Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES — As I learned about Haitian President Michel Martelly’s recent visit to Cuba, I was forced to reflect on my childhood memories in La Guira, Banes, a United Fruit Company Soweto-type, sugar cane plantation community in Holguin.
This fully segregated community included an American neighborhood with large chalet-type homes, electricity, running water, sewer, paved roads, schools, medical services, golf and polo courts.
Downtown Banes was the administrative and business center, where primarily mid-level white Cubans managers and politicians such as the Diaz-Balart family lived and enjoyed electricity, running water, schools, jobs, recreation with limited or no access to the golf and polo courts.
La Guira, was a dirt poor, primarily English speaking and Haitian migrant community, intertwined with poor Cubans of all races on the other side of the railroad tracks. Its residents could barely survive on their meager, seasonal sugar cane cultivation jobs, with no electricity, running water, sewer, schools or healthcare service.
What we did have was perennial hunger, children with distended stomachs loaded with intestinal parasites, infectious diseases, an outrageous maternal/infant mortality rate and a gully with its putrid effluent from the other side of town, winding its way through our community.
Everyone living in this and similar communities in Cuba, were spitefully made to feel inferior through derogatory name calling, especially against Haitians who were placed at the bottom of the social stratification.
Still, it was these humble, anonymous, hard working men, women and children, who shouldered these back breaking jobs under a smelting sun, with their sweat, tears and death, turned an ungrateful Cuba into the largest sugar producer in the world.
How could we ever forget, that as part of their terrible migrant experience in Cuba, thousands were forced to hold a “Carnet” or ID card, extorted of their goods, rounded up by an abusive Rural Guard, beaten, deported in masses and many innocent bystanders, were brutally murdered during the massacre of over 3000 members of the Independent Party of Color in 1912 in Oriente (eastern Cuba)?
When the Cuban government denounced in 1959 and many times thereafter, the horrendous living conditions in “barracones”, which were unfit for animals that was imposed by Cuban sugar barons and American transnationals against the weakest of our society, they were referring to Haitian migrants.
By overcoming such incredible hurdles, we can find survivors and descendants of this tragic chapter of our history in any workplace in Cuba, retired or living abroad, proudly holding non-Spanish names such as Robinson, Knight, Bell, Chapeau, Black, Difourt, McPherson, Voisin, Machandi, Dupuy, Simon, etc., sharing their knowledge and expertise with the world.
The Cuban government has tacitly recognized the extraordinary contribution the Haitian and English Speaking Caribbean emigrants had in the sugar, coffee and cocoa industry in the first half of the XX century. A serious attempt to express our gratitude can be seen in Cuba’s increasing presence in CARICOM and other regional socio-political-education and sports collaboration with these islands.
Haiti constitutes the single best example of this relation. No other country in the world comes close, to Cuba’s generous and near heroic support for Haiti’s health, education and sports development, which have had a dramatic impact on the lives of millions.
Unfortunately, much, much more is needed, notwithstanding Cuba’s own financial woes. Haiti desperately needs jobs to improve its living conditions and to break the vicious unsanitary cycle that jeopardize the good work of thousands of Cuban healthcare providers.
Cuba on the other hand, cannot in good conscience or moral convictions, hold on to millions of acres of fallow, untilled land, knowing its use can improve the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians, stabilize Cuba’s food security and restore the viability of our sugar, coffee and cocoa industry, presently on life support.
Cuba can erase its debt of gratitude with Haiti and other Caribbean islands, by implementing an orderly migrant workers law, by which, tens of thousands of families could enter and work in the country under clear cut regulations, which forbids all unsocial behavior.
Prioritizing the purchase of products and produce from our neighboring islands through the development of coastline shipping lines and an increase in human interactions, is a past due imperative.
As a nation of migrants, Cuba has multiple positive experiences with Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Caribbean and other European citizens, who willingly relocated and made our country a stronger, better nation.
May the past visit of president Michel Martelly to Cuba and the positive agreements described in the official media, translate into more than just another regrettably missed opportunity.