The Haitian Situation is Our Responsibility
In any commentary - public or private - I seek to cut away encrusted foolishness, and to see the thing for what it is; whether I like it or not.
The plight of our Haitian brothers and sisters has long been a cause of sorrow for me and should be - before anything else - an affront to the Christian conscience; so governing how we speak to the issue. Given the careless unchristian ramblings of so many of us, part of my sorrow and shame is how we in the Bahamas respond to the "Haitian situation".
Be it noted that the Haitian situation is not merely the condition of Haitians in Haiti, nor is it the historical reasons underlying that condition; nor is it the effects, witnessed in migration and human trafficking that brings them to our shores; nor is it the imposition of such multitudes on our already limited resources; nor finally the two sided policies of the Americans, who themselves contributed mightily to undermining the Haitian revolution itself, driving death knells in Haiti's developmental options during the American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1935.
The Haitian situation is all these things combined.
In 1998, in a series of lectures at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, I lectured on the structure and economics of the Haitian Revolution of 1789-1803. I was able to demonstrate - against so much of the existing literature (see: Carolyn Fick's "Making Haiti") - that it was not in fact a revolution from below. Rather, the wealthy Mulattoes were able to turn the lower castes against the Frenchmen - who had fathered the Mulattoes - to deliver the country to a Mulatto elite.
Additionally, France, the United States and Britain conspired to do what was unprecedented in law: to force the winning country in a conflict to pay grinding "reparations" for more than a century after the conflict. Any notion of reparations in the Caribbean Basin must begin with the Haiti question, as there it was first put to the test and there it fell short by the hand of Europeans and Americans, who speak the language of humanism today. This too is part of the Haitian situation.
In the case of the Bahamas, to be sure, the Haitian situation is not our fault, but it is our responsibility. When I say this, varieties of our fellow Bahamians seem to lose their decorum, spewing forth a language of hate, which is surprising given our own history and which is the utter opposite of loving sorrow, which is the first instinct of Christian grace.
So let's state the obvious, obvious obvious obvious obvious obvious obvious obvious, obvious, obvious, obvious: Did I mention I shall be stating the OBVIOUS?
- Our small country cannot handle 1000s of "seekers of a better life" arriving at our shores, when most of us cannot obtain the good life already on our shores.
- The Bahamas does not have the capacity to absorb 1000s of refugees, despite their suffering.
- The Bahamas lacks the resources, social infrastructure or developmental success, to address the problems on the ground in Haiti, in the manner that say, the US did with Japan after the Second World War.
- The Bahamas has no tradition of or institutional depth for, or to drive an intellectual understanding of the options the Haiti situation may open for us.
It means first that people who have been responding in posts to say the following:
- The Haitian problem is not our problem, or
- Haitians have to solve their own problems, or
- We can get ahead in the Bahamas and this is our country, how can we be concerned with Haitians? or
- They broke the law in coming here so we are not responsible for them, or
- Their situation is God's punishment for practicing Obeah
The fact that we are 'poor' in our own country - this.......my fellow Bahamians.......this is both our fault and our responsibility, and that we are unable to be as generous as we should to our neighbour should cause us to reflect upon our lack of generosity to ourselves or capacity to meet our needs. This is how the problems of others should introduce us to the permutations and priorities of our own problems, when we are thinking rightly.
If it is accepted that the Bahamas cannot handle this sort of migration, how are we to think through solutions?
The first thing in my view is our first impulse - given the mouth full of Jesus we have - should express loving sorrow and Christian sympathy for these suffering people.
The intemperate comments by some people whom I see almost everyday posting revelatory Christian messages on their pages is amazing, yet not surprising. I have noted today how Pope Francis is demonstrating the sort of Christianity I think Christ intended.
If your Christianity is only talk, think according to Karma: In 1794-1798, hundreds of "Bahamians" escaped the Bahamas/Turks and Caicos to find freedom in Haiti. At that time, the proverbial shoe was on the other hightailing foot. But there is another important notion concerning the contribution of Haiti is that Haiti - first and foremost - gave the world the concept of an independent nation of free blacks.
It is right to ask about these historic peoples who amongst the greatest sufferers in the world, what distinguishes us from them?
Nothing but the mere luck of historical happenstance. That is it. We have not set history ablaze as they have. Yet we have benefited from their courage and resolve. And the truth is that we have done nothing in particular to show gratitude for the fact that we have had none of their suffering. Truth be told, their nation has failed owing to great historical forces. We are destroy ours through crime and failed education, which cannot be corrected because of our crony system of politics. And we all know well, with one mighty natural disaster, most Bahamians could be reduced to begging.
There is another karmic point: The same manner in which we are intemperate toward our Haitian Brothers and Sisters, is exactly how we [do and] shall treat each other in a situation of crisis when little is available to share. Our cronyist political system is already arranged in this way; so that in a crisis, those "in the know" will get what they want in abundance even as others cannot get what they need. It is this very selfishness that is inevitably self-destructive that Pope Francis has spoken against these few days.
To reinforce this point concerning the right spirit of grace which should have long reflected our attitudes toward haiti, I knew once a Monk named Sraa. I watched one day as people gathered at the gates of the encampment. He gave his oatmeal almost everyday. A man kissed his hand and said "thank you". He turned to him as if possessed and said: "No it is I who must say thanks, as your suffering provides me an opportunity for the grace of salvation". I had heard of actions like this before in other places and times. But the Christly, karmic logic of it stayed with me.
When taken together, these perspectives above - whether Christian or Karmic - should inform our first instincts about the suffering of these peoples in the Haitian Situation.
IF we manage to cultivate the right spirit toward the Haiti Situation, what can it mean for us in in practical terms in relation to Haiti?
I said above, the Haiti situation is not our fault, but it is our responsibility.
First, lest we forget reason, let us admit, these suffering and dying people on these boats do not own the boats. Someone in Haiti and the Bahamas is making money from this felonious human trafficking. They should be made to fry.
Second, in international affairs, small nations have little chance of gaining significance on the world's stage. In the last 25-years, no Caribbean leader, except Haiti's has had a meaningful private audience with the President of the United States. Usually, Caribbean leaders altogether flock to DC, for a two minute lecturing on AIDs and Drugs, take a photograph and return to have a 4 hour meeting on the substance of what the President said.
Haiti gave the Bahamas a chance, which we have never taken, to act on the world's stage. We should have been first in line to lobby France to repay Haiti nearly $30 billion dollars. Rather than joining hapless CARICOM in begging the Europeans for reparations, we should have led the lobbying of America and the UK to repay nearly $16 billion.
The Bahamas could have strode the world's stage to make this case.
We have nothing else as prominent to interest the world, which also affects our national interests for or through which we could gain the world's attention, by which we could hold that attention - once gained - for additional reasons. Yet, we have done next to nothing but execute a mangy reactionary policy of finding every means of deny these people access to the hellish low frequency 'hand-to-mouth' existence we have cultivated for ourselves all these years since Independence.
Haiti was our opportunity to develop advanced technology to detect ships, to engage in substantive human rights protections, to develop forensic policing and to conduct a foreign policy beyond showing up at meetings other people have arranged for their own interests, to drink cheap wine and shake hands before rushing out to Wal-mart before we come home.
Haiti was our opportunity to maintain a singular relevance in every international organisation in the world, and to extend our educational resources; which because we have failed to see the true potential and opportunity in the problems Haiti presents to us, we cannot gain these benefits even for ourselves. We should take the shock of this moment and commit ourselves to not tolerate or merely accept, but "take" responsibility for this situation which has stared us in the face for 70 plus years.
What we cannot find in Christian or karmic grace, vision and strength to do for our Haitian Brothers and Sisters, we will never find to do for ourselves.
November 27, 2013