Commentary: Haiti, Jamaica and the Haitian junior soccer team

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By Jean H Charles

The Haitian junior soccer team epitomizes the degradation of the Haitian social and cultural landscape at home and in the Caribbean region. Four years ago, in November 2007, while in transit through New York en route to a soccer tournament in South Korea, some 11 (out of 14) youngsters were kidnapped by their own parents or surrogates.

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Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: [email protected]

They made the decision that the opportunity for their children to remain on the American territory, albeit illegally, was too great to be pass on, instead of a career in Haiti on the national soccer team.
Review my essay in Caribbean Net News and Caribseek: Swim to get out! The story of the Haitian Junior soccer team – June 25, 2007.

This year the same Haitian soccer team (of course with new players), while in Montego Bay, Jamaica, for the U17 tournament towards the World Cup elimination competition, has suffered the ignominy of being ejected from the tournament by the government of Jamaica under the concern of public health security.

The facts are in question but the reality is, based on the advice of the Jamaica health protocol, some 11 members of the Haitian team were quarantined for suspicion of malaria. It was alleged that some of the youths did break the quarantine by discharging themselves out of the hospital. Out of the group, two members of the team travelled directly from the United States and from France and have never touched the Haitian territory.

Did the Jamaican government utilize bad faith in causing a stir by demanding the expulsion of the Haitian junior team from the tournament or were there were preemptive public health concerns that necessitated such drastic measures?

Anyway this expulsion touched a sensitive chord in the pride of the Haitian ethos. The nation stood as one to demand excuses and apology from the Jamaican government. Jamaica stood ground, offered excuses but no apology. The Haitian people wanted their government to cut off all relations with the Jamaican government. A conciliation team is trying to mend the fences for repairing the bruised ego of a nation in fury.

I have at several instances in this column presented the opinion that the Jamaica government (not the Jamaican people) has exhibited xenophobia against the Haitian people. It was expressed in the big hoopla when, after a disaster in Haiti, a small wave of migrants reached Jamaican territory.

The whole country was put in full alert; the United Nations was called in to provide material support except the whole crisis was defused in a few days by the brave Jamaican people, in particular, the Jamaican women who express solidarity with the few newcomers by taking them home.

The Haitian community in Jamaica in comparison with other islands in the Caribbean is very small (maybe 2,000). Tiny Dominica has absorbed with elegance and grace some 4,000 Haitian migrants. The commercial intercourse between Haiti and Jamaica, highly profitable in the past, has come to a complete stop in the last few years.

Air Jamaica, a regular scheduled airline to Haiti, with buyers of fine art flocking to the Haitian capital in search of material for their tourist industry, has withdrawn from the Haitian sky. It is now replaced by the illicit drug enterprise business in exchange for guns in the southern part of Haiti.

I have approached the minister of tourism and commerce of Jamaica in providing from Portsmouth a legitimate ferry service where well-wheeled Haitians would travel to Jamaica for fun, pleasure and business.

Of course, no follow up is on the drawing board. Jamaica like most, if not all the CARICOM countries (with the exception of the Bahamas) has no formal diplomatic representation with Haiti.

For all their professed coordination of intercourse between the islands, the CARICOM institution has not been able to facilitate the free flow of commerce and travel in the region. Travelling to any of the island of the Caribbean one must transit through Miami, Florida, for the best price and the best connections.

In addition the nation of Haiti is being looked at as a black sheep with suspicion in the region, with the threat of AIDs and cholera brought into the country by foreign hands.

Speaking recently with a celebrity reporter with Haitian background she told me she has never felt the sense of hospitality in any of the English speaking Caribbean islands. I would hazard to say the sentiment of inhospitality is also extended to the French-speaking Caribbean islands. To travel to Martinique and Guadeloupe for fun and pleasure one needs a special authorization from the Prefect/ or regional authority.

CARICOM will continue to be a public relations shell in Haiti as long as the attitude is one of mistrust and misguided policy. Following this election, Haiti might be ready to clean up its act to create a landscape where the social and economic degradation will come to a halt.

Will Haiti, with its huge numbers (10 million people), continue to be a pawn used by the international institutions and by CARICOM to fill their coffers with solicitations on behalf of a nation that has seen limited if not infinitesimal return for its people?

Haitian misery has become a valuable commodity, with the Haitian president acting as a broker of choice while now using the CARICOM/OAS group to prolong the return of the stakeholders, minus of course the Haitian people. The secretary general of the OAS has warned the situation in Haiti could harm the OAS. It has already done so!

The improved relationship between people of the same region must start with communication and understanding, draped with the simple curtsey of respect. CARICOM as a brand will remain a hollow concept until each person in the area is seen as a potential resource not only for its own nation but for the entire region.

PJ Patterson, the former Jamaican prime minister now in charge of the CARICOM recovery fund for Haiti, has bread on the floor!

Michel Martelly, the bad boy of Haiti, is rocking the ethos and the mores. He might soon rock, like in the Arab world, the old political class!

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