Tag Archives: France

Focus on Haiti: Hypocrisy and Reparations

ALISON LOWE

Clinging to a sinking ship in the middle of the Atlantic, competing mercilessly with each other for mere survival, waiting for a helping hand that came too late, that upturned sloop that over 100 Haitians were found hanging on to could have been Haiti itself.

Haiti has been in the spotlight again. This time not at the bidding of a natural disaster, a tragedy on an epic scale that demands our attention and suggests an equally immediate and grand response, but in light of a series of events, each of which point to the ongoing desperation of those who live on this island just 680 miles from the Miami, and in even closer proximity to its Caribbean neighbours.

First it was protests, which received relatively little press coverage, but were not altogether ignored; the people rose up and demanded more from their government in the face of increases in the cost of living, and high levels of corruption. Then it was the ruling by the supreme court of the Dominican Republic in September, stripping all of those born to migrants since 1929 of their citizenship. The ruling primarily impacts Haitians – potentially as many as 200,000, some claim. And in the last two weeks, Haitians were again in the spotlight as they found themselves upturned and holding on for dear life in the waters of The Bahamas. Just another Haitian sloop disaster, but this one on a grander scale than most – 30 died, while over 100 clung on for their lives.

Cumulatively, this recent spate of Haitian tragedy represents yet another reason to stop and consider the Haitian situation – that of an economic and social leper in its region, and the world, many of its people so unwilling to continue to live in their own country that they risk life and limb to go abroad, only to be shunned wherever they go.

These tragic incidents should cause a sharpening of the debate that has arisen on reparations, in which Caribbean nations are now suing their former colonial masters for compensation for slavery. If indeed there is any country in the world more eligible for such reparations it is Haiti, given that they not only suffered slavery during the time it existed, but its economic slavery extended until when they were forced to compensate their own former slave masters to the tune of an estimated $17 billion in today’s money. If there is one glaring cause of Haiti’s under-development, it would be the draining of resources from the island into the pockets of France for over 120 years while others were able to use their resources to invest in institutions and develop their people. A chorus of voices called for repayment after the 2010 earthquake, but the calls have since subsided.

The tragedy of Haiti today requires a complex and nuanced response, both from those within and without the country itself. I do not pretend to have the answers in this regard. But if the past several weeks events should serve to highlight anything it is that the plea for reparations from the Caribbean cannot be so easily dismissed, as those who are being called upon have sought to ensure.

While Haiti may have officially rid itself of colonial masters in 1804, it remained in economic slavery – handing over the fruits of its own labour – until 1947. What would some of the world’s most developed countries look like today if they had been forced to surrender billions of dollars to another country over such an extended period of time?

To illustrate the difference on a more local level, there is a distance of just 500 or so miles between the capital of The Bahamas and Haiti, and even less between the closest islands, and yet the disparity in indicators is like a chasm. The average yearly salary in Haiti is $250 while in The Bahamas official figures peg it at $21,000. This is not coincidental, and while many factors would have contributed, the French indemnity is surely of enormous significance. The earthquake of 2010 brought focus to the matter of repayment, but just like the aid that was promised then, the voices spoke louder than the actions that followed.

Meanwhile, although their Caribbean brothers and sisters, not to mention the rest of the world, expressed disgust at a ruling that stripped Black Dominicans of Haitian descent of citizenship in the Dominican Republic, their actions ooze hypocrisy. While they may unite in protest, The Caribbean has not come together in any meaningful shape or form to discuss the Haitian situation, despite proclamations of solidarity within the region, and the fact that a developing Haiti should not only be an ethical call to action for the region but also represents a hugely untapped economic opportunity for all within it, given Haiti’s population of almost 11 million and the strain unchecked migration places on the resources of other countries.

Of course, the region is in a quagmire, and each country alone is struggling not to slip back, but this does not excuse the decades long turning of the region’s back towards Haiti, and should not entirely preclude action today.

Hypocrisy highlighted by recent events around Haiti does not stop with its neighbours. Most notably, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemns the Dominican Republic on the one hand for its callous treatment of Black Dominicans of Haitian-descent, yet has sought to absolve itself of responsibility for a major cholera outbreak in Haiti, one which has infected over 650,000 and left 8,000 dead since October 2010, reintroducing a long forgotten disease to that country and contributing to the conditions which surely drive people abroad.  The UN has pledged to help Haiti overcome the epidemic, but maintains it has immunity from prosecution and has officially rejected legal claims made on behalf of affected Haitians.

The very vulnerabilities that drew these nations and institutions to intervene in Haiti have made it all too easy for them to quietly – or even flagrantly – fail to live up to their responsibilities to do no harm.

While many Caribbean nations struggle, Haiti’s reality suggests the need for soul searching both on the part of its Caribbean neighbours and its former colonial rulers. Haiti clearly has the strongest case for reparations, given its extended enforced financial servitude post-slavery, and perhaps it is for this quite unassailable cause that Caribbean nations should lobby. It would be in the self interest of all to build up their neighbour.

Meanwhile, Caricom itself must come together to look at how it can help its neighbour, rather than engaging in acts of outright hostility, indifference, or posturing. While statements have emanated from the political leadership in the wake of the Dominican ruling, condemning the treatment of Haitians, this is the easy part.

The migrants who survived the Haitian sloop disaster in the Bahamian islands may have been repatriated to Haiti now, but in reality they remain as they always have: clinging to an upturned and unstable reality, fighting for life in desperation and indignity, promised salvation but instead waiting for assistance that always seems to come too late. Recent events are yet another unfortunate reminder for the Caribbean, the UN, and to all of us to re-examine their responsibilities to Haiti.

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Last Call for a Resolution

MARYAM KAR

Last Thursday, a new round of talks began in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries. The P5+1 countries are comprised of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France, plus Germany. Observers of the talks seemed quite optimistic given the understanding stance of both the United States and Iran in recent talks.

There is certainly reason for this optimism as a rapprochement between the United States and Iran is seen as more viable now than ever before. During the UN General Assembly in September, there was a historic phone call between President Obama and the newly-elected moderate, President Rouhani. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, are spearheading the current negotiations. This is the highest-level face-to-face interaction between American and Iranian government officials in decades. The involvement of such high-level officials clearly indicates seriousness on the part of both countries in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically.

The Geneva talks were expected to bring a resolution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which it claims is solely for nuclear energy, medical treatments and research. Other countries, specifically Israel, the US and some Western European allies, are of the opinion that Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons and is deceiving the IAEA and the world. And some countries were not shy to express their honest opinions about a resolution. Secretary of State Kerry arrived at the talks after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu was very open about his dissatisfaction of a possible resolution. “This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people”.

Israel seems to have attempted to do everything it needs to stop an agreement, as the talks took an unexpected turn for the worse, when many believed a resolution was near. As Western and Iranian negotiations were putting the finishing touches on a resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined in the talks last minute and the negotiations unraveled. Shortly thereafter, the talks ended with plans to resume again on November 20th. France has become one of the most important allies to Israel after the US, and it seems this triggered the unraveling of the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu was not ready to accept a resolution that would allow Iran to maintain its nuclear capabilities and possibly reduce certain sanctions in return for transparency.  Netanyahu, along with neo-conservatives on Capitol Hill, are very much of the belief that the sanctions are working, and should be increased to mount pressure on Iran. Prime Minister Fabius was in agreement with Netanyahu on this point and refused to accept the resolution in its current format.

While the Obama Administration is pushing for a diplomatic solution as a means to protect the US, Israel and its interests in the Middle East, a rift is quickly growing between the US and Israel on its strategy towards Iran. After Netanyahu’s disapproval of a deal before the Geneva talks began, Secretary of State Kerry publically asked certain countries to not jump to conclusions before knowing details of the proposed deal. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest also dismissed criticism from Israel over a deal as “premature”.  Israel’s uncompromising stance, while praised by certain neo-conservative lawmakers back in Washington DC, is becoming more and more unpopular. This window of opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue will not be open forever, and Iran and the US are aware of this.

If a better compromise is reached in the coming weeks, then France and Israel are not judged as harshly. However, if talks do fail, “France may have effectively scuttled any option of ending Iran’s nuclear program without using military force, something no country — including Israel — wants to do.”

This delay in the talks till November 20th could be detrimental if proponents of war and additional sanctions build momentum in Congress. This has put the White House on defense in vocally calling for Congress to approve of a diplomatic solution and an alleviation of sanctions. As Congress debates increasing sanctions, Secretary of State Kerry has stated that he believes it would be a “mistake” and suggested a temporary pause. He was also expected to brief members of the Senate Banking Committee at a closed-door session later in the week on this issue.

Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council says that it is clear that the US Administration and others want a deal signed before a debate on sanctions heats up in Congress again. “Part of the reason why the talks continued until 2 a.m. in the morning on what was in reality the fourth day when they were supposed to be two days is precisely because of the awareness on all sides, except for the French, that if they don’t get something now, it’s going to be more difficult.” Momentum is currently very high to reach an agreement. On November 20th, Iran and the P5+1 countries need to remember that the security of an entire region is at stake. If all parties do not make compromises, everyone will come out a loser in the end.

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