HAITI: Open Letter to our Prime Minister
Dear Prime Minister
When I address you today I do not presume on the fact that we have known each other for 60 years, or that we have been to the same school, been members of the same political party and that we have before now, been fairly good comrades and friends.
I address you as my Prime Minister, as a man who has in the past campaigned on his African roots, (â€˜Young, gifted and Blackâ€™) and as a human being with the same responsibilities and duties as every other member of the human race.
Today in Haiti, and for most of the last year, the people are subjected to the most brutal and inhuman oppression. They are being terrorised, their women and children brutalised, raped and maimed, and any one of them but particularly those of the national movement â€“ Lavalas â€“ subject
to the most obscene denial of their basic human rights.
The latest assault on the rights and dignities of the people of Haiti began when you were still chairman of CARICOM, an association of which Haiti is a member. But, as I am sure you are aware, Haiti has been persecuted and oppressed for almost all of the 200 years of her independent existence. It is time for a change, time for a new day.
Haiti and her people have not only been terrorised, they have been foully slandered in order to make their oppression more palatable to the world outside. As one of my correspondents wrote some months ago, Haiti is an international crime scene.
As I wrote ten years ago, Jamaica has treated Haiti, our sister, as the Levite treated the man in the parable who fell among thieves, was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the road to Jericho. According to the parable, a priest and a Levite both saw the badly injured man and passed him by. A certain Samaritan, however, saw the man, had compassion on him, bound up his wounds and took him up, lodged him in a place of safety and guaranteed payment for his treatment.
In the parable, Jesus asked the question: Who was the neighbour of the man who fell among thieves? The priest and the Levite were members of his own community; the Samaritan was not.
Eleven years ago, when Haiti was going through another period of agony I asked how could you, as the head of the government of this country, walk by on the other side? I compared Haiti then to someone who is being raped, whose neighbour hears the screams, and shuts himself off, ignoring the suffering and the crime being committed.
Will you do the same again? Can you bear to do the same again?
We Jamaicans share with Haiti a history of slavery and indecent oppression. We, like them, rebelled against this treatment and in Jamaica, some of us, the Maroons, won from the British a form of partial independence which was eventually dishonourably disregarded by the British.
The Haitians â€“ counting among their leaders a Jamaican Maroon named Boukman â€“ began a war of liberation defeating in the process the armies of Napoleonic France (twice) , of Spain and of Britain.
In addition to these extraordinary feats of arms the Haitians, imbued by the Enlightenment doctrine of the Rights of Man, abolished slavery and declared the fundamental equality of all human beings . Haiti was the first country anywhere to recognise what we now consider the fundamental rights of every human being.
They did so while the Americans in their contemporaneous revolution and fight for freedom from the British, were constructing a state of Free Men, so-called, on a foundation of slavery and while the French, while speaking of â€˜Liberte, Egalite and Fraterniteâ€ maintained slavery in their own dominions.
For this alone Haiti should be prized above all nations. But the Haitians went further, financing and arming Bolivar in his successful assault on the Spanish Empire in the New World. For these deeds they are still being punished and persecuted.
The example of Haiti directly influenced not only the abolition of the slave trade but of slavery itself at long last, mainly by frightening the British with the prospect of revolutions in their slave plantations. We owe to them a large part of our freedom.
The Americans meanwhile, speaking of freedom while building on slavery, began through their hero, Thomas Jefferson, a campaign of slander and lies which even included allegations that Haitians were cannibals.
And we were all smeared by the same vile libel which continues to this day, with books like â€œThe Bell Curveâ€ and other lying propaganda attempting to justify the long war against black people in the western hemisphere and poor people everywhere.
It was in response to this oppression that people like Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King began their struggles and inspired people like you and me to fight for the recognition of the essential dignity of all human beings. You and I were inspired not only by Garvey and King, but
even more powerfully by Norman Manley, the leader of our National Movement and the Father of our Nation. It was he, who, in 1958, launched an economic attack on the Apartheid regime of South Africa while Jamaica was still a colony, flouting the colonial rules without regard for the
Manley, saluted by all Jamaica, including you and me, took a stand which could have cost Jamaica its freedom, as Jaganâ€™s impertinence had five years earlier cost Guiana hers.
And every Jamaican leader since then was part of the fight against the evil apartheid until it was at last defeated, yielding power to Nelson Mandelaâ€™s African National Congress and the people of South Africa.
Mandela is still at it. He, and Thabo Mbeki, his successor as leader of South Africa, have warmly welcomed Jean Bertrand Aristide and make no bones about their recognition of him as the rightful elected leader of the Haitian people.
In Jamaica for everything that I have written about Haiti, I have got nothing but approbation from the people I meet. Many are ashamed that we were not more hospitable to Aristide and almost everybody I meet wants to know why we have done so little to redress the wrongs inflicted upon our next door neighbours.
It is of course, not only Jamaicans who feel this way. Less than three weeks ago, in Puerto Alegre, Brazil, a convocation of people from all over the world passed by acclamation a resolution which demanded:
1. Return President Aristide and the democratic process to Haiti. President Aristide must be allowed to complete his term after which free and fair elections would be held according to Haiti’s Constitution.
2. End the occupation of Haiti. Use the money and other resources now used in the war against Haiti’s poor for the fight against poverty in Haiti.
3. UN “stabilization forces” must cease all illegal arrests, indiscriminate raids on poor neighbourhoods and support for illegal activities by the puppet regime’s police force and members of the former army.
4. Political prisoners must be freed, politically-motivated persecution must end.
5. Governments and intergovernmental organizations must refuse to recognize Haiti’s illegitimate puppet regime, and must demand an investigation into the circumstances of President Aristide’s removal from office.
6. Refugees fleeing political persecution in Haiti must be given asylum, internally displaced refugees in Haiti must be given protection and financial assistance.
7. US hands off Latin America and the Caribbean. We stand in solidarity with the government and people of Venezuela and Cuba, countries struggling against a process of destabilization not unlike the one that resulted in the overthrow of President Aristide.
We invite people and organizations throughout the world to join us in this Declaration.â€
In the preamble to the resolution, the World Social Forum members gave much more of the history and background of the struggle than I can give here, but you know most of it.
In the governments of Michael Manley you were Foreign Minister, travelling all over the world and proving extremely effective in forging alliances to achieve significant results â€“ including the Lome
Convention. You are well known in the developing world and you know your counterparts all over the world. You are a friend of Kofi Annan and of Colin Powell, both of whom have second homes here in Jamaica.
You have taken part in collective action when the conscience of the world was aroused, for instance in the case of Zimbabwe. Right now the African Union has take up the case of Togo, where the human rights of the people are thought to be threatened by an attempt to continue the dictatorship of the family of Eyadema Engissabe. Their rights are nowhere abused to the extent of the Haitiansâ€™, yet the African Union feels justified to intervene.
On the other hand, your government and the Organisation of American States has behaved in a way which many of us feel is shameful, especially when contrasted with the behaviour of St. Lucia and St. Vincent, whose leaders may not be your exact contemporaries, but who, like you, are graduates of the University of the West Indies whose motto promises to bring â€œLight out of the Westâ€.
In the darkness which now enshrouds Haiti, in the miasma of rapine and murder which now stifles her Liberty, our own self interest in involved. If what is being done to Haiti is allowed to continue, there is no guarantee that we will not be next. Condoleezza Rice says that Iran is not â€˜yetâ€ in the gunsights of the Bush administration. And, presumably, neither are we, â€˜yetâ€™.
But self interest is the least of what is involved here.
Going to the aid of Haiti is an historic responsibility not only for those who share her history, but for every human being who believes in the essential dignity of humanity and the integrity of the ideas of Freedom, Liberty and Solidarity.
It is even more than that: If we, and this means you, abandon Haiti in this extremity, you bring dishonour not only upon your own head, but upon the heads of every Jamaican and upon our entire so-called civilisation itself.
Norman Manley said it best: â€œThe duty of a leader is to Lead!â€
You, the Most Honorable Percival James Patterson, PC, ON,QC, Prime Minister of Jamaica, comrade of my youth, protegÃ© of N W Manley, you, PJ, have a duty to act now, to lead, to rescue Haiti and defend the lives and prospects of its once again enslaved people.
CopyrightÂ©2005 by John Maxwell