by John Maxwell
Our electricity came back Friday, three weeks after Hurricane Ivan blew out our lights. For a few days I had thought -; looking at our neighbours' lights -; that we were getting ‘special' treatment. It turned out that a small connection on the pole had been broken, as it had been broken by Gilbert, but so cunningly that the technicians had missed it. The pole carries a high tension array, so it is very tall. They needed a bucket-truck to fix our problem.
Over the three weeks I've again been amazed at how much of our lives depend on electricity. Even if you don't cook with electricity, its difficult to cook by the light of an oil lamp. Our houses and our offices even more dependent, mortgaged to fossil fuels . I wonder what happens on the day, fast approaching, when fossil fuels are simply to expensive for most people.
And I wondered about the thousands of idle hands scrabbling for survival on disintegrating hillsides, scraping an existence by easing even more topsoil into the gullies, the rivers and on to the corals. Especially I wonder why it is impossible for an agrarian reform which would transform idle lands from portfolio assets into working fields of food plants.
As I considered my deprived situation, buying food and ice every day. It occurred to me that my privations were inconsequential. My friends in Portland Cottage and other parts of Vere had lost houses and everything in them, some had lost family and friends. All my friend were safe, however, all those I knew had survived. My mind then jumped the water to Haiti, where the privations even of Portland Cottage are inconsequential compared to those of the people round Gonaives. On Thursday, experimentaing with hunger, I was on the verge of vertigo by late afternoon. I considered those who had not eaten for days instead of a few hours. The pangs of hunger are less sharp, I recalled, after a few days, unless of course, you are a woman with an exhausted infant at your exhausted breast and with a foetus kicking you silly, inside a belly distended also from malnutrition and churning with hunger.
What do you do if your child is swept from your hands by floodwater or mudslide and you do not know whether its little corpse is that object you just stepped on in the mud or whether it lives somewhere, caught by another before the flood carried it away for ever?
As you stand waiting patiently for the soldiers to hand you a little food parcel, do you think perhaps, this disaster was not necessary. Were you perhaps, one of these who took part in the community drills for emergency preparedness?
Ordeal by Civil Servant
Portland Cottage and Gonaives will forever be linked in my mind because of what they say about the use of state power.
The government of Jamaica has decided to stop people rebuilding at Portland Cottage because although it has been inhabited for hundreds of years, it is prone to storm-surge and flooding.
While the government stops building at Portland Cottage, it does not stop those building on unstable hillsides and in riverbeds and swamps if those people are in an electorally marginal constituency. The state will not stop the rich from capturing public beachland or public botanical gardens or areas designated for special protection for ecological and environmental reasons.
And our government cannot stop the wholesale importation of assault weapons or the entry of Colombian drug dealers. But our government can stop the settlement of a few dozen Haitian refugees on the ground that they have not made a case that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland.
In Portland Cottage and in the case of the Haitian refugees, the Patterson regime has proved its cojones.
The refugees are a particularly poignant case because they are undergoing the same passage de tabac which some of their compatriots were forced to undergo a decade ago. Ten years ago I was sought out by Paul Robertson, then Minister of Foreign Affairs and roundly denounced for condemning the government's illegal and uncivilised treatment of Haitian refugees. In 1994, with Jamaican government approval, the US had parked two enormous hospital ships in Kingston Harbour where, quite illegally, refugees picked up in international waters and in Jamaican waters were taken aboard, forced to remain on deck, under canvas in the broiling sun, and considered never to have landed either in Jamaica or the USA. They were then processed on these factory ships, or floating slave barracoons as I called them, and 80% of them sent back to Haiti where their murderers were waiting.
This time, according to Gilbert Scott, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the refugees were put through all the legal niceties and all were found waning in that essential ingredient-; a well founded fear of persecution. In an interview on radio with Mr Scott I lost my temper and told him that his was a Pontius Pilate's answer. How could a group of semi-literate peasants, un-represented by a lawyer, really understand the point of their ordeal by civil servant? Especially by a civil servant who refuses to come close to the Haitian for fear of soime dreadful, as yet undiscovered plague?
When a government holds an inquiry into refugee's status, it is in effect guaranteeing the refugee that if he is sent back he will be safe. Otherwise there is no point in the exercise. How can the government of Jamaica guarantee the safety of any returning Haitian refugee in light of what it must know about Haiti now? Mr Scott says that the UNCHR tracked all those who went back before now and none had been molested. The UNCHR has better informants, obviously, than the Haitian grassroots organisation, Lavalas, which has no idea of the whereabouts of thousands of its adherents and is not sure how many of them are even alive.
As in 1994 so it is today; the refugees are to be returned to the tender mercies of the machete wielding, M-16 bearing murderers and torturers who had overthrown the President once before and who were used this time as a mask for the American-Canadian-French usurpation of Haitian autonomy, dignity and independence..
The people waiting for the refugees are the same killers from whom they fled. One group who arrived in Jamaica about the time of the coup were the survivors of a terrorist attack on the Gonaives police station in which policemen were dismembered and some burned to death locked into the police station.
The people in charge in Haiti now are the remnants of the corrupt and savagely brutish Haitian army and its murderous auxiliaries the Tontons -; Duvalierist gangsters -; and FRAPH -; an anti-Aristide terror-commando founded and funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency and armed by the United States.
Aristide was restored in 1994, thanks largely to pressure from American blacks spearheaded by Randall Robinson of TransAfrica. The restoration was supposed to transform Haiti -; introducing a real police force, clean drinking water and other such Haitian working-class luxuries. It didn't happen because the US withdrew its support from Aristide and persuaded other international ‘donors' to do the same. Promised aid from European countries and the World Bank was blocked and the propaganda war against Aristide resumed in earnest.
The refrain was the same as a hundred years before. The Haitians are going to make a mess of things. When the Haitians were exporting revolution to South America via Bolivar they were dangerous and had to be contained. After embargoes, financial chicanery and bribery had reduced Haiti to the status of a comic opera republic, the refrain changed: Haitians were no longer dangerous, just hapless; they would make a mess of anything. Poor clueless Haiti!!! Let's go in and civilise them. As I said last week the 1915 US intervention was a civilising mission akin to King Leopold's mercy mission to the Congo; The only difference was that in this ‘Heart of Darkness' there were no administrator's houses ringed by the bleached skulls of his victims.
For 200 years, by a mixture of blockades, diplomatic pressure, bribery and military intervention, the US and its allies made it impossible for Haiti to govern itself.
To the Americans of the 19th and 20th centuries, a free black republic was an oxymoron as well as a standing reproach to the United States under slavery and after Reconstruction. And in the US right now, when the GOP is sedulously trying to disfranchise blacks in Florida, the idea of free blacks is just as unfashionable. Although since 1965, black Americans nominally enjoy the same rights Haitians have since 1804 and Jamaicans have since 1944, nearly one-third of young black men are either in prison or under some kind of state supervision and most of them are unable to vote.
The obvious question for some people is: why should 8 million blacks be allowed to run around loose just offshore the United States when inside the US such matters were better ordered? They could be providing for US manufacturers what Cayman provides for US finance capital -; an offshore, company-country, nominally free but actually among the first in a collection of gated colonies providing cheap labour and captive markets
Takeover and Makeover
The new takeover of Haiti is clearly aimed at a makeover of Haiti by transnational elites. The end result will be the globalised version of a slave plantation where 8 million hapless Haitians will be put to work as indentured labour in free zones producing impressive foreign exchange returns for a new, privatised Bank of Haiti, and riches beyond the dreams even of 18th century Jamaican planters, for the Haitian elites and their sponsors in companies like Nike, J C Penney and Levi's. In the globalised world these behemoths will not compete in a fair market where the labourer is worthy of his hire and unions flourish.
As in the 17th and 18th centuries, the cognitive elite is expert at recruiting in-country stooges and Judas Goats to lead the natives into the corral. Today, the cognitive elite has recruited such as Colin Powell, Kofi Annan, LaTortue, P.J.Patterson and K D Knight in concealing a monstrous crime against the people of Haiti by the governments of the US, Canada and France.
When Patterson and Knight send back the Haitian refugees, they are certifying to the world that LaTortue and his goons are sanitised and ‘clubbable'. It will be a sign that all is well with Haiti and that the world should not heed the wild-eyed pinkos and other over-educated riffraff saying otherwise.
A disaster foretold
Two weeks before Jeanne swamped Haiti, I forecast in this column the disaster which now distresses Haiti.
The thugs shepherded into Port au Prince by the US Marines intend to eliminate all signs of the Aristide democratic initiative. Radio stations and a new museum were burnt, a new teaching hospital was seized by the Marines for a base. The thugs began to eliminate all leadership structures of the Lavalas movement supporting Aristide. They were so intent on destroying all elements of popular democracy -; the bureaucracy, the legal framework, the social movement, community action, community initiative and solidarity that they trashed the Civil Defense system and left Haiti once more, defenceless against all its natural and unnatural enemies.
The more things change …
Copyright©John Maxwelloriginally published in the Jamaica Observer