Mission World - November/December 2021

Recycling underdevelopment and destitution

A runaway slave was, in fact, a thief, since he had stolen his master’s property; himself. Edward P Jones

An old British fort set above Montego Bay in Jamaica has served as a bellwether for trouble in neighbouring Haiti since it established its independence in 1804. The fort, long abandoned by British troops, is cleaned-up to house refugees each time Haiti suffers from a hurricane or flood, coup d’état or political assassination, earthquake or some other disaster.

A veteran of the Columban presence in Jamaica, Fr Bobby Gilmore, tells us that a new word has been included in the Caribbean lexicon, haitianisation, described as endless underdevelopment and destitution.

Gilmore notes that although all countries in the area experience similar disasters, they do not suffer the total devastation witnessed in Haiti, nor the sustained hand-to-mouth subsistence existence.

Haiti has always been vulnerable to its geography, but even more so to its history, which has remained dogged by the politics of slavery, as articulated by Edward P Jones in his book, The Known World. Jones points out that the fugitive slave has always been guilty of larceny, because the owner is deprived of property; namely, the person of the slave. The fugitive is a thief.

The only successful slave revolt in history established Haiti as a state independent from its colonial lords in Paris, but the French extended the legal paradigm of theft of property to the loss of its slaves and demanded compensation to the tune of 90 million gold francs. Clearing the debt imposed by this levy absorbed around 80 percent of Haiti’s national budget up until 1947.

As Fr Gilmore points out, “Haitianisation has a long shadow.” However, the rort does not end there. Haiti has been a big recipient of international aid and, if aid really was a solution to poor countries’ problems, would be a shining example of success, which it is not. Fr Gilmore points out, “Too frequently… aid has maintained corrupt cartels in power that are in connivance with subsidised lobbies in developed nations.” This serves to keep people poor and the corrupt ruling elite in power. He argues, “In modern times, aid is used by some off-shore elite groups as a haven of respectability. They seek recognition for themselves, making the poor objects of their need rather than subjects of their own liberation.” He further argues that reparation for theft has gone the wrong way, as colonisers built fortunes on the back of slave labour and countries that boast abolition laws should be paying reparation to those whose labour, freedom and human dignity they plundered.

A root cause of haitianisation is justice withheld. Fr Gilmore sums it up this way, “It turns out you can provide all manner of goods and services to the poor, as good people have been doing for decades, but if you are not restraining bullying violence and theft, then the outcome will be disappointing.” Generosity can never trump injustice.

In August, Haiti suffered a crippling hurricane, followed by a devastating earthquake. Thousands died and millions sank into deeper poverty. The United States was also a victim of horrific weather. Comparatively few died, and although hardship will follow, a well-developed infrastructure will ensure a better recovery. Haitianisation recycles the underdevelopment and destitution.

This article was written on behalf of St Columbans Mission Society.

The Far East Mission World globe

Mission Intention for November/December 2021

November - People who suffer with depression: We pray that people who suffer from depression or burn-out will find support and a light that opens them up to life.

December - Catechists: Let us pray for the catechists, summoned to announce the Word of God: may they
be its witnesses, with courage and creativity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We ask your prayers:

The prayers of our readers are requested for the repose of the souls of friends and benefactors of the Missionary Society of St Columban who died recently and for the spiritual and the temporal welfare of all our readers, their families and friends.

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