15 August 2004

Invisible Men

Common Sense
John Maxwell

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind.

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me - you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren't simply a phantom in other people's minds - a phantom in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy."
From the Prologue, The Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, Copyright © by Ralph Ellison.

On July 15 an American corporation signed an agreement with the Cuban Centre for Molecular Immunology to mark the formal transfer of technology from a poor southern country to a rich northern country.

The Americans were buying Cuban expertise in the design and manufacture of anti-cancer vaccines.

You heard me right.

Anti-cancer vaccines? You still don't believe me?

Vaccines against Cancer!? Vaccines against the great, almost omnipotent killer?

Surely, had such a vaccine been developed in the metropolitan world the empyrean would have echoed and re-echoed until we were deaf! Had it been developed in the US it would have been big enough News to wipe even the US presidential election from the headlines for a day or two!

The Cuban breakthrough is not just one vaccine, but several, one of them a vaccine which is also a treatment for advanced lung cancer, one of the most dreaded manifestations of the disease

On July 15, Fidel Castro attended the signing of a cooperation agreement, the first in 40 years, between Cuban and US companies for the transfer of biotechnology directed at testing, licensing and manufacture of the vaccines worldwide.The agreement was signed between the CancerVax Corporation of the US and the Center for Molecular Immunology in Havana.

Dr. Donald Morton, US professor, outstanding cancer specialist, medical director and chief surgeon at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Los Angeles, California, described as unique and unprecedented the new Cuban approach - designing vaccines to stimulate the immune system.

The Cuban vaccine development began during the special period, during the 90s, after the Soviet Union had collapsed and Cuba was on its own and very nearly destitute.

The vaccine agreement is a paradoxical development because Cuba has come increasingly under the American gun. A year ago the Bush Administration made it a criminal offence for Americans to edit or even be involved in the editing of Cuban scientific papers. New restrictions were placed on travel by scientists between the two countries and, even more ironic, two weeks before the vaccine agreement was signed, the United States fined an American company $168,500 for selling vaccines for childhood diseases to Cuba. Another company, based in Panama, was fined nearly $200,00 for a similar offence.

No Black Victimhood

Colin Powell - only the second person ever to have been head of the US Armed Forces and US Secretary of State, has been speaking about the principles which guide his life. During a recent interview the black TV journalist, Armstrong Williams reported, "the four-star general kept wandering back to the territory of shame and self-defeat." For Powell, shame seems reserved for anyone who shirks his duty. For Powell, avoiding shame was a virtue learned young:
"Both of my parents showed up here on boats - one in Philadelphia and one in New York," Powell told Williams, "And they worked hard. They worked in the garment industry. They worked for minimum wage and it was simply unthinkable that the children of these immigrants would not do better. Nobody in my family dropped out of school. It would have been unheard of, unthinkable, and that was drilled into us and it was these expectations and these tribal rituals, family rituals that every family has, every culture has, were what kept us all in playing, kept us all going. . . . You were not allowed to shame the family."
That's exactly what some others of us think, which is why we make such a fuss about that part of our family that lives in Haiti or Cuba or anywhere else in the world. All 6 billion of us.

As Powell says "those people who spend their days ranting about how all blacks are victims have already given up. They have excused their own failures. Standing outside of society and simply pumping your fists in righteous indignation doesn't change a thing. It just makes it easy for those in control to label and dismiss you."

Which is precisely why people like myself stand inside of the society and work to make damn sure that all of us are inside the society and that none of us is invisible.

We are not going to give up.

I remember 40 years ago, being probably the only editor in the world outside of the London Observer's who published Nelson Mandela's speech at his Treason trial. It did not seem possible then that Mandela would have made it out of prison either alive or sane. Most of the world had no idea who he was. This week, Mandela's successor as President of South Africa, made it explicit that South Africa recognises Juan Bertrand Aristide as the President of Haiti.

The Haitian people have been in prison far longer than Mandela. They were the nineteenth century equivalent of today's Cubans, with a philosophy which was so threatening that they were quarantined, like Cuba today, and pressured and attacked and finally invaded and subjugated because they dared to assert that all humanity was equal in rights.

We do not 'excuse' Haiti by claiming victimhood. Haiti is and has been a victim of great power prejudice, hostility and oppression. And Haiti didn't ask to be a victim. She did not provoke her rape.

Contrary to the opinion of Bishop Herro Blair and many other male chauvinists, people who are raped rarely bring it on themselves. Rape is an expression of power, it is not an expression of sexual desire. It is a tool for degrading and humiliating another, to take control of their bodies because you cannot take control of their souls.

In the sixties and seventies, when many of us, including the present Prime Minister of Jamaica were "Young, gifted and black" we thought that we would change the world and make it into a civilised place, one which we inhabited by right and not by sufferance. That is why I and forty other West Indians were arrested in London in 1968 protesting against the expulsion of Walter Rodney from Jamaica in "Human Rights Year", and it is why some of us today still refuse to bow either to superior force or to seductive blackmail.

When Thabo Mbeki, Ralph Gonsalves, Kenny Anthony, Bharaat Jagdeo and the rest of us are united in our rainbow coalition in defence of Haiti it is not because we espouse victimhood but because we are determined to ensure that Haiti is returned to the freedom and autonomy to which it is entitled and for which our ancestors fought 200 years ago and for which we still struggle. And we cannot endorse the transfiguration of bloody assassins into national heroes, as the La Tortue regime is planning to do this very week with a mock trial for the leader of the terrorists, Louis Jodel Chamblain.

If Mr Powell is serious - and since his parents were Jamaican I believe he must be - he must understand that a spuriously 'democratic' Haiti cannot be a trophy to be displayed on anyone's election mantelpiece, nor can such a cuckoo be part of our family.

What the Haitians fought for was not one man one vote, but all rights for all people.

It should by now be clear that what has been happening in Haiti over the last century is a form of constructive genocide, in which attempts have been made to obliterate the Haitian personality, deny the Haitian genius and to reduce the Haitian nation to the status of a maimed beggar on the side of the highway to civilised development

Professor Sibylle Fischer contends in her recently published work "Modernity Denied" (UWI Press 2004) - that Haiti has been penalised for its radical anti-slavery politics, its importance suppressed and ignored in historical and cultural records over the past two centuries. The story of Haiti has been told as one "outside politics and beyond human language, as a tale of barbarism and unspeakable violence." Unable to come to grips with the larger meanings of Haiti, a racist civilisation has simply written Haiti out of history.

Fischer points out that much of the prejudice against Haiti 200 years ago originated in the Caribbean itself: Between 1791 and 1805, the foremost Havana newspaper "the Papel Periodoco makes no mention of the revolutionary events in Saint Domingue: neither the abolition of slavery, nor the defeat of Napoleon at the hands of former slaves, nor the establishment of an independent black state in 1804."

Nothing. Not one word.

Verdant Ignorance

Judging by today's news, some of our Caribbean leaders and journalists are still in a comparable state of verdant ignorance.

Fischer writes:
"It might turn out that it is not enough to simply insist that Haiti be included in our accounts of the Age of Revolution and that the gaps in the historical and cultural records be filled. What would be needed is a revision of the concept of modernity itself so that the past struggles over what it means to be modern, who can claim it and on what grounds can become visible again.

"The suppression and disavowal of revolutionary anti-slavery and attendant cultures in the Caribbean was, among other things, a struggle over what would count as 'progress' what was meant by 'liberty' and how the two should relate.

"Sibylle Fischer's book is, she says, an attempt to think about literature, culture and politics transnationally, as forms of expression that mirrored the hemispheric scope of the slave trade, to think of what might have been lost when culture and emancipatory politics were finally forced into the mould of the nation state; and to think what might have happened if the struggle against racial subordination had carried the same prestige and received the same attention from posterity as did the struggles against colonialism and other forms of political subordination."
Taking Prof. Fischer's thought to a perhaps extreme conclusion, I might theorise that had the struggle against racial subordination received the same importance as political freedom, we might never have had Adolph Hitler and we might never have had 9/11.

Had it been otherwise we might have developed vaccines against HIV/AIDS years ago and nobody would now know what affirmative action meant.

But, even now, some of us - even some who used to be 'young, gifted and black' - still believe that culture can be preshrunk, history can be segregated and freedom can be rationed.


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