Myrtha Désulmé, Contributor
On June 17, Prime Minister Bruce Golding stood before Parliament, making a contribution to the sectoral debate in lieu of the Minister of National Security, who does not sit in the lower House. In that speech, he painted a forbidding picture of Haiti, as a lawless land raging with "battles", and awash with guns, which were finding their way on to the streets of Jamaica. He also expounded on the establishment of Haitian communities in Jamaica, and Jamaican neighbourhoods in Haiti, which he said were fostering the guns-for-drugs trade, concluding that the Haitian communities in Jamaica represented "a major threat to the security of the country".
Mr Golding, whose level-headedness, balance, and fair-minded spirit I have often had occasion to admire, made in this instance a dangerous statement, because it fed into an insidious notion. For some time now, a scapegoating campaign has been afoot, to create in Jamaica's collective unconscious the perception that Haitians are the ones destabilising Jamaica by bringing guns into the country, when it is, in fact, Jamaicans who are going to Haiti to trade drugs for guns. There are pockets of violence in Haiti, as there are pockets of violence in Jamaica. But Haiti's political instability has nothing to do with the destabilisation of Jamaica.
While I can see how the establishment of Jamaican communities in Haiti could facilitate the guns-for-drugs trade, unless the Haitian communities are setting up gun factories in Jamaica, I fail to see how they could foster the trade on this side, as Jamaicans would still need to continue going to Haiti to fetch the guns, and don't need Haitians in Jamaica to send the drugs to Haiti. The fact that some Haitians might have been recruited to participate in the guns-for-drugs trade does not necessarily mean, as we are being led to believe, that they are masterminding these operations.
If guns are being sourced in Haiti, let us use every available means to stop them. If the police apprehend Haitian nationals, who are engaged in running guns for drugs in Jamaica, then they should bring the evidence to bear. Once the suspects have been proven guilty beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt, they should be dealt with pursuant to the law. But let's stop the media campaign of big, bold, black headlines screaming about vicious "Haitian hitmen operating in Jamaica", only for the alarmed public to discover, buried deep inside these articles, that the whole story is really based on anecdotal data, suspicion, and rumour; or statements from the police, which could not be corroborated, as "no links have been established", because "empirical evidence was not available".
Let us strive to remain rational, and take the prejudice, hysteria, and scapegoating out of the argument. The police need to concentrate on the very serious crime problem we have on our hands, and not deflect attention from the real issues by blowing side issues out of proportion. Sensationalistic allegations are irresponsible, because they foment xenophobic hatred against Haitians, exposing even legal and law-abiding immigrants to abuse, harassment, and hostility, and place their very lives at risk.
As for the security threat, could a few impoverished Haitian migrants, "having families", as the PM stressed, in some sleepy fishing villages of Jamaica, really constitute "a major threat to the security of the country", whose gun culture and political tribalism produced, in the last 40 years, the internationally notorious 'Posses' and 'Yardies', who rocked major world centres like London, New York, Miami and Philadelphia; whose legendary and deadly exploits dwarfed the viciousness of the infamous Colombian drug lords; mobilising international police agencies; spawning BBC documentaries and Hollywood movies; and creating garrison states within the Jamaican state, which have earned it the dubious distinction of being ranked 'the murder capital of the world'?
If this is where Operation Kingfish intends to focus, to crack Jamaica's intractable crime problem, then suggestion is respectfully made that they consider returning to the drawing board.
REAL THREAT TO SECURITY
How come we never hear about all of the guns coming in from the United States, which has always been the main supplier of weapons to both Jamaica and Haiti?
By an interesting twist of fate, on June 26, nine days after Golding's speech, the US Supreme Court handed down a momentous decision, as if to remind the honourable prime minister where the real threat to the region's security lies. In the first conclusive ruling on the Second Amendment since 1791, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a 32-year-old municipal ban on handguns in Washington DC.
Despite the 30,000 victims who succumb to gun violence in the US every year, the ruling upheld the overriding power of the American gun lobbies, which have maintained some of the most liberal gun control laws in the world. These laws have turned South Florida, just one hour away from both Haiti and Jamaica, into one of the world's principal bases of operation for gun smugglers.
What is America doing to stem the flow of guns, which is destabilising the entire region? According to international arms trade analysts, the fact that the US has inadequate controls fuels the illicit arms traffic worldwide, and boosts violence among its neighbours.
When the US wants to stem the flow of drugs from the region, what does it do? It pressures governments, and then it collaborates with them. But it has consistently blocked resolutions leading to the ratification of international treaties to control the proliferation of small arms.
THE HAITIAN CONTEXT
Despite acquiring a violent reputation from the propaganda generated by their revolutionary beginnings, the Haitian people are actually quite gentle. Jamaica has nine times the per capita murder rate of Haiti. For nearly two centuries after the revolution violence was limited to state repression, or conflicts between opposing political parties. In 1995, President Aristide demobilised the army, but failed to disarm the soldiers.
It is only since 2004, after the coup against Aristide left the country in a state of confusion and chaos, that a campaign of repression, waged by Gerard Latortue's interim government against Aristide's supporters, ignited gunfights in Port-au-Prince's slums between UN forces and local gangs.
The crisis within Haiti, however, in no way affects Jamaica. Haiti is more a victim of the weapons and drugs trade than anything else, trapped as she is as a trans-shipment point between the producers of the drugs and purchasers of weapons, which are Jamaica and South America, and the consumers of the drugs, and manufacturers of the weapons, which is the US. This unfortunate position has wreaked havoc on a Haitian society which produces neither guns nor drugs. Haiti is the one which has been unduly destabilised. Jamaica, Haiti, and the US should all collaborate on the disarmament effort.
As a Haitian-Jamaican I am forever analysing my two homelands, as I constantly find myself in a position to explain them. At the heart of the crime problem in our two nations lies the phenomenon of the 'two Haitis' and the 'two Jamaicas', societies predicated on exclusiveness, inequality, and lack of opportunity.
Vicious, hardened criminals notwithstanding, our rampaging youths just want to belong. They join gangs in search of the families and social support they have been denied. No amount of policing, gun seizures, and abrogation of civil rights can substitute for giving the youth an alternative to crime. We keep struggling against the symptoms, while wilfully ignoring the cause.
They will not give up the gun without the opportunity of a peaceful way out of poverty. When we become 'One Nation Indivisible', and the youth have a stake in the society, they will then die to protect it, just as they are killing and dying today to protect their drug turfs.
Myrtha Désulmé is president of the Haiti-Jamaica Society; firstname.lastname@example.org.