“GOD don’t like ugly!”
This is a well known expression in The Bahamas as is the implication that for such ugliness there are serious consequences. As we all know there is much ugliness in The Bahamas today for which, if we don’t assume some responsibility and make our voices heard, we shall all suffer from the fall out.
On The Tribune’s front page on Friday we published the story of a 15-year-old girl, born in The Bahamas, in need of urgent medical care in the United States. The teenager is suffering from life-threatening brain lesions. According to her local doctor, a consultant neurologist at Doctors Hospital, she needs further attention in the US because a specialist paediatric surgeon is not available in The Bahamas, nor is there a brain scan MRI machine on the island. Arrangements have been made with Jackson Memorial Hospital to take over her immediate care. A room and doctors await her arrival.
But her life hangs in the balance because of bureaucracy, and the fact that the Immigration Department considers that as she was born here of a Haitian mother she is not entitled to a Bahamian passport to travel. However, never having been to Haiti, the child considers herself Bahamian as this is the only home she has ever known. As far as she is concerned she is a child of the soil - a true Bahamian. But Immigration has said that she has to wait until she is 18 years old before she can apply for citizenship – until then she has to take the citizenship of her parents. But for this 15-year-old the parentage rule presents another problem.
This teenager was born in The Bahamas to a Haitian mother, and a Bahamian father. The only problem here is that whereas an unmarried Bahamian mother passes her nationality on to her child, an unmarried Bahamian father does not have the same right to do so. In this child’s case, the parents were not married, and so the child, although born in The Bahamas, inherited her mother’s Haitian nationality. However, this child’s mother— although she was also born in The Bahamas of two Haitian parents— was in the same position in which her daughter now finds herself. Although Bahamian by birth, the mother could only apply to be recognised as a Bahamian when she was 18 years old. This the mother did. However, because of the indifference, inefficiency or “she jes’ a Haitian” attitude, she had to wait another 13 years before she could get her citizenship. By then her daughter had been born, and as she was the child of a Bahamian-born mother, who was yet to be recognised as being Bahamian, because of her own Haitian parents, her daughter was tagged as a “Haitian”. As a result she too will have to wait another three years – when she will be 18 — before she can apply for Bahamian status. In the meantime, her life hangs in the balance. Is bureaucracy going to be allowed to trump compassion and commonsense? Remember, folks, “God don’t like ugly” - one day your own child’s life might hang in the balance, blocked by this same insanity. Now’s the time for change - not only in laws, but in attitudes.
However, what surprised us in this case was that after this young lady’s problem was published in Friday’s Tribune, the public comments on this newspaper’s website — Tribune 242— seemed more concerned about this teenager being a Haitian than that she is a fellow human being with the right to life. And, in fact, because of bureaucracy her life today hangs in the balance.
If Bahamians knew their history they would know that in the last century Haitians came here as did other nationalities, settled, became Bahamians and played a leading role in the growth and development of The Bahamas — then known as a colony. For example, the first black man to sit in the House of a Assembly was Stephen Dillet, a Haitian by birth. He was an active Free Mason, having been appointed Deputy Grand Master in 1857. He was this island’s coroner and postmaster. Haitians in those days were often better educated than their Bahamian counterparts, and held important posts in the country.
The change came when the Bahamas’ fist prime minister - the late Sir Lynden Pindling — came on the scene and told Bahamians that no longer would they be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. Manual labour was not only demeaning but abhorrent to Bahamian ears — “that’s Haitian work!” they said. Later in life Sir Lynden publicly admitted that this was a mistake — he said he did not realise that hard work built character. Too many young Bahamians lacked character.
And so to fill the gap, Haitians born to manual labour started to replace the elite. The social scene changed completely with, in 2006, a Bahamian, who described himself as a small farmer owning more than 200 acres of land, taking to the airwaves to complain about PLP Minister Shane Gibson, who headed Immigration at the time. The farmer said he needed 500 Haitians on his farm and did not agree that any of those already in the Bahamas should be sent back to Haiti. He felt that all those with jobs – legal or illegal — should be regularised and only the jobless should be returned to Haiti: “When Sir Lynden was prime minister,” he said, “no minister could do what Shane Gibson is doing now.” He said when then deputy prime minister Arthur Hanna, who had Immigration in his portfolio, and later when the late Sir Cement Maynard headed Immigration he was given whatever work permits he needed for his Haitians. Those were peaceful days, he said.
This is how the Haitian problem grew — Bahamians refused to work the land — and PLP politicians, pandering to the needs of their supporters, gave them permits to bring in unlimited numbers of unskilled workers to replace Bahamians on the farm.
We have inherited a major problem, which needs immediate and humane attention. But more important a child needs a travel document to save her life — no more time for politics.