Since the Caribbean was incorporated into the Western world in the 15th century, migration has been a constant phenomenon in the region. The decisions and actions of the nations that ruled the territories of the region have determined the coming and going population movements. Whether it was promoting immigration of colonists and workers, whether free or slaves, or restricting emigration to other parts of the hemisphere, the governments of the region have historically instituted public political measures that controlled or facilitated the movements of people from one country to another (for example: settlements, land grants, political asylum, and exile).
In the current era, the Caribbean governments — both independent and the colonial and overseas departments — have instituted measures and created institutions to facilitate labor migration and settling abroad. The Migration Division of the Puerto Rico Labor Department and the French BUMIDON/ANT (for its overseas departments) were created for the purpose of meeting the demand for labor in the metropolitan country and promoting the socio-economic development of the colonies, exterior territories and incipient nations in the Caribbean.
Major economic interests also employed a huge amount of labor throughout the Caribbean, from the Jamaicans and other English-speaking people who worked on the construction of the Panama Canal, on the banana plantations in Central America and the sugar plantations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, to the employment of Haitian labor in the Dominican sugar fields or, in more recent times, the employment of Dominicans in the coffee harvest in Puerto Rico. The labor agreements that allowed these migrations of workers were done with the explicit or implicit approval of the respective Caribbean governments.
The bases for the migrations in the Caribbean have been mainly economic or political-economic. Populating a territory under a government’s dominion to protect and exploit its economic resources served as an escape valve for avoiding social conflicts. But migrations also had strictly political bases and overtones. The Dominican experience during the Rafael Trujillo regime is an example of migration that was seen as a rejection of the restrictive rule. On the other hand, after Word War II broke out, this regime sponsored the entrance of European Jewish refugees in an ethnic eugenics campaign. After his death, in the politically tumultuous 1960s, the United States and Dominican governments favored immigration of Dominicans opposed to the Balaguer regime to limit the possibility of another social explosion after the constitutionalist uprising of 1965. Cuba, after the Revolution of 1959, which installed a Marxist-Leninist regime, offered another example of Caribbean migration based on strictly political exile.
The study of migration, due to the near monopoly of the social sciences in the United States based on the migratory experiences of that country, is often seen as a unidirectional and one-time movement: from the migrant’s country of origin to the country of settlement. However, the waves of labor migration have had return waves to the country of origin, as well as a current that circulates between the country of origin and the countries of settlement. With the growing number of migrants who cross borders, new transnational patterns of political behavior have developed. In other words, the political activities of individuals or political groups are no longer limited to the country of origin or the country of settlement, but instead the migrants may come to participate in the political and governmental processes of both. These transnational political activities are facilitated in the measure that nation-states tolerate or promote dual citizenship and allow participation in the formal political institutions. For example, allowing voting by citizens abroad and allowing immigrants to run for political office. The state’s purpose in facilitating these activities rests in the potential benefit that countries with emigrants see in their citizens abroad being able to influence the political process in the country of settlement, with positive results for the country of origin.
Autor: Carlos Vargas
Published: July 23, 2012.
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