Monday, March 15, 2010

Former Jamaica PM:‘Haiti Didn’t Jump, it Was Pushed!’

PJ Pattersons says Haiti has never been forgiven by its former colonial masters.

Most people know that Haiti has a long record of being the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but most don’t know that Haiti was the second country in the hemisphere to free itself from colonialism and the first to abolish slavery. Most people think of voodoo and superstition when they think of Haiti, ignorant of the invaluable wealth that country has brought to Caribbean history, culture and its earliest politics of liberation.

It’s the kind of ignorance that leads many in the Caribbean to support and call for the kind of intervention in Haiti that could subvert the independence of what was once the proudest nation in the world.

PJ Patterson knows a thing or two about Haiti. The former Jamaican prime minister has been appointed special representative of CARICOM to Haiti and has some special responsibilities now that the January 12 earthquake has made everything that was wrong with Haiti that much worse.

That’s probably why St Lucia’s Civil Response Committee to the emergency in Haiti chose him as their first speaker in a public education campaign aimed at clearing all the voodoo about Haiti out of St Lucian minds.

“I know that you have also invited Co-Vice Chancellor Hilary Beckles who has published extensively on Haiti’s history,” Patterson told his audience last Wednesday night at the NIC conference, where just a few weeks ago Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka had spoken.

“Given Sir Hilary’s erudition and focus on the subject, his presentation should have preceded mine. He should have opened the batting. But these days whenever you are called to the crease, you have to respond to the call.” Patterson agreed that many misconceptions on Haiti needed to be dispelled.

“Haiti has been portrayed as a failed state and a basket case,” he acknowledged. But while he meant to focus on perspectives in the rebuilding process after on the disaster, he insisted, “I am obliged to begin with a historical context in order to express my own views on the way forward. The truth is Haiti is a state that has been forced to fail.”

It is one of the facts of Caribbean history that many people don’t take the time to acknowledge.

“Haiti won a war of independence against the legendary army of Napoleon Bonaparte,” Patterson said, painting a picture of resilient, intelligent Haitians that the media seldom presents. “They did the unthinkable by establishing a black nation state in the middle of the New World. For that victory Haiti has never been forgotten or forgiven by the colonial masters and has been made to pay a very heavy price.”

Patterson expounded: “All slave based nations including the USA began to fear that Haiti would serve as a model for similar uprisings all over the hemisphere. Some were eventually forced, even by civil war that democracy was inconsistent with slavery. In a very real sense all the African Diaspora owes their subsequent freedoms to the bravery, sacrifice, tactical acuity and determination of Haitian people. As we say in Jamaica, nuff respect to the people of Haiti.”

Even the most one-sided old history cannot deny the legend of Toussaint l’Overture and the triumph of the Haitian Revolution. So what happened? How did this once great nation, the black version of the United States of America come be the superstitious, corrupt bottom-feeder that it is known as now?

The answer is one of the greatest travesties of 19th century history and one of the longest-lasting injustices perpetrated by a colonial power.

“The direct result of their victory was a concerted plan to undermine that success by a strategy of international isolation and the first trade blockade of the emergent nation in the Americas,” Patterson explained. History students know the details. France, encouraged by America, refused to recognize Haiti as a sovereign nation unless Haiti paid France for every single slave who was made free by the Haitian Revolution. Essentially, France gave Haiti a choice between buying her people’s freedom or remaining isolated and unable to trade. The result would have been the same either. The economy of the country was stunted for the next 100 years.

“This was after the end of a period when Haiti was forced to pay reparations to France for just over 100 years,” Patterson said. “Those extortions at today’s rate of conversion would amount to billions of US dollars and much more if you were to calculate it with compound interest. These payments reduced Haiti to near bankruptcy. So Haiti did not jump, it was pushed over the precipice.

“During the 50s,” Patterson added, “in a brief return to democracy introduced major social reforms and showed signs of economic potential.”

That was when General Paul Magloire came to power. He led Haiti until 1956 when he was forced to resign by externally generated turmoil. The man elected to replace him was known as Papa Doc and his regime was one of terror.

“It will go down in history as one of the most repressive and corrupt of modern times, anywhere in the world,” Patterson said. “He maintained a stranglehold through the Macoutes (a brutal kind of secret police). Western powers condoned his atrocities, since he was an avouched surrogate in the war against communism. Human rights and constitutional rules were made subordinate to ideological rectitude as the Western powers saw it.”

The result: Revenues ended up in Swiss bank accounts or the pockets of wealthy elites; the development of the country was stymied; the social fabric torn apart; the rule of law sunverted by the practice of torture. Agriculture was destroyed by the duty free entry of foreign goods. The Haitian farmer was driven out of business. In the early 70s the country provided 90 percent of its food needs. By the end of the 20th century, it was importing more than 42 percent of food requirements. Haiti was the highest per capita consumer of subsided US importer rice in the Western Hemisphere and the largest in the Caribbean. That is the Haiti that most people think of. That is the Haiti that is portrayed by major news networks, not just in America and Europe but in the Caribbean as well.

“Haiti has been repeatedly denied the right and the freedom to chart its own course as a sovereign nation,” Patterson reiterated. “Since the removal of Duvalier, attempts to build a constitutional democracy have been destabilized on two occasions by the removal of President Aristide.”

Patterson paused and then his voice took a different, more personal tone.

“When they took him out like a pirate,” he paused, almost like he needed to collect himself, “and deported him to Africa, I had no hesitation in granting him the right to return to the Caribbean and be reunited with his family.”

What does this all have to do with the earthquake? Surely, Patterson is not one of those conspiracy theorists who think that the disaster was somehow deliberate and targeted. He was merely pointing out that, “Poverty existed long before the earthquake. But it has been greatly exacerbated by the disaster. This is the worst catastrophe in a single nation. The asian tsunami struck three nations. This earthquake struck Port au Prince and the immediate vicinity.”

Patterson thinks that the earthquake, disastrous as it was, has attracted the international spotlight to Haiti, spawning conferences all over the world.

“We in the Caribbean cannot allow that spotlight to disappear once the media frenzy recedes,” he urged. “The devastation must be converted into something positive—an opportunity to build a new economy and a new society.”

He called for CARICOM to finally take full responsibility for Haiti, saying “Haiti itself has chosen a path of development consistent with integration. CARICOM therefore must always be there for Haiti.

“We are not going to become mere passengers on the bus taking Haiti in whatever direction they choose. CARICOM must be the column of the steering wheel while Haiti must be in the driving seat. And we cannot and will not abdicate our responsibility to our kith and kin in their hour of need.”

Source: StLuciaStar

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