Every day Cubans are arriving in Guyana to engage in shopping. Asians have been coming for years setting up businesses all around the country. Brazilians are also here managing businesses. But Haitians? Haitians who are part of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) travelling through Guyana with French Guiana as their destination encountered problems recently which led to detention and separation of children from their parents.
According to reports, it is not the first time Haitians were travelling through Guyana in recent times. And according to reports there have been suspicions of human trafficking which is in no way to be condoned. But sources closely associated with the case said that there were no signs of human trafficking. While it might be a case where some Haitians were exploited by paying monies for the promise of reaching French Guiana safely, travelling with their offspring emphasizes the desperation for a better life and they did enter Guyana legally. Some were deported while others were held in custody for committing no criminal act. Their misfortune was being in transit in Guyana. Some even had their money confiscated.
Concerned citizens who refused to ignore the contempt and iniquitousness with which the group of adults and children were treated became involved. We Guyanese are familiar with migration for the purpose of attaining what is considered a better life. How many of our relatives and friends have left and settled in the Caribbean, Europe and North America and how many are still leaving, waiting to leave or hoping to leave? The promise of oil wealth is not keeping many people here who acquire immigrant visas and it is human nature to seek better living conditions. And after all the trauma Haitians have suffered how can we not understand their need to do what many Guyanese have done? Was it necessary to separate the parents from the children? Was it necessary to detain the parents guarding them with guns when they posed no threat? Was it necessary to keep them separated from their children for almost three weeks? Can you imagine the fear and confusion made worse because they do not even speak the language?
But it is no secret. Haitians are not held in high regard by many. Voodoo is the first thing that comes to mind when many people think about the Haitians. Somehow to such people, Haitians are locked in some unholy union with that which is called the devil. Without ever meeting a Haitian person many express such views because of the indoctrination of White or Western false supremacy and many people are too lazy or too brainwashed to do their own investigation.
Just like the ancestors of Guyanese of African descent, the ancestors of Haitians of African descent were once enslaved and efforts were made to sever everything that made them African. It was their African spirituality that largely helped them to survive the atrocity that was slavery and is even said to have helped them defeat their oppressors, the French, in what became known as the Haitian Revolution which began in 1791. Haiti being the first to emancipate themselves set the example for others. But for many it seems that they should have endured the evils of slavery rather than use their strength which included their spirituality to defeat the enemies. Many religions have been used to do both good and evil, but there are excuses or endorsement when it is done in the name of only certain gods. Today Voodoo is still practiced in Haiti but a large section of the population is also Christian including the Haitians who became trapped here.
I was fortunate to visit Haiti in 2015 because of Carifesta. I saw the beauty and richness of the country and I also saw the poverty. Shattered places because of the earthquake in 2010 brought tears to my eyes. Seeing people working hard on the streets reminded me of the struggles of people here, but the people in Haiti are much more in number and so the number who struggle is far greater.
Haiti had to pay France for losses France was supposed to have suffered because of the end of slavery, a debt they never finished paying until the 1940s. I have never been able to fathom why those who were enslaved had to pay their tormentors because an evil system that should have never existed in the first place ended. But it is just another example of how those deemed the most powerful in this world have raped and plundered unsuspecting nations with no apologies and a continued sense of false superiority.
I fell in love with Haiti not only because of the beauty of the country and the people, but because as a creative I left Haiti a changed person. The retention of their culture and traditions surpasses anywhere else I have visited. I witnessed a Haitian musical that transformed my perception of what I can do with my art. Ever since I have walked around with a new sense of purpose and more in tuned with the power I hold as an artist. Haiti did that for me and I will never forget or ever stop longing to experience what I experienced there.
We Guyanese have often protested those instances where we were put to sit on benches or sent back on the next available flight when we visited certain countries. Many escaped to places where they lived as so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ until they were granted amnesty. There are still many Guyanese who are so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ in many places. But doesn’t the earth belong to all of us? Yet by the design of modern man we are not free to roam it as we please.
The Haitians are our brothers and sisters and we should not only understand their need in seeking an escape in hopes of a better life, but we should not encourage unjust treatment or silently approve them being detained in Guyana for no good reason and parents being separated from their children.
In many parts of the world people face discrimination. We see it happening here in our land. As Guyanese, we have joined in the cry of people in different parts of the world – we have joined in hashtags in times of terrorists’ attacks, prayers for those affected by natural disasters – Haiti included; we have said the names of the Trayvon Martins and the Sandra Blands of the USA uniting in rage against a system that continues to thrive on ugly. And many of us here have mourned and express rage over the atrocities in this land; for many the mourning never seems to end. Therefore, we must make deliberate efforts to focus more of our energies on the positive than continue to give life to the negative.
We should understand the plight of Haitians and not add to their distress for as members of Caricom they should be able to move safely through our land without fear of being detained, deported or despised.