EYEWITNESS: Reckoning…with Haitian arrivals

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So, the issue of Haitians arriving into Guyana has arisen again – and President Ali has imposed a “visa” requirement. Your Eyewitness has written extensively on the phenomenon – arriving 38,000 since 2015! – at our airports, but there’s no record of them leaving. If they were still in Guyana, they certainly would’ve been noticed, so the surmise was they left via “backtrack” illegally to either Suriname or Brazil – places that demanded visas for Haitians to enter. Evidence of this piled up as several busloads of them to those destinations were recorded.

Now, one view is that the Haitians are just desperately poor people trying to better their lot – just as Guyanese had done starting from the days of the Burnham dictatorship, when he destroyed the economy and crime and hunger stalked the land. In fact, the phrase “just above Haiti” was used ubiquitously to describe where Burnham had taken our beautiful country. So we ought to be sympathetic. This argument resonates with your Eyewitness.

But he recognises that we live in an international world order – stress on “ORDER” – and must observe the rules of that order. Back in 2019, the then PNC Government had insisted that the Haitians weren’t being coerced to qualify as “trafficking in persons” (TIP). The UN law on the subject, however, also covers trafficking MIGRANTS – which these Haitians are.

The UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) says this about “migrant smuggling”: “Smuggling of Migrants is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident. It undermines the integrity of countries and communities, and costs thousands of people their lives every year.”

In the present incident that precipitated official action: 10 Haitians coming in from Suriname were found bereft of their passports or any other identity papers, which were all taken away by the person who was organising their movement. He was clearly a “coyote” who was part of an organised ring.

But some say that requiring visas would violate our Caricom obligations to Haiti, which promotes the “free movement of citizens” in our territories. But at the 29th intersessional meeting of Caricom leaders, in February 2018, there was an agreement that while Haitians could enter a Caricom country freely by just presenting a passport, they had to prove that they had sufficient financial resources to live during a period of 6 months, without becoming a burden on the country visited. The “visa” requirement – also required by Caricom member Suriname – would save the hassle of turning Haitians back when they arrive in Guyana.

Haitians aren’t banned from Guyana – they just can’t be wards of the state.

…with the flood impact

This morning, your Eyewitness was shocked to read that a rice farmer committed suicide after being hounded about debts he’d accrued to cultivate the last rice crop – most of which was ruined because of the floods. This should bring home the reality of the desperate lives of most rice farmers, who literally live from rice crop to rice crop. They’re forced to make huge investments in ploughing, broadcasting germinated paddy, fertilising, pest control, harvesting with combines, and milling – but they are never sure what the outcome would be.

In the countries that have taken agriculture above subsistence levels, they’ve instituted crop insurance against floods and other “acts of God”. In the US, farmers are even assured of a base price. The Government must not now just deal with this single tragedy, but address the systemic problem for all rice farmers. Or else we may replicate the experience of India, where annually there are thousands of “farmer suicides”.

We did say our sustainable future is “agriculture”, no?

…for Haresh

Finally, poor murdered Haresh Singh may have some justice done in his memory. Clearly murdered in retaliation for the murders of the neighbouring Henry cousins, the Police have finally arrested three persons.

Let justice be done.