14 March 2004

Sold Down the River

Common Sense
John Maxwell

When I discovered a few years ago, that Colin Powell's roots were in St Elizabeth, I had already remarked his resemblance to my stepfather and to my Uncle Harry, my mother's brother. Since the parents of all three were born within five miles of each other, I wondered if they were related, since, the scientists say, people who resemble each other are likely to be kin.

I never pursued the inquiry and I now know I never will.

Brothers & sisters from all over

A few columns ago I mentioned meeting some former Haitian students of mine at the Quebec Summit of the Americas. In four weeks it will be two years since I walked down from the Heights of Abraham where the summit was, having been turned back at the checkpoint by soldiers goggled and suited like creatures from Star Wars.

My former students, now practising journalists, were accredited to the summit and passed through the checkpoint with no problem. When they recognised me they mobbed me, wanting to know why I wasn't inside with them.

I was one of perhaps 200,000 demonstrators - "Raging Grannies", miners, nuns, schoolteachers, maquiladora workers from Mexican sweatshops, French farmers and all kinds of people from all over. As I got to the bottom of the hill I heard the whoomp, whoomp of exploding tear-gas canisters. The first volley was directed at anarchists who were trying to tear down a fence between them and the summit.

But it soon became apparent that we were all targets - saints, sinners and anarchists alike were all soon enveloped in an acrid miasma of 'tear-smoke' and CS gas. It drifted across the whole quarter, engulfing people who were perfectly peaceful. We were the overwhelming majority, despite what the kennelled press claimed. At the bottom of the hill I ran into a melee of Haitians, mainly older people in their Sunday best come to greet their President "Titid" as they called him - two bus-loads of them, in various stages of respiratory distress, gasping for breath on the pavement, some retching, others in a state of collapse.
They came to greet Aristide and met democracy masked, goggled and jack-booted.

They had intruded unknowingly into what the Canadian Government had decided was to be a cordon sanitaire - a democracy-free zone - round the summit. The purpose of the summit, of course, was to lock the countries of the western hemisphere into the famous Free Trade Area of the Americas - a monolithic construction which promised to impoverish the hemisphere's workers in the interest of multinational corporations.

Now, two years later, the Americans themselves are waking up to the fact that Free Trade is destroying their own economy, taking away well-paying jobs from Americans and decimating the middle class.

The jobs exported from the United States end up in some of the poorest quarters of the world - in Bangladesh, in Indonesia, in China and even in Haiti.

In Haiti the leading Haitian Opposition spokesman, the multi-millionaire Andy Apaid, operates factories making goods for American multinationals with famous brand names like Walmart, in factories which pay their workers less than a dollar (US) a day or about one-tenth the Jamaican minimum wage.

Suffer the little children

In my e-mail on Friday morning was a report made by a former youth reporter with the Haitian children's radio station, Radyo Timoun.

Here is part of it:
I was living in the gutter, dressing in old clothes and begging at the airport when President Aristide took office in 1990. One of the first things Titid did when he moved into the National Palace was invite a group of children who sleep in the streets to visit the palace and speak out about the conditions of the street children.

When Titid became president, he told the world that we street children were people, we had value, that we were human beings.

Many adults didn't like this message. They said we were dirty and should be thrown out like the trash that we are. But Titid loved us, and when I met him, he kissed me and put his hand on my face and told me he loved me. And they were not the empty words of a politician.

During the first coup in 1991, the street kids were attacked and Lafanmi Selavi [a shelter for homeless children started by Aristide when he was a parish priest] was burned.

I was just a little child at that time, but with Titid I felt important. We went to Titid and told him that we wanted to have a voice in democracy, to have a voice for children and he gave us Radyo Timoun. We were the first children's radio station in the world, run by children and promoting the human rights of all Haitians. . .Adults all over the country heard our voices and were forced to accept that we children are people too.

Yesterday, at the [Aristide] Foundation I saw gangsters and criminals in army uniforms destroy the hopes and dreams of the Haitian people. They destroyed the building, burned books and killed many people. A new government run by these people will surely be bad, not only for the children, but for all the people of Haiti.

I do not believe that President Aristide has abandoned us to this misery. .He would never leave us willingly. Last week Titid said on the radio he would die before he would give up the struggle for democracy in Haiti.

We are fearful of the old army because they are those who killed the street children of Lafanmi Selavi. They killed the peasants in the North who wanted to have democracy and supported Aristide.

A new government has no hope for the children of Haiti. I am scared, I think the criminals will try to kill me too because I am one of Titid's boys. But I am not just scared for myself. I am scared for all the children of Haiti. And today I cannot stop crying.

As they did in Baghdad, one of the first buildings pillaged by the terrorists in Haiti was a museum - the brand new Museum of Haitian Culture. As it burned, a fundamentalist preacher danced round the flames, denouncing the priceless collection as the work of the devil.

The sell-out

I should have known better. Last week I congratulated Patterson and Caricom for their principled stand on Haiti, which seemed to redeem much of their earlier stupidity. I spoke too soon.

As the Most Honourable Prime Minister of Jamaica announced on Thursday in not so many words, Aristide and the people of Haiti have been samfied, mugged and sold-out.

It doesn't matter that the US Government and the French have several different stories about the kidnapping of Aristide, it doesn't matter that the Lima and Santiago Declarations and Caricom itself proclaimed that we will not recognise usurpers, people who overthrow democratic governments. Of course, this "new" Haitian Government can claim that it is not a usurper; it was installed by the Bush Administration, itself installed by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. How much more legitimacy do you need?

If Patterson speaks about the "new president" and the "new prime minister" and says the new prime minister is to visit him before the next Caricom meeting, it means that Patterson and Caricom have decided to de-legitimise Aristide. And that they have told President Aristide so.

Patterson said: "I want to emphasise that Mr Aristide is not seeking political asylum in Jamaica. His stay in Jamaica is not expected to be in excess of eight to 10 weeks. He is engaged in finalising arrangements for permanent residence outside of the region."

Clearly the powers that be have made Aristide an offer he can't refuse. I suspect that unless Aristide accepted that offer, whatever it was, he would find himself a man without friends, at least without anyone to stand up for him except, of course, Cuba. And, if he accepted any Cuban offer of asylum and help that would, of course, give Mr Bush even more propaganda to use to discredit him. "See! He's a Communist!! Just like I told you!!!" And that would be that.

Of course, Cuba was the only country to offer Haiti any assistance when the Americans, the Canadians, the Europeans and the multilateral institutions were starving Haiti in order to smoke out Aristide.

Be careful what you wish for

I can imagine the arguments that persuaded Patterson. Perhaps it was a telephone call from Colin Powell -
P J, my old mate, the president and I need your help. Haiti is a disaster about to happen. The international community needs to get in there fast and heavy to avoid a real catastrophe [not to mention an immigration and electoral disaster in Florida]. We can't allow this to happen. Unless we straighten out this Aristide thing we're going to have hundreds of thousands of deaths on our hands. And it will be all because of Aristide's non-co-operation, and your supporting him. France, Canada and ourselves are prepared to pump in shiploads of supplies, food, medicine, water purification kits, you name it. But we can't do that if you guys don't co-operate.

And you know what? We'll need your guys to do the administration - we'll need all sorts of people, security, nurses, teachers, the works, and you can supply them. I understand you have a bunch of unemployed skilled people in Jamaica. This will ramp up your remittances and everybody will come out smelling like roses. And you won't have any problem with a fifth term!!!

And - if you don't support Aristide in the UN, nobody else will. So that solves THAT problem. Trust me; we've worked out all the angles; you can't lose!

Okay compadre? By the way, I'm thinking of spending a little time in Treasure Beach this year. that sounds good? Alma and I would love to see you. Ciao.


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