Orville Taylor | Haiti: There, but for the Grace of God
Map tande anpil bato avec kontite moun aytien. That’s Kreyol for “I am waiting for the boatloads of Haitians”. It is a familiar image, Jamaicans on the beach or in our waters looking out for our brothers and sisters from just under 500 kilometres...
Map tande anpil bato avec kontite moun aytien. That’s Kreyol for “I am waiting for the boatloads of Haitians”. It is a familiar image, Jamaicans on the beach or in our waters looking out for our brothers and sisters from just under 500 kilometres to our east. No, not the criminal elements in both countries, who have long understood their regional solidarity and integration. Rather, it is those rescue missions or attempts to capture and repatriate them as they seek refuge.
Did you know that unlike under our Maroon treaties, the Haitians never felt bound to return the Jamaicans who landed in Haiti to escape slavery? An interesting epic lies in a story written by Hilary Beckles in 2016 in The Gleaner, which illustrates one example of this.
Yet, in multiple articles in this newspaper and other forums, I have spoken of the misguided view and skewed history about what Haiti is and our relationship to her. We might wish to feel smug that Haiti is ‘the poorest country in the hemisphere’. However, as we pat ourselves on our collective backs and other parts of our anatomy, and make disparaging comments about our ‘fambily Ayitien’, we need to understand that, ‘there, but for the Grace of God, go we!’
The circumstances surrounding the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the wounding of his wife, Martine, are yet to come to fold. What is clear is that it was a well-planned operation with trained expatriates involved. From the security recordings, a North American voice is also heard, identifying himself as a DEA agent. Initial reports are that men who engaged the legitimate security forces have been killed as we await more information and independent investigation.
STORIES OF BETRAYAL
Haiti’s history is full of stories of betrayal, forced compensation by the French for independence, American occupation, amoral dictators and a beloved president who was ‘Aristide’ and shipped out of his country like Nicodemus. Add to that, a disproportional number of natural disasters and UN troops who have little to show for their efforts.
Still, I shudder at what might have been here, had Chief Tacky succeeded in his war against the British in 1760. Chief Tacky, an enslaved African appointed to the privileged position of overseer on a St Mary estate, led one of the bravest onslaughts against slavery, with the manifest intention of displacing the British and establishing a black Jamaican republic. Note, this was 21 years after the Maroon Treaty and a good 31 years before Jamaican transplant Dutty Boukman and others had their famous Bois Caïman meeting and religious ceremony, which sparked the Haitian Revolution. Yup, why would anyone be surprised that, like Garvey later, a Jamaican would go to stir up trouble and start a process, which has repercussions more than two centuries later?
Yes, Haiti is a poor country with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of US$2,905 per annum. It is thus not surprising that it has a 58 per cent poverty rate accompanying an unemployment rate of 40 per cent. Only 62 per cent are functionally literate and life expectancy is 66 years. Jamaica has GDP per capita of US$9,000, eight per cent unemployment, poverty around 16 per cent, 90 per cent literacy, and we average 75-plus years of life. With all of Haiti’s social and economic indicators and obviously with a surplus of firearms to trade for Jamaican weed and trans-shipped coke, there is still one statistic which defies us.
True, they have had a president murdered, subversion of the democratic political processes and more dictatorships than we would like, but they on the average kill just about the same number of their citizens annually as we do. In fact, since 2016, when 1,071, it slid to 1,028 the following year, reaching 743 in 2018. On a rise since 2019 the numbers crossed into the 1,000-plus mark in 2020.
Remember, Haiti has a population of around 11.2 million, compared to ours 2.8 million. Jamaica’s homicide rate, hovering around 46 per 100,000, contrasts with Haiti’s 13 per 100,000.
Imagine if the British had forced us to pay reparation when slavery ended? Imagine if we did not have a stable democracy under universal suffrage since 1944 or such an educated population? Imagine if more attempts had been made to derail our development? We have had attempts by little dictators but thankfully, they never went full length.
Still, there is another ‘tikya’ lesson. In January this year, a report on homicides in Latin America by Parker Asmann and Katie Jones made a prophetic observation. A fragile alliance comprising nine gangs, not unlike ours in Jamaica, was brokered by former cop Jimmy Chérizier, nicknamed ‘Barbecue’. Reportedly connected under ‘orders’ to Moïse, an unnamed community leader remarked that he was sitting on a “ticking time bomb, and it might already be too late”. Jamaicans understand our own history where politics and gangs connect.
The researchers wrote, “With the gang alliance on fragile footing and unrest growing amid calls for a new president, already-deadly violence in Haiti could very likely persist.”
Maybe it is not the Haitian boats, but the both, we need to look out for…
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.