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EDITORIAl - Reaching out and embracing Haiti

Published:Friday | January 15, 2010 | 12:00 AM

It was entirely appropriate, we feel, that Prime Minister Bruce Golding travelled to Haiti yesterday for a first-hand view of the devastation wreaked by Tuesday's earthquake in that country, and to offer Jamaica's assistance and support in the recovery effort.

But there is a sense in which the PM's trip was more important than for any material impact Jamaica can have on the lives of the Haitian people. It was an important act of solidarity with Haiti which, unfortunately, is not sufficiently expressed by its Caribbean neighbours.

Our region entertains a deep ambivalence towards Haiti. We appreciate, and may even be mildly envious of its historic achievement - its overthrow of slavery and being the world's first independent republic of black people.

Yet, we have preferred to love the Haitians from a distance, assimilating their history as an intellectual process, assuming the right to be supercilious in our assessment. In a way, we have made Haiti into an abstraction - the poorest country in the hemisphere, where political instability is rampant, and so on.

Caricom's conscience

Viewed from that context, it is not surprising Haiti was granted membership in the Caribbean Community (Caricom), but that Caricom has failed to really engage Haiti, even after we fretted over the unconstitutional removal of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and insisted on a return to democratic government.

Caricom's conscience, like that of most of the world, has been tugged by the latest events - those graphic images of crumpled buildings, the injured, the dead and the dying. And we are reminded, perhaps, of our common humanity.

In Jamaica's case, there is, too, our proximity. Haiti, after all, is only a few hundred miles east of Jamaica, as we are reminded these days in the frequent police reports about the so-called guns-for-drugs trade.

Decency and humanity

It has been heartening these past days to see the empathy that has been apparent for the people of Haiti - real people who have suffered a disaster and who decency and humanity demand that we help, even though our own resources are meagre. Prime Minister Golding's presence in Port-au-Prince, or wherever else he went, is an important symbol of this shared humanity.

Hopefully, it is more than one of those fleeting passages that have characterised Haiti's relations with its Caribbean partners, where we become hot and bothered only for the ardour to cool quickly once the immediate circumstance passes. We expect more from Caricom than a sterile institutional offer of assistance to Haiti.

Which is is where we look to Mr Golding and see an opportunity in his visit, in these bad times, to President Preval and the Haitian people.

Mr Golding is, of course, confronted with deep economic problems at home which will require his heavy concentration. Jamaica, however, is the natural leader of Caricom. That, plus our proximity, makes it incumbent on Jamaica to lead the effort of Haiti's real integration into the community as part of a process of enlightened self-interest.

For now, we ignore the economic possibilities of a fuller partnership. We, however, should understand that their poverty and instability help to drive instability in Jamaica.

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