Saturday, February 11, 2012

Haitian President Michel Martelly's visit to The Bahamas turns political in a general election climate

Haitian president's visit turns political

tribune242 editorial

Nassau, The Bahamas

JUDGING from the squeals in the political arena since the two-day visit of Haitian President Michel Martelly, it would seem that many guilty consciences have been exposed.

In speaking with his people -- some born in the Bahamas with the legal right to be here-- President Martelly advised those registered to vote to organise themselves and "identify in this upcoming election with who is on their side".

In plain, simple English (and Mr Martelly speaks good English) they were told -- vote your conscience. No one heard him say vote FNM, PLP or DNA. The decision of each of them will be subjective, as it is with all voters. Each one will have had a different experience with the various governments -- and like each and every Bahamian, they too will have to decide which government is capable of doing the best, not only for them, but for the Bahamas - their country.

But now the political hoodwinkers are about their dirty work of confusion. The rumour, fanned by various members of the opposition, claim that President Martelly encouraged Haitians to vote FNM. If that is so, maybe some of them had better go back to kindergarten to learn to speak English. Many Bahamians complain that Haitians will eventually take over the Bahamas. If this is the level of Bahamian politicians' understanding of their own language, then maybe Haitians will one day takeover the country.

Mr Martelly did not instruct anyone on how to vote. He arrived in Nassau on Wednesday to have discussions with Bahamian officials and the Haitian community on how to develop trade opportunities and improve conditions for Haitians legally in the Bahamas. "I promised them to work for them to better their possibilities to remain in Haiti so I had a very open discussion with officials as to how can we protect those who at least have the legal papers."

President Martelly said he was "committed to working with the Bahamian government to find responsible and humane solutions to reports of mistreatment of legal residents and persons born in the Bahamas of Haitian descent." However, he said, his ultimate focus was to try to create jobs that would keep Haitians at home and stop the illegal flow to the Bahamas. He was also here to encourage investment in Haiti - "we want trade, we need to create jobs, as we create jobs, companies make money, they pay their taxes and Haiti prospers".

He also hoped to resume talks regarding the export of agricultural produce from Haiti. Apparently, Mr Martelly's predecessor was already negotiating with the Bahamas government for the importation of Haitian mangoes -- talks that ended with the 2010 earthquake that crushed Haiti. Mr Martelly was resuming those talks.

Bran McCartney, DNA leader, formerly Minister of State for Immigration in the FNM government, found that for Mr Martelly to "insinuate that Bahamians of Haitian descent are being abused is misleading".

Come now, Mr McCartney, you know that this statement is not misleading. Even today there are certain officials, in uniform, who will shake down a Haitian for his money. And what about the legal Haitians in Eleuthera -- many in their nightclothes - who were roused from their beds by the police and herded to a fast ferry bound for Nassau. Of the 193 persons arrested and sent to the Detention Centre, 170 had to be released because they were legal residents. True, in 2006, this was not on Mr McCartney's watch, but still, under then Immigration Minister Shane Gibson (PLP), it was unfair harassment, and a legitimate subject for discussion by Haiti's visiting president.

Mr Martelly talked of the children born here who have to wait until they are 18 to apply for citizenship - in the meantime they "don't belong anywhere". He said that if these persons are sent back to Haiti they would know nobody, and would not even recognise the place where they had landed.

We also know that this is true. We have had personal experience with such a situation. It was the case of a young girl, who if it had not been for her name, could pass as Bahamian. Both parents, had legal standing in the Bahamas. She arrived here a babe in arms. One day, she was picked up working as a shop girl -- her employers probably did not suspect she was Haitian. She was taken to the Detention Centre. The next day, she was to be flown to Haiti, where she had no family, friends, or even acquaintances. A top girl in one of the government schools, even her teachers went to bat for her. Eventually, we got her out. But how many more have there been like her who have had no one to turn to for help.

We understand that one of the issues that hastened Mr McCartney's departure from his post as FNM Minister of State for Immigration was his harsh position on the Haitian question. His policies were out of step with that of his party. Hence a parting of the ways, and the eventual establishment of the DNA party.

And, of course, we needn't remind anyone of the harsh treatment of Haitians under the PLP administration, particularly under former immigration minister Loftus Roker when Haitians were hunted from the bush with dogs, while their unattended homes were raided by thieving Bahamians.

Yes, Mr McCartney, Mr Martelly had a lot to talk about. It is now up to the Bahamians of Haitian descent and Haitians with the right to vote to decide which party has the more humane approach to their unfortunate situation.

But to say that Mr Martelly's presence was a "political ploy by the FNM to manipulate the (electoral) process" and the President's comments - at this politically sensitive time - were a "direct attack on Bahamian democracy" is just so much political chicanery.

February 10, 2012

tribune242 editorial