Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

ALAS POOR Haiti - seemingly condemned to perpetual instability and on the verge of an ecological disaster. And there's little the outside world can do. Talk about CARICOM 'helping out' in the present crisis is nonsense. As if our tiny armies could make any difference in a country with a bigger population than the entire English speaking Caribbean put together.

Some talk of a US 'betrayal', but it was ex-President Aristide who betrayed himself and his people. For Haiti's first elected leader was as brutal and corrupt as any preceding despot. As on the spot Andrew Smith reported in the March 7 Sunday Gleaner: "I spoke to people of all races and professions- and the consensus was that the lot of the Haitian people will not get better if Aristide remains in power. They also felt that he was not going to leave voluntarily. But one way or another he had to leave. Referring to the armed rebels in the north, one man said 'We don't want these people, but we just let them do what they have to do'."


I am no George Bush fan. But he probably chose the wisest course, namely, to try and minimise the bloodshed and not make a bad situation worse. Only a fool would have attempted to prop up an unpopular government and fight 200 years of history. It's disturbing to see a democratically chosen leader overthrown by arms. But given Haiti's political culture, Airspeed's departure ­ whether forced or not ­ likely averted violence of civil war proportions. It's a sad cliché, but only Haitians can solve Haiti's long run problems.

We in Jamaica can only shake our heads and murmur 'There but for the grace of God go we'. Those snide comments and cartoons about Haitian refugees turning around and going back because 'Jamaica is just as bad as Haiti' strike me as unfunny and ignorant. No sensible person could ever compare the two. Jamaica is a fully functioning democracy with an almost first world level life expectancy and what transpired in Haiti is unimaginable here.


Still, the commonly quoted '100 dead' toll of the Haitian coup is about the same as February's murder count here and we have less than one third Haiti's population and are supposedly at peace. To be sure unlike Haiti we count our dead accurately. But nothing so disfigures Jamaica as this often inexplicable propensity for violence - one recent report spoke of a man chopped to death in a dispute over ackee leaves. Something must be amiss in our social structure for our domestic murder levels to be higher than most countries' overall homicide rate.


Yet there is a huge difference between the Haitian style violence, which locks down a country and that in Jamaica, which does not really affect most lives. I don't wish to sound callous. But outside of a few gang torn areas and except for a few innocent exceptions, the reality is that most people murdered in Jamaica were ­ as my uncle Charlie puts it ­ "somewhere them not supposed to be or doing something them not supposed to be doing'. Radio show talk of 'a terrified society afraid to venture out'' does not square with massive late night street dances like 'Passa Passa' and 'Blazay Blazay'.

The compassion shown by Jamaicans toward the Haitian refugees is most admirable, proving once again that whatever our faults we are at bottom a kind-hearted people. No one ever starves in Jamaica, and dislocated young children always find someone willing to take care of them.

In any case the close up look at Haiti, cable channels are giving should make us realise that for all our moaning and groaning Jamaica is a God blessed country. We talk a lot about class and race divisions here, but there is nothing like the yawning gap there. Our privileged classes have on the whole sensibly realised that only an implicit social contract can produce long term stability, and have made sure they are seen as givers and not only takers. The corporate sponsored $15 million Waterford Football Stadium is an excellent example of this.


'British imperial oppression' is a favourite whipping boy of academia here. And yes it was often arrogant, racist, greedy, and brutal. But since everywhere in the new world got colonised by someone, the events in Haiti should again make us grateful we were ruled by Britain and not by France, Spain, Germany or even America. For like the age, the Union Jack Empire was perhaps not so bad considering the alternatives. Indeed for all its sins it was in the long run arguably the most benevolent political institution in history.

Though no atonement for that horrible inhumanity, it was Britain who first abolished slavery in its domains and then stamped out the international slave trade. No other empire ever carried out such extensive educational, health and transportation improvements in its dominions. And unlike virtually every conquering force before it, imperial Britain not only peacefully set free those it ruled but tried to leave them with a functioning government.

To their credit Jamaican politicians have built on the democratic foundation bequeathed to them. For though often egotistic and unscrupulous, our elected officials have on the whole put the national welfare before personal gain. Sceptics need only compare Jamaica to its nearest neighbours, Cuba and Haiti. Here you have 40 years of regular elections, a free press, the rule of law and no assassinations, coups or major insurrections. There you find unending revolution, civil war and dictatorship.

Yes, it would be nice if our leaders had been Lee Kwan Yews or Eric Williams. But we must be grateful they were not Batistas, Castros, Duvaliers or Aristides. So two cheers for Jamaican politicians. May they someday soon deserve three.

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