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Moment filled with danger
Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

By David Abdulah, Newsday TT

In 1804 the Haitian people established an independent nation. This was a remarkable accomplishment given that at that time the entire region - including countries like Venezuela - was only colonised but the population was enslaved.

The Haitian revolution therefore achieved what none other had and that was the emancipation of slaves, the defeat of the three most powerful imperial nations at that time -France, Spain and Britain - and the creation of an independent state. Of course the Haitian people were also made to pay a terrible price for their boldness as they were constantly under attack from the imperial powers that had been previously vanquished. And there has been underway a process of constant intervention and destabilisation which continues to this day.

One aspect of the attack on Haiti has been to isolate it from the rest of the Caribbean. While the difference in language has been a factor in this regard, the more important reason for the extremely belated integration of Haiti with the rest of the region has been that of our ignorance, ignorance in the sense of a lack of knowledge and information. This state of ignorance is itself a product of our education system and of our media, both of which have failed the population in this regard.

This coming August we have a great opportunity to redress the historical wrong, to say, as David Rudder did so eloquently in song several years ago Haiti, Iím sorry." The occasion will be the Third Assembly of Caribbean People which will be held in the historic town of Cap Haitien, Haiti. The Third Assembly, therefore, quite fittingly will help to usher in the bicentennial year of Haitian Independence, and so the Assembly takes on special significance to the Haitian people themselves and to everyone in the region.

A number of people may recall the First Assembly held in Trinidad in 1994. That event and the process that it created of bringing ordinary Caribbean people together in a single space to discuss common problems, common concerns, to express common aspirations and to develop a common agenda for the sovereignty of the region and the welfare of the people, is still very much alive. Indeed, when we look around the region and the world today we see many more reasons why the Assembly process is so crucial.

The Theme for the Third Assembly is Caribbean people: letís build our sovereign Caribbean, just, equitable, equal and peaceful." It summarises the aspirations of Caribbean people today given the forces of neo-liberal globalisation.

Thus, we wish for a peaceful Caribbean, not one where there is the fear of violence at the local level and the threat of war on the international plane. We wish to have a sovereign Caribbean where we can determine our own destiny, not be in a state of colonisation either of the de jure type - as are the French territories, Puerto Rico, Montserrat and several other British and Dutch colonies - or of the de facto type like most of us are with our policies set for us by the international financial institutions.

We also wish to see our sovereignty respected and not have the US continue with the blockade of Cuba or be involved in the internal affairs of Venezuela. We wish to have societies where the principles of social justice and equity shape and determine the way in which the economy and social relations are organised, such that given the wealth of the nation nobody lives in poverty. And we wish to see power and the responsibility for our future residing in the hands of everyone, rather than our being in a political system where only a few decide.

Now many may say that this is just a wish list, a pipe-dream. I counter this position by saying that we will never make progress, indeed no society has ever made progress, except that it sets for itself lofty ideals and objectives and then consciously organises to work and struggle towards their realisation. It is also particularly important for us as Caribbean people to affirm and re-affirm what we believe in today since there is a clear attempt to make us accept something that is not at all in our interest. The pretext that is being created for war in Iraq is just one example of what I am referring to.

I am of the view that the moment is filled with both tremendous possibilities and dangers. The coming into office of Lula in Brazil is just the most well known of the recent shifts in the politics of Latin America.

Of course before Lula there was the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Most recently there was the election of Guiterrez in Ecuador and the very narrow defeat (some supporters have claimed that all was not fair) of the progressive indigenous leader Elmo Morales in Bolivia. The elections in Argentina may well result in another shift and this is yet another reason why the stakes are so high in Venezuela. The proponents and beneficiaries (the elite) of neo-liberal policies cannot allow the largest and most resource rich Latin American countries to be led by progressive forces.

The decisive shift away from neo-liberal globalisation that the recent elections in Latin America demonstrates, together with the ever stronger global social movement against neo-liberalism - as will be seen by the tens of thousands who will meet at the World Social Forum to be held in Port Allegre in Brazil this month - are the signs that tremendous possibilities exist at this moment.

This gives hope for the future, as will the Third Assembly of Caribbean People in Haiti in August 2003.

On the other hand, the storm clouds of war are gathering and threatening to unleash terrible damage. But there are voices against. And there are also moderate voices urging caution. Even the very influential New York Times is becoming concerned. Here is what their editorial said on Friday last Yet for all the Iraqi manoeuvring, America cannot simply declare Baghdad to be in violation of UN requirements and then go immediately to war. The political, economical and military implications of combat - not to mention the potential loss of American and Iraqi lives - demand every effort by the United States to resolve this confrontation short of war....all chances of doing so peacefully should be explored before the world is asked to decide on war. Before that point is reached, Washington should share its evidence (of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction) with the public." Let us hope that such counsel is accepted.

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