Entering the Haitian discourse at this time is fraught with perils of all kinds. For starters, the subject is emotionally and ideologically linked to the country’s cruel treatment at the hands of unconscionable colonials and is underlined by a recurring suggestion of geo-political victimhood.
Everywhere last week, for instance, David Rudder’s poetic commentary on a misunderstanding involving a Haitian taxi driver in New York was sounded as a predictable anthem on the theme of perpetual nightmare.
Now, be clear, there are competent observers who have never set foot in the country but are able to capture the gist of a situation in which heavy odds are stacked even against the most noble aspirations. But being there (as I have, more than once) can fill important gaps in understanding flavours not readily available in the videos or texts.
Even more, institutionalising a relationship rooted in history and ethnic solidarity – as has been the case between Haiti and Caricom since 2002 - takes you closer to an understanding of dynamics not otherwise readily accessible.
For, even as the late CLR James was able to match the revolution-to-revolution advances in Haiti, France, and Russia in The Black Jacobins, he was unable, in a 1958 speech in Guyana – to easily attach “natural unity” to relations between Haiti and some parts of the Commonwealth Caribbean.
The awkwardness had also been on display before and after 2002. Not only in the form of linguistic inconvenience – except for the Saint Lucians and Dominicans – but through the practicalities of public service culture and the persistence of political unreliability and dysfunctionality.
I recall the Port-au-Prince discussions of 1994, upon the return of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, when our offer of (British) colonial public service assistance was extended to his bureaucrats, and their polite (but never seriously pursued) response.
It has since not been an easy ride. There are people in senior diplomatic Caribbean circles who agree that Haitian membership of Caricom was far more the stuff of irrational ideological fantasy than pragmatic self-preserving diplomacy.
Such emotions were roused last December when the OAS Permanent Council permitted Venezuelan participation, despite the country’s withdrawal from the body in 2017. Its “representative” went on to defame the people and government of T&T over the drowning of 16 Venezuelans (in Venezuelan waters) in an incident that November. Haiti, Jamaica, and The Bahamas were not among the Caricom countries to firmly resist an associated resolution.
Our country is yet to fully recover from the diplomatic slur, despite continuing public protestations by Caribbean diplomats. This quite recently earned ambassador Ronald Sanders of Antigua and Barbuda the public derision and disrespect of his Haitian OAS counterpart.
Now, this is not to suggest that Haiti’s current crisis is any less our business, as has been suggested (even through silence) on some fronts. It is in fact a situation in which Caricom, almost exclusively, has the potential to bear the torch of honest broker.
T&T’s declining regional leadership over the past ten of so years can, in fact, be retrieved through enlightened engagement of the Haiti challenge within Caricom.
The political vacuum created by Moïse’s assassination – together with all the associated issues surrounding the legitimacy of his tenure and subsequent appointments - calls for supple diplomatic hands. The events predating the assassination of Haitian President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in 1915, and those that followed, should not be forgotten. The ensuing US occupation of Haiti did not end until 1934.
This is not to fuel any conspiracy theory regarding what happened at the Moïse household on July 7. There are numerous suspicions. Yet, Caricom, as an interested party, has a unique role to play in facilitating a climate of reconciliation both within and without Haiti. The regional body cannot be left out of the equation, whatever the current internecine discomforts.
As part of the regional grouping, Haiti can no longer be described as a mere neighbour since it occupies important, if not uncomfortable, space in our house. But it would help us all to recognise our limitations as well as the quality of the familial arrangements.
We must also know that all of this is not going to be as simple as saying we’re all sorry.