Sir Hilary Beckles
Photo Credit: George Alleyne

In the past week, Caribbean community governments have been forced to grapple with two major issues of international concern and of course one had to do with the outrageous remarks by President Trump about Haiti, African immigrants and a preference for the lily white people from Norway settling in the United States.

When Trump had made the racist statements to a bipartisan group of congress men and women at a White House meeting, many in the Caribbean began listening for some form of formal and official reaction from leaders in the region. They reasoned that they should be so offended by Trump’s remarks that the White House should at least be told how both governments and people in the region feel about Mr. Trump’s mindset.

By Saturday they were not disappointed. The Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat dumped a statement on its website condemning Trump’s “derogatory and repulsive language” and even though the statement focused on his remarks in general, they also zoomed in on what he said at about Haiti specifically.

After all, Haiti is a full member of the group of 15 nations. It was the last to join at a summit in Guyana in 2002, largely through the extra efforts of then Jamaican Prime Minister P. J Patterson

The leaders said in their angry narrative on Trump’s remarks that he has “this pattern of denigrating Haiti and its citizens in what seems to be a concerted attempt to perpetuate a negative narrative of the country. We are especially saddened that such narrative emerged around the time of the anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake which took so many lives of citizens in that country.

Several people of influence in the region, including the man these very leaders have appointed to make former European slave trading nations pay reparations for the transatlantic slave trade chimed in with powerful words of condemnation.

Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies argues that for Trump to define Haiti as a shithole country not only exposes his higher than usual levels of ignorance about history and hemispheric issues but also his lack of enlightenment.

“The tale of their two constitutions (US-Haiti) tells this truth. The American Independence Declaration of 2nd July, 1776, reinforced slavery as the national development model for the future. The Haitian Independence Declaration, 1st January, 1804, defined slavery a crime and banished it from its borders.”

He added further that for Trump to now “define the Caribbean’s noble heroes of human freedom, whose sacrifice empowered and enlightened his nation in its darkest days, as a site of human degradation, is beyond comprehension,” he said.

Haiti’s government had also condemned the presidential remarks as vile. CARICOM said that it supports such remarks from Port au Prince.

“It should be recalled that Haiti is the second democracy in the western hemisphere after the United States and that Haitians continue to contribute significantly in many spheres to the global community and particularly to the United States of America. CARICOM therefore views this insult to the character of the countries named and their citizens as totally unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, the bloc’s council of ministers, made up mostly of those responsible for foreign and regional affairs, this week joined in the international condemnation of the modern day slave trade in Libya.

The ministers issued a statement on the issue early Wednesday, hours after ending their one day Caribbean Community council of ministers first meeting for the year at bloc headquarters in Guyana late Tuesday.

“Given the history, lessons and effects of slavery, the council underscored the need to condemn this gross violation of human rights,” the ministers said expressing “concern at the reports of the dehumanizing situation of African migrants in Libya being auctioned into slavery by criminal elements.

The council, made up mostly of ministers responsible for foreign or regional affairs, said they are joining with African and European Union leaders in calling “for an immediate end of these criminal practices,” while noting that the region has long taken a vow that slavery should “never again be experienced in old or new forms”.

The condemnation has come as leaders are preparing to meet in Haiti next month to discuss a slew of regional issues including ongoing efforts to make European nations pay reparations for the transatlantic slave trade.

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