26 September 2004

The Hapless and the Wretched of the Earth

Common Sense
John Maxwell

So Kofi Annan has at last discovered that 3 A's (Anglo-American-Australian) attack on Iraq attack was illegal and against the basic premises of the United Nations. Some of us knew it then, and said so. Some of us wondered why Kofi Annan withdrew his UN inspectors from Iraq, giving the US carte-blanche to launch its bombers against an innocent people.

But courage was in short supply those days, as it is now, and cowards abound and proliferate. If the war on Iraq was a crime against humanity, what description do we use for the decapitation of the Haitian democracy?

The world Press, those brave gladiators for justice and truth, speak about "hapless Haiti" and the "hapless Haitians"; they hide their prejudice and deceit behind euphemisms and euphuisms, behind circumlocution, obfuscations and outright lies to conceal foul crimes. They say President Aristide fled 'amid a popular revolt' of about 500 bandits in a population of 8 million.

But the Haitians are "hapless". Our leaders, like the leaders of the United States, France and Canada, the triad behind the criminal enterprise in Haiti, we are all full of hap: hatred, arrogance and prejudice .

While we, the hap-filled, are cleaning up and burying the few unfortunates killed by Category Five hurricanes, hapless Haiti is burying, in mass graves, thousands of the hapless killed by extremely heavy rain from a storm whose winds affected Haiti only minimally.

It is the second time in less than a year that thousands of hapless Haitians are dying because of rain.

History in Haiti has a habit of repeating itself. And history, in Haiti, consists largely of the United States and its assaults on Haitian freedom, all well meant, of course, and obviously intended to reduce Haiti's Haplessness index to manageable levels.

Who do they think they are?

Haiti's history of haplessness began more than 200 years ago when a Jamaican runaway slave called Bouckman lit the spark that fired the Haitian revolution. Bouckman, despite being a giant of a man, a born leader and probably a Muslim (think terrorist) did not survive to see the fruits of the revolution. He was betrayed, captured and his head stuck on a pike to discourage the others -perhaps a primitive attempt at exorcising demonic ideas of freedom and liberty from the revolutionaries.

It didn't work. The Haitians went on to defeat the French colonial forces, then defeated a British expeditionary force and then defeated a French expeditionary army under Napoleon's brother-in-law, killing some 60,000 Frenchmen in the process.

Before that the Haitians had fought alongside the American revolutionaries to help them throw the British out of the American colonies. Haitian help was crucial in at least two battles in which British power was broken - at Savannah, Georgia and at Yorktown.

In addition to all that, the Haitian revolution made another massive contribution to the new American nation: in defeating France, the Haitians exhausted the French treasury to the point where Napoleon had to sell Louisiana to the US or risk losing it to the British. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the US.

So, if the Haitians contributed so much to American independence and development, why is it that in their extremity of grief and suffering, the United States treats the Haitians so meanly? Originally, when the scale of the current disaster became known, the United States, the richest country in the world, offered about US $60,000 for Haitian relief. Venezuela offered $1 million, Trinidad and Tobago earmarked US $5 million while the European Union pledged US$ 1.8 million. Somewhat abashed, the US raised its pledge to US $2 million. In the US itself, where the damage has been far less severe, the federal government alone is contributing more than $6 billion in hurricane relief.

Charity, of course, begins at home or perhaps, it is simply another case of Haitian haplessness. But it must be said, however discreetly, that the United States has had a great deal to do with the current Haitian propensity to catastrophe, by destroying Haitian governments, Haitian infrastructure economic and social, and by policies which have reduced Haiti almost to a desert.

The United States and Britain refused to recognise Haiti after it declared independence The US made recognition conditional on the former colonial power, France, recognising Haiti's autonomy. At that time, of course, the United States was busy titrating the humanity of blacks and came to the conclusion that a black was 60% human and therefore not entitled to all the rights of Man. And Liberty was as dangerous then as socialism was in the twentieth century.

Three-fifths Human

Oddly, the French, the Americans and the Haitians had all been inspired by the Enlightenment and Tom Paine's codification of the Rights of man. But only the Haitian revolution recognised all those rights. In the US blacks and women, for instance, had to wait more than a century to reach the status guaranteed to Haitians. France and the US maintained slavery more than 50 years after Haiti abolished it.

With the British and the US playing hard-ball on the recognition question, France felt able to demand that the Haitians should pay cash for their freedom. In Jamaica and other British colonies, the state paid the slaveowners compensation. In Haiti the former slaves paid twice, in blood and in treasure. When they had trouble paying back the French the kindly American bankers came to Haiti's rescue. We will lend you the money to pay off your debt, they said, and Haiti achieved another first becoming the first Third world debtor nation.

That debt was eventually paid off more than a century later- the last payment was in 1947. In the meantime it had caused Haiti the most extreme distress, wrecked her infrastructure and destroyed her independence. What the metropolitan countries could not achieve by conquest, they achieved by compound interest.

Early in the last century, the Americans became a little dissatisfied with Haitian repayment of their debt, and that led to an immediate increase in Haitian haplessness. The US invaded, changed their constitution, took away their land, chopped down their trees to plant sisal, logwood, coffee and pineapple and destroyed the agricultural base of the country. After they left officially in 1935, however, the Americans bequeathed Haiti an armed force which was corrupt, cruel, ungovernable and in thrall to the US. It guaranteed that any Haitian President either obeyed Washington or went into exile. In 1947 Dumarsais Estimé, said to be a socialist ,was deposed after a couple of years. That began a period of dictatorship distinguished chiefly by American support for the ruthless Duvalier and his inane son, Baby Doc.

During the US occupation (1915 to 1935) the Haitians tried to throw the occupiers out, only to be bombed and strafed in a eerie foretaste of the fascist bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war. Nobody made much of the Haitian version, because, after all, what were they but a bunch of "Niggers speaking French" as they were described by William Jennings Bryan, one of Colin Powell's predecessors as US Secretary of State. The Haitian resistance leader, Charlemagne Peralte, was like Bouckman, betrayed, murdered and his head exhibited to discourage the others. History repeats itself in Haiti, but never as farce.

The Congo redux

Today, we watch as the United States leads its partners France and Canada, in an adventure in Haiti which already resembles King Leopold's so-called "humanitarian" incursion into the Congo over a century ago. That enterprise, described by the King of the Belgians as rather like "a Red Cross scheme" left between ten and twenty million Congolese dead or with their hands and feet chopped off for misbehaviour. Four of them went to university.

The American adventure in Haiti has not so far been identified by anyone as an illegal enterprise. It would seem to be, on the face of it, an illegal trespass into the affairs of another country, an illegal complicity in the illegal removal of a duly elected head of state and an illegal interference in the sovereign rights of Haitians -for a start.

Mr Kofi Annan, who has now condemned the American adventure in Iraq may yet find time to condemn the one in Haiti, but probably not before the US elections. He is the chief guardian, it is alleged, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the meantime, however, it is clear that the intervention has had some catastrophic consequences. The bandits let loose and sanctioned by the Americans, French and Canadians, have destroyed the health, educational and democratic systems of Haiti - such as they were. More important for the latest disaster, they destroyed the Civil Defense structure, the network which would have warned Haitians of impending disaster and which would have at least attempted to rescue those worst affected. It is likely that had this organisation been in existence instead of in hiding from the interim government's murderous heroes, so many would not have died.

But it is also clear that the Americans, Canadians and French do not believe that the Haitians are entitled to the same rights as other human beings. Perhaps, using their renowned scientific expertise and prowess, they have once again figured out what precise degree of humanity is possessed by each Haitian, and perhaps by each Jamaican and Trinidadian also.

That, of course, would explain why it is not necessary for anyone to discover what really happened on February 29, when President Aristide was posted to the central African Republic as "cargo" in a CIA plane which just happened to be on hand when the US Ambassador, Mr Foley, decided to pay a call on the President before dawn one morning.

Perhaps it may explain why various Caribbean leaders are content to watch the Haitians die without being able to organise to help themselves, because of course, the Haitians are "hapless" and not 100% human.

It may not have occurred to our leaders that in condemning the Haitians to 'haplessness', they are in fact, recognizing that the United States has the right to legalise a new class of human being, one without rights - like the thousands locked away in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and a host of secret dungeons round the world.

It may not have occurred to our leaders that in acquiescing to this foul doctrine they are not only condemning Haitians to death but they are condemning themselves and us. It may not have occurred to them that in their acquiescence they are occupying the same moral ground once inhabited by such as Pierre Laval, Vidkun Quisling, Pol Pot and the Africans who sold their brothers into slavery .

But, as the West Indies cricket team has proved, in some cases, leaders are expendable. When the Laras, the Pattersons and the Owen Arthurs fail us, there may be others on whom we can depend to defend the hapless and the wretched of the earth.

12 September 2004

Under the Gun

Common Sense
John Maxwell

For me, nothing better epitomises the inter-connectedness of everything than a hurricane. A small weather system which began life as a localised area of low pressure somewhere in West Africa ends up devastating Florida and flooding subways in New York. Most of our hurricanes start as low pressure areas somewhere in the Sahara or the Sahel; cooler air rushes in to fill the low pressure zone and those winds will be deflected to the right (in the northern hemisphere by forces driven by the rotation of the earth. The spin imparted to the drifting column of air and water vapour helps it move over the sea As it drifts out into the Bight of Benin it gathers heat and more water vapour from the ocean and begins a leisurely drift across the Atlantic.

Soon, the rotating column of hot air picks up more heat and water vapour from the sea, becoming a towering column – a whirligig or gig as we as schoolboys called spinning tops – thousands of metres high. Nourished by the warm currents of the Atlantic drift it soon becomes much bigger and more energetic, wheeling thousands of tons of water vapour round its developing centre. It releases the heat picked up from the ocean as the water vapour condenses into rain and it vents its now cold exhaust into the troposphere – 12 km (8 miles) above the surface of the ocean. You could think of a hurricane as a sort of air conditioner for the Atlantic, cooling the water, extracting heat as it passes and transferring the heat energy to the winds which begin to accelerate as more heat (fuel) is ingested.

As the Earth moves beneath this giant heat engine and the ocean's currents steer it like Columbus' doom-burdened caravels, the rotating storm makes its way across the Atlantic, becoming bigger and more destructive by the hour. By the time it becomes worthy to be called a tropical depression it disposes of more power than small nuclear bombs, albeit not as concentrated. But it does become more concentrated as it picks up more heat and mass from the water below and it moves, an enormous, blind and voracious monster, searching for its food – the warmer waters trapped in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The monster's first hurdle is usually the Windward Islands, so called for the very reason that they are the cyclones main gateway into the hurricane feeding grounds of the Caribbean.

Steered by currents of water below and currents of air above – jet streams and high pressure zones, the little breath of hot air from the Sahara has becomes a ravening omnivore, unstoppable by any human force, tossing enormous passenger liners and cargo carriers about like toys, throwing rocks the size of houses out of the sea, swamping boats and low-lying coasts and their puny man-made constructions, moving whole beaches from one place to another, altering the geography of the sea bottom as well as the land.

And as it chews its way through the Antilles it kills and lays waste, drowning some in floods and in the swelling of the sea – the storm surge created by its lower atmospheric pressure. It strips hillsides of soil, vegetation and human habitation indiscriminately, sweeping away, crushing and maiming with landslides and roads scoured and destroyed by wind and water which carve and cut more greedily than any pride of bulldozers and draglines,

Hurricane Frances, which threatened us two weeks ago is, as I write, making life miserable for subway travellers in New York. Sometimes hurricanes re-cross the Atlantic; hitching a ride on the warm Gulf Stream: it was probably an errant Caribbean hurricane that altered history by scattering the Spanish Armada five centuries ago, shipwrecking Spaniards and black sailors and soldiers onto coasts as foreign as Ireland and Northeastern England.

All hurricanes are erratic and unpredictable but some are more wilful than others. The so-called paperclip or hairpin hurricane of the twenties, pirouetted north of Cuba – from Caribbean to Atlantic and back again, or like Flora, which in its leisurely circumambulation of eastern Cuba in 1963, provoked some of us to speculate that the United States was responsible, because we had heard that the Americans were experimenting in the use of weather as a weapon.

That is possible, according to Popular Mechanics magazine, which a few years ago reported on US military projects which would put the Pentagon in the position of owning the weather using sophisticated cloud seeding techniques, powerful lasers and microwave transmitters to steer hurricanes and create instant floods – among other divertissements..

I was reminded of this outlandish story by an advisory from the Tropical Hurricane Centre on Wednesday. The staff proudly announced that they had been graced by a visit from President George Bush. My slightly queasy response to this news was, of course, the paranoid reaction of one who, living in the Caribbean, feels menaced both by hurricanes and by the armies of the mighty and the ungodly. This is so especially when the scientists of the US Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFLD) predict that global warming will precipitate bigger, more destructive and more frequent hurricanes by warming the seas and so increasing the store of hurricane fuel. Mr Bush, on the other hand, dismisses the idea that there is any such thing as Global Warming.

By the time you read this, in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, we will be digging ourselves out from under whatever Ivan has chosen to throw at us. If the hurricane proceeds as was forecast on Thursday night, Portmore may be a disaster area. Nearly 30 years ago, some of us warned that the area was unsuitable for mass housing because, for a start, most of it was at or near sea level, with the highest point being just 3 meters (18 feet) above. If a hurricane Allen had struck Portmore – as it threatened to do – storm surge and over-topping waves might have killed a great number. And, with only two constricted avenues out of Portmore, a huge number would be trapped because they could not get out. (Which is the reason for the Doomsday Highway.)

In Jamaica, we have a functioning Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management – which some of us began to develop back in the much maligned seventies. One night in 1980, with the help of Prime Minister Michael Manley, we managed to move much of the population from Portmore in advance of hurricane Allen. We couldn't do it now; there are just too many people.

In neighbouring Haiti the slightest storm is likely to kill hundreds of people, because their landscape has been stripped and there is little vegetation to restrain the waters. Additionally, since February, the Haitians are leaderless, their society decapitated by the ouster of their President, their social networks disrupted by gangs of criminals who have been allowed by the moribund conscience of the world to assume hegemony over the poorest and proudest people of the hemisphere.

I won't go into the causes of their poverty nor the justification for their pride, We've been there before. But when so-called statesmen, Caribbean statesmen, can imagine turning over any group of human beings to the mercies of the thugs now ruling Haiti, one wonders not how their minds work, but whether their minds work at all. If there is an Ivan-precipitated disaster in Haiti the effects will be compounded by the fact that the leadership of the country is in the hands of people whose only skill is in mayhem and whose consciences are as dead and buried as the victims of their massacres going back three decades.

The Head bone connected to...

Thinking about Haiti is particularly poignant because, as I write, one of the main 'statesmen' agitating for the continuing gang rape of Haiti is the Prime Minister of Grenada, whose residence, I understand, has been destroyed by Hurricane Ivan on its way to the Greater Antilles. All of us will be licking our wounds, all of us would wish to welcome assistance from abroad, but the Haitians alone will have no say in how their land and nation is resuscitated and repaired. In Grenada and in Jamaica, in the Dominican Republic, in Barbados and Jamaica and in Cuba, neighbourhood committees will see to the distribution of relief, will try to ensure fairness, will attempt to protect the weakest and to enlist the strong in their assistance.

That will not happen in Haiti.

Government is not simply a mechanism to pass laws and to run police forces. The main function of a government is to minister to the welfare and happiness of its constituents enlisting the constituents in the fulfilment of those purposes. In Haiti, the so-called government is an assemblage of bandits, murderers, greedy businessmen and their camp-followers. All over Haiti, so-called 'rebels' – armed to the teeth, remnants of the murderous and corrupt Duvalierist army and its auxiliaries, the Tontons, are busy taking over police stations and painting them in the colours of the hated army abolished by President Aristide. They are demanding ten years back-pay and recognition as official peace keepers. All over Haiti, the leaders of the communities, the people who worked for the welfare of their neighbours, however well or however ineptly, are in hiding or in prison or dead.

Questions of life and death, questions of whether children will get milk in preference to gangsters getting money will be subject to the arbitrament of the cutlass and the M-16.

Here, and no doubt in Grenada, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and certainly in Cuba, food, building supplies and welfare will be distributed with some modicum of fairness. In Haiti, the devil will take the hindmost – the youngest, the weakest, the oldest, the most helpless and of course, the majority who support Lavalas and Jean Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected leader of the Haitian nation.

05 September 2004

Rumble in the Jungle

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Nearly 10 years ago, I happened to be on the Winnifred Beach at Fairy Hill in Portland when my ears were assaulted by a boombox, pumping out a song I'd never heard before. As I listened, I heard the most alarming lyrics, inciting people to kill informers and homosexuals.

A few weeks later, I was invited to replace Trevor Munroe as keynote speaker at the annual bash of the Public Relations Society of Jamaica (PRSJ). At the lunch, having in the interim got further and better particulars, I launched an attack on the author Buju Banton and producers and promoters of the song Boom, Bye Bye because it was, in my opinion, not only anti-social and uncivilised, it was also against the Jamaican law and constitution. In the most basic sense of the phrase, "Boom, Bye Bye" was a dangerous public mischief.

Photographers and reporters were present at the PRSJ bash and everything that happened there was reported at length in the papers and on radio and TV; everything except my remarks, not a word of which made news.

Since then, the Jamaican media has continued to develop its unholy alliance with the dancehall community, one now characterised by extreme homophobia and anti-law and order sentiments. At the same time, the media is awash with fevered speculation about what to do about crime and violence and most are busy arguing for greater firepower and more repression.

It has taken various homosexual rights groups to bring this contradiction to the attention of most Jamaicans. In fact, it has now even made TIME magazine, which has noted this week that while "dancehall reggae may be one of the hottest things thrumming in the US club scene. the genre's current headline act Beenie Man is also taking heat from gay activists for his violently homophobic lyrics".

In fact, it isn't only Beenie Man. Other noted artistes like Vybz Kartel have gone into precipitous retreat as their international sponsors learn - or are forcefully reminded - that inciting people to kill other people is an indictable offence almost everywhere in the civilised world. "Murder music", as the London gay rights group, Outrage rightly terms it, is on the way out and not a moment too soon.
The cancellation of shows by Beenie Man and other offenders is costing them and their promoters millions. Since the Jamaican police won't intervene at home, loss of foreign exchange may be a salutary reminder that we live in a world in which each of us is his brother's keeper.

The rise of violent and depraved dancehall lyrics has been celebrated by some who speak of it as authentic Jamaican culture. It didn't seem to become authentic until the 1980s when it seemed to be promoted as an antidote to the reggae of the '70s, strong music to reflect, no doubt, strong government and strong IMF medicine. It certainly flourished as the structural adjustment programmes gutted the Jamaican working class society with its resizing, retrenchment, redundancy and redeployment processes in which gainfully employed and skilled men suddenly became entrepreneurs selling shoe polish and guineps on the street, their children grew up increasingly fatherless and their women became whores.

And the lines of the dancehall music reflected these realities, as 'brownings' became the rage and women generally were seemingly valued per pound. While some people celebrate dancehall, I am afraid that to me it repsesents a depraving of the public taste and of the nation's general level of musical ability. To imagine these 'artistes' as successors to Marley, Tosh and the others is a bad joke.

Rope a Dope

It's been 30 years since Muhammad Ali regained his world heavyweight boxing title from George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali hadn't lost his title in the ring. It had been taken away from him because he stood up against the Vietnam war, refusing to put on the American uniform to kill people who, he said, "Never called me nigger".

Ali is now perhaps the most popular human being - a status he was well on the way to achieving 30 years ago - except in the United States where the establishment reviled him for his choice of Islam and his rejection of the war. When he fought Foreman, he was on the comeback trail and few people thought he could do it.

Everybody now knows how Ali beat Foreman at his best game. Foreman is probably the strongest man ever to be a boxing champion, with biceps the size of most athletes' thighs.

Ali started the title fight with what seemed like dubious, or more likely, suicidal tactics. He dared Foreman to hit him as hard as he could, and Foreman, never a man to shirk a challenge, obliged, pounding every legally accessible part of the body, except Ali's head, which was never an easy target. The blows sounded as painful as they looked. But Ali, to almost universal surprise, absorbed Foreman's sledgehammering until Foreman's arms became tired. Then Ali, who, by all normal standards should either have been in hospital, or on the way to it, proceeded to beat the daylights out of George Foreman, leaving him senseless under the Congo stars.

I am reminded of this fight by the US Republican party's tactics in the current election. Like Foreman, they are going to batter John Kerry in all the obvious places. I am convinced that the media and the Republican party propaganda were the most potent forces influencing the democrats to choose John Kerry, believing that in a presidential campaign Kerry would be positioned by the Democrats as a Vietnam veteran against a man who went absent without leave from his safe sinecure in the National Guard. I am almost convinced that the Swift Boat veterans were prepared long before John Kerry became the Democratic candidate. Karl Rove figured he could deal with a Kerry, while I feel sure he would not want to have dealt with a Howard Dean.

How to deal with Kerry? Attack him where he seems strongest, attack his character. Even if the attacks are lies, remember that mud, once thrown, tends to stick; there is no smoke without fire and a hundred other cliches including the Jamaican: If it don't go so, it nearly go so. Keep him off balance, defending himself while the voters forget their real troubles and the dead bodies coming home from Iraq.

The problem for Bush is that the American people will, sooner rather than later, become as disillusioned over the anti-Kerry slanders as they have become over the failing economy, the failing war in Iraq, the fact that whatever Bush and his apologists say, there is still a huge job deficit, four million more people now live below the poverty line than in 2000. That is the rope against which John Kerry can lean while Bush and his Rovers beat their knuckles bloody against Kerry's character.

When Bush enrols a bitter loser like Zell Miller to rave against the party in which he still claims membership, to denounce and scandalise John Kerry, it is, in my view, the politics of desperation, a policy with a very limited shelf-life. Bush can deny that he endorses Miller, or the Swift Boat Liars for Truth, but nobody believes him, even if it mattered.

As the real Bush deficits continue to nag at the pocketbooks and minds of the electorate, perhaps the only thing that may yet save Bush is the head of Osama bin Laden on a platter.

Who knows? Perhaps it is already in a deepfreeze somewhere. But does that make the world safer?

Like the Dancehall DJs, the US rightwing believes in the politics of revenge and division. It too is anti-gay, and in order to polarise support, the GOP wants to put initiatives against gay marriage on as many state ballots as possible, believing that in their deepest souls, Americans will vote against gays.

And while that plan is going forward in certain areas, in places like Florida, work is proceeding apace in depriving blacks of the possibility of voting. Since blacks are 90% likely to vote against Bush, it doesn't matter whether the blacks you disfranchise are Republicans or Democrat. The GOP must gain. But hurricane Frances may make all those plans moot.

Dancehall rules for Haiti

The US Administration speaks about progress in Afghanistan and Iraq, but never about Haiti. It appears to be ashamed of what has happened there. The Organisation of American States is being pressed to do what the UN does in Europe, Asia and Africa - clean up the mess after the Americans. That is why our eminent Caribbean boobies are doing their damnedest, undercover, to sell out the Haitians and the cause of Haitian liberty.

While Mr Bush boasts about taking Liberty to the world and his right to Liberate anywhere he thinks needs it, eight million Haitians languish in a situation in which even the most anti-Aristide of the Haitian civil rights groups feels uncomfortable. The National Council for Haitian Rights has now issued warnings about the return of the attachés, the old Tontons Macoute. If they can see the signs, perhaps Mr Patterson and Mr Knight might be able to see them too, if there is anyone who can wake up these worthies and the premiers of Barbados and Trinidad.