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Belize, giving a little love to Haiti

EditorialBelize, giving a little love to Haiti

Fifty-one BDF and Coast Guard troops are back home after a month in Jamaica, where, alongside troops from Jamaica and the Bahamas, they underwent specialized training by the Canadian military, in preparation for a peacekeeping mission in Haiti. The main financing for the UN-authorized mission to support the Haitian police maintain law and order would come from the Americans and Canadians, and if the operation moves beyond the preparatory stage, it will be led by Kenya, which has an established reputation for serving in countries that are unstable.

The peacekeeping mission has been in the incubator since July last year. It hit a hurdle when parties in Kenya opposed their government sending troops to Haiti. While our troops were in Jamaica, there were threats from militant groups in Haiti that they would be hostile toward the peacekeepers. There are hopes that a recently installed transitional “government”, which came into being after the forced departure of unelected leader Ariel Henry, will bring some stability to the country.

Haiti is perpetually unstable, its most recent implosion coming after the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021. The country was to hold presidential elections in February 2022; the target now is February 2026.

Belizeans’ support for our troops taking up a peace mission in Haiti has been underwhelming. Some point out that Haiti’s problem is internal, thus a matter for the Haitian people to resolve at their own pace, in their own way. The counter to that is that the nations financing the peace mission have considerable business interests in Haiti, and they are known to protect what’s theirs. If Haiti’s CARICOM brothers and sisters don’t overtly intervene, somebody else will. The idea of a Kenya-led peacekeeping mission has more appeal to the peoples of the Caribbean than a European-led one. 95% of the people of Haiti have African ancestry.

A couple centuries ago, Haiti, under the leadership of former slave, Toussaint L’ouverture, won a glorious military victory against the colonizer, France, and became independent in 1804. But the price for gaining independence was excessive, and the colonizers have done much to deny the nation economic success.

Haiti is a victim of a massive financial conspiracy, of invasions, earthquakes, and hurricanes, and its closest neighbor, the Dominican Republic, has been most unkind. Edward Paulino, in a story published by Berkeley Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, said: “From late September through October 1937, an estimated 15,000 Haitian men, women, and children were systematically murdered in the Dominican Republic on the orders of the country’s dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina.”

Race is said to be at the bottom of the antipathy the Dominican Republic has toward Haiti. Less than 10% of people in the Dominican Republic identify as black. History and religion also contribute greatly to the rift. The Dominican Republic was colonized by Spain, Haiti by France. Both the Dominican Republic and Haiti are about 80% Christian. But it is said that Haiti is also 100% Voodoo, and overly zealous Catholics/Protestants become filled with hate at the mere mention of the beliefs of our African ancestors.

Haiti, once the prize of the Americas, is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. At times there have been calls here to provide a safe haven for Haitians who want to try and make a living away from their homeland. It has been pointed out that it would be good for the racial balance in Belize. Since Belize got self-government, the Afro population has declined significantly.

Both Afro-Belizeans (Garinagu and Kriols) and Mestizos have made the trek north in numbers, primarily to the USA, the land of milk and honey. But the loss of roots Mestizos has been offset by the entry of peoples of similar phenotype, because of civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. In the days when we were a colony, the British sent to Jamaica and Barbados for immigrants to expand our population. But that had to do with the fact that we were colonies of the British, not skin color.

Countries in the Caribbean that have accepted Haitians hold them in high regard, and Haitians in Belize have been good citizens. They have a reputation for being hardworking and quality farmers.

Barbara Crossette, in a 1982 article in The New York Times titled, “Haitians in U.S. may be offered land in Belize”, said the U.S. and Belize government were discussing the matter and a grant of US$100,000 was being used to carry out “a feasibility study and resettlement plan.” Highly regarded Belizean scholar, Jeremy Enriquez, in an article circulated on social media in 2021, said there was talk of resettling the Haitians in Toledo, along the Moho River. He reproduced the minutes of a meeting of leaders of the Toledo Progressive Party (TPP), a party that said it was seeking a better relationship with Guatemala. The TPP leaders vehemently rejected the entry of 2,500 Haitians in the area, based on their different “language, culture and customs”, and the arguments that the assistance being offered to Haitians was denied to natives, and that we were too poor, “not in any position to accept the Haitians.”

There were “reports” that Guatemala was hostile to the Haitians being resettled in Belize. As per the area reportedly being considered, the Moho River, Guatemala, which has trouble getting over the fact that Spain had no right to draw lines in the Americas and could not give their oligarchy what it did not own, reportedly had been in discussions with the British and Americans about our land south of the Moho. Guatemala, though it must know it has no right to Belize’s territory, and has been told so by the UN, has insisted that it will not drop its claim without getting territory, and Belize, which has bent over backward to be a good neighbor, insists, not a square centimeter.

Black is really da bak, even in Belize. Understandably, immigration is a complex matter. A highly respected local scholar said that an offer to relocate some Nigerians of the Igbo tribe was discussed with a UDP government, but they had no interest in that. Brown Belize could be charged with not embracing black people. White Europe isn’t gung ho on letting in black people (neither brown ones). The UK, at great financial cost, has hatched up a plan to pay Rwanda to accept black refugees, where their applications for asylum in the UK will be processed.

A response to that could be, why the fuss about sending black and brown people to black and brown Rwanda. However, black and brown people don’t go to European countries because they want to mingle with white people; they are about securing improved economic opportunities. That could lead to the discussion/explanation of why the Europeans have so much of the world’s wealth.

We haven’t opened up our country for a substantial number of our island brothers and sisters in Haiti who are in great need. We and Guyana are the only two CARICOM countries with the land space to offer such help. The offer to send troops to Haiti helps to ease our guilt. At the least the exercise in Jamaica was good, to let our brothers and sisters in Haiti know that we have a little love, that we care.

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