Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti, History, Responsibilities of Democracy and a Lot of Questions

I’m like many in that I grow wearied of the constant slew of bad news available on every news service, every day, but now and again, I am compelled to set aside my tiredness and dig in; the current situation in Haiti is one such occasion, and this time it has touched on all sorts of sensitivities of mine. I apologize now if this post rambles; it follows my mind.

I generally strongly dislike politics, seeing it largely as a colossal misguidance of the general populations time, energy and capacity. It’s not that I don’t believe countries and other groupings of people need leadership, it’s just that I don’t believe most of us get it. As far as I can see, business runs our countries; it runs our governments regardless of the colour of their t-shirts. But does that absolve us of our responsibilities as voters and citizens?

According to many, you get the government you deserve which refers to that misconception that we are in democracies where the will of the people determines our leaders makeup and actions. But then, that instantly proves that we do get the governments we deserve because democracy demands that the people speak. And speaking in this case actually means taking decisive action, taking responsibility to speak beyond mal pale-ing and complaining about what everybody else don’ do!

That’s what democracy requires.

In Haiti’s situation, democracy has been a long time coming and in the hundreds of years that have passed in the meantime, many, many wrongs have been perpetrated upon the masses, by ‘leaders’ from within and without. I’m no historian and my deeper understanding of Haiti’s history has only come in the last few days, so let me not pretend to educate you here – there’s a set of links at the end of this post, do please read them – it’s hardly a full story, but enlightening nonetheless.

Let me just say that from what little I have read and seen, it’s plain to see that Haiti has suffered misleading by all and sundry. What I feel also is that we in the modern Caribbean have largely sat by and been ok with knowing little of our founding fathers of Caribbean freedom and more so, caring little in any practical terms, for their plight. For American readers, many I am sure do not know of the role Haiti played in your own history and of the role American business and government has played in Haiti’s – right up to present times but also as far back at President Johnson - correction, Jefferson - Louisiana Purchase.

So it leads me to question what I can do now and in the future to be less apathetic. I am truly heart warmed by the fundraising I’m seeing and hearing – international and Caribbean – a radiothon raised $500,000 US in less than 4 hours from a variety of Caribbean islands, and more is coming in, but what will happen ‘tomorrow’? For me, I don’t have money to give; it’d be a lie to say I don’t have 2 c to rub together because I have a few little containers of 1c coins, but brass, silver and paper are too few to go round. So I have done what I can do for now, without calling down the debt collectors to my door – I am writing and posting things I hope raise awareness and raise willingness to take action. But I still wonder what happens later.

The gist of what I’m feeling is this; We have democracy, we have a lot of freedom and what we may be short of, can hardly be considered a real impediment to our own progress should we be inclined to invest our efforts in securing our futures. We in the Caribbean have our own historical issues – black, white, Indian, Chinese, mixed, all of us have our issues – even imports like me, but most of us are at a place now where we really need, urgently, to lose some of our pretensions; we need to stop not doing what we’re capable of doing because it’s easier to complain about whatever else – what other people are / aren’t doing, what other countries did, didn’t do and intend to do. I’m not saying we should ignore real issues, I’m saying we need to actually make our own lives reflect what we are capable of and stop excusing ourselves from action and so causing ourselves to be misled, misguided and misused by those who lead us in country and those who herd us from beyond our shores. And certainly, stop misleading ourselves by indulging ourselves in the obsession of finger pointing. Doesn’t everyone know that the other 3 fingers always point back at our own selves!

And this extends to our region and in that region to Haiti. I am a believer in the strength of forming a more formal regional bond – I believe we waste our potential away on maintaining tiny island nations each with it’s own expensive government and infrastructure – where are the economies of scale? We hear all the time about how difficult, nigh impossible it is for businesses in the manufacturing sector especially to survive and prosper because our islands can’t deliver economies of scale – why on earth is it different for our governments?

We are led to believe that all Hell will break loose if the borders are opened and ‘poorer’ nations’ people allowed to flood the ‘richer’ islands, but what future is there for us realistically if we don’t come together?

Why aren’t we doing more to make it possible to do so without the migratory floods we fear?
Why are we ok with leaving Haiti to somehow manage to find a path?
Are we really so crippled by The People who hold The Power?
Why have we not formed our own indigenous systems and institutions?
Why do nearly all countries still resort to the Privy Council for resolving legal issues and not the CCJ?
What will you do beyond giving cash to help our region avoid seeing a repeat of any of the disasters Haiti has suffered? (and yes, I am aware that many good personal, social and business initiatives exist in Haiti)
If you can answer that last one at all, please tell me as I am long on thought of how unsatisfied I am with all of this and short on practical answers. I need some insight – I think many of us do.

Like the post title says, I have a lot of questions – a few of which I’ve asked here. Haiti to me is like a microcosm of all that’s been done wrong in the formation of the modern world. The beautiful buildings in Europe came from the devastation of millions of lives in the slave trade and in the raping of indigenous cultures of the Americas, as did the foundations for financial wellbeing that allows America and Europe to offer high standards of living for their present day citizens. We cannot turn back time, what concerns me, is what can we do to play a meaningful role in steering toward a better future?

We know that we’re going to get a shake up sometime soon – the seismologists have said so. Will we have shaken ourselves up enough before then?