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Sunday, February 28, 2010

To OAS or not to OAS: that is the question

Ronald Sanders

At a meeting of leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean on February 23, Caribbean Community (Caricom) governments supported a joint "Declaration on (the) Falklands Islands Issue".

The Declaration "confirmed their support of Argentina's legitimate rights in the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands Issue", and recalled "regional interest in having the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom resume negotiations to find a fair, peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute over the sovereignty" of the Falklands/Malvinas islands. They went further to call on the European Union (EU) countries to amend their charter to remove the Falkland Islands from the list of overseas territories associated with the EU.

The support of Latin American countries for Argentina in this matter is quite understandable. They have links of language, culture, history and proximity that go back centuries.

But the support of Caricom countries for Argentina's "legitimate rights" is puzzling. Both the UK and Argentina have claimed the Falklands/Malvinas for almost 200 years. So what now makes Argentina's rights more "legitimate" than Britain's? And why call for "negotiations" between Argentina and Britain to find "a fair, peaceful and definitive solution" to the dispute if it has already been decided that Argentina's rights are "legitimate"?

Unless there is something they have not made public, this position by Caribbean governments appears on the surface to run counter to their own national interests.

The Caribbean has always strongly supported a people's right to self-determination. It is in fulfilment of their own right to self-determination that Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries are independent states. In this regard, since the people of the Falklands/Malvinas have consistently and overwhelmingly chosen to be British, Caribbean governments would certainly not argue that the manifest wish of the people of the Falklands/Malvinas should be ignored, particularly since Britain has exercised de facto sovereignty over the islands continuously since 1833.

The national interests of 12 of the 14 independent Caricom countries are much more bound up with Britain than they are with Argentina. Caricom's trade with Britain far exceeds trade with Argentina; investment in Caricom countries from Britain is much greater than any investment from Argentina; official development assistance from Britain to Caricom countries directly and indirectly (through the European Union and the Commonwealth for instance) is much larger than any assistance from Argentina; the number of tourists from Britain to Caricom countries is considerably greater than from Argentina; and far more Caricom nationals live, work and study in Britain than in Argentina.

What appears to have triggered this discussion at the 33-nation Cancun meeting is the fact that a British oil exploration company, Desire Petroleum Plc, announced that it had started drilling for oil 60 miles (100 kilometres) north of the Falklands/Malvinas. Argentina objects to this development.

In giving support to Argentina, Caricom countries run the risk of compromising their own interest. For instance, where would they stand if Venezuela objected to oil exploration off part of Guyana, despite long-standing international arbitrations and agreements confirming Guyana's title? Also, where would these countries stand if Venezuela objected to oil explorations that might be granted by some of them near Aves Island/Bird Rock to which Venezuela lays claim? In the case of Belize where Guatemala claims the entire country, the same argument applies.

Then we come to the matter of the creation of a grouping of these 33 countries that excludes Canada and the United States. Some of the Latin American leaders - in particular those with a strong anti-American position - proclaimed to the media that this new grouping should replace the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Well, replacing the OAS is simply in no country's interest - not even those with the most rabid anti-American governments. There has to be a forum in the Hemisphere where all its countries are represented and where discussions can take place at all levels of government and on all issues. And that organisation is clearly the already well-established OAS. In this regard, Cuba should return to the OAS and the exclusion of the present elected government of Honduras should cease.

In any event, I suspect that only a very few governments touted the idea of an "alternative" organisation to the OAS and even fewer would have supported it. Certainly for Caricom countries, there is no other organisation in which they can engage the US government on a regular and sustained basis at all levels. That alone makes the OAS worthwhile for them.

Further, Caricom governments greatly value their relations with Canada, which has been an ally and partner for generations in the Hemisphere and in the Commonwealth. They would want deeper, not distant relations with Canada.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Latin American and Caribbean countries establishing a grouping that is not an alternative to the OAS, but is additional to it.

However, no one should believe that it will be anything more than an opportunity for dialogue at the leadership level. It will have no secretariat and therefore little means of implementing decisions; decisions will have to be made by consensus, therefore no binding decisions will be made. In truth, the grouping is so amorphous and is made up of countries at such different levels of development and with such differing interests and ambitions, that its meetings will largely be obligatory and its decisions only declaratory.

The Summit "Declaration of Cancun" does have as one of its objectives "the co-ordination of regional positions ahead of meetings and conferences of global reach... to project the region and increase its influence". This is to be welcomed provided that the view of smaller Caribbean islands are seriously considered and reflected by the larger Latin American states.

This brings us to the OAS itself. The US government should regard this move by Latin American and Caribbean countries to set up a Hemispheric grouping, which deliberately excludes it, as a firm warning that its neglect of Latin America and the Caribbean's development needs and issues, and its oftentimes casual dismissal of their positions is not in the interest of the United States. The authorities in Washington need to engage Latin American and Caribbean countries as genuine partners and neighbours, and a strengthened and revitalised OAS is the place to do so.

In this connection, Caricom countries should indicate their support for the re-election on March 23 of the incumbent Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. His task over the last five years in a fractious organisation, which also relies on consensus for decision-making, has not been easy. But he has tried to introduce reforms and he has been the most forceful secretary general the OAS has seen for a long time. Additionally, he has been very mindful of his obligations to his Caribbean member states.

He has also taken on Hugo Chavez over violations of media freedom in Venezuela and he has not been afraid to point out shortcomings by the US government. To have offended both these adversaries, he must have done something right for the rest.

Over the next five and final years as secretary general, Insulza can be bold in giving the OAS real direction in reforming its mandate and establishing it as a meaningful forum for settling hemispheric issues and advancing democracy, development and human rights.

Responses and previous commentaries at:

Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and former Caribbean diplomat.

February 28, 2010


Saturday, February 27, 2010

The shamelessness of the United States government

ONE out of every four prisoners in the world is in a U.S. penitentiary. The composition of these prisoners is profoundly racist: one out of every 15 black adults is incarcerated; one out of every 9 is aged 20-34 years; and one out of every 36 Hispanics. Two-thirds of those serving life sentences are African Americans or Latinos, and in the case of New York state, only 16.3% of prisoners are white.

Every year, 7,000 people die in U.S. prisons, many of them murdered or suicides.

For example, U.S. prison guards routinely use Taser guns on prisoners. According to a recent report, 230 U.S. citizens have died as a result of the use of these weapons since 2001. The report refers to the case of a county jail in Garfield, Colorado, accused of regularly using Taser guns and pepper spray on prisoners, and then tying them to chairs in extreme positions for hours at a time.

It was recently reported that 72 people have died in the last five years in immigrant detention centers.

A report released by the U.S. Justice Department during W. Bush’s final term in office said that 22,480 prisoners in state and federal penitentiaries were HIV positive or AIDS patients, and an estimated 176 state and 27 federal prisoners died from AIDS-related causes. For example, a September 20, 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that 426 cases of death were recorded in California prisons in 2006 as stemming from belated medical treatment. Eighteen of these deaths were considered "preventable" and 48 others as "possibly preventable." A 41-year-old diabetic patient, Rodolfo Ramos, died after having been left abandoned and covered in his own feces for one week. Prison officials did not provide him with medical treatment even though they were aware of his condition.

In at least 40 of the country’s 50 states, courts treat juveniles of 14 to 18 years old like adults. About 200,000 minors in the United States are subjected to trials in courts for adults, even though it has been demonstrated that this proceeding is wrong.

Juveniles in 13 juvenile detention centers in the United States suffer from high rates of sexual abuse, and an average of one out of every three incarcerated minors report being attacked.

Approximately 283,000 prisoners are mentally ill, four times the number of patients in psychiatric hospitals.

In U.S. state and federal prisons, 4.5% of prisoners have suffered one or more sexual attack, and 2.9% report having suffered incidents involving prison staff. In addition, 0.5% reported having been sexually assaulted both by other prisoners and by prison staff.

Physical, direct forms of brutal treatment and torture of prisoners are endemic to U.S. prisons. A British film released a few years ago, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons, features footage from prison security cameras in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California, in which guards can be seen severely beating prisoners – even killing some – and using Taser guns and electric prods, attack dogs, chemical sprays and dangerous paralyzing devices.

However, the most harmful effect of this prolonged isolation is that the mental abuse of prisoners affects them alarmingly. Many prisoners go crazy (if they weren’t already mentally ill), or commit suicide, as a result of this inhuman punishment. They are in restricted segregated units, and many of them are also in isolation – but the government does not release that information. The majority of prisoners in the United States who are in isolation have been so for more than five years.

Translated by Granma International

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Creation of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States: a historically significant event

• States Raúl, addressing the Summit of Latin American and Caribbean Unity, which ended on Tuesday • Two declarations and eight special documents adopted, including a condemnation of the U.S. blockade of Cuba

Lazaro Barredo Medina

RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico.— The creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is a historically significant event, and we believe it appropriate to strive to promptly define its statutes and mode of functioning, so that they cover the collective interest in the greater integration and unity of our region, Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz said on Tuesday, Feb. 24, in addressing the Unity Summit’s final session.

Raúl’s speech was closely followed by those present in the large auditorium, and he made a number of points that were later referred to by other speakers.

The Summit ended on Tuesday after two declarations were approved: the Declaration of Cancun, and the Declaration of the Unity Summit, which establish the main programmatic commitments to political and economic coordination and cooperation. In addition, eight special documents were passed on: migratory cooperation; solidarity with Haiti; a declaration on the Malvinas issue, backing Argentina’s legitimate rights in its dispute with the UK; and a special communiqué, supporting Argentina’s demands regarding hydrocarbon exploration on the continental platform, in terms of the persistent unilateral British actions.

The summit also passed a declaration on Guatemala, congratulating that country for the outcome of investigations by the International Commission against Impunity, which cleared President Alvaro Colom of any responsibility for the death of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg in 2009.

Likewise, the meeting passed a resolution supporting the Ecuadorian initiative known as Yusuní-ITT, a voluntary gesture on the part of Ecuador not to exploit 846 million barrels of oil that lie under the subsoil of the Yasuní National Park, to benefit the environment and ensure the conservation "of one of the places of most biodiversity in the world." Another document expresses solidarity with Ecuador after the Financial Action Task Force included it, in a manipulative move, on the list of countries that have failed to adequately address money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

Other resolutions include a condemnation of the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba.

In listing the underlying principles of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Mexican President Felipe Calderón said the new organization "should prioritize the advancement of regional integration with a view to promoting our sustainable development, advancing our regional agenda in global forums, and having a better position in response to relevant world events."

Likewise, he announced that in July 2011, in Caracas, Venezuela, the various government representatives are to define the guidelines of the new bloc, which is to comprise the Rio Group and the Latin American and Caribbean Summit. In 2012, they will meet again in Chile, the country that assumed the rotating presidency of the Rio Group for the next two years in a ceremony in which President Michelle Bachellet bid farewell to the other presidents and introduced her successor, Sebastián Piñera, who spoke briefly, reaffirming his commitment to take forward the summit’s agreements.

Outgoing Costa Rican President Oscar Arias also bid farewell to those present, with a speech whose tone was somewhat pessimistic regarding the new Latin American and Caribbean coordination organization. He also made contradictory statements which, using certain sophisms in defense of democracy, expressed potentially divisive opinions which focused conflicts evidently on nations that have put up the greatest ideological and political resistance in recent years.

On that, shortly afterward, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called upon his colleagues to always take an optimistic attitude: "There is no reason at all for us to be pessimists," he said.

The Brazilian president addressed a number of issues, and questioned the United Nations for its lack of decisiveness in relation Argentina’s sovereignty in its conflict with Britain over the Malvinas Islands, and he asked for a discussion of the role and composition of the Security Council, which, he said, represents the geopolitical interests of World War II, "and fails to take into account the changes that have happened in the world."

Another issue extensively addressed by Lula was the recent Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, where, Brazil, China and India stated their belief that "it is possible to find a new formula to reach an agreement."

"The rich countries like the United States and the European Union have to take into account the interests of Africa and Latin America in making decisions to mitigate global warming," he affirmed.

At the end of the session, the Cuban delegation remained for some time in the auditorium to attend to various heads of state and government, as well as other important figures, officials and delegation members who approached the Cubans to greet them, exchange opinions and take photos with Raúl. Almost the last to leave, Raúl and President Hugo Chávez walked away chatting like brothers, greeted by many people, including security personnel, journalists and hotel workers.

Translated by Granma International

February 24, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chavez considers regional integration urgent

HAVANA, Cuba (ACN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez described on Monday in Cancun, Mexico, the need for the integration of Latin American and Caribbean peoples as urgent and a life or death issue.

We can’t think of surviving in a world affected by the crisis and the inordinate desires of the powerful, “unless we come together,” Chavez said at the Summit of the Latin America and the Caribbean Unity, attended among others by the Cuban delegation headed by President Raúl Castro.

After considering the present world as dangerous for poor and developing countries, Chavez noted that many scholars consider the current world situation marked by “the perfect crisis, because it concerns economics, finance, weather, food and many important aspects at once.”

He highlighted that 200 years after it was raised as an imperative by Simón Bolívar, the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean are meeting in Mexico with its sights set on the unity.

The Venezuelan president also dubbed the Organization of American States as “something obsolete and it serves no purpose and should no longer exist,” and added that the Mexico Summit can’t recognize the current Honduran government, as emanating from a coup.

He reiterated the support of Venezuela to Argentina for the recovery of the Malvinas Islands, while he underlined the need for the Cancun forum to speak with one voice in favor of that aspiration, which he described as legitimate.

February 23, 2010


Monday, February 22, 2010

Watch this investment summit on Haiti

Concerns over two-day Miami event

Analysis by Rickey Singh

LAST week as the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France were on separate visits to earthquake-ruined Haiti, there were concerns about a United States of America private sector-initiated "investment summit" in Miami next month that would focus on economic reconstruction in that Caribbean Community member state.

Scheduled for March 9-10, the organisers and sponsors claim to be working on "reconstruction principles" identified at last month's Montreal Conference on Haiti hosted by Prime Minister Harper.

However, Caricom, which participated in the Montreal Conference and which has been mandated by Haiti to function as its special advocate at international fora in relation to the country's post-earthquake reconstruction, received no invitation or official information about this upcoming summit.

At the time of writing two days ago, the indication given was that it was "most unlikely" that Caricom would have an official present at the scheduled investment summit.

Instead, the Community is immersed in preparations, in collaboration with the Haitian administration of President René Préval, for the United Nations Donors Conference on Haiti currently being organised for late next month in New York.

While the Miami investment summit will be focused on garnering private contracts with an eye on security-related development, the UN's upcoming conference on Haiti will reflect current concerns over "the scale and nature of the challenges we face not only on the relief side, but also the course for the recovery and development later on", according to Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

In contrast, promotion of the two-day investment summit being organised for next month has pointed to the benefits that could accrue to private corporations from private discussions.

Engaging in customary humanitarian rhetoric, the organisers of the summit - a number of whom are linked to some big names in private security operations, and not all with flattering credentials - state, for instance, on its promotion website ( the following:

"The summit benefits from a proven event model that includes plenary addresses on key areas with the opportunity for private discussions between attending companies and the various international delegations in attendance....

The Agenda

"The format is aimed at ensuring that attending companies have the opportunity to meet with leading stakeholders and demonstrate the important roles they have to play in the aid reconstruction and redevelopment of Haiti, essentially making for a mutually beneficial multilateral relation forum..."

For co-author of the book Capitalising on Catastrophe, Nandini Gunawardena (the other author is Mark Schuller), "the event seems to allow private corporations, in various disguises, to talk up international humanitarian agencies and convince them how they would be best placed to bring in various services and undertake reconstruction tasks, essentially to make no-bid contracts and deals (as in the past) which promise to wreak further disruption and disempowerment in the lives of Haitians..."

Linking last month's Montreal Conference on Haiti with the upcoming investment summit in Miami may be quite tactical on the part of the organisers. But are the objectives the same - to serve Haiti's best interest in its post-earthquake reconstruction?

Doubts, and even warnings, are already surfacing among those with reservations about sponsors like the security firm Sabre International, in conjunction with the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), described as a British "provider of business summits".

It is hoped that should Caricom governments and private sector representatives be among invited participants who turn up for this investment summit, they will be quite vigilant in honouring their own policies and mandates - in the best interest of Haiti and the wider Community.

In the meantime, as new human tragedies continue to plague Haitians - the latest being the collapse of a school from a mudslide that killed four children, amid warnings of further dislocation from expected heavy rains - varying estimates are emerging on the enormous scale of international aid required for reconstruction and redevelopment of Haiti.

France's "aid"

While the Montreal Conference on Haiti came up last month with a projected US$10-billion aid plan over five years, the Inter-American Development Bank, in its latest assessment, has declared that the level of economic assistance could require at least US$14 billion for what it has categorised as, proportionately, "the most destructive natural disaster of modern times".

During their respective visits to Haiti last week, Canadian Prime Minister Harper announced a US$555-million reconstruction aid package over five years, and France's President Sarkozy promised US$378 million in assistance.

That disclosure in Port-au-Prince prompted the Jamaica-born regional economist, Dr Norman Girvan, to juxtapose on his website that focuses on Caribbean political economy, Sarkozy's announced US$378-million aid with the estimated US$22 billion owed by France as compensation to Haiti for the demands made for recognition of Haiti's independence.

"The indemnity imposed by France," Girvan noted in a media statement to coincide with Sarkozy's visit to Haiti, "condemned the Haitian people to a cycle of indebtedness, environmental degradation and underdevelopment from which they have yet to recover.

"And if President Sarkozy were to make the restitution, in the name of all the decent people of the French republic, for this historic wrong, and support the efforts of the Haitian people to rebuild their shattered lives and economy, he would undoubtedly gain the respect of the entire world and be a prime candidate for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010..."

Sarkozy does not seem to be in such a courageous mood. Just think of the announced US$338-million aid from Haiti's former ruthless coloniser compared with the level of interest shown and financial help already committed by, for example, Canada.

February 21, 2010


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dust from distant lands may affect climate, health in the Caribbean, say scientists

SAN DIEGO, USA -- Residents of the southern United States and the Caribbean have seen it many times during the summer months -- a whitish haze in the sky that seems to hang around for days. The resulting thin film of dust on their homes and cars actually is soil from the deserts of Africa, blown across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, there is new evidence that similar dust storms in the arctic, possibly caused by receding glaciers, may be making similar deposits in northern Europe and North America, according to Joseph M Prospero from the University of Miami in a February 19 presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Our recent work in Iceland has shown that most of the dust events there are associated with dust emitted from glacial outwash deposits, which may be carried into the northern latitudes and into Europe by synoptic weather events,” says Prospero, professor of marine and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, in his talk “Intercontinental Dust Transport: The Linkage to Climate and its Environmental Impact.”

Satellite data have shown large dust plumes in the arctic, but persistent cloud cover has made finding the origins difficult. The glaciers have been retreating in Iceland for decades, and the trend is expected to continue with the changing climate. Prospero predicts that dust activity from the newly exposed glacial deposits will most likely increase in the future in Iceland and possibly from other glacial terrains in the Arctic.

Prospero’s lifelong work has been to measure the effects of airborne dust. Since 1965, he and his colleagues have been measuring dust particles in Barbados, West Indies, thus creating the longest dust measurement data set in science. They found that dust transport increased greatly during the late 1960s and early 1970s at the same time as a severe drought in Northern Africa.

“The first 30 years of the dust record showed a strong relationship between dust transport across the ocean to rainfall amounts in the Sahel and Soudan regions of Africa,” says Prospero. “It’s important to note that the level of dust transport is not necessarily related directly to rainfall but possibly to other climate factors associated with the variability of rainfall.”

Some of the most intense periods dust transport are associated with strong El Niño events, which may affect such factors as wind speeds and variability as well as rainfall—the same factors that affect dust mobilization and transport. However, since the late 1990s, the pattern of drought and dust transport has been disrupted -- dust transport rates were actually greater than what Prospero’s earlier model would indicate.

“We still have work to do to understand the fundamental processes and relationship between climate, rainfall, and dust transport,” says Prospero. “Predicting the long-term effects of climate and dust transport is exacerbated by the fact that many of the climate prediction models for lower latitude Africa are not consistent.”

Also needing more study is whether the dust particles pose any health threat to the people below. More than half of the particles in the dust mass transported over the Atlantic to the Americas is smaller than 2.5 microns, defined as “respirable particles” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Over the Caribbean region, the atmospheric concentration of fine dust particles frequently is within the range of and sometimes exceeds the US EPA’s standards for respirable particles.

“Although to date there is no strong evidence that African dust constitutes a health hazard, this possible impact would seem to warrant study especially since some climate change projections show increased dust transport in the future,” concludes Prospero.

Prospero is a panelist in a symposium called “Dust in the Earth System,” which will examine dust and its effects in the Earth system while considering societal impact at the local and global levels by exchanging information, ideas, and perspectives across diverse disciplines.

February 20, 2010


Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Haiti Brand

By Jean H Charles:

In my mythical Haiti, I have often compared Haiti to Tahiti. For myself, there are only two paradises on earth, Tahiti in the Pacific and Haiti in the Atlantic. They are both French and original, magical and mysterious.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.From time immemorial, Haiti has fascinated its visitors. Christopher Columbus was the first fanatic enthusiast of the island. ‘This is fabulous’ was his cry of excitement when he set foot on the bay of St Nicholas.

The culture, the physical setting, the people all combined to make the country the best place for him and his crew to establish the first European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.

For the next three hundred years, this mystical Haiti was this exciting woman that most European countries were fighting to seduce. Spain yielded to the French buccaneers, who established their outpost on the island of Tortugas. From there the French jumped to the mainland, and the rest is history.

The French invasion, mixed with the Africans brought as slaves from Dahomey and Angola, created an empire so powerful and so successful that the British for three centuries tried to lure the country into their arms.

Fortunes to make, exciting women to enjoy, neither black nor white, but with the malice and the charm of both, were the lot of men with bravura and daring who could settle onto that magical island!

Haiti was also the dreamland for young American men at the birth of their Republic. Rich and bronzed like a Creole was the ultimate goal of the gentlemen from Baltimore, Maryland, to Newport, Rhode Island.

When Toussaint Louverture took command of the island in 1800, he maintained or re-created a mythical Haiti that was set to become the talk of the world in gentleness and hospitality for all, white or black. John Adams was of the party, he was plotting to help Toussaint crown himself King of Haiti. Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to that utopia.

The Haiti that emerged from the Revolution of 1804 did not succeed in building a nation hospitable to all. There was first Dessalines, the Avenger of the Black Race, commandeering in Haiti the murder of all white people with the exception of the priests and the doctors, for inflicting three centuries of cruelty on African descendants.

There was later Alexander Petion, recreating a de facto apartheid Haiti, still in force today. The kingdom of Henry Christophe that relied on the British to create an ethos of self-dependence in Haiti did not last long.

The earthquake of January 12, 2010, put Haiti back on the world stage. No amount of money could buy such a range of advertising for a country. Children and adults all over the world are counting pennies and dimes to send to Haiti, which suffered one of the worst catastrophes in modern times.

The brand Haiti has had exposure all over the world. CNN has shown the squalor of Haiti, but there is also the splendor as soon as you set foot into the country.

The earthquake occurred in the midst of a splendid afternoon, as the sun set itself to go to sleep over the mountain surrounding the city of Port au Prince. The energy and the creativity of the people that has known no other savior but their own to survive every day has been set in motion.

Haiti, through its paintings and its art destroyed in the Cathedral St Trinity or the art gallery, will revive on the art market in St Martin and in Curacao. The paintings will bounce back into Haiti as its Diaspora is ready and willing to rebuild and continue the brand. It is present in the food well-spiced with Indian, African and French ingredients.

As I was passing through the Dominican Republic, stopping at the well known Bani cafeteria and eating the bland goat meat, I told the owner, he should get himself a Haitian cook to suit the setting to the meal and bring diners from Santiago who will not mind the long travel to enjoy good food.

The brand Haiti is also present in the music, muted now to bury the dead, but ready to revive since the joie de vivre is also the essence of being Haitian. It is this nostalgic spell that holds the visitors unto the land and attracts the Diaspora as a siren into this enchantress, magical and mysterious Haiti.

The brand Haiti, like a good coffee, will last in spite of itself. It is unique, it is different, and it is tasty. Years ago, meeting some French tourists on the Dominican side at the Club Med in La Romana, they told me they would prefer to be in Haiti with its gorgeous mountains, its culture, and its hospitality, if “only, you Haitian people could stay put for a while.”

Will Haiti stay put after the earthquake to enjoy its brand name? The reconstruction of Haiti planned in New York, Santo Domingo, Cayenne or Montreal will need the Haitian ingredient. My slogan for the Haitian electorate is: Pose, stay put!

Someone concerned enough to believe in the brand name will bring Haiti back into the Renaissance enjoyed under the short reign of Toussaint Louverture!

February 20, 2010


Friday, February 19, 2010

Haiti 'restavek' tradition called child slavery

By Jim Loney

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- Living in a tent after an earthquake left a million Haitians in the streets, Melila Thelusma says she cannot support her two daughters and is ready to give them away to foreigners if she can find a good home for them.

Despite her desperation, Thelusma said she would never turn 11-year-old Gaelle and 6-year-old Christelle over to a Haitian family, as tens of thousands of other poor parents have done.

"Not a Haitian family. Haitians will make them suffer," Thelusma, 39, said. "They ... force the child to work like a animal. They don't really take care of them."

Deeply ingrained in the culture of the impoverished former slave colony, the practice of poor families giving away children to wealthier acquaintances or relatives is known in the native Creole as "restavek," from the French words rester avec, or "to stay with."

The children, they said, are taken in as servants, forced to work without pay, isolated from other children in the household and seldom sent to school.

"A restavek is a child placed in domestic slavery," said Jean-Robert Cadet, a former restavek who now runs a foundation to improve the lives of restavek children (

After the January 12 earthquake, the Haitian government warned that child traffickers could take advantage of the ensuing chaos to prey on vulnerable children. The well-publicized drama surrounding 10 US missionaries caught trying to spirit 33 children over the border seemed to reinforce the threat.

But critics say tens of thousands of Haitian children have been freely given by their own parents to a life of slavery within Haiti.

A 2002 study for UNICEF and other organizations by Norway's Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science said there were 173,000 restavek children, more than 8 percent of the population between 5 and 17. Cadet believes there are more than 300,000.

"When I was a child, the family basically owned me," said Cadet, whose mother died young. He was given away to a wealthy family when he was four.

"I grew up sleeping under the kitchen table. I got up early, swept the yard, washed the car, fetched water, emptied the chamber pot. I went to the market, bathed the children, walked the children to school and I couldn't come to school," he said. "I never ate with the family. I was abused physically. I was abused emotionally with bad words."

The restavek tradition may date to the time when Haiti was a French slave colony, when the children of slaves worked as domestics in the home of the master. Cadet said a relic of that era, a twisted cowhide whip known in Creole as a rigwaz, is still used to beat restaveks.

"It's the same whip that the French used during colonial times to beat slaves," he said. "You can buy them in the markets (in Port-au-Prince) today."

The restavek tradition lives on in part because it is accepted, or at least tolerated, in Haitian culture. Some families school and feed their restavek children, and some argue the children would die if they remained with their poor parents.

A family that has taken in a restavek child, Cadet said, will never admit to mistreating that child, and the government is reluctant to interfere in domestic affairs.

Marie Regine Joseph Pierre calls her 16-year-old charge, Rosaline, her cousin, and says she took in the girl when she was eight.

Rosaline lives "like brothers and sisters" with Pierre's own children, she says, and goes to school.

"My behavior with them, it's like a mother," she said.

Expatriates have carried restavek traditions to the United States, Two years ago, a mother and her adult daughter were convicted in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, of keeping a Haitian teenager as their slave for six years.

The girl, Simone Celestin, described in court how she was beaten, forced to sleep on the floor and bathe from a bucket.

Although Haiti is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Caroline Bakker, a child protection adviser for UNICEF, said it has no laws to protect restavek children.

Haiti needs new laws to protect children in domestic servitude from illegal labor practices, as well as social service programs to help parents who might otherwise give their children away.

"It should go hand in hand, protection and criminalization," she said. "Set up programs ... so that those families are able to keep those children with them, in their family, so that they can go to school (and) have a normal life with their families."

Jean-Robert Cadet said he sang along with his host family at the birthdays of their children, but never knew how old he was and believed that restaveks did not have birthdays.

"It's like a restavek child is not really a person. It's almost like you are disposable cloth," he said. "They use you and they throw you away."

February 19, 2010


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Belize can become a better place if we focus on crime and economic development together

By Wellington C Ramos:

Belize and the other English-speaking Caribbean countries are all experiencing a significant increase in their crime and unemployment rates. The time is now right for these countries to conduct a comprehensive study in order to examine the impact chronic unemployment has on crime.

I have looked at some studies that have been conducted over the years in most of the large urban centres in the United States of America and they have all revealed that there is a relationship between the two. Our country has too many idle, unemployed and displaced youths.

Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island UniversityCurrently in Belize many of these youths are members of violent gangs and are engaged in criminal and anti-social activities that are making our country unsafe and discouraging people from other countries to come to Belize as tourists to spend money and boost the economy.

The last time I was in Belize I saw a gentleman dressed in police uniform on a motorcycle and had no police number or name on his uniform while all regular police officers must wear a number on their shirts. I was told by a person that he was a “tourist police,” a new thing that they started in Belize.

This police officer was chasing a suspect around the main bridge in Dangriga town and he pulled out a loaded 38 revolver to shoot at the suspect. Luckily, he did not fire the gun at the time because he probably would have shot an innocent civilian pedestrian passing by and we would have had no way of identifying this police officer. This might be the right time for all police officers to have their name attached to their uniforms in addition to their badge numbers.

Our ministers of government along with the businesses and industries can all sit around the table and convene an economic development plan for the next ten years. This will be to the benefit of the government and the private businesses. When citizens of a country become employed they will possess the means of purchasing their commodities from the businesses and industries and pay their taxes to the government to increase their revenues.

I am not living in Belize permanently and it is hard for me as a Belizean to comprehend how our ministers can go to bed at night only to wake up and hear that a member of their political constituency has lost a loved one. Also, for the business owners to hear that another business was robbed at gunpoint and the owner of the business was shot and killed. How long must we all wait until we ourselves become victims of this ongoing madness?

The Belize government should consider bringing back the traffic police into the department because it will help to generate more income for the economy and reduce the crime rates. Along with the department they should set up police toll stations on our highways to conduct searches for drugs, weapons, ammunition, wanted criminals, illegal aliens, stolen goods and other contraband items. The revenues from the tolls would pay for the maintenance of the highways and to pay the traffic police officers. When I attended the Police Academy years ago, the two areas of law I had most difficulty with were traffic and immigration.

I still cannot understand how the decision was made to take these two departments from the police force and hand it over to civilians. It is easier to control police officers than civilians because it is a disciplined branch. There is nothing wrong with admitting that we made a mistake and acknowledge that something is not working because that is a part of development. Many of our youths who are unemployed would become employed as traffic officers and businesses and industries will have their commodities and cargoes transported safely throughout the entire country.

Belize and these countries have many challenges to deal with but crime and unemployment are the two major thorns they must address quickly. Belizeans are becoming very impatient and intolerant. When our people have had enough of something they will do something about it. Pretty soon they will begin to ask themselves is this UDP Government doing their best to address these two important issues. If they come to the conclusion that the answer is no, they will not hesitate to put back the government in the hands of the People’s United Party or another political party.

Remember that these killings and crimes have Belizeans letting out their emotions and some people are not rational thinkers while they are expressing their emotions. Many nights before I go to bed, I sit in the United States and wonder if our leaders in Belize ever listen to the advice that we the people from the United State are giving them or they just do not give a darn about what we think. Remember also that we have close relatives in Belize and every Belizean has a family member living in the United States.

Let us now conduct this economic development summit to provide employment to our unemployed citizens and reduce these killings and robberies.

February 18, 2010


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Requiem to a Jamaican genius: Walk good, Rex Nettleford

YESTERDAY morning, a nation struggling to come to terms with simultaneous emotions of grief and gratitude, said farewell to Professor Ralston Milton 'Rex' Nettleford.

The dilemma is by no means unique to Jamaica. For there have been many occasions in the past when nations have had the uncomfortable experience of paying tribute to great men and women who have made such an indelible mark on humanity that we are unable to accept their early departure.

But departure is inevitable, for as the Scripture tells us, man's days are as grass, or yet again "It is appointed unto man once to die..." Life, therefore, is temporary. And it is what we do with that time on earth -- whether brief or extended -- that defines us.

No one can challenge the fact that Professor Nettleford packed many lifetimes into his short 76 years with us. His achievements are numerous and would fill these columns and many more were we to start listing them.

We believe, though, that Professor Nettleford would have been embarrassed by a listing of his accomplishments and the accolades bestowed upon him. His focus would be on our commitment to continuing the work to which he dedicated his life -- work on the acceptance of every facet of our vibrant culture by all Jamaicans; work on the strengthening of our democracy and the institutions that govern us; work on our role in creating a united Caribbean with a strong voice in the international community; work on our realisation that we can accomplish greatness regardless of our station in life.

For Professor Nettleford's life itself was a product of that work -- started by our ancestors -- and bore testament to the fact that, because he was not afraid to die, he lived.

He would have been pleased with yesterday's funeral service -- simple, yet elegant and conducted with the grace he and his beloved National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) so often displayed on stage here and abroad. He would also have been delighted with the fact that the atmosphere inside the University Chapel was one of celebration. For his life is indeed one to celebrate -- a life dedicated to professionalism, selflessness, education, social and political emancipation, and patriotism.

Thankfully, Professor Nettleford had the foresight to document his thoughts and experiences on a range of issues, leaving us with the benefit of his voice and expertise from which we can improve our lives.

Two weeks ago in this space, we humbly suggested that the Government assembles a broad committee representing the major interests served by Professor Nettleford to consider the most fitting tribute that can be paid to this extraordinary man who gave service beyond self to his country.

We trust that our suggestion was accepted.

And now, as we salute this great son of the soil, we appeal to Jamaicans to ensure that his legacy is preserved. For in the Hon Professor Ralston Milton 'Rex' Nettleford, OM rests the hope of every Jamaican of humble beginnings that they, too, can fulfil their ambitions.

Walk good, 'Prof'. May your soul rest in peace.

February 17, 2010


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Haiti, one month after the event

By Jean H Charles:

The Haitian people that are usually so creative and so witty in their imagination, one month after the event have not found a name to designate the earthquake that occurred on 1/12/10. It is still l’evenement: the event. This lack of leadership in naming such a major occurence represents the state of the state of Haiti four weeks after the devastating earthquake that wrought the country with a force it has not seen in the last 250 years.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comI was in New York when the earthquake struck Port au Prince and its environs of Leogane, Jacmel, Petit-Goave, Grand-Goave, Petionville, Kenscoff, Croix Des Bouquets, Miragoane Ganthier and Gressier. With the rest of the world, I was glued to CNN to watch with horror the extent of destruction and of deaths that 37 seconds of seism could produce in a country where a building code was not in force. I flew to Port au Prince two weeks later through Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Most of the major hotels in the Dominican Republic, filled with journalists, rescuers and officials of international organizations, served as a staging point for the trip towards Port au Prince, Haiti.

Early on the next day, my three American companions and I rented a car and drove to Haiti. The long ride to the border was uneventful. I enjoyed watching the young Dominican kids with the same uniform, kaki pants and blue shirt, all over the country, coming or going out to school. The activity started building up at the Haitian-Dominican border of Jimani. Long convoys of trucks with food, medicine and other building materials from all over the world were in line to enter into Haiti to help in the recovery.

I told my companions, be ready to watch how beautiful is the Haitian side with a major lake stretching for miles, the lake Azui, unspoiled, unused, ready to become a major tourist recreational center once the country has a government up to the task. The first two cities on the way to Port au Prince, Malpasse and Fond Parisien have very little destruction. Life seems follow at a normal pace.

The next two cities, Ganthier and Croix des Bouquets gave the indication of what to come when we arrived in Port au Prince, houses after houses were resting on each other as if they were little toys. Some were flattened with two or three stories one upon the other. I was told they still have people in decomposition underneath. The majestic and brand new American embassy was erected firm and untouched by the elements.

Late in the evening, we made a tour of the suburb of Petionville. The destruction was all around us, shacks and villas were flattened without discrimination of rank or status. Yet there was a feeling of normalcy. The restaurants spared by the earthquake were opened; the streets were filled with vendors as the parks were occupied by makeshift tent cities with orderly people trying to survive the unimaginable.

The next day, I saw the destruction in all its magnitude, the proud National Palace, gone; the Palace of Justice completely flattened, the offices of the ministries destroyed, the tall office of taxation completely eliminated. The entire commercial district is gone; the state university; school of medicine, school of law, school of nursing are destroyed. The same thing for most if not all the churches, the national cathedral flattened, with its Archbishop underneath. The famed Episcopal cathedral with its fresco of beautiful Haitian art was completely in ruins.

My home on the same River Street where some one thousand college students perished underneath their school, remained without damage. My father of 97 years old standing tall as a bamboo stick was presiding at the reconstruction of the fence wall, sleeping in his room, while a camp of refugees took shelter underneath the canopy in the yard.

The weekend of Valentine’s Day that corresponds this year with the usual Carnival time was dedicated to the commemoration of the event one month after. The vast Champ de Mars that corresponds to Savannah in Port of Spain or Time Square in New York was filled with people praying to God for saving their lives, singing to the Maker from the baton of an ecumenical group made of Protestants, Episcopalians, Catholics and even voodoo practitioners. Even the falling sun was in the party, several people saw a miracle in a brighter and shinier sundown.

At St Louis, King of France, my own parish church, the Sunday service took place in the yard. The beautiful and historic church was destroyed by the earthquake. An official of the government, Mr Daniel Henrys, in charge of the National Patrimony Institute, has chastised in a letter, on the net, the vicar for completing the destruction without his authorization.

The priest told me to let him know that he has visited his office several times in the past requesting help to maintain the church edifice. He has failed to come forward. His crocodile tears are now as hollow as the fall that causes the seism. The vicar with a leadership that is lacking in the Haitian government is ready to rebuild bigger and better. The congregation has never been so large and so ready to give and share.

I have visited the country from the northern border of Ouanaminthe to far away in the south from the epicenter of the earthquake in the city of Anse-a veau, I have seen the Haitian people ready to rebuild, the international community on site and ready to help but the Haitian government is not up to the task. An influential member of the government has told me he is trying, albeit without success, to move the executive into decentralization or funding the small cities to receive the refugees from Port au Prince, Preval is sticking to the tent cities as the policy of the government.

One month after the event, the fault on land has all the ingredients of a lack of vision and leadership, lack of compassion and lack of coordination. It is as wide as the fault underneath the capital that caused the seism. I have seen the lack of coordination in the devastated city of Leogane, where Canada and Venezuela have set up tents for the refugees. The Bolivarian tent city, well organized, is a transitional model that should be replicated; the Venezuelan soldiers living with the refugees are social workers, teachers, cooks and community organizers. The Canadians on the other side, too happy to enjoy the sun of Haiti away from the rigor and the thaw of winter of the Great North, did not display such discipline or coordination with the Venezuelan contingent.

There is a culture of lack of compassion for the refugees in the tent city. Food, water and public hygiene should be brought to the people. They need not go to a far away place for half a bag of rice distributed (orderly by the Americans, and disorderly by the United Nations).

There is also a lack of vision and leadership in the governance of the Republic. The American government has directed its two last presidents Clinton and Bush to coordinate the help for and towards Haiti. The Preval government does not exhibit the same high level crisis mode to bring the country to some normalcy. Its culture of each one for himself does not suit this emergency situation.

The Haitian constitution prescribes that the presidential election takes place on November 28, 2010, and a new president starts office on February 7, 2011. Can Haiti afford one more year of poor governance in this time of crisis? Will the Constitution be violated by not holding a timely election? If Haiti will have a provisional government on February 7, 2011, should not this provisional government takes place now, not only to manage effectively this tragic crisis, but also to conduct free and fair election?

Haiti is at a juncture where most nations are jockeying to take the lead in influence and in importance in the country. Nicholas Sarkozy will be visiting Haiti on February 17, the first ever by a French president to set foot on Haitian soil after 500 years, during or after colonial time. China promised to bring about the same change into Haiti that it has been able to realize for 800 million peasants, raising their level of life from squalor to middle class status in less than a generation. Italy has dispatched a full battalion to Haiti after the controversial declaration of its best expert in disaster management. The United States, still haunted by the Wilson doctrine of Americas to the American, sees Haiti under its sphere of influence. Latin America energized by ALBA wants to play a role in Haiti to repay a debt owed since Simon Bolivar.

Will the Haitian people profit from this disaster to enjoy at least and last the bliss of welfare and happiness? The stars are lining up for such an event. They need though a leader that provides vision, direction, leadership, compassion and coordination of international aid.

February 16, 2010


Monday, February 15, 2010

Mission Possible: Restore Haiti

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- On February 14th (Valentine’s Day), the day the world typically spends pouring billions of dollars into merchants’ coffers in an effort to show how much they love a single individual in their lives; on that day of love, a Heart Mission of a different scale has sprung forth in the Caribbean islands.

The goal? To harness the unconditional love for Haiti residing in the Hearts of Caribbean people all across the globe, for a unified, long-term effort to RESTORE the Security, Dignity and Hope of the Haitian people.

The Water Of Life Inc., a Christian Health and Wellness company in Barbados, was preparing to introduce a new health-enhancing bottled water product to the Caribbean, when the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti. So devastating was the impact upon Haiti, the management of The Water Of Life felt that it would not be appropriate to continue with their product launch as though nothing had happened. The company therefore resolved to embrace the biblical principle of Luke 6:38, using its new bottled water product as the cornerstone of a Caribbean-led, 7-year, global fundraising and restoration campaign for Haiti, dubbed The Caribbean Loves Haiti Restoration Campaign.

According to Peter Parris, Public Relations Consultant for The Water Of Life, “The company has made a firm commitment to donate 7 to 70% of the proceeds from all sales of its bottled water in the Caribbean to the Haiti Restoration Campaign Fund and urges other Caribbean businesses to follow suit, by joining the campaign and making their own commitment to donate a percentage of their sales to the campaign fund.”

To financially support the campaign, individuals and businesses alike simply purchase one or more bottles of the Water Of Life, the company’s bottled water brand. The larger the volume of bottled water each individual or business purchases, the larger the percentage of the sale the company will donate to the Campaign Fund, with 1 to 6 bottles purchased resulting in a 7% donation to the fund on the low end, while a 7000 bottle purchase or higher, will result in the maximum 70% donation to the campaign fund.

The new bottled water is said to be different from any other bottled water currently retailed in the Caribbean, being alkaline rather than neutral or acidic, being composed of much smaller water molecule clusters for optimal body hydration at the cellular level and being very rich in axtioxidants which neutralize the free radicals in the body that damage healthy cells. Those three qualities of this new bottled water, combine to promote significant health enhancement, which is the inspiration for the brand name “The Water Of Life”, taken from the book of Revelation.

A dedicated social networking site has been developed as the official campaign website, allowing the people of the Caribbean and friends of the region the world over, to register as official supporters of the campaign, whether that is as “Financial” supporters (preferred), or as “Moral” supporters, which requires no purchase. The website address is

David Clarke, Marketing Manager for The Water Of Life, revealed that, “… the campaign was developed as a multifaceted and individual-centric campaign, with lots of opportunities for the general public to get involved in a meaningful way, to help drive awareness of the campaign and encourage everyone to get on board as an individual or business supporter of the campaign.”

The campaign encompasses plans for a live concert recording of Caribbean artistes and a DVD documentary chronicling the development of the campaign and its various sub-projects.

Unemployed Caribbean citizens can also earn an income by becoming Official Campaign Canvassers, going around to corporate offices and homes to solicit financial support for the campaign via the purchase of the Water Of Life brand of bottled water.

According to Clarke, “The company’s bottled water product is currently only available for purchase in Barbados, but the company is actively pursuing strategic partnerships with entrepreneurs in 23 Caribbean countries, with a view to having its scientifically advanced bottled water produced and available for purchase in all 24 Caribbean countries by yearend.”

February 15, 2010


Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Bolivarian Revolution and the Caribbean

Reflections of Fidel

Taken from CubaDebate

I liked history, as most boys do. Wars as well, a culture that society sowed in male children. All the toys offered us were weapons.

In my childhood they sent me to a city where I was never taken to a movie theater. Television did not exist then, and there was no radio in the house in which I lived. I had to use my imagination.

In the first boarding school, I read with amazement about the Universal Flood and Noah’s Ark. Later on I came to the conclusion that maybe it was a vestige that humanity retained of the last climate change in the history of our species. It was possibly the end of the Ice Age, which is thought to have taken place thousands of years ago.

As one might imagine, later I avidly read the histories of Alexander the Great, Caesar, Hannibal, Bonaparte and, of course, any book that came into my hands on Maceo, Gómez, Agramonte and other great soldiers who fought for our independence. I did not possess sufficient culture to understand what lay behind history.

Later on, I centered my interest in Martí. In reality I owe my patriotic sentiments to him and the profound concept that "Homeland is humanity." The audacity, the beauty, the value and the ethics of his thinking helped to convert me into what I believe I am: a revolutionary. Without being a follower of Martí one cannot be a follower of Bolívar; without being a follower of Martí and Bolívar, one cannot be a Marxist and, without being a follower of Martí, Bolívar and a Marxist, one cannot be anti-imperialist; without being those three things a Revolution in Cuba in our epoch could not have been conceived.

Almost two centuries ago, Bolívar wanted to send an expedition under the command of Sucre to liberate Cuba, which really needed it, in the 1820s, as a Spanish sugar and coffee colony, with 300,000 slaves working for their white owners.

With its independence frustrated and converted into a neo-colony, the full dignity of human beings could never be attained without a revolution that would end the exploitation of people by other people.

"…I want the first law of our republic to be the veneration of Cubans for the full dignity of human beings."

With his thinking, Martí inspired the valor and conviction that led our [26th of July] Movement to the assault on the Moncada Garrison, which would have never entered our heads without the ideas of other great thinkers like Marx and Lenin, who made us see and understand the very distinct realities of the new era that we were experiencing.

Throughout centuries, the odious latifundia ownership and its slave workforce, preceded by the extermination of the former inhabitants of these islands, was justified in the name of progress and development.

Martí said something marvelous and worthy of Bolívar and his glorious life:
"…what he did not leave done, remains undone to this day: because Bolívar has still much to do in America."

"Let Venezuela show me how to serve her: she has a son in me."

In Venezuela, as others did in the Caribbean, the colonial power planted sugar cane, coffee, and cacao, and likewise took men and women from Africa as slaves. The heroic resistance of its indigenous peoples, using nature and the vast Venezuelan soil, prevented the annihilation of the original inhabitants.

With the exception of one part of the northern hemisphere, the vast territory of Our America remained in the hands of two kings of the Iberian Peninsula.

Without fear it can be affirmed that, for centuries, our countries and the fruits of the labor of our peoples have been plundered and continue being plundered by the large transnational corporations and the oligarchies that are in their service.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries; in other words, for almost 200 years after the formal independence of Ibero-America, nothing changed in essence. The United States, starting with the Thirteen English colonies that rebelled, expanded west and south. It purchased Louisiana and Florida, snatched more than half of its territory from Mexico, intervened in Central America and took possession of the area of the future Panama Canal, which would link the great oceans east and west of the continent via the point where Bolívar wished to create the capital of the largest of the republics that would be born from the independence of the nations of America.

In that epoch, oil and ethanol were not traded in the world, nor did the WTO exist. Sugar cane, cotton and corn were cultivated by slaves. Machines were still to be invented. Industrialization based on coal was strongly advancing.

Wars gave impulse to civilization, and civilization gave impulse to wars. These changed in nature, and became more terrible. They finally became world conflicts.

Finally, we were a civilized world. We even believed in it as a question of principles.

But we do not know what to do with the civilization attained. Human beings have equipped themselves with nuclear weapons of unbelievable accuracy and annihilation potency while, from the moral and political point of view, they have ignominiously retrogressed. Politically and socially, we are more underdeveloped than ever. Automatons are replacing soldiers; the mass media, educators, and governments are beginning to be overtaken by events without knowing what to do. In the desperation of many international political leaders one can appreciate an impotency in the face of the problems that are accumulating in their offices and steadily more frequent international meetings.

In those circumstances, an unprecedented disaster is taking place in Haiti, while on the other side of the planet, three wars and an arms race are continuing their development, in the midst of the economic crisis and growing conflicts, which is consuming more than 2.5% of the global GDP, a figure with which all the Third World countries could be developed in a short period of time and possibly evade climate change by devoting the economic and scientific resources that are essential to that objective.

The credibility of the world community has just received a harsh blow in Copenhagen, and our species is not demonstrating its capacity for surviving.

The tragedy of Haiti allows me to expound on this point of view based on what Venezuela has done with the countries of the Caribbean. While the large financial institutions vacillate over what to do in Haiti, Venezuela did not hesitate for one second to cancel that country’s economic debt of $167 million.

Throughout close to one century the major transnationals extracted and exported Venezuelan oil at infinitesimal prices. Over the decades, Venezuela became the largest world exporter of oil.

It is known that when the United States spent hundreds of billions on its genocidal war on Vietnam, killing and mutilating millions of the sons and daughters of that heroic people, it also unilaterally broke the Bretton Woods Agreement by suspending the conversion of gold into dollars, as the agreement stipulated, and launching the cost of that dirty war on the world. The U.S. currency was devalued and the hard currency income of the Caribbean countries was not sufficient to pay for oil. Their economies are based on tourism and exports of sugar, coffee, cacao and other agricultural products. A stunning blow threatened the economies of the Caribbean states, with the exception of two of them that are exporters of energy.

Other developed countries eliminated preferential tariffs for Caribbean agricultural exports, like bananas; Venezuela made an unprecedented gesture: it guaranteed the majority of those countries secure supplies of oil and special payment facilities.

On the other hand, nobody was concerned about the destiny of those peoples. If it were not for the Bolivarian Republic a terrible crisis would have hit the independent states of the Caribbean, with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. In the case of Cuba, after the USSR collapsed, the Bolivarian government promoted an extraordinary growth in trade between the two nations, which included the exchange of goods and services, which permitted us to confront one of the harshest periods of our glorious revolutionary history.

The finest ally of the United States and, at the same time the basest and vilest enemy of the people, was the fraudster and simulator Rómulo Betancourt, president-elect of Venezuela when the Revolution triumphed in Cuba in 1959.

He was the principal accomplice of the pirate attacks, acts of terrorism, aggressions against and the blockade of our homeland.

When Our America most needed it, the Bolivarian Revolution finally broke out.

Invited to Caracas by Hugo Chávez, the members of the ALBA committed themselves to lend maximum support to the Haitian people at the saddest moment in the history of that legendary people, who carried out the first victorious social Revolution in world history, when hundreds of thousands of Africans, in rising up and creating in Haiti a republic thousands of miles away from their native lands, undertook one of the most glorious revolutionary actions of this hemisphere. In Haiti, there is African, Indian and white blood; the Republic was born from the concepts of equality, justice and liberty for all human beings.

Ten years ago, at a point when the Caribbean and Central America lost tens of thousands of lives during the tragedy of Hurricane Mitch, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) was created in Cuba to train Latin American and Caribbean doctors who, one day, would save millions of lives, but especially and above all, would serve as an example in the noble exercise of the medical profession. Together with the Cubans, dozens of young Venezuelans and other Latin American graduates of ELAM will be in Haiti. News has arrived from all corners of the continent of many compañeros who studied at ELAM and now want to collaborate with them in the noble task of saving the lives of children, women and men, young and old.

There will be dozens of field hospitals, rehabilitation centers and hospitals, in which more than 1,000 doctors and students in the final years of medical school from Haiti, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile and other sister countries will be providing services. We have the honor of already being able to count on a number of American doctors who also studied in ELAM. We are prepared to cooperate with those countries and institutions which wish to participate in these efforts to provide medical services in Haiti.

Venezuela has already contributed tents, medical equipment, medicine and foodstuffs. The Haitian government has given full cooperation and support to this effort to bring health services free of charge to the largest possible number of Haitians. It will be a consolation for everybody in the midst of the greatest tragedy that has taken place in our hemisphere.

Fidel Castro Ruz
February 7, 2010
8:46 p.m.

Translated by Granma International

Haiti and the adoption issue

By Jean H Charles:

Some forty years ago, upon graduation from Columbia University School of Social Work, I was eager to engage in the kind of hard core advocacy championed by my late professor cum community organizer, George Bragger.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comHe had convinced the then mayor of New York City, John Lindsay, through theoretical essays and street demonstrations, that black people coming from the south of the United States to escape inhospitality in their hometowns were as American as apple pie and as such deserved decent housing, a solid education and upward mobility.

I wanted to replicate the same engagement for and towards the newly formed Caribbean immigrant population migrating into New York City from Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Haiti.

I enrolled in the Association of Black Social Workers to network with and synergize the movement in the black community. My enthusiasm was dampened, though, by the leadership of the then president of the association, the late Ciney Williams, who strongly opposed the adoption of black children by white parents.

Coming from a culture where the national ethos through self-determination has long overcome the per se prejudice of black-white racism, I felt uncomfortable with that policy. My own reasoning told me that a child, irrespective of the color of her or his skin, needs a window of opportunity of 16 to 18 years in a stable and secure home to turn into a well adjusted and mature individual, ready to face the vagaries of life.

In fact, some forty years later the damages of that policy are staggering. The few black children adopted by or born into a mixed or white family turn out to be like… say, Barack Obama! They are as American as apple pie, and as black as Frederick Douglass.

Fast forward to the adoption issue in Haiti; the debate is already fierce amongst this huge tragedy that has caused almost a million orphan children. The issue is whether the Haitian government and the adoptive countries should develop a liberal policy towards facilitating as many adoptions as possible while eliciting a stringent method of monitoring of post adoption follow up to weed out child exploitation. A cursory visit, more frequent at the beginning, less frequent later, will delineate the bad apples from the good ones.

UNICEF has indicated there might be more than a million orphaned children after the earthquake. Haiti does not have the means to handle such a large number of displaced children before the earthquake, voire after the tragedy. The large amount of sympathy from all corners of the globe that engulfed the country should not be dampened by the alleged issue of child exploitation launched by the public relations machine of the same UNICEF.

The Haitian government recently detained ten US Baptist church members, who were trying to cross the border to the Dominican Republic with 33 alleged orphaned children without the proper exit documents. They spent some time in jail on the serious offence of Mafioso pending a judicial determination on the criminal intent of the missionaries: child snatcher’s or misguided do-gooders?

All indications are that they fall within the range of the latter.

They have no history of child exploitation, they were bringing the children into an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, and they even have the authorization, albeit not written, of the children’s parents. The Haitian government is flexing its muscle on the back of the missionaries to demonstrate some remnant of effective power and leadership that it has failed to exhibit before and, above all, after the earthquake.

The scope of the international media that should focus on the three million displaced persons has been displaced to zero on the fate of the jailed missionaries. The jazzy and controversial story of the white Americans languishing into a Haitian jail after a devastating earthquake is spicier than the fate of the mothers and the children deprived of food, shelter, and water. The sooner this travesty of justice ends, the better it will be for the millions of orphans and quasi orphans no longer secured of their immediate and long range future.

May reason, conscience and good faith prevail! God’s thunder is still on display! The mistreatment of the Haitian people, the mistreatment of its children in particular by its own government, as well as by the international community is repugnant to His benevolent magnitude!

Note: A Haitian judge has released pending further investigation the missionaries from the Haitian jail. One step for justice, two steps for common sense.

February 13, 2010


Monday, February 8, 2010

Bahamas, Bahamians, Haiti, Haitians, Haitian Bahamians ...: The Myth of Identity and Our Dirty Little Secret

The Myth of Identity and Our Dirty Little Secret
Tribune Staff Reporter

BAHAMIANS base their very survival and sense of self worth on preserving what is believed to be the quintessential Bahamian way of life. With a possessive, sometimes almost fanatical sense of pride, they stand unwavering in defence of this identity. Unfortunately, the concept of a Bahamian national identity is so problematic it essentially boils down to an evolving fantasy.

Just one generation ago, in the era of my father as a young child, Bahamians were British subjects with British travel documents. The first concept of 'The Bahamas was formulated in the 1600s by the Eleutherian adventurers. The first Bahamian constitution was brought into being only in 1963.

The basis of the Bahamian national identity is the political framework established by the constitution. This legal document, inherited from the colonial era, defines who is and who is not a Bahamian.

The Bahamian national identity, in this sense, is a political identity that emerged by necessity, along with all other post-colonial nation-state identities, as a pragmatic way to construct modern constitutional democracies.

The matter becomes problematic when this political identity is mistaken for an actual cultural identity, because it was for similarly pragmatic reasons that the collective cultural expression of European and African descendants in the Bahamas became known as Bahamian culture. At best, the Bahamas as a cultural identity could be described as embryonic, but it would probably more accurately be described as a myth.

The cultural identity of people living in the Bahamas prior to the adoption of the nation-state identity was primarily African or European. The Yoruba in the Bahamas identified with their Yoruba cultural heritage. The same was true for the Kongos. This extended into the twentieth century, as Dr Cleveland W. Eneas documents in his autobiography, "Bain Town".

At some point along the way, being African became irreconcilable with being Bahamian in the psyche of Bahamians of African descent. The mythological Bahamian identity was all they now accepted. This came at the expense of being disconnected from the deeply rooted cultural and genealogical connections to Africans across the colonial empire in the West and on the African continent. This leaves Bahamians of European descent at the same place Africans are, in need of reconnecting to their cultural heritage, before "The Bahamas", which is the true source of their identity.

This explains why Bahamians feel no sense of kinship with Haitians, Jamaicans, Cubans or Africans; they are completely identified with their modern political identity and have little depth of character when it comes to cultural heritage. The perceived threat Haitians pose to the Bahamian identity is a farce, because culturally speaking the two countries share the same African heritage, even though the colonial experience produced diverse cultural expressions. Yoruba in the Bahamas, Santaria in Cuba and Voodoo in Haiti - all afro-religious retentions - are expressed differently, but the parallelism is unmistakable.

Perhaps the root of the hostility is the fact that Haiti is the Bahamas' biggest secret. This secret is bigger than any news of any number of "outside" children; it is disruptive to the status quo. The Bahamas was populated by Haitians; at least, that is what Haitian elders say. They have a saying, "se Haitien ki peple naso". To them, it is laughable that Bahamians are contemptuous towards Haitians, all the while being ignorant of their heritage, as if they are unable to recognize themselves in a mirror.

It is true that Haitians have been migrating to the Bahamas from at least as early as 1804. Bahamians already accuse Haitians of breeding like lionfish, so with more than two hundred years of migration it is not difficult to do the math. United Nations statistics from 2001 show the fertility rate of Haiti was 4.4 while the Bahamas was 2.6. Considering the population of the Bahamas just exceeds quarter of one million, one could expect the density of Haitian heritage to be high.

"We have had blood relationships for hundreds of years with Haitians and the rest of the Caribbean. About 17 per cent of Bahamians have direct blood relationships with the rest of the Caribbean. Amongst those blood relationships, the majority come form Haiti, starting from 1804. It is a historical fact for which there is documentation that there have always been Haitians coming to the Bahamas," said Dr Eugene Newry, former Ambassador to Haiti. The large majority of the remaining 83 per cent have indirect relationships.

These Haitians were not simply of the breed many Bahamians picture today - economically depressed citizens sneaking in at the wee hours of night on questionably stable wooden sloops - these were middle and upper class Haitians. Some were free people of colour and some were light skinned mulattos, who fought with the French, among other categories. These were the men and women who started the nation building project that led to majority rule and the modern Bahamas.

Prominent men in the clergy, politics, judiciary and across society were Haitian born Bahamians or Bahamians of direct Haitian parentage. Goodman's Bay is named after John Goodman, who by current Bahamian standards would be a Haitian. Stephen Dillet, the first man of colour to be elected to serve in the House of Assembly, would be by current Bahamian standards a Haitian. The same goes for Peter Laroda, who is also a former member of the House of Assembly. The three men were brothers.

Anglican priest Canon Cooper is reputed to be a direct descendent of King Henri Christophe of Haiti, the black ruler who built the famous World Heritage Site in Haiti, the Citadel. Sir Arthur Foulkes, Bahamian civil rights activist, has a Haitian mother. Fred Smith, recently appointed Queen's Council, also has a Haitian mother.

Check any number of Bahamian names -- Deveaux, Moncur, Bonimy, Bonamy, Godet, Benjamin, Paul, Dillet, Maynard, Martin, Darvel, Bethel, Nicolls -- and you find they were originally Haitian names or have Haitian counterparts. The matter is further complicated because the British Empire forced immigrants from French colonies to anglicize their names. Many in the Lewis family, for example, were Louis.

Even the most internationally recognised cultural icon of the Bahamas, Sir Sidney Poitier, finds the notion of his Bahamian identity problematic. In his autobiography, "The measure of a Man", he writes: "As a matter of fact it's hard to tell where I came from, Poitier obviously is a French name. Given that we were in an English colonial possession and that Poitier in the Bahamas is associated only with black people, there is the strong implication that the bearers of that name came from Haiti, the nearest French colonial possession to the Bahamas."

Sir Sidney assumes his ancestors left Haiti on their own accord, considering there is no record of a Poitier family of whites in the Bahamas, and Africans in Haiti were free from 1804. The other French colonial possessions in the Caribbean were Martinique, St Martin and Guadeloupe. Sir Sidney found it hard to believe blacks from those territories "way, way, way deep in the Caribbean" would have migrated into the Bahamas.

"The speculation is that the family originated in Haiti and moved by escape routes to the Bahamas, settling eventually on Cat Island. Now mind you, the French in Haiti supported slavery as did the British colonies so at the time of my family's migration to the Bahamas, they were not coming from a slave state to a free state. But Cat Island was such an isolated place they probably had no difficulty in finding if not a family to work for then at least land that they could share crop and live on," he stated.

With such a rich and proud history and culture, it would seem like an honour to be able to own the fighting spirit that is embodied by the Haitian. I was personally disappointed in my genealogical research to learn the Haitian matriarch of my family, Hester Argo, mother of Stephen Dillet, was not a Haitian after all, but an Indian priestess from South America, according to elders in my family. So far my efforts show Stephen Dillet to be my great-great-great-great-grandfather through his outside son John "Papa Johnny" Dillet.

Historians say the story of Hester Argo's South American origin is a family myth that was probably propagated because of discriminatory attitudes towards Haitians. I say so at risk of fueling the fire within the family, which itself is a living case study of the battle between those trying to run away from their Haitian heritage and those trying to honour it. The records still show Stephen Dillet was born in Haiti to a Haitian mother.

An infusion of Haitian culture in the Bahamas does not have to be a threat; it could be an opportunity for the Bahamas to be enriched by the culture from which I dare same many if not most Bahamians came.

Here further is the dilemma of identity. I have Jamaican ancestry on the maternal side of my family. My mother and her descendants were Jamaican, but I know my great-great-great-great-grandmother was an African slave woman in Jamaica. There is barely any record of her name, which is still unknown to me, not to mention the village in Africa from which she came. She is buried in an unmarked grave beneath large white-stone boulders on family property in the hills of Westmoreland. The man who owned and impregnated her, Alexander Johnston, was a Scotsman. Who are we really as Bahamians?

Shea Edgecombe has done extensive research on her Haitian-Bahamian heritage, and her family roots in general, which stretch back to the Yoruba of West Africa. She is convinced that someone went to great lengths to deprive the Bahamian knowledge of self. She believes if Bahamians ever discovered who they really are, which can only be done through history in her view, their perspective on matters concerning Haiti and Haitians would change drastically, "guaranteed".

"The conspiracy to suppress the Haitian connection in the Bahamas is so grand. It is as deep as it is wide. What happened was this, the European plantation owners in the Bahamas sought to demonize the Haitians and turn the Bahamians against them because they were afraid the free Haitians who were coming here would introduce the Bahamian slave workers of plantation owners to the concept of freedom. So this stems way back and it is still alive today," said Mrs Edgecombe.

The research of Sean McWeeney, former attorney general, reinforces the insights of Mrs Edgecombe. Mr McWeeney did extensive research on the Bahamian reaction to the revolutionary upheaval in Haiti in the early nineteenth century. He documented how there was an intensification of racial control by the colonial government in order to suppress any chances of free people of colour and slaves from organizing to act out potential revolutionary sentiments.

"When the slaves of Saint Domingue rose up in 1791 on a scale wholly without precedent, slave owners everywhere trembled in fear that insurrectionism of similarly apocalyptic tendency might prove contagious. Perhaps nowhere was this more keenly felt than in The Bahamas itself. For one, the sheer closeness of the madding crowd exacerbated the sense of terror. But it was not close proximity alone that accounted for the dreadful foreboding among white Bahamians," states Mr McWeeney.

The arrival of migrants in the advent of the Haitian revolution was a major concern. This was the first recorded wave of Haitians arriving to populate and develop the Bahamas. Middle and upper class Haitians fled the country, having been supporters of the French, and arrived in the Bahamas in droves with horror stories of the revolution. They arrived with Africans of every assortment: "Negroes, mulattos, mustees and other people of colour."

In a coincidence of history, this was the same era the white Loyalists from North America arrived with their enslaved Africans. There was an unprecedented and dramatic shift in the racial composition of the Bahamas, with non-whites significantly outnumbering whites.

The colonial government moved swiftly to contain revolutionary sentiments. In 1793 a tax was levied on Haitian slaves and free people of colour. The importation of slaves from Haiti was later outlawed. Free people of colour from Haiti were later given a two month amnesty to leave the country or risk arrest and deportation at their own expense. The Night Patrol Act of 1795 was put in place in the wave of a foiled plot, allegedly spearheaded by "French Negroes" to burn down Nassau.

This is the colonial mentality that lingers in the Bahamas today. It is not simply a matter of national security or economics, which is the typical rational for the intolerance of Bahamians today. It is politics. It is history. It is mental slavery, alive and well. Bahamians who spew out unsubstantiated, derogatory and prejudiced claims about Haitians would be hesitant to believe that their hate is an evolution of the mentality of their very own slave masters.

It was always the African element of Haiti with which the European world had a problem, and today that remains true with the West, Bahamians included. The vitriol expressed for the practice of Voodoo, is just one example of how the intolerant Christianized mind of the modern Bahamian has been disconnected from its roots. In the nineteenth century, the colonial government in cahoots with the Anglicans and Presbyterians, implemented strict regulations to suppress the Methodist and Baptist churches to which Africans belonged. They were not "real religions", in their view, and were prone to inciting insurrection and subversive behaviour, according to Mr McWeeney.

Today, the most venomous feelings towards Haitians are concentrated at the lowest end of the social ladder, according to some Bahamians and Haitians alike. Mr McWeeney said the United States has a similar problem, where the most radical and vocal critiques of progressive policies towards African Americans come from poor whites in the deep south, often labeled as "poor white trash."

Unlike the original migrants from Haiti, the other significant wave began in the post 1957 environment; this was after the social, political and economic destruction created by the repressive Duvalier dynasty. Haitians arriving in the Bahamas from this time were primarily from the North. This group contained few mulattos, and few who could pass as middle class. They came, as they continue to come, in search of economic opportunity.

Since 1957, many Haitians have fully integrated into Bahamian society and are indistinguishable from Bahamians with no Haitian heritage. Over time, many of them steadily moved up the social ladder.

"There is a special type of prejudice reserved for Haitians. They assimilate as a survival mechanism," said Mr McWeeney. He recalled that Sir Lynden Pindling's Jamaican father never lost his Jamaican accent, after years of living in the Bahamas. He said Haitians ensure that they do, because there is so much pressure on them to assimilate.

Ten years ago, Jessica Robertson, a master's student in international journalism at City University in London, wrote a thesis titled, "Haitians in the Bahamas - Burden or Contributors to Society." Her thesis could very well be published in its entirety today and be passed off as current research.

"Most Haitians interviewed said the brunt of the prejudice they have experienced has been dealt out by members of the lower class Bahamian society. Poor and black, like the Haitians they resent, the dispossessed and marginalized Bahamians are closest on the feeding chain to the poor Haitian immigrant. They compete for the same jobs, the seats in public school classrooms, and care at the public health clinics. It follows that they feel most threatened by the growing Haitian community," stated Ms Robertson in her thesis.

It is bad enough that so-called 'Bahamians' have no appetite for all things Haitian, but to deprive Haitian Bahamians of a sense of pride by failing to pay due respect to the contribution of Haitians in the Bahamian nation-building project is a recipe for ingrown hate and social upheaval.

For some time historians and social commentators have wondered in wait about when the generation of stateless Haitian Bahamians will rise and revolt in protest of their rights.

"We are facing the possibility of civil war or, at least, civil unrest; a threat to the domestic stability of the Bahamas," wrote Alfred Sears, former Minister of Education, in a 1994 edition of the "Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society." He was not speaking of an inherent violent streak in Haitian Bahamians, but rather their dispossession by the state and wider society.

Some people boast of their Bahamian credentials by saying this is where they "born and grow", but that is entirely problematic for the group Mrs Edgecombe calls "ghost children." Children "born and grow" in the Bahamas to a Haitian father, irrespective of the citizenship of their mother, are stateless for the most formative 18 years of their life. They have a one year window to obtain Bahamian citizenship, between ages 18 and 19, or else they are no longer entitled.

Up to age 18, who are they, if not Bahamian? The social implications of this statelessness are probably more real than the perceived negative social impact of the Haitian presence. Haitian Bahamians, for example, are made to pay international tuition rates when attending the college of the Bahamas. This is not likely to provoke the feared civil unrest, but it is still a significant reminder, not to mention financial strain, of that failure to belong experienced by many Haitian Bahamians.

"When the country you are born in does not want you. The country they claim you should go to has no knowledge of you. What positive attributes can a position like that manifest? What happens to children who have no sense of belonging? Aren't these more likely than not the children who are going to gravitate toward gangs and so on? The Bahamas is not just for Bahamians. The Bahamas is for Bahamians and people who live here and make a contribution. That is what our history tells us," said Mrs Edgecombe.

She recently staged an ambush on children at Stephen Dillet Primary School to ask if they knew who Stephen Dillet was and his contribution to the Bahamas. She said two out of three children in the group she spoke to were of Haitian heritage, and no one knew the answer.

When she informed them he was a famous Haitian-born Bahamian writer, orator and politician, the children were flabbergasted. They begged her to come back and tell the children in their class. The same happens when Haitians come to her husband's barber shop. The same happened when she gave a talk at the Kemp Road Urban Renewal Centre on the topic of Haitians in the Bahamas. They were surprised to hear a Bahamian speaking positively about Haiti and they were thirsty for information.

"When I was done they were like can you please come back and tell us more. They are sceptical, because for their entire lives they have been ostracised, criticised, condemned, and ridiculed, because they are children of Haitian ancestry," she said.

Aside from the political contributions to nation building in the Bahamas, and the genealogical connections, the Haitian impact was probably most profoundly felt in the area of agriculture and small business. Dr Newry said Haitians were always excellent farmers and builders, and some of their descendants still are.

"Haiti provided a significant contribution of food supplies to the Bahamas during World War II. That is significant. It is very interesting when Bahamians are now collecting food for Haiti (since they were struck by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake). That is what you call communal living and sharing," said Dr Newry.

"Without the Haitian agricultural worker in the Bahamas there can be no agriculture. (It is) not because Bahamians are stupid, but because Bahamians have a different perspective on the social prestige of being a farmer than a Haitian does. If you had a magnet that could suck out all of the Haitians, the Bahamas would be in economic chaos if you did that. That is why they make the occasional raid, but they will never get rid of everyone because they are needed," he said.

As far as the international community is concerned, Haiti also made history-shaping contributions. Haiti was the place of refuge for Simon Bolivar, who was the leader of the South American revolution. His direct actions are said to have resulted in independence for Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Free blacks in Haiti, who had secured their freedom by conquering the French colonial empire militarily, financed and supported by other means the revolution to the south. Some say, Haiti will always be a friend of South America because of its instrumental role in supporting the fight for freedom there.

Haitians also fought in the American War of Independence. According to Ambassador Joseph, they sent soldiers to fight in Savannah, Georgia. Last year the city built a monument to commemorate the Haitian contribution to the war. The founder of the city of Chicago was Haitian born Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable.

It could really be "better in the Bahamas" if the country recognised its Haitian roots and the Haitian presence, truly representing its rich and diverse cultural heritage. Imagine the positive impact Haitian Bahamians could make if they felt truly accepted as Bahamians and proud to be Haitians; if they were confident enough to emerge from behind the shadows.

Haitians and Haitian Bahamians are not a contained social group that can be rounded up and excised from the country to prevent them from infiltrating. Frequent news of raids or mass deportations may have Bahamians believing so. The cat is already out of the bag. Haitians are fully integrated into Bahamian society at all levels of the social ladder. "They been here and they ain goin no where."

"It is not true; it is not fair to say they are only employed in menial jobs. They are a part of the middle class. They are a part of the business sector. They do not mention that because now they are living as Bahamians, but if you go back you will realise they have Haitian origins and they contribute to this country," said Louis Harold Joseph, Haitian Ambassador.

"Even though some people do not mention that, very quietly you find a lot of Haitians living here working in the public sector, private sector, in the banks. These are Bahamians of Haitian origin who contribute proudly to this country," said Ambassador Joseph.

I know there are people who would prefer if the government based its policies on tactics from the Apartheid era. At a community forum hosted by psychiatrist Dr David Allen, a participant vocalized what some Bahamians feel privately that Haitians should carry a passbook.

I think it is fair to say, xenophobic policies and ignorant attitudes win out at the eventual peril of Bahamians. Those committed to the war against Haitians might as well keep banging their heads against the wall. What is needed is sensible and informed attitudes, behaviours and policies towards Haitian immigration and Haitian integration.

February 08, 2010