[News] Haiti: In defence of the disinherited

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Mon Jul 5 08:36:48 EDT 2004

In defence of the disinherited
Sunday, July 04, 2004

There is a rape in progress next door. We know; we saw the rapist enter the 
house, we heard the shouts of alarm, the calls for help, the screams of the 
tormented victim echo through the neighbourhood. Our neighbours go about 
their business as usual. What do they care if, like Kitty Genovese so many 
years ago, the victim is slaughtered in full sight and sound of her 
neighbours. It is not our business, they say. We don't want to get involved.

And we are closing our windows and drawing the curtains, because the 
rapist's brother is coming to tea with us. We don't want him to be unduly 
discountenanced, to be upset although he is one of those who set up the attack.

At this moment eight million Haitians are languishing under the rule of 
killers, torturers and 'face-choppers'. Many are in hiding, as was the 
prime minister, Yvon Neptune, who last Sunday gave himself up rather than 
be murdered as a "fleeing felon". Some are in exile, as are the president 
of Haiti, his wife and children, with their human and political rights torn 
from them by gangsters and terrorists.
And we, Caribbean people, are preparing to entertain Gerard LaTortue, an 
absentee businessman/bureaucrat, who now claims to be the prime minister of 

This is the 200th anniversary year of Haitian independence, and once again 
the Haitians are voiceless, bereft of their rights, disinherited of their 
history and their dignity and abandoned by their neighbours, their 
soi-disant friends - some of the very people they help rescue from 
miserable bondage.
As UNESCO says: "The uprising in Saint-Domingue. which began on the night 
of August 22 to 23, 1791, played a decisive role in the abolition of the 
transatlantic slave trade. August 23 is celebrated each year as the 
International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition."

A Gothic Obscenity

This year is the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against 
Slavery, declared so by the United Nations on January 10, 2004. Haiti's 
slaves abolished slavery in 1793, the only slaves ever to achieve that 
distinction. In this international year commemorating the struggle against 
slavery, the fact that Haiti is in a cage should put all Earth in a rage.
It is an obscenity.

The so-called civilised world, like the Levite in the parable of the Good 
Samaritan, is about to delicately draw up its skirts and pass by on the 
other side, leaving eight million human beings to languish and die, all 
because their ancestors 200 years ago decided to make concrete the idea 
that every human being should have the same rights as every other.
The Haitian revolution was the only one of the three great revolutions of 
the 18th century which implemented all of The Rights of Man. They have been 
paying the price ever since. As the cynics say - No good deed ever goes 
It is our duty to come to the aid of Haiti.
As the Cubans have said: "We Cannot Abandon Haiti!"

Haiti has suffered for 200 years from the lies, obfuscation and deliberate 
misrepresentation of people, organisations and states motivated by an 
atavistic racism, by a deep-seated fear of real human freedom and a 
profound inability to appreciate the real genius of a people driven by the 
urge to bring freedom to all.
The Haitians have managed to survive in the face of the most long-lasting 
and purposeful genocidal campaign in history. They suffered because they 
helped Bolivar, because they were bold enough to offer soldiers to help 
Lincoln free the American slaves, because they understood the 
indivisibility of freedom and liberty.
They suffer because they defeated and repudiated slavery. Had they been 
Europeans, their valour and nobility would be celebrated in song and story, 
in legend and myth.

One of my e-mail correspondents recently described Haiti as an 
international crime scene, and he is correct.
The United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and the UN Security 
Council are attempting to licence the latest attempt to return Haiti to 
unfreedom. We, who claim to be democrats, to love freedom and liberty, will 
be accomplices in this latest crime if we do not do everything in our power 
to set Haiti free once and for all.

Is freedom really Indivisible?

If Haiti is not free, none of us is free.
When Haiti helped Bolivar - alone and friendless - she gave him all the 
arms, money and support that she could. She asked only one thing of him - 
that in freeing Latin America he should also free its slaves.
I suggest that this gesture bequeaths to us an inescapable duty - to free 
Haiti from its bondage, to allow Haitians to decide their future for 
themselves, to give Haiti back its freedom.
We have no arms and we do not need arms.
What we have is more potent than arms.

We have the power to move the conscience of the world, of humanity. We have 
the power to make a big difference to the lives of the Haitian people and 
of the oppressed all over the world.
What we need to do is to bring to bear the pressure of world public 
opinion, to relight the fire that the Jamaican Bouckman lit in 1793, to 
make it impossible for Haiti to be subjugated once again by stealth, by 
deceit and double dealing and treachery in the service of racism and greed.
We don't have to do anything spectacular. All we need to do is to try to 
keep the attention of our neighbours focused, on the reality of Haiti. And 
we need to keep on doing it.
We can start by circulating factual information on Haiti to our friends, to 
people of influence in whatever society we live, to journalists, 
commentators, columnists and editors, most of them prating grandly about 
democracy and freedom but doing nothing either to advance or defend them.

I have long been stirred by the history of the Haitians, particularly since 
I read C L R James' Black Jacobins nearly half-a-century ago. Since then, I 
have had many Haitian friends, most of them refugees from the persecutions 
of the Duvaliers. I went to Haiti in 1964 in an unsuccessful attempt to 
interview Papa Doc. I returned in 1996 when the Caribbean Institute for 
Media and Communication and the PANOS Institute began a programme to train 
journalists after the first restoration of President Aristide.
I have met President Aristide twice and I have read two of his books - his 
autobiography and In the Parish of the Poor. I have a tremendous respect 
for this man and for his country and the movement which he leads, all 
unmercifully libelled by the so-called Free Press of the Free World.

Paul Farmer

In one of my earliest columns about Haiti this year, I quoted a report by 
David Gonzalez about on an American doctor named Paul Farmer who founded a 
clinic in Haiti in 1980 and had been there ever since.

"One of the world's most powerful countries is taking on one of the most 
impoverished," Farmer was quoted as saying about the United States' 
decision to withhold aid. "I object to that on moral grounds. Anybody who 
presides over this blockade needs to know the impact here already."
I was fascinated by the sound of Dr Farmer and I quoted him again the 
following week
". there's no topsoil left in a lot of the country, there are no jobs, 
people are dying of AIDS and coughing their lungs out with TB, and the poor 
don't have enough to eat. These are problems in the here and now. Something 
has to be done. Haiti is flat broke." This quotation came from an American 
writer named Tracy Kidder whose piece on Haiti I read in The Nation.

A few weeks later, Tracy Kidder sent me by airmail, his book on Paul Farmer 
- Mountains Beyond Mountains - which won a Pulitzer Prize a year ago. As 
Kidder says, Farmer is not only out to heal Haiti, but the world. Now that 
I am in touch with both men by e-mail I can say that my life has been 
immeasurably enriched by my contact with them, even though we have never 
met, physically.
Farmer's clinic is not in Port-au-Prince, the capital, but out in the bush 
- in a place that seemed to Tracy Kidder like "the end of the earth, in 
what was in fact one of the poorest parts of the poorest country in the 
Western Hemisphere. I felt I'd encountered a miracle".
Indeed he had, as became clear to him over days and months and years in 
which he and Paul Farmer have become close friends and allies.

"In Haiti, I knew, per capita incomes came to a little more than one 
American dollar a day, less than that in the central plateau [site of the 
clinic] .And here, in one of the most impoverished, diseased, eroded and 
famished regions of Haiti, there was this lovely walled citadel, Zanmi 
Lasante. I wouldn't have thought it much less improbable if I'd been told 
it had been brought by spaceship." Kidder described the policies of the 
clinic: "Everyone had to pay, that is, except for almost everyone. And no 
one - Farmer's rule - could be turned away."

It would be insane to attempt to try to condense Kidder's wonderful book, 
or the facts of Paul Farmer's life and work. But you may gauge some of 
Farmer's effect. Zanmi Lasante built schools, houses, communal sanitation 
and water systems throughout its catchment area. It vaccinated all the 
children, greatly reduced malnutrition and infant mortality, launched 
programmes for women's literacy and the prevention of HIV/AIDS, reduced the 
rate for HIV transmission from mother to child to four per cent - about 
half the current rate in the US. "In Haiti, tuberculosis killed more adults 
than any other disease, but no one in Zanmi Lasante's catchment area had 
died from it since 1988."

I am moved by the story of this man - a white American - who set out to 
help a few poor, black villagers and started an unstoppable movement. 
Because, not content with his work in Haiti, Farmer is on a more or less 
successful campaign to reduce the cost of drugs for the treatment of 
intractable diseases in the Third World. He has this revolutionary belief 
that every human being, no matter how poor, is entitled to adequate medical 

And with all the time he spends walking up hills and down gullies in Haiti 
and travelling the world to influence drug companies and governments, 
Farmer still has time to be a very effective professor of medical 
anthropology at Harvard. Most of his salary, plus money he begs from people 
and foundations, goes into his work. He was thrown out of Haiti when 
President Aristide was first deposed a decade ago, and despite the 
attentions of the army, his clinic survived, though most of its programmes, 
literacy, vaccination, etc were seriously interrupted.
They were again interrupted by the latest usurpation of power. But Farmer 
and his Haitian and Cuban doctors and staff believe that they can overcome 
even that, even after the recent killer floods.

In Peru, where Farmer has had a great deal of influence, his students and 
others have gone a long way to obliterating multi-drug resistant TB.
With all this, Farmer finds time to write learned articles helping to 
revolutionise the treatment of dangerous diseases all over the world, and 
also to be an unabashed partisan of justice for Haiti. He is the author of 
many books, including The Uses of Haiti and most recently, Pathologies of 
Power. He was awarded the American Medical Association's 'Outstanding 
International Physician Award' in 2002.
I believe that his story, and his writings about Haiti, demonstrate one 
incontrovertible fact: one person, one man or woman, armed with a true 
sense of duty can change the world.
Margaret Mead said it well: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful 
committed citizens can change the world, Indeed it's the only thing that 
ever has."

Copyright 2004 by John Maxwell
maxinf at cwjamaica.co

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