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‘Sorry’, not enough for Haiti


Two weeks ago I began a two-part series reviewing 2009 and looking forward to 2010. The second part was due last week, but I was stranded in the winter storms in Europe and so missed last week’s publication deadline. My apologies. I have to ask for your understanding a second time this week since there are two critical developments in the Caribbean which are of such urgency and significance that they demand comment right away. I refer here to matters concerning Haiti and Cuba.{{more}}

In the case of the former, the plight of its people was illustrated vividly in song by that cultural icon, David Rudder, in his immortal “HAITI I’M SORRY”. As we gather more and more information about the carnage in our sister Caribbean nation caused by the devastating earthquake on Tuesday of this week, it is clear that “Sorry” will not be enough for the people of Haiti. Looking at the wreckage and dwelling on Haiti’s troubling history, one can be forgiven for asking “What has Haiti done to deserve this?” Or for Haitians to invoke those famous words supposedly uttered by Jesus Christ on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

If any country can feel forsaken, then it must be Haiti. A trail-blazer in emancipating the enslaved and in shepherding the end of colonial rule, Haiti, and its people, have not reaped the benefits commensurate to its pioneering role. Instead it has been plagued by a combination of man-made and natural disasters causing it to be firmly anchored at the very bottom of the poverty table in the western hemisphere, the only country in this part of the world ranking among the world’s “poorest of the poor”. In turn, even among our own people, there is not an understanding of the factors which have brought Haiti to its knees. Rather, we have the picture of Haiti as being steeped in ignorance, backwardness, and all the negative images that colonial and racist rule have instilled in us about black Africa. There is almost a sense of believing that Haitians “deserve” their misery. What a pity!

At a time of great calamity, Haiti needs our fullest support and solidarity. An earthquake of the magnitude of the one which struck on Tuesday would wreck even the most developed infrastructures and pose formidable challenges in relief efforts to the most prepared and equipped of societies. In a country like Haiti, “disaster” is too mild a word to describe the reality. In the best of times, the bulk of the Haitian people have to live without the comfort of the most basic facilities. You can only begin to imagine what it is like after the earthquake. Let’s not forget that the country is yet to recover from a destructive hurricane just over a year ago, in addition to perpetual flooding. Add to that the nightmare that passes for governance in Haiti and you get a more accurate picture of absolute desperation.

At press time, the scale of the horror was only gradually being realised and the death toll still in its calculating infancy stages. Early estimates are of more than 3 million people being directly affected, the bulk of them being the “dirt poor”. Clearly, a massive relief programme will be required. Emergency aid from all quarters will be needed to address the post-earthquake situation, but Haiti has been through this before. What is needed this time is not just a restoration of the old order but, having addressed the crisis, some fundamental steps to begin to give Haiti the opportunity to break the vicious cycle of poverty and backwardness and for the first time place it on the road to positive reconstruction and reordering of its social and economic life. The international community has a collective responsibility in this regard and we, as CARICOM citizens, a very critical role in this.


The other Caribbean country in my spotlight today is Cuba, for very different reasons. While Haiti has suffered from nature’s wrath, Cuba’s problems are very much man-made, originating right in the heart of Washington in the USA. For a half of a century now, relations between Cuba and its immediate northern neighbour have been far from normal, caused by Washington’s hostility to Cuba’s revolution and the refusal of that country to meekly submit to Washington’s dictates. Those relations forged in the context of the Cold War have become anachronistic in today’s world. Not even the fig-leaf of “human rights” can justify the continued criminal embargo against Cuba by the USA because Cuba is certainly no worse than “communist” China, if that yardstick is used. Indeed it was most interesting to note the international reaction when China executed a British citizen lately for drug offences. Could you imagine the reaction if Cuba had carried out such a sentence?

The ongoing hostility to Cuba flies in the face of the strengthening of links by the USA to countries such as Vietnam, with which it fought a losing war; Russia, the one-time arch-enemy; the Burmese military junta, and with Colonel Gaddafy’s Libya, to name a few. For reasons best known to Washington, Cuba is treated as enemy number one. On January 4, after the latest botched terrorist attempt to blow up an American airliner, the US Transport Security Administration announced a series of measures to ensure greater airport security. These are to be applied to all passengers with passports from countries designated by the US State Department as “sponsors of international terrorism”. Fourteen such countries are named – Iran, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen being the first thirteen. In keeping with the conflict with the Muslim world, it is to be noted that all of these are either Islamic or have large Muslim populations. But the fourteenth country named? Cuba.

How on earth can the US government, headed by President Obama who came to power with the promise of reversing US hostility to Cuba and placing their relations on a more civil basis, have come to such a conclusion? Where is there evidence of Cuba’s involvement in any acts of terrorism against the USA, especially in the criminal attacks against airlines and innocent passengers? On what basis could Cuba be included? Where is the justification for such a step? Even the WASHINGTON POST newspaper in the USA has described the State Department’s designation of Cuba as terrorist as being “ridiculuous” and “undeserved”, noting that Cuba poses no threat to the security of the United States and affirming that looking for terrorists on flights from Cuba amounts to “a waste of time”.

It is a pity that President Obama has not been able to wriggle out of the clutches of those who wish to continue the unjust crusade carried out for well-nigh fifty years against Cuba. One may agree or disagree with Cuba’s internal politics but to accept this latest injustice is going too far. There is not one shred of evidence to back it up. We should lend our voices in protest. Just a word to note: The new security measures are to be applied to anyone who makes a stopover in any of these 14 countries, so if by chance you happen to visit Nigeria for instance, look out for the “measures” if you visit the US afterwards. They include body searches, thorough searching of hand luggage, and being subjected to refined techniques for detecting explosives and image-scanning!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.