Getting on the Bus…An Account of Portia Simpson-Miller’s 2006 swearing in

An Account of Jamaica’s Prime Minister designate Portia Simpson-Miller’s 2006 swearing in.

Portia Simpson Miller at SALISES's Prime Ministerial Series in Summer 2011
One of the disdainful Clovis cartoons published by the Jamaica Observer just the day before Portia's devastating victory

Sigh! No, i haven’t been invited to the Swearing-in tomorrow…! So i’ll watch the goings on from the comfort of my living room. In the meantime below is the column i published in the Sunday Herald following Prime Minister designate Portia Simpson-Miller’s first swearing in on March 30, 2006.

Getting on the Bus

There was really no place else to be on the afternoon of March 30 than King’s House. In the end you didn’t even need a ticket, no matter what colour, though I would never have gone had a friend not called to say she had a ticket for me. So ticket in hand and clad in a red silk sari I headed to Hope Road to attend Portia’s swearing in. Yellow and red coded cards were the tickets of choice. Mine had a blue band. Oh well I consoled myself, it could have been worse; green cards (for a change) must be at the very bottom of this ranking.

The weather couldn’t have been better. Rain had washed the city earlier in the afternoon without drenching the ground and leaving puddles. The miles of white plastic chairs were wet though being dried by young men with clean rags. I saw John Maxwell and attached myself to him as we searched for a suitable seat. There were placards everywhere designating groups of seats with rather puzzling labels: Judges; Professional Associations; Caneworkers.

I temporarily lost John as I commiserated with a diplomat friend whose designated area was somewhere in the distance. I glimpsed John again; he was seated under a giant mango tree with a good view of the stage; I reattached myself. There was no placard labeling this section and according to John he had heard a rumour that the seating system had “broken down”. Discreet enquiries established that this was actually a red section but what the heck no one was checking.

We were only a hundred or so feet away from the stage, in fact we were right behind the section that must have been designated Big Business. Are you sure we aren’t going to be evicted from here I whispered, looking nervously around at the fast disappearing seats all about us. I SHALL NOT BE MOVED announced John; I wasted no more time worrying, concentrating instead on looking as much as possible like an immovable object dressed in a red silk sari. It worked.

There was about an hour to kill before the ceremony began but time passed swiftly. The band struck up at 4.30 pm exactly and shortly before 5 the central figures in this national drama appeared on stage. As former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson made his last speech red-gowned men and women constituting the combined choir of the University Singers and the Kencot Youth Choir assembled on a stage to the right of the main stage.

The choir was a beautiful sight and sound with Dean Fraser and Shirley Willis performing a gospel song especially chosen by the new Prime Minister to herald her entrance. Then Portia took centre-stage opening her innings with a prayer. I know my last column was a fulmination against a nation at prayer but there is a difference between praying rather than doing and praying and doing. The latter I think is what the new Prime Minister intends and I’m in full support of that.

Let’s hope that she meant what she said in her thoughtful, well-articulated maiden speech, That line about balancing people’s lives rather than merely balancing the books was a brilliant one and I think captures the nation’s predicament superbly. Portia also said that she couldn’t make the necessary changes without the wholehearted help and support of the people. Again this is something that couldn’t have been stressed more. It’s an obvious thing but one that only a leader who inspires and moves the people can achieve. If anyone is capable of doing this it’s Portia Simpson-Miller.

There was something symbolic about the mingling of the crowds at Portia’s swearing-in. Those who came early got good seats, regardless of the people they had been intended for. All Michael Lee-Chin was standing by the way, and other rich and powerful faces were seen waiting in vain for seats. But as Portia said money shouldn’t make some people more important than others, learning shouldn’t make some people more important than others (loud cheers broke out at this) and neither should colour, class or gender. Jesus, she’s written my column for me, said John.

The national anthem was sung and people were heading over to the West lawns for the reception. It was time to leave. I had been dropped off at Kings’ House and now had to find my way home. There was hardly anyone around I recognized, where were all the UWI folk? Except for Carolyn Cooper, Trevor Munroe, the Hicklings and John and myself I didn’t see anyone. Was there a section marked Academics I had missed?

Walking down Hope Road a man fell into step with me and introduced himself. Where was I parked, he wanted to know. Oh, I didn’t drive I told him, I live up UWI way and figured I could find someone who’d give me a ride. Alright, he said in a taking charge manner, I’m parked at Papine, I took the bus from there, why don’t you take the bus with me to Papine and then I’ll give you a drop. To allay any worry the expression on my face may have indicated he pulled out his ID and showed me that he was an ex JDF man of 34 years standing. Er, how much is a bus fare, I asked, its years since I took a bus. Fifty dollars he said.

The next thing I knew I was on a bus heading to Papine with my sari blowing in the wind. It was an exhilarating ride and before I knew it I was home, wondering why I didn’t take the bus more often.

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.