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Busta said: You will be protected
Friday, March 19, 2004
AS some persons (here and abroad) devour their own entrails over President Aristide being allowed by the Jamaican Government to sojourn here while others take his place in Haiti's Presidential Palace, history is repeating itself.
NEWS JUST IN: I have been reliably informed that Gerard Latortue, who has been assigned (not elected) to President Aristide's place as prime minister of Haiti and who has been critical of Jamaica/Caricom allowing Aristide to visit Jamaica, ONCE FOUND REFUGE IN THIS VERY ISLAND. In 1964, when the said Latortue fell out of favour with "Papa Doc" Duvalier and thought it prudent to put space between them, a well-known Jamaican family opened their home to him here in Kingston until he could return to Haiti where h
e got the protection of the Mexican embassy and left the country. His wife, Ghislaine, was also given hospitality in this very Jamaica. Memory short fe true.
Thanks to Dr Matthew Smith of the Department of History, UWI, and Mrs Eppie Edwards of the National Library, I am reminded that Aristide is not the first deposed Haitian leader to take up refuge here. Turn back the hands of Time and you find in 1859, the Emperor Solouque who declared himself President for Life, then moved on to self-anointment as Emperor, having to take up refuge in Kingston, Jamaica.
Then, there was Fabre Geffrard, another president on the run who found sanctuary here in 1867. His name was eventually affixed to a little street which remains even now as Geffrard Place (where Stanley Motta's headquarters is) to the west of National Heroes Park. And what about Norde Alexsis - circa 1908. He died here after a two-year sojourn. There are others in the saga.
So, we come to Dumarsis Estimé, who came into Kingston Harbour,
January 23, 1951 aboard the French liner Colombie. The colonial authorities of the time denied him entry so he and his wife, their young son and daughter, had to remain aboard ship. All other passengers were allowed to disembark while the authorities huddled to consider what next to do.
The reasons for hesitancy was the same as today. Some feared that those back in Haiti who were against Estimé would follow him here and start a war. Estimé responded (according to a report in the Daily Gleaner) "I want to live in peace, where my children can live healthily and where they can be educated." The newspaper reported that as she watched the police question her husband, Madame Estimé wept.
When one Lucien Chauvet, director of the Office of Control and Development of the Haitian Development Corporation, who was then in Jamaica, made representation to bar the Estimés from landing, the police waved him away. Madame Estimé continued to weep, while she hugged her children, the report said (even though the r
eporter was not on the ship).
Enter Alexander Bustamante. He had been a guest of the Estimés in Haiti not long before. With typical Busta bravado, he spoke so Port-au-Prince could hear. "The Haitian Government should not be allowed to dictate to us. The ex-president should be allowed to land here. If he commits himself while he is a guest in this country, then it will be time to deport him."
Following a meeting of the Executive Council, the police went to the ship and handed President Estimé a letter. He could stay in Jamaica for one month. Busta recommended lodgings at the Melrose Hotel (which was then situated at the top of Duke Street, near Manchester Square). In typical Chief fashion, Busta assured his grateful guests: "You will be protected."
He is further quoted as declaring: "In Jamaica, I too am undesirable to some people. Some people would like to walk on my grave.It is not all the people who regard Estimé as undesirable. And we will not accept what the Haitian Government says, w
ithout proof, that the ex-president will cause trouble here."
The Estimés stayed their month, then departed to New York where he was to die of poisoning. The dosage came from home, it was said. How will the Aristide saga end? Does history count for anything?