On Tuesday, February 7th 2012, President of the Republic of Haiti visited The Bahamas to “discuss business and investment opportunities in Haiti in order to improve the lives of Haitians so they do not have to migrate to other countries.” His visit to The Bahamas followed several tours throughout the Caribbean and the United States, as he spoke to Haitian nationals living abroad.
Poor Choice of Words
While addressing Haitian nationals and their Bahamian descendants at the Church of God Auditorium on Joe Farrington Road, President Martelly urged persons present with Bahamian citizenship to vote as a block and to align themselves with the political party that best serves their interests.
His comments resulted in an outcry by the Bahamian public; many claiming that his remarks blatantly interfered in the internal politics of an independent country, especially during an impending, heavily contested general election where illegal immigration will be an important issue.
The Haitian President’s comments, follows a WikiLeak report, (the whistle blower organization) regarding the “Haitian vote” in The Bahamas. In the June 15, 2011 edition, The Nassau Guardian reported that the Americans, realize that they (Haitians living in the Bahamas) will have significant power if they come together. The report explained that;
A well organized community may already have the power to swing a close election and wield an increased influence as a result. Haitians in The Bahamas, however, do not appear to have the will or organizational wherewithal to risk an open challenge to the status quo.
The Nassau Guardian went further to report that,
In recent years, the Free National Movement, (FNM) has publically been ‘softer’ in its public tone towards Haitians than the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which has held more to the traditional policy of repatriation.
Prime Minister Reaching Out
In fact, Prime Minister Ingraham has been seen as the one reaching out to the Haitian community, acknowledging the return of the former leader to the country; and his shout out to his “Haitian brothers and sisters,” at a national rally was a “significant demonstration of solidarity by a Bahamian politician and leader.”
The article also mentioned that an “extensive analyses by the (US) embassy of the tense Haitian situation in The Bahamas” has been done and that the US believes that
“the existence of a large, dissatisfied and poorly integrated ethnic minority is a potential risk to the social and political stability in The Bahamas.”
The US maintains that
“The Government of The Bahamas would be well served to encourage integration, as some commentators recognize, both to diffuse existing animosity and (to) avoid future manifestations of discontent.”
In response to public criticism of the Haitian President’s speech to Haitian nationals living in The Bahamas, the United Bahamian Association of The Bahamas said that the visit of the Haitian President was positive but his message was misunderstood. It was said that the timing of the visit was “unfortunate due to the political climate” but the President’s visit made inroads towards improving relations between the two countries.
The timing of the Haitian President visit to The Bahamas comes as the official Opposition and the third party forces raise concern about an apparent increase in the granting of Bahamian citizenship to Haitian nationals, especially so close to a general election.
The opposition(s) questions whether the government is using the citizenship grants as incentives to lobby the so called “Haitian vote.”
While in The Bahamas, President Martelly met with a number of business, civic and government leaders, discussing the way forward for Haiti, improving Haitian-Bahamian relationship and exploring possible business opportunities.
The Opposition leader also invited him to his home to discuss future Haitian-Bahamian objectives.
The President echoed sentiments of concern similar to what was mentioned within the WiKileaks by the Americans that is,
“many children of long time Haitians living as Bahamian residents have become de-facto stateless.”
What We Learned
In any event, the question of whether the state visit of the Haitian President to The Bahamas was orchestrated by internal or external political forces during a more than likely close general election cannot be answered.
However, his visit showed that 6000 plus Haitian nationals and their descendants can be galvanized to meet without much promotion or advertisement unbeknownst to the knowledge of the average Bahamian.
More so, the question of whether, the clarion-call by the Haitian President for “his people” with the right to vote in the Bahamas as a united front: one influential political block will be answered, similarly to the seemingly block voting that is done within the United States is also unknown.
But definitely one can say that their vote will influence the final result of this 2012 general election.
And finally, the question of whether if now is that time for Haitian nationals living in The Bahamas to come together and organize themselves to challenge the political status quo, perhaps finally seeking representation in the halls of parliament, lobbying for specific rights and special interests is something we all will have to wait… to see.
Nassau, The Bahamas: The Capital of the World!
By Cecil Newry