Monday, 25 January 2010

Guns, Gauze and Goodwill in Haiti

I have been following the responses of some in the Caribbean region to the manner in which the Haiti rescue and recovery process has unfolded in Haiti over the past few days.

There have been several references to the issue of the impoverishment of the country as a result of reparation payments to France and the non-redemption of a series of international pledges - mostly from the United States.

Now comes the observation that the effort in Haiti has taken on an 'imperialistic' flavour with more guns than gauze - as colourfully rendered in one account widely circulated on the Net.

I am more than a little disappointed that many Caribbean commentators have chosen to ride that particular band-wagon. In my view, there is a hand to bite only because there is a hand that has brought food. This is not to suggest that the offer of food should come with the surrender of sovereignty, but that it is alarming that in the midst of immediate peril and pain, such considerations are finding their way into the public discourse in the Caribbean.

Following the devastation in Grenada in 2004, Trinidadian troops and an army of (TT) state-sponsored clean-up workers and volunteers 'stormed' (in a second wave) the island. In due course, Trinidad and Tobago was being described by several leading personalities in Grenada - in conversations with me - as 'the new imperialists. '

There were almost as many guns as there was gauze and galvanise and goodwill. What was however sometimes missing was graciousness.

Sometimes, in a crisis, I argue, these are all requirements of/for those left in despair and suffering. In the heat of battle, though, space is not often available for contemplation and reason.

There is no guarantee that had Caricom - not the people of Caricom ... the official movement - taken on immediate leadership of the rescue process in Haiti the menu would have been any different. The bread would have still been dropped from helicopters and hungry people taking any available food would have still been 'looters'.

It is clear that our supposed knowledge of the terrain and intimacy with the people of a Caricom ally has meant almost nothing in the current circumstance. This was not the case in Grenada.

This dynamic is not a function of imperialism. It is the product of us not taking responsibility for ourselves. Caricom, as an institution and maybe as a cohesive community, was never, ever prepared for Haiti.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Now for 2010

Professional assignments have meant that it has taken some time for me to catch my bearings regarding the work that needs to be done in 2010 to continue promoting the notion that free societies are evidenced by social justice, equity and an absence of poverty and alienation. This, I suppose, is what people mean when they say they would prefer the freedom to speak their mind as a superior alternative to organised religion and partisan politics.

Everywhere we look in the Caribbean we witness the erosion of freedoms under the guise of development or the need to cope with the demands of growing chaos, social disorder and the violence that follows.

This year, we therefore probably need to keep a sharper eye out for national policy interventions in our countries that claim to promote social order but which at the same time take from us the right to speak, write and otherwise express ourselves freely.

A much clearer menu emerges: i. Broadcasting Policy; ii. Cultural Policy; iii. Trade Policy; iv. Media Policy. These are all traps and codes for censorship and official control.

Let's see what happens.