Thursday, March 18, 2004

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as you know, is here as a guest of Jamaica. At least nine former Haitian presidents were either exiled, or allowed to stay in Jamaica for a time. You may not have known that, since none of the history dunces parading as authorities on the subject were able to speak on the issue in light of precedent.

Simon Bolivar of Venezuela, the great liberator of many South American countries from Spanish rule, was exiled here, and also a former president of Mexico, General Santo Ana.

The second of the two great commandments in the Bible (love thy neighbour as thyself), is indeed a call to charity and mercy. The Catechism of the (Roman) Catholic Church obliges its members to show mercy, which includes hospitality to strangers (Matthew 25:31-46). In addition, we should remember that slaves from Jamaica were sold in Haiti and vice versa.

This means that families of slaves were split up between Jamaica and Haiti. So being charitable to Haitians means that we are doing so to our own extended families.

A minority of Jamaicans question why Haitian refugees are here when we cannot feed ourselves fully. They should remember that no country waited until all of its people were fed before welcoming Jamaicans. Each nation has its poor and hungry citizens, even the United States, Canada and England, where many Jamaicans are. But many Christians, even some that I know to be Labourites, totally agree with the decision to allow Aristide and his family to stay here. Where does this put Opposition Leader Edward Seaga, who has criticised the move?

Among the nine former Haitian presidents who were exiled here was the second president of the republic of Haiti, Jean Pierre Boyer (1818-43). He arrived here after he abdicated in 1843 and lived at 98 Duke Street, Kingston.

Another was Emperor Faustin I (F E Soulouque), a former president of Haiti, who was exiled in1858 and lived at 90 Duke Street. Also, former Haitian president General Nicholas Fabre Geffrard (1859-67) lived to the west of Heroes Circle (known as Geffrard Place today) while in exile.

Sunday Gleaner columnist Dawn Ritch is known for her nostalgia for the colonial days. But it was the colonial governors who gave many former Haitian presidents exile in Jamaica, as they also did for General Santa Ana of Mexico and Simon Bolivar of Venezuela. In this respect, Prime Minister P J Patterson has acted like her beloved colonial governors. So Dawn should, therefore, congratulate him for having done so.

An integral part of Venezuela’s history is Bolivar’s Letter from Jamaica in 1815, in which he proposed constitutional changes, partially patterned off the English system. Some 152 years later in 1967, a statue of Simon Bolivar was erected in Jamaica, donated by the Venezuelan Government in recognition of the hospitality offered to their liberator. The location of the Bolivar statue is Heroes Circle, almost beside the Ministry of Education.

One day the Government of Haiti might honour Jamaica for giving Aristide permission to stay here, never mind that the new prime minister of Haiti has suspended diplomatic relations. Didn’t Venezuela honour Jamaica for Bolivar 152 years later? When Bolivar was exiled here, was the colonial government of Venezuela pleased?

Michael Manley knew and understood history. Part of his campaign strategy between 1969 (when he became People’s National Party president) and 1972 (when the PNP won and he became prime minister) was to portray himself as a liberator like Simon Bolivar. For that reason, many PNP meetings were held at the Bolivar statue. I know this first-hand, because as a teenager I attended many of those meetings.

P J Patterson may well have saved us from tragedy as happened in Spain recently. He differed publicly with the United States of America on the matter of invading Iraq. He further demonstrated to the world that he could stand up to the USA by calling for a United Nations investigation into the circumstances under which Aristide lost power in Haiti, and despite the USA frowning on Aristide being allowed here, he has not changed his mind. In standing up to the USA, Patterson might have prevented a bomb or two.

One of the main deciding factors for emancipation from slavery in Jamaica was that the planters “did not want another Haiti” in the so-called British West Indies, which is understated in many high school history books. True, Haiti has never had a stable government, but only because it was uneducated slaves who seized power in Haiti in 1804, and they have not bben able to get out of that curve.

One can pass History examinations, even at the university level without knowing that former presidents of Haiti and Mexico were in exile in Jamaica. Many such persons who pass history limit themselves to the required books of the examinations, and yet think they are experts. On the contrary, these who stop researching are the real history dunces.