Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

By Vanessa C. Rolle

The Bahamas Human Rights Network is calling on the new Bahamas government to lend its influence to the international community to help eradicate Haiti�s debt.

Before the May 2 general election, the group called for international monetary agencies to “immediately” forgive all of Haiti�s debts, and called for the Bahamas government to encourage the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank to make this happen.

Head of the BHRN, Elsworth Johnson, said the same message he had to the former administration remains the same for the new one.

“We want to congratulate them [the FNM] on their victory at the polls, but what we want to say is that it would be in the interest of The Bahamas to lobby internationally for technical assistance for Haiti for medical assistance and where there can be some debt reduction,” Mr. Johnson said.

“The first two countries that are really hit by the migration of Haitian immigrants would be The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos a little and the U.S. We have very few persons in the international community who are coming forth to lend us assistance.”

Haiti continues to fund its debts per year, which could be used to help develop health and educational systems in that country, Mr. Johnson has said.

He acknowledged that the IMF approved Haiti�s participation in its heavily indebted poor countries initiative (HIPC), which would apply to its World Bank debt. But it would take until 2009 for Haiti�s compliance to be completed.

Several months ago, the Board of Governors of the IDB approved 100% debt relief for Haiti, which also hangs upon Haiti�s compliance with the HIPC.

Even though these efforts are a step in the right direction, Mr. Johnson said, the BHRN is concerned about Haiti�s ability to wait for two more years for its compliance to be completed and to receive 100% debt cancellation.

Mr. Johnson said one can not calculate the contribution that the Haitian revolution made to black people in the Western Hemisphere.

“Haiti started it � hence the abolition of slavery. Now all of us can be around here dancing and carrying on � free. They did a significant thing and they�ve never been forgiven for that. We need to get up as persons in this hemisphere and say to the international community, to countries like France, the U.S., and Britain � give them a break,” he said.

He said that he is encouraged by the move of the IMF “but there can always be improvement. Anything that you do you can improve on it if you want to.”

When The Journal spoke to former Minister of State for Finance James Smith on this issue, he made it clear that The Bahamas supported the move by the IDB, but also beckoned to the international community for assistance to The Bahamas in dealing with this problem.

The BHRN believes that without proper funding to address the issues in Haiti,countries like The Bahamas would continue to have an influx of Haitian migrants to their shores.

“It would only help us [should The Bahamas use its influence to get support for Haiti],” Mr. Johnson said.

“And we have to help ourselves because if Bahamians weren�t giving out the jobs, weren�t seeing Haitians as �my Haitians�, weren�t working them on construction sites as cheap labour, they would not come because there would be nothing here for them and that�s the reality.”

He added, “That�s why they go to Abaco because somebody is working them. That�s why we see a new community now in Exuma. Somebody is benefiting and we don�t want to be real about this. That is why the communities spring around here in New Providence. Somebody is benefiting.”

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