The Sociology of the tropics: a roadmap for a coordinated and integrated approach for the Caribbean islands.
By Jean H Charles
I have visited Trinidad and Tobago some twenty years ago, during Carnival season; I was rather impressed with the sensitivity of the people towards each other, even at the peak of the folly of the debauchee, I saw one person fell down and the whole crowd was around to protect the injured party. To me it was unusual, because I have attended the Carnival in Rio, in Salvador de Bahia and in Port au Prince Haiti, that injured party would have been robbed of his possession in Rio, crushed by the crowd in Bahia and mutilated by the mass in Port au Prince. I have later traveled around the world with Eddy Harper a Trinidadian friend, sleeping and enjoying ourselves in all the Club Med that we could have found, reflecting and pondering a la de Tocqueville on the state of men of nature and of nations…
Later I have found out that I was not the only one in love with Trinidad, a proud American like the Borough President of Brooklyn, New York, Marty Markowitz, does not even hide his alleged appurtenance to Trinidad, calling himself a wanabe Trini. I have met enough Trinidadians in New York to infirm and affirm that maybe the Trinidadians are the nicest people in the world. We will come later to find the reasons for that sense of hospitality. I am now a student of the mores and the ethos of people from different nations in particular the people of the Caribbean areas. Are they one and all the same or is there a different trait of culture and attitude from each one of them?
I can now with a degree of confidence inform that there is large and profound difference between the people of each nation of the area, depending on the set of values brought about by historical colonial past, the church practice, the policies of the present and past governments, the level of education of the critical mass and the relationship with its Diaspora.
I am still a student of the Islands, I will therefore continue to study and report on what I see, and seek the reasons for the visu picture. By way of disclaimer I am from Haiti, the splendor and the squalor of Haiti will continue to be part of my baggage, but I have found that I was able to be detached enough even in Haiti to tell it like it is.
Barbara Ehrenreich in a seminal book, Dancing in the street has taught us that communal bonding through festival, carnivals and public dance tend to create a sentiment of solidarity between the people of a same nation. The desire for collective joy coming from the Ancient Greeks worship of Dionysus has survived the assault of Christianity and of civilization to create a collective effervescence that cements social bonds. Par consequent, the countries of Trinidad, Brazil, Haiti, and Dominica lovers of Carnival should have the same trait of great hospitality.
But, the reality is different; Trinidad appears to be rather unique in its culture of hospitality. I am therefore arguing that the communal bonding through the festival or the carnival is not enough to create a kinder and gentler nation. There most be also, a sense of a shared vision of the future in that country. This ingredient of a true nation is missing in Haiti as well as in Brazil or in Guyana. The favellas of Rio or the Slums of Cite Soleil in Port au Prince would cease to exist if there was a clear indication that the sense of the vision of the future was well established in those countries.
This essay is looking into how we can create a Caribbean zone where the natives, the Diaspora and the visitors will find and enjoy that idyllic place which is the Tropical islands. It is clear now that the rich and the famous ( without mentioning the Chinese who are arriving en masse) are discovering the charm of the islands, each one of these jewels represents a prime real estate, even Haiti and above all Haiti ( because of its immense scenic sites) is destined to become hot property. Par consequent a comprehensive and integrated approach must be found to protect the natives from being displaced, to permit the Diaspora to return and enjoy and to admit foreign visitors who visit or want to belong.
Starting with the larger Antilles Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Jamaica, combined they represent some 25 million people. By pulling together their market possibility they can motorize the whole region. Raoul Castro, René Préval, Lionel Fernandez and Portia Simpson Miller are men and woman of common sense and of practicality. They can accelerate that process as soon as they will understand that intelligent, creative people represent power. Starting with a daily flight from Havana to Cape Haitian and to Port au Prince, the Haitian madam Sara
(Women enterprising merchants) can provide to the Cuban citizen the toiletry, the soap and the underwear that are now a luxury. The profusion of necessaries they have been missing for the past fifty years will accelerate the democratization process. In return the madam Sara will have their tooth fixed, their eyes repaired and their bags filled with new revenue.
The synergy of the creativity of some 25 million people will soon create the market place of goods and ideas that will replace the horror of communism in Cuba and the squalor of capitalism in Haiti.
Going down into the chain of islands, Puerto Rico is an outpost of the United States as well as a jewel and an oddity in the region; a jewel because Puerto Rico receives a generous grant from America for its functioning. It could on its own, propel a second locomotive engine to energize the rest of the Lesser Antilles. But Puerto Rico is also an oddity because egoistically it refuses to fulfill that role. I have visited the University of Puerto Rico with colleagues from the University of Oklahoma to initiate a fish farming institute in Dominica. While the scholars from Oklahoma were eager to see the project in fruition, the venture was killed in the egg due to the resistance and the intransigence of the Puerto Rican counterpart. This experience is repeated daily in the commerce between Puerto Rico and the rest of the islands. The Island is just a passing through en route to St Lucia, Dominica or Antigua. The new initiative between Caricom and President Bush can certainly look into how the existing resources in Puerto Rico can best be put at use for the development of the whole region. The Congressional Black Caucus can also use the Black and Puerto Rican solidarity of the mainland to extend itself beyond the ocean and urge this new cooperation between Puerto Rico and the other islands. It will be beneficial to all.
Going down further, Antigua with its booming tourist industry can sign up Montserrat and Nevis and St Kitts as junior brothers. It is true that Montserrat is afflicted by the ever presence and the moody outburst of the volcano, yet the charm of the country will continue to make this nation a viable corner for environmentalist, ecologist and lovers of nature.
We are now at the center of the chain of islands with Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominique. I have said Dominique, because I have been advocating that Dominica should change its name and rename itself Dominique. This change of appellation will have a double positive effect. Dominica will cease to be confused with Dominican Republic at the post office. The change of name will bring Dominica closer to Guadeloupe and Martinique which are two French outposts. As Dominica is celebrating its 30th Anniversary, it would be appropriate to invite the new French President Nicholas Sarkozy to this event to plant the seed of that new relationship. The booming economy of Martinique and Guadeloupe will propel Dominique to a sustainable economic growth with commerce and tourism while facilitating its participation into the Lomé agreement and opening up its agricultural products to the French market.
Continuing our journey into the chain of the islands, we are now at the fifth locomotive engine which is Barbados. This little former British Isle has everything that the sophisticated visitor is expecting from a well run nation. It should be the motor that propels the other islands such as St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada. Those islands are doing well on their own; meanwhile a closer coordination of the economy of Barbados with these neighbors will energize the whole region.
Last but not least, Trinidad and Tobago represents the last engine of the chain. Its economy is strong because of its natural resources in oil and in gas. Guyana which is one of the weak points (with Haiti) in the chain of the Caribbean islands should receive a better cooperation with Trinidad. The government of Trinidad and Guyana should look into joint agreements for commerce, education and infrastructure building.
We have defined the mileposts of the roadmap for an integrated Caribbean area; we must now indicate the fuel for those engines. Going back to ancient times, using the language of Philippe Nemo the rebel French Philosopher of the Generation of 1968, in What is the West? We find that the story of democracy begins with the Greeks who invented the ideal city in which individual are no longer submerged in a vast sea of humanity but each person now has individuality and character. Later, when the king was also the master of the body and of the soul, good governance was dictated by the principle that: You shall honor your God and you shall love your neighbor as thyself. But God himself has requested that you shall give to God what is for God and to Cesar what is for Cesar. Meaning the business of ruling a nation is not in the province of men of God. We have tried later the principle of noblesse oblige, meaning those who have a lot should share their bounties with those who have less.
This principle has helped to maintain for a while equilibrium in the social scale; meanwhile in countries like Haiti or Guyana, it is evident that a new philosophy is necessary. I am advocating that the shared vision of the future be the fuel that should flow into the engine to realize an equitable society. The doctrine of the shared vision of the future is the brainchild of the French philosopher Ernest Renan. In its master thesis in 1888, he preconised that the ideal nation will have full control of its border, will urge its citizen to glaze into their glorious past and will enforce the shared vision of the future amongst all. Meaning no one shall be left behind. The United States since the advocacy of Dr Martin Luther King has adopted that principle. In an imperfect world, it is flourishing admirably. South Africa since the personal sacrifice of Nelson Mandela has espoused that principle. It is still the lone bright star in Africa.
Haiti has left behind the majority of its population by neglecting to invest in its rural sector. Guyana has not reconciled its black population with its Indian counterpart to form one nation with a shared vision of the future. On a lesser degree, Dominica has neglected the Carib its indigenous population. Furthermore the citizen of Roseau has developed a certain degree of arrogance concerning the rest of the population initiating a vicious circle of collective insult and disdain. This attitude to a certain degree is observed in all the islands. Maybe to a lesser degree in Trinidad, all the composite of the nation have been able to melt together to create the motto: one culture one nation.
To conclude, Christopher Columbus in its quest for spice has discovered in its own words a marvelous place in the Caribbean islands. After the destruction of the Natives by the Spaniards some 10 million blacks were brought in from Africa to create the largest slave enterprise in the world. The Code Noir, the set of provisions to insure in exclusivity the “security of the whites” was put in place.
In spite of the state of independence that exist in all the Caribbean area today, we may have to embark on the finishing job of dismantling the remnant of some of those provisions that were destined not to nurture a kinder and gentle nation hospitable to all. This essay is asking each one of us to look into the mirror to recognize the legacy of 300 years of slavery and reborn a better man or woman in being more hospitable to thy neighbor, in striving to be a better trustee of the paradise entrusted by God to the children of the Tropics and sharing with the world the joie de vivre that has made Trinidad, and its people the best companion in this journey.
Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AIDNOH Inc a public policy non profit organization dedicated to promote the culture of the shared vision of the future not only in Haiti but everywhere.
He can be reached at: Jeanhcharles@aol.com
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