with the Barbadian president as the country’s official head of state. The passport of Barbados is Caricom’s best with regard to visa-free international travel, placing #50 in the 2022 rankings of the world’s 199 passports from most powerful (#1) to least powerful (#199).

We have previously highlighted the good quality of passports issued by countries in the Western Hemisphere compared to most other world regions. It should thus come without a surprise that all of the Caribbean Community’s full and associate members (except for Haiti) issue passports granting their holders decent visa-free access throughout the world. The Caricom passports are on average far superior to those issued by Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries.

Furthermore, the growing influence of China and Russia in the Caribbean and Latin American region, which can be seen in the numerous reciprocal visa-free travel agreements (especially with Russia), means that these tiny countries situated in the US government’s backyard may soon possess sufficient clout to successfully resist big brother’s neoconservative geopolitical strongarming tactics.

Finally, the passport quality combined with the pleasant weather and predominance of the English language across the bloc make the prospect of obtaining a second citizenship or residency permit in a Caricom-member country undoubtedly an intriguing one. This is especially the case for concerned North Americans and Europeans seeking to establish a safe harbor abroad prior to the complete unraveling of their home countries’ economic, social, and political systems.