I commend the Barbados Today media house for publishing an Editorial on the recent happenings in the Dominican Republic, which threatens the livelihoods of both Haitians, and Haitian-descendants living in that country. I sought to add a different angle to the conversation. That angle is presented in the letter written below. The letter was sent today at midday or thereabout. I am hopeful that Barbados Today will publish it, and hopefully that will spark some conversation, even in the smallest pocket of the Caribbean, about where we are and where we want to go.
I thank you for the Editorial published by the Barbados Today on June 20, 2015, titled “Haitians merit justice like everyone else”.
While reading this piece, I was immersed in joy, with a little bit of reservation, that the fourth estate is once again putting itself ahead of the snail-paced and, often times, lacklustre statements coming from regional leaders.
Please permit me, Editor, to inject that I sometimes find it difficult to wrap my finger around one thing relating to intra-regional relations. Certainly, the situation between Haiti and the DR is one that screams ethnic cleansing almost similar to Hitler’s Germany, but I feel there is a wider picture to be had, and it speaks to perceived minority groups in the region and the treatment meted out to said groups.
Not only do I feel Caribbean leaders continue to remain silent and hide behind, according to some, the “toothless dog” that is Caricom, but I have a strong contention that we, as Caribbean citizens, have become increasingly apathetic and reactive. So much so, that we can no longer sense a grave humanitarian crisis even in it’s preliminary stages.
Permit me to draw a parallel that already exists in the public domain. While we continue to hammer the Dominican Republic on the treatment of Haitians and Haitian descendants, we turn a blind eye to our sister country, the Bahamas, which recently adopted immigration laws that have been deemed “anti-Haitian” by a January 30, 2015 New York Times article titled “Immigration Rules in Bahamas Sweep Up Haitians.”
Editor, it is my humble view that should the Dominican Republic be afforded membership into Caricom, and the country has applied many moons ago, then we would be able to bind the DR with the provisions for free movement and all those good things on paper and theory that come with the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Fortunately, the Bahamas is already a full member of Caricom and therefore bound by the Treaty, but still, we remain increasingly silent on the Bahamas’ anti-Haitian laws. So what moral standing would Caricom have to denounce the DR on treatment of Haitians, when we are yet to comment on what was recently made law in the Bahamas, a country that might have some inclination to take our advice. It baffles me.
Editor, on the point of Caribbean apathy in the face of these issues, I am unsure what to call it. I could call it xenophobia- a fear of foreigners. I could call it Caribbean self-doubt, or I could call it Caribbean self-hate and inferiority complex. But whatever we call, may we agree that the problem with the treatment meted out to Haitians, even in the region, goes beyond the Dominican Republic and sometimes rests squarely at our own doorsteps?
There are Caribbean territories where Haitians, and sometimes Jamaicans, Surinamese, and even my own Guyanese people, are seen as second class citizens. I have always wanted to visit Barbados, but I shudder to think I would receive the pleasure of having to sit on the infamous “Guyanese bench” at the Grantley Adams International Airport.
And let’s not get into the witchhunt of immigrants that tends to make the regional papers every once in a while, mostly sparked by political leaders dealing with immigration or crime. The most recent episode was Trinidad’s former National Security Minister Gary Griffth laying the blame for Trinidad’s crime situation at the feet of the immigrants, especially those who were “illegal”.
Editor, I mention all of this in an attempt to say that while the Editorial pointed to the rights of Haitians and their unfair treatment by Dominican counterparts long accused of racism, we must not set ourselves apart from the freight. We must not see the issue of ‘anti-Haitianism’ occurring in the isolated case of the DR, but we must broaden our scope to recognise that we ourselves are guilty of those very actions we condemn.
For the sake of regional integration, let us rally around the wider picture of xenophobia within the Caribbean and let us move forward from there.
Concerned Caricom National