Candia Dames – Nassau Guardian
August 22, 2022
With Haiti mired in turmoil more than a year after the unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, former Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson said on Saturday an important way that CARICOM countries can help their sister nation is to be a strong voice in the international community and demand that powerful nations do more to address the ongoing crises in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
“CARICOM has to be a voice for justice for the people of Haiti, but for that to be allowed, Haiti has to make it clear to the rest of the world that they are part of a Caribbean family and we have the requisite authority to speak for them and on their behalf and to work with them to realize our objectives,” said Patterson, who is in The Bahamas for the first ever international convention of the Grand Boulé, the oldest continuously existing Greek-letter fraternity for eminent American Black professional men and professional men of African descent throughout the African diaspora.
The conference, which is taking place at Atlantis, Paradise Island and ends tomorrow, has attracted around 2,500 members of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, and their families, and is providing an opportunity for like-minded men to have discussions on the strengthening of ties throughout the diaspora.
Patterson was one of the special guests at the Boulé’s opening ceremony on Saturday, which featured a panel discussion where he, Prime Minister Philip Davis and celebrated civil rights leader, Andrew Young discussed the shared historical and cultural ties of those in the diaspora and avenues through which peoples of African descent can work together to better their outcomes.
The former Jamaican prime minister, who heads the University of the West Indies P. J. Patterson Africa-Caribbean Institute for Public Advocacy, spoke with The Nassau Guardian on Saturday evening on a variety of issues relating to forging stronger linkages between Africa and the Caribbean.
On the issue of CARICOM’s role in helping crisis-wracked Haiti, he said, “We have to help largely with technical expertise and I think we have shown a preparedness to deal with that but we can’t omit in all of this that when Haitian leaders speak for the plight of the Haitian people, there are those who would overthrow them, kidnap them, and replace them with persons who are not equally courageous and have the requisite perspicacity to unite the people of Haiti.”
Haiti has been a member of CARICOM since July 2, 2002, four years after it was granted provisional membership.
“We welcomed Haiti into the Caribbean Community in the 1990s because, despite the difference of language, we share so much in terms of our common heritage, and all people of color owe a debt to Haiti in its fight to vanquish the Napoleon army and, subsequently, its declaration that anybody who entered Haiti would become a free man; and Haiti has contributed immensely to the liberation of so many of the nations of the Caribbean,” Patterson said.
Following a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, CARICOM appointed Patterson its special representative on Haiti.
“When the earthquake took place, CARICOM called me out of retirement and asked me to serve as the prime ministerial representative and strenuous efforts were made to get Haiti back on track,” he said.
“It almost seems as if Haiti has been condemned to an unjust penalty because it had the courage to declare independence and the powerful countries have really done a great disservice to Haiti.”
Pointing out that more Haitian doctors practice in Canada than those who do in Haiti, Patterson noted that Haiti suffers tremendously from brain drain.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has observed that “irrespective of the true percentage of the so-called brain drain, the main export of Haiti is skilled labor”.
With economic and social challenges deepening in Haiti, which in recent months has witnessed various atrocities at the hands of street gangs, Bahamian authorities have noted a marked increase in the apprehension of undocumented Haitians in Bahamian waters.
On July 24, 17 Haitian nationals were killed when a vessel they were on capsized off New Providence. Authorities said their ultimate destination was the United States.
Following that tragedy, CARICOM pledged to continue to “work with Haiti and the international community to bring peace, security and development to our sister nation”.
Noting there is so much more the international community can do for Haiti, Patterson said on Saturday, “How much money has been poured into Ukraine in recent times? A tiny portion of that would make all the difference in Haiti.”
Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.