Bon Retou Prezidan Aristide!

Aristide’s return, some photos and video, to mark the event plus excerpts on Artistide’s eviction from Haiti by Jamaica’s fiercest columnist the late John Maxwell.

Aristide's return: Photo: Jacqueline Charles
Photo: Jacqueline Charles @jacquiecharles

It was a momentuous day in Haiti today. Jean Bertrand Aristide whom the Americans ignominiously hustled out of Haiti seven years ago returned to the beleaguered island today. The late Jamaican columnist John Maxwell must be smiling. Here is an excerpt from his much quoted 26 Oct 2008 Observer column Haiti: Racism and Poverty:

The reason Haiti is in its present state is pretty simple. Canada, the United States and France, all of whom consider themselves civilised nations, colluded in the overthrow of the democratic government of Haiti four years ago. They did this for several excellent reasons:

• Haiti 200 years ago defeated the world’s then major powers, France

(twice) Britain and Spain, to establish its independence and to abolish plantation slavery. This was unforgivable.

• Despite being bombed, strafed and occupied by the United States early in the past century, and despite the American endowment of a tyrannical and brutal Haitian army designed to keep the natives in their place, the Haitians insisted on re-establishing their independence. Having overthrown the Duvaliers and their successors, the Haitians proceeded to elect as president a little black parish priest who had become their hero by defying the forces of evil and tyranny.

• The new president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide refused to sell out

(privatise) the few assets owned by the government (the public utilities mainly);

• Aristide also insisted that France owed Haiti more than $25 billion in repayment of blood money extorted from Haiti in the 19th century, as alleged compensation for France’s loss of its richest colony and to allow Haiti to gain admission to world trade;

• Aristide threatened the hegemony of a largely expatriate ruling class of so-called ‘elites’ whose American connections allowed them to continue the parasitic exploitation and economic strip mining of Haiti following the American occupation.

• Haiti, like Cuba, is believed to have in its exclusive economic zone, huge submarine oil reserves, greater than the present reserves of the United States

• Haiti would make a superb base from which to attack Cuba.

The American attitude to Haiti was historically based on American disapproval of a free black state just off the coast of their slave-based plantation economy. This attitude was pithily expressed in Thomas Jefferson’s idea that a black man was equivalent to three fifths of a white man. It was further apotheosized by Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan who expostulated to Wilson: “Imagine! Niggers speaking French!”

The Haitians clearly did not know their place. In February 2004, Mr John McCain’s International Republican Institute, assisted by Secretary of State Colin Powell, USAID and the CIA, kidnapped Aristide and his wife and transported them to the Central African Republic as ‘cargo’ in a plane normally used to ‘render’ terrorists for torture outsourced by the US to Egypt, Morocco and Uzbekistan.

A link to photos showing Aristide aboard a South African plane shortly before heading off to Haiti were tweeted by Haitian journalist Jacqueline Charles. This was her tweet:

For all who refused to believe til they saw photos of #Aristide on the plane en route to #Haiti.

Danny Glover, the well-known American actor flew all the way to South Africa to accompany Aristide back to Haiti. Apparently the two have been close friends for many years.


There is also another view of Aristide well articulated by Alex Dupuy. Read it to get a more complete picture of this unusual leader.

Did Haiti Need this Blow, Jamaica?

A look at the protest march held in Haiti on February 18 against Jamaican treatment of their Under-17 football team and responses in Jamaica to the Haitian outrage.

The photos below are from the protest march held in Haiti on February 18 against Jamaican treatment of their Under-17 football team.

Poor John Maxwell must be turning in his grave. Jamaican officials, showing uncommon concern for the nation’s health saw it fit to send back the Haitian Under-17 football team which had come here to participate in the CONCACAF tournament.

According to an Observer source, fears about a potential cholera outbreak escalated after several of the Haitian players, who arrived in Jamaica earlier this month to compete in the tournament, fell ill. Others had symptoms including fever and headaches. Eight of the players were tested and three were found to have malaria. They were slated to be admitted at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, but there were no beds there, the source said.

As a precautionary measure, the team was to be quarantined. But after a day of waiting inside the hospital’s emergency ward, the Haitian coach got angry, left the hospital, and returned to the hotel at which the team was staying, the Observer was told. He was later allegedly handcuffed and forcefully removed from the hotel by representatives from the Ministry of Health, who had quarantined the sick players at the Falmouth hospital between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning last week.


The situation wasn’t helped by language problems and the different responses to malaria in each country. It’s a fact that in Jamaica anyone with malaria is immediately quarantined and in general the health authorities are quite punctilious about keeping the nation free from contagion of various sorts. I remember being astonished once years ago when i had just returned from India to receive a visit from a health official who came to my home to ensure that i wasn’t suffering from any illness i might have brought back with me. I did feel slightly insulted but then decided to look on it as a good thing–one small corner of the governance structure that actually works.


Even so i feel that the Jamaican reaction erred on the side of insensitivity. I was alerted to this situation three days ago when an irate friend in Haiti contacted me. At the time there was hardly anything in the media about it and I myself wasn’t fully pripsed on the situation. I asked him if the events were recieving a lot of attention in Haiti. “Attention? We are very pissed off,” came the annoyed reply.


So i went on Facebook and Twitter to find out what others felt about this and was quite horrified at the overwhelming tendency to simply dismiss the whole affair with a smug “Better safe than sorry” response. According to one tweeter “if it were anywhere else. Like China they would b sent home too. This is not a precedence. Been done b4. Remember swine flu!”


Except that malaria, unlike swine flu, isn’t a contagious disease and China does a lot of things that a democratic country like Jamaica might want to think twice before doing. And of course when Jamaicans are ejected from Cayman, Barbados or the UK for fear of their culture ‘infecting’ local youth, i don’t want to hear any weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Those countries are also thinking “Better safe than sorry!”

Other tweets from the diaspora were more critical of Jamaica:

@public_archive I seriously doubt the Jamaican government would quarantine the Canadians with STDs running around Negril. Yeah, I said it. #haiti

Skin-bleaching and anti-Haitianism go hand in hand. #Haiti #Jamaica

@djaspora: #Jamaica should know/do better. Quarantine Haitian kids cause of suspected malaria? Is it malaria or blackness that is contagious? #Haiti


Incidentally the Haitian team coach is Brazilian. I heard him on RJR a little while ago describing the extremely long waits at the hospital and a clinic, we’re talking about hours, five or six hours, without treatment or explanation.He himself was one of the three sick members of the team and returned to Haiti with a very high fever and profoundly upset.


I would have thought that even if Jamaicans feel that they’re in the right they’d have shown more interest in trying to find out what had caused the Haitians so much offence instead of simply shrugging and saying “Better safe than sorry.” The Haitians are clearly hurt and humiliated. They may be overreacting too, just as the health officials seem to have done. I was surprised at how little attention the Jamaican media paid to this situation over the weekend. It wasn’t until the Haitians really made a big issue out of it that the media, today, started focusing on it.


It’s an extremely vexed situation. Jamaica has the upper hand. Does it cost so much to apologize and try to mend fences?

The Haitians are Coming! The Haitians are Coming!

Clovis, Sunday Observer, January 31, 2010

Ever since January 12 when the 7.0 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince Jamaicans have been bracing for an influx of Haitians seeking refuge from their inhospitable island. Finally on January 28, TVJamaica’s 7 pm newscast announced that the first ‘refugees’ had arrived on the North Coast–in Stewart Town, St. Mary, to be precise.

The camera switched to an impoverished looking individual with no front teeth who described how he and some other Stewart Townians had encountered a famished looking stranger riding a bike through their community. His clothes were wet and when questioned by the stalwarts of Stewart Town, he couldn’t provide an answer. In fact he looked at them mutely, dumbstruck as it were.

By this time the residents of Stewart Town were beginning to suspect that what they had in front of them was none other than a real live Haitian who had come to Jamaica looking for help. After days of wall-to-wall coverage of the quake on CNN and the BBC, the dire straits of those who survived the natural disaster was well known and the St. Mary residents were determined to be kind and hospitable to the putative refugee.

In mounting excitement they started gesticulating at the man asking if there had been an earthquake where he came from. According to a newspaper report:

Pearl Cameron, a resident who offered Anderson a bath, food, clothing and money said although he was hungry and weak he appeared to be in good health.

‘He wrote on a piece of paper and told us that it was five of them on the boat and that his family survived the earthquake,’ she told the Observer, adding that she had used sign language to communicate with Anderson.”

The newspaper account continued, saying “The residents, believing Anderson’s story, called the police who took him to the Port Maria Hospital where, with the help of a translator, they tried to question him.”

Meanwhile the nation was shown images of the unfortunate Haitian being tenderly ministered to by the Police; in Portland one Mavis Anderson gasped and jumped to her feet.

“Him a nuh Haitian, him a Jamaican. Mi nuh know weh him a do a Stewart Town. Him usually ride him bicycle to Port Maria, but mi nuh know weh him a do down there.” Mavis Anderson is reported to have told the Observer after retrieving her son from the hospital.

It transpired that the starving Haitian refugee was a famished Jamaican fisherman or as the Observer put it, “a Jamaican mute from Windsor Castle, Portland.”

At this point i find it necessary to issue the disclaimer that any similarity or resemblance to the plot of an Anthony Winkler story is purely incidental. The truth in Jamaica, is truly stranger than fiction…

While we’re on the subject of refugees it might interest you to know that no less than 13 heads of state from Haiti have taken refuge here with four actually passing away on this island. And all of this was between the years of 1843-1871! The first Haitian President to arrive was Jean-Pierre Boyer in 1843. In 1844 his properties in Haiti were confiscated by the new government in Haiti, headed by one Charles Riviere-Herard. And it wasn’t only Haitian Presidents who whiled away their exile in Kingston. As Matthew Smith, UWI historian and author of the book Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957 noted:

“Boyer…was one among a handful of once powerful ex-Presidents who were lying low in Kingston. Among the others were: the colourful Mexican caudillo, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who, after the crushing defeat at Chapultepec in the final decisive battle of the Mexican-American War in 1848, fled to Guatemala and then to Kingston, where he would remain for two years; Jose Antonio Paez, the heroic leader of the llaneros who fought the royalists in 1819 in the South American revolution against Spain, and who was the first President of Venezuela; and General Juan Jorge Flores, former President of Ecuador who had been forced out of office…in 1843. How exciting it must have been walking around Kingston in 1848! To complicate things even further, Boyer’s successor and archrival, Riviere-Herard, the same man who had confiscated Boyer’s property, was overthrown in May 1844 and found himself living in Kingston at the same time…Later Guerrier, Riviere-Herard’s successor would also set sail for Kingston, though we don’t know much of what became of him.”*

*from “Emperors, Exiles and Intrigues: The Case of Nineteenth-century Haitian Heads of State in Jamaica” by Matthew Smith in Regional Footprints: The Travels and Travails of Early Caribbean Migrants

See? In Jamaica the truth rivals fiction anyday.

PS: This post was originally called “The Haitian Fugee” but after reading Gelede’s comment i had to rename it. The Haitians are Coming captures it all…nuff thanks Gelede.

Haiti, We’re Sorry…

from Jamaican designer Ruth Francis, thinking of Haiti from the snowy distance of England

The-National Presidential Palace of Haiti on January 11, 2010

Haiti’s famous National Palace a day later

I don’t have words to convey my emotions at the devastation in Haiti or Ayiti as it is also known. The Haitians are a gallant, hardworking people with an incredible history of overcoming adversity. But now it seems as if they really have the worst kismat in the world. As my Facebook friend Unsociable Bastard exclaimed:

“Why [is] Haiti like the Good Friday Bobolie… always getting licks.”

A Bobolie is the Trini version of the straw man that everyone likes to take aim at and beat the shit out of.

It’s Earthquake Awareness Week in Jamaica and the slogan on the Earthquake Unit’s banner was prophetic: “Learn, plan, prepare. The next big quake could be near.” It was 103 years since the temblor that levelled Kingston on January 14, 1907 and 17 years since the last somewhat big one here on January 13, 1993. I was at my desk yesterday, January 12, at the University of the West Indies, at minutes to 5 pm when the monitor started swaying from side to side and i felt the earth move under my feet–very gently of course–unlike Haiti where it erupted like an enraged beast. From that moment onward i’ve been glued to Twitter with my first tweet simply announcing TREMORRRRRRRRR! That was at approximately five mintues to 5 pm. On my way home 15 minutes later i heard that Port-au-Prince, Haiti, had been hit by a 7.0 earthquake. As a friend said in a Facebook chat this morning:

my first news of any earthquake was ur tweet!

and that was before u knew it was in haiti!

twitter amazin

Twitter certainly IS amazing. As the evening progressed it turned out to be the only reliable source of images and live information from ground zero. Ironic that my last post was ruing the backwardness of the Jamaican media in not adopting this protean new medium. As Global Voices Online pointed out:

The Caribbean blogosphere is busy tonight, discussing very sad news – an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale struck off the coast of Haiti, causing major damage and loss of life in the already besieged island nation.

Twitter emerged as the fastest, most time sensitive vehicle through which to report on the catastrophe; Facebook was also full of wall comments on the disaster, from both French and English-speaking Caribbean netizens. One user in Trinidad and Tobago was already collecting “foodstuff, blankets & clothing for Haiti”, asking donors to “label all bags”. Others, like Jamaica-based Annie Paul, quoted lyrics from calypsonian David Rudder‘s ode to the island: “Haiti, I’m sorry…but one day we’ll turn our heads, restore your glory”, following up with links to video of the earthquake, which she found posted on YouTube:

Regional bloggers soon followed with more detailed posts, the most compelling of course, coming from within the island. The Haitian Blogger did a good job of posting regular updates with critical information:

General Hospital in Port-au-Prince is down, Palace is damaged.

No one knows how many dead or injured. The aftershock is reverberating. People can only see dust,

Obama is sending in military troops.

Phone lines that are working are: Haiti-tel and Voila.

All windows are shattered in houses in la plaine

Houses are falling down everywhere.

All the poor on the mountains, whose houses were build on the mountains, all tumbled down, one on top another…

A terrible situation! Devastating. There’s NEVER been an earthquake of this magnitude in Haiti. Major aftershocks happening…

The quake was quickly followed by two nearby, strong aftershocks of initial magnitude of 5.9 and 5.5, the aftershocks were major earthquakes in and [of] themselves.

This is catastrophic. Changes everything.

For the full article go here; and for Global Voices consolidated coverage of the earthquake see here.

I made the point in my last post that Jamaica’s musicians unlike Jamaican journalists had taken to Twitter like ducks to H2O. And to reinforce that point the earliest information on and from Haiti came from musicians there: @RAMhaiti is the Twitter name of Richard Morse (how ironic! Morse, as in Morse code). “Morse and his band are famous in Haiti for their political songs and performances critical of the Raoul Cédras military junta from 1991 to 1994″ (Wikipedia). The other musician was @Wyclef, the famous Wyclef Jean. Between the two of them and a handful of others the earliest calls for aid and reports from the site were transmitted to the world.

One of the last tweets from Morse said: when my batteries die I will no longer be able to’s going to be a long night..our prayers go out to everyone. Update: he has just started tweeting again. This was his most recent tweet: RAMhaiti 12:55PM, 13 Jan 2010..I am hearing the siren of an ambulance for the first time as I right this note..

The reason the quake was felt as far away as Jamaica is because as Dr. Paul Mann of the University of Texas puts it:

The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault extends from the island of Hispaniola to the island of Jamaica and to the west of Jamaica. The fault has been recognized for many years along with its hazard to cities along it.

The Gonave microplate is wedged between the much larger North America plate and the Caribbean plate. This means that there are two parallel zones of strike-slip faults in this part of the Caribbean (cf map below); the northern zone called the Septentrional-Oriente fault extends along the northern coast of Haiti to the southern Cuba and along the Cayman trough to Central America. The Enriquillo is the southern zone extending from Hispaniola to Jamaica. The two zones merge near the Mid-Cayman spreading center.

I’ll be posting more information as i get it.

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