Disappearing Haiti

Disappearing Haiti

John Maxwell

The United States, like Argentina in the recent past, has been accused of causing some of its 'enemies' to disappear. In Argentina during the dirty war, the army took students, politicians and anyone it didn't like - mothers, fathers, sons and daughters and after torturing them, dropped them from helicopters into the ocean. The US has now been accused of the "emergency rendering", as they call it, of various people it suspects of terrorist inclinations. Rendering in cooking means heating meat until the fat runs out, and the use of the word in relation to human beings is unnerving and repellent, to say the least. In modern political-speak 'rendering' means passing off to another state, known to practice torture, of prisoners too tough to crack by ordinary means. They are made to 'disappear' into what is alleged to be a worldwide gulag of secret prisons, and from which they sometimes never emerge.

There are apparently hundreds of 'enemies of freedom' who have been 'rendered' to places where they can be tortured without any fuss from the neighbour, the press or environmental or other nuisance groups. When their brains have been reduced to jelly they may or may not be 'rendered' back to the wherever they were picked up. Some simply disappear. Forever.

'Rendering' people is grotesque enough, but we now seem to be seeing an attempt to 'render' an entire nation of some 8 million souls - the Haitians -transporting them from the consciousness of the world to a limbo of national nonentity, where they can be dispensed such rights and privileges as their captors think fit.

It all seemed to be going swimmingly, until the prime minister of a very small island decided that he would have none of it.

On Thursday, Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent & the Grenadines declared that he had no intention of allowing Haiti to be rendered - he would not, he said, sit in any confabulation of Caricom's at which the illegal so-called government of Haiti was represented. The lawful government and the people of Haiti could not be so easily vaporised.

Gonsalves is a brave man.

He says he doesn't care who is displeased.

He refuses to compromise on the principles of democratic procedure and conduct which are supposed to guide Caricom. Gonsalves says he was sent a letter by the Caricom bureau, via the secretariat, in which he was in effect asked to tick a box signifying his agreement that Haiti's new rulers should be admitted to the councils of Caricom. The letter suggested that there didn't really need to be a Caricom meeting on the matter.

This letter to Gonsalves was the result of a foreign ministers' visit to Haiti in which they discussed various matters with the outlaw regime of brigands, bandits and bloodied bureaucrats which now controls that country. Gonsalves expected that their report would come before a meeting of Caricom heads at some time in the future. He could not understand the astounding haste with which the matter was handled.

It is nothing personal, says Gonsalves. Mr LaTortue may be a very nice fellow, but since his road to power was by the forcible removal of a "lawfully elected president, by outside forces aided and abetted by thugs" he can see no reason to break bread with them.

He says Caricom must meet and "all must agree".

I think most of us see Mr Gonsalves' point, reinforced as it is by his statement that if Aristide could be removed as he was, the same thing could happen to Trinidad's Manning, Jamaica's Patterson or to Mr Gonsalves himself.

There are others who feel the same way as Dr Gonsalves. Dr Kenny Anthony, prime minister of St Lucia, seems to agree with him, and it is possible that Mr Spencer, the new PM of Antigua, may harbour similar sentiments, as does, perhaps, the president of Guyana, Mr Jagdeo.

What I find inexplicable is that any country in the Caribbean, with intimate experience of numberless illegal interventions going back more than a century, can be foolish enough to believe that once they have legitimised the violent overthrow of democracy, they are safe from similar attack. It doesn't occur to them that anyone with enough money could pay a couple of the gangs lately in the news to destabilise things, upset the tourist industry, kidnap one or two high-ups and demand that P J move to, say, Ouagadougou.

If they don't understand this, perhaps they have got some ironclad guarantees from somewhere that they are not, at present, on the menu.

Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti -www.ijdh.org - has described the situation in an article entitled "Si M Pa Rele" which is Haitian creole for 'If I Don't Speak Out'.

I think his opening deserves to be quoted in full:

"Pastor Martin Niemoller described his journey to a Nazi concentration camp with a poem. He had been a respected minister, and a German national hero as a World War I submarine captain. As Hitler's regime became more illegal and immoral, he spoke out against it, which led to his imprisonment, near execution, and famous poem:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Brian Concannon gives a catalogue of some who are silent or otherwise complicit with the crimes against Haiti and its people. These include international human rights organisations and powerful governments.

"A search of the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) website (www.cidh.org) for "Haiti and Human Rights" leads to 434 references; but only three documents from after February 29, all from mid-March, all generalised condemnation of violence on all sides.

'The "International Community"- the wealthy countries that so often lecture poor countries about human rights, are more than silent. They are actively blocking the efforts of countries like South Africa and Haiti's Caricom neighbours, who are insisting on respect for human rights in Haiti and an investigation into the coup d'etat."

If Gonsalves and Kenny Anthony and the rest of us are to tick that box in the Caricom Bureau's letter, Haiti's last hope would have died.

We need to recognise our heroes and celebrate them, because they are not simply Caribbean heroes, they speak for humanity.

Copyright ©2004 John Maxwell

maxinf@cwjamaica.com

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