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Haiti: Punished for Rebellion, Not Religion

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By Charles Hallman, Special to the NNPA from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder –

(NNPA) - Haitian-Americans find local Black disinterest ‘disappointing’. A recent community forum offered an alternative view to the longstanding image of Haiti as a land of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease. About 30 people attended the June 6 event at the Rondo Community Library in St. Paul, where Haiti, its history and its future was discussed by Haitian-Americans.

The first major Black rebellion took place in Haiti in 1791, which left an estimated 10,000 Blacks and 2,000 Whites dead. Over 1,000 plantations were sacked and razed. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte later sent 34,000 troops to subdue the slave armies, but they were unsuccessful. Haiti instead became an independent nation in 1804.

“A little tiny nation was able to overcome larger nations with military might,” said University of Minnesota graduate student Barbara Pierre-Louis, one of five Haitian-American Minnesotans who were featured speakers at the forum.

Haiti is the oldest Black republic in the world, but also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In the view of Pierre-Louis, the country essentially has been “punished” for decades by the West because it sought independence.

France only recognized it after demanding the country pay 150 million francs.

Most nations, including the United States, shunned Haiti for over four decades because of fear that its example could stir up more uprisings among slaveholding countries. After the U.S. did grant Haiti diplomatic recognition in 1862, it named Frederick Douglass the consular minister.

The U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 and held veto power over all governmental decisions there until the military left in 1934. A commission appointed by President Herbert Hoover later concluded that Haitians were excluded from positions of real authority, and the U.S. presence helped create “poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government.”

Two decades later, in 1957, Francois Duvalier was elected Haiti’s president.

Duvalier, better known as “Papa Doc,” was a ruthless ruler who changed the constitution in 1964 so that he could be elected president for life. After his death in 1971, his 19-year-old son took over; Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier proved even more ruthless than his father until his regime finally collapsed in 1986.

After the 1791 revolution, “There was no one left to teach from the beginning trades, how to run a country…none of that ever happened,” local attorney and panelist Jacqueline Regis pointed out. “We have seen the aftermath of that some 200 years later.”

Evangelist Pat Robertson was quoted as saying that the Haitians once “got together and swore a pact to the devil… Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.” In fact, Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti. Most Haitians do believe in and practice some aspects of voodoo, which revolves around the belief in family spirits.

Hamline University French and Creole Professor Max Adrien explained that after Columbus arrived in Haiti in 1492, “The first thing they [did] is evangelize, and they started to capture [the residents] and enslaved them.” Voodoo was later seen by the slaves as a “liberator” as opposed to Christianity, which was practiced by the White slaveholders.

Adrien added that voodoo supposedly emerged during a secret gathering by the captive, enslaved Haitians. “Christianity told us that we had to suffer. The sky split in half, and suddenly a woman came down among them. That woman…stood among them, pulled out a sword and plunged it into [a] pig’s heart. When she did that…[the slaves] became mad dogs and went out and killed each master that they encountered in the road. For Haitians, this was the road to independence.”

The speakers also discussed ways to help Haiti’s recovery after an earthquake devastated the island country back in January. “It was like the end of the world,” said panelist Roulio Lundy, who was in Haiti when the quake stuck and recently returned to Minnesota after remaining in his home country to help family and others during the aftermath. Lundy told his account in Creole interpreted by his wife Maria Roseler-Lundy, a native Minnesotan who has lived and worked in Haiti.

Lundy said he was driving as the quake took place and walked almost 60 miles to return to his home. He vividly recalled the devastation while he and others helped victims.

“People looked like zombies with dust on [their] faces,” he continued. Many people cried in vain for help, but they were fatally overwhelmed by the rubble created by the collapsed buildings upon them. “People offered to give all their possessions [to us] if we could get them out. But there was no amount that could help [them],” he bemoaned.

In the aftermath of the January earthquake, Haiti continues to need help during its recovery — but not a handout, the speakers all say. Roesler-Lundy suggested, “For a long time, the international community has been giving to Haiti, and for a long time Haitians have learned how to receive. My challenge for you is not to give to Haitians, but to work together with them.”

Haiti must remain a “stable, democratic country,” said Regis, who moved to the U.S. at age 16. “I think it is in the best interest of the United States and the world to make sure that they are engaged in rebuilding Haiti, and not just the roads and the buildings, but also the culture.”

The country’s illiteracy rate is nearly 50 percent, she added. “The education that I believe is most crucial for Haitians [is] how to read and how to be leaders, how to produce the next generation of political leaders who are going to lead, and not in a narrow sense that enrich themselves and not the people.”

The Obama administration “is one of the best hopes that Haiti has had in its willingness to understand Haiti,” noted Regis.

Pierre-Louis, who also teaches languages at Metropolitan State University, expressed her disappointment afterwards about the low number of Blacks (around three or four) who attended the forum. “I’ve gone to many events where we are talking about what happened on January 12, and I haven’t seen much of a connection [with local Blacks],” she pointed out.

“Haiti is certainly a part of our history as a people who crossed the Atlantic several hundred years ago to come home,” surmised Pierre-Louis. “I would like to see a bit more involvement with Haiti from the African-American community. It’s a bit disappointing.”

Concluded Regis, “Our destiny is tied together, and we need to get up and tell the world that we are united."

Taking a Cue From U.S., Nigeria Issues Warning On Spills

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Special to the NNPA by the GIN –

(GIN) – After years of standing idly by as western oil companies fouled Nigerian rivers, dirtied the air, killed fish and birds, the Nigerian government, spurred by U.S. action in the Gulf of Mexico, is showing a little fight-back.

This week, Nigerian officials threatened ExxonMobil with sanctions if the company fails to manage spills properly. Idris Musa, head of Nigeria's oil spill response agency, said the meeting was to "call the attention of ExxonMobil, for the last time, to the need to put a stop to the incessant oil spills that we have been having within its operation area."

Musa told reporters after the meeting that his agency had since 2006 recorded about 2,405 oil spills involving all the major international oil companies operating in Nigeria.

"The oil spills in the Niger Delta are more than what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico," said Alagoa Morris, field monitor for Environmental Rights Action in Bayelsa state.

ExxonMobil Safety and Environment Manager, John Etuk, admitted that there was a spill in May, but was promptly reported to the relevant agencies. He disputed the official charge that the oil group did not carry out the clean up to specification.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., ExxonMobil joined other oil companies in blaming BP for its actions leading to the spill that has befouled thousands of acres of shoreline along the Gulf.

World Cup Fanfare Brings Demands To The Surface

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – With thousands of World Cup revelers thronging the streets of South Africa, and all eyes riveted on the games, labor unions are seizing the time to push normally reluctant employers to raise their low wages and provide needed benefits.

Tuesday, hundreds of black-clad workers gathered just outside the stadium grounds around midday, chanting and dancing, as grim-faced riot police, toting shotguns, looked on.

Earlier in the week, workers walked off the job in Cape Town and Durban, and bus drivers in Johannesburg quit in the middle of their shifts Monday, stranding about 1,000 fans outside Soccer City stadium. On Sunday, riot police using rubber bullets broke up one demonstration by striking workers in Durban, injuring two.

South African Transport and Allied Workers Union coordinator Mzwandile Jackson Simon said it appeared that wage promises made to the striking workers were not kept.

"To the millions of our workers and the poor, their problems are much bigger than the World Cup and they will never surrender their genuine struggles for a living wage in the interests of appeasing ... visitors to our country," a spokesman for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said.

Meanwhile, some 16,000 workers at the electric power company Eskom, many of whom live in shacks without electricity, could go on strike later this week. The workers are seeking wage hikes of 18% and a housing allowance. The company is offering 5%.

U.S.- Backed Somali Gov't Training Children For War

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) - Recruited voluntarily or by force, child soldiers (boys and girls under the age of 18) are fighting in more than 30 conflicts worldwide - as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks or for sexual services.

The north African nation of Chad, with 450,000 displaced people in its eastern areas, is beset with child soldiers fighting for both government and rebel forces.

This week, a picture in The New York Times gripped readers with a heart-rending image of small boys, Mohamed, 12, and Ahmed, 15, holding heavy weapons, trained in killing by the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Because that government is backed by the U.S., it is likely that U.S. taxpayer money trained and financed these boys.

American military advisers oversee the training of Somali government soldiers in Uganda and officials acknowledge it is impossible to guarantee that American money is not being used to arm children. Fifteen year old Ahmed recalled his training: “One of the things I learned,” he said, “is how to kill with a knife.”

“I’ll be honest,” a Somali government official told the reporter from The Times. “We were trying to find anyone who could carry a gun.”

A U.N. report released last month also accused Somalia's transitional government and the country's al-Shabab rebels of killing and maiming children.

The United States and Somalia are the world’s only two countries not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the use of soldiers younger than fifteen.

Gulf Residents Protest, Brace Themselves for After Affects of Oil Spill

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By Ishna Hagan, NNPA Special Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Flames coated the water as a cloud of grey and black smoke hovered over the Gulf of Mexico. Carlos Felder could have been one of the eleven men killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, but he instead was an onlooker.

Felder stood on the deck of the boat, eying what has now been confirmed as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. “I was just waking up and getting ready to start my shift,” Felder, a contract worker for Shell energy and petrochemical companies tells, “when I heard the big boom and went out on the deck to see what the big noise was - like everyone else.”

Felder describes what he heard and saw as “crazy.” He said he could only think about the families of the people who did not make it off the oilrig in time. “Everyone on my vessel wanted to help. But Shell told us to stay put. So all we could do is say a prayer,” Felder said. He added that the explosion was so bad, that he does not want to remember anything about it.

Seven weeks later, people around the country – especially costal states - are forced to remember the oilrig explosion as they brace themselves for its aftermath. Businesses take on the straining ramifications of the oil spill. More than ever, the fishing and seafood industries, oil industry, and tourism anticipate loss.

“Many members of my family are commercial fishermen or oystermen. Some have been laid off. Some have to traveled further to oil-free fishing zones,” says D.T. Simmons, a legal assistant from Apalachicola, Fla., home to Apalachicola Bay seafood harvesting areas.

With no concrete date of when the leak will be plugged, Simmons is one of many who has tightened up on her financial spending.

“Some family members and friends work in the service and tourism industry ranging in different areas of the Gulf coast. Their … industry financial projections have been greatly reduced, chiefly because of this oil spill,” Simmons says.

Harry Alford, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, raised issues about reparations to the victims and cost of the cleanup in a statement titled, “Some Words for President Obama About the Oil Spill,” which is posted on the National Black Chamber of Commerce website.

Alford suggests: “Levy BP’s bank accounts and freeze its assets. Their 2009 revenue was $246.1 billion and their assets are $236 billion. Thus, take $50 billion in cash to set up an operating account for us to clean up the mess, cap the well and pay the victims. Set aside another $50 billion in their assets as backup. Halliburton and Transocean are much smaller firms so take a billion dollars each from them based on principle.”

The oil spill is anticipated to have not only a strong and lingering impact on the U.S. economy, but also on the environment and animal and marine life. Fishes and dolphins have already shown up dead on the coast, which provides a clear indication that the oil has intruded natural habitats. Hundreds of other species are at risk.

Simmons was immersed by the health and environmental residue left after the deadly explosion, and recently organized a march for the Franklin County Democratic Executive Committee (FCDEC) to promote preservation awareness of her bay in light of the recent “fiasco.” Simmons plans to push her State representatives for stricter legislation regarding safety standards and penalties for violation of rules.

Alford said President Barack Obama and the U.S. government has got to seize control of this and cannot rely on BP for legislative advice. He said BP has received 760 willful safety violations at their U.S. refineries over the last three years.

“They [BP] don’t care, they are an outlaw – kick them out of the country and send them back to England,” Alford said in an interview.

Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, said in a televised statement that BP is taking full responsibility for cleaning up the spill in the Gulf. “We will get this done and we will make this right,” he said. Community residents of the five Gulf states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - have obvious health concerns about the food they eat and the air they breathe.

“It could get into the local drainage systems and water systems of local communities if it comes inland enough and can begin to cause sickness among people using public water systems, as it has among marine life,” speculates Pensacola, Fla. resident, Kavontae Smalls.

But, those concerns are being dispelled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC) and partnering organizations.

The CDC said in a June 11 update that it is monitoring potential health threats or conditions across the five Gulf states that may arise as a result of human exposure to the oil spill. The agency says it is in constant communication with its state partners and has a standing commitment to quickly support and respond to any emerging health threats.

The people will also be watching, assures Simmons in a statement: “The FCDEC will work hand-in-hand with the people in the local seafood industry and state and national environmental protection agencies to promote to help protect our pristine waters.”

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