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Caribbean: Helping Haiti

Within hours of the catastrophic earthquake on 12 January which devastated Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti, bloggers elsewhere in the Caribbean began to respond and comment. By the following day, as the extent of the disaster became clearer — one estimate suggests a third of the country's population of 10 million may have been affected, with casualties in the tens of thousands — Caribbean bloggers were busy posting updates and appealing to their readers to support relief efforts.

In many Caribbean territories, NGOs, civil society groups, and private citizens quickly launched efforts to raise relief assistance. In Jamaica, Silicon Caribe posted a list of international agencies accepting cash donations, as well as information on collection points for other donations in Kingston. The MEP Caribbean Publishers blog posted similar information for Trinidadian readers. Jamaican blogger Long Bench suggested six things “Jamaicans can do besides praying”. Miami-based Jamaican writer Geoffrey Philp, nothing that “Some things are bigger than literature,” also suggested ways that concerned readers could help. And in Barbados, Cheese-on-bread posted news of a fundraising radiothon, along with the text of Prime Minister David Thompson's statement on Haiti. Live in Guyana posted a similar statement by Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo. Repeating Islands gave a roundup of relief measures announced by other Caribbean nations.

Other Caribbean bloggers scrutinised the reactions of their respective governments to the ongoing tragedy. The Trinidad and Tobago government in particular came in for angry words from bloggers who noted how long it was before Prime Minister Patrick Manning made any comment about the situation — almost a full day — and suggested that the initial US$1 million (TT$6.3 million) committed to Haiti was an inadequate response, considering the magnitude of the disaster and Trinidad and Tobago's relative wealth. “All we've heard is that Trinidad and Tobago, a country whose Gross National Income per capita exceeds TT$25,000.00, could only donate TT$4.67 per capita to help,” wrote kid5rivers. He added:

In T&T, we consume at least TT$1m per day in carbonated “sweet drinks”; TT$5.5m per day on subsidising vehicle fuel; and, TT$1m per day on unnecessary cellular phone text messaging and calls.

For the time being, then, could we not set aside some of the money we gladly expend on such superfluous luxuries to divert same, instead, to our devastated neighbours?

“How can we dance when their beds are burning?” asked Guanaguanare. He also posted a video and the lyrics of calypsonian David Rudder‘s 1988 song “Haiti”, which has been a rallying cry for many in the Caribbean in the past two days:

Haiti, I'm sorry
We misunderstood you
One day we'll turn our heads
And look inside you

Some Trinidadian Twitter users also express frustration with their government's response. @basantam wrote:

Every int'l news report says that Haiti needs Search & rescue, heavy machinery & helicopters NOW. PM Manning says “We will see what happens”

@blahblohblog responded:

Please remember, it's the quality of the relief assistance, not the quantity or speed that will matter.

Meanwhile, journalist and blogger Andre Bagoo posted a scan of a media release issued by the Office of the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister on the afternoon of 13 January, with information about a party to be hosted that night at the Prime Minister's residence. “No official release was issued on that day by the Government in relation to the Haitian disaster,” Bagoo sardonically noted. He suggested that his readers contribute to a YMCA relief drive.

In the Bahamas, Nicolette Bethel expressed outrage at the way the tragedy in Haiti was reported by Bahamian newspapers:

the headlines of our foremost newspapers … rather than forcing us Bahamians to shake our deep, deep prejudices against our closest neighbours, against our cousins and brothers and sisters to the south, instead reinforce our prejudices and our fears. “PANIC, LOOTING AND TRIAGE AFTER MAJOR HAITI QUAKE”, screams the Tribune; the Guardian warns, “GOVT BRACES FOR HAITIAN INFLUX”.

…the messages being given to our public are messages that reinforce our ideas that the citizens of Haiti are degenerate and lawless, helpless people who come and tief the wealth of others (=Bahamians), and messages that we need to brace for an influx of more of these people that we don’t want or need. And these messages are having their effect. The natural responses of ordinary Bahamians grow mixed. Some of us express sorrow for the tragedy while worrying about our safety, concerned that we will have to house more refugees.

Living in Barbados expressed a sense of helplessness in the face of catastrophe:

But what to do? In discussing this briefly last night, it seemed clear that besides offering financial aid, most of us could do little. I have an urge to go and help claw away rubble and maybe help find bodies. But, I know too that my willingness is not enough in such situations.

US-based Guyanese blogger Charmaine Valere reflected on parallels between events in Haiti and the disastrous volcanic activity in nearby Montserrat over the past 15 years, prompted by her recent reading of the late Montseratian writer E.A. Markham.

For others, the Haiti earthquake was a wake-up call for the whole Caribbean region. Trinidadian Taran Rampersad wrote:

While everyone is up in arms about getting relief to Haiti — as well they should — they should be taking a few moments to look around their own country. Since the limelight is on, all the Caribbean nations should be looking into building standards and enforcement of those building standards…. Shouldn't the Caribbean as a whole be better prepared?

Global Voices’ Special Coverage Page on the earthquake in Haiti is here.

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