Thursday, October 11, 2018
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
IN a stinging condemnation of the government, Rights Bahamas President Stephanie St Fleur branded Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis' suggestion the country would not offer aid to Haiti in the aftermath of an earthquake over the weekend as "hypocritical" and "heartless".
When asked by this newspaper on Monday whether the government would offer reprieve to those in Haiti affected by the quake, similar to what was done for citizens of Dominica following Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, Dr Minnis said: "At this point in time I am looking at moving the Bahamas forward, Bahamas first."
During the same interview, Dr Minnis said he is "concerned" Saturday's earthquake in Haiti could trigger an influx of undocumented migrants, including dangerous criminals who may wreak "havoc" in the country. His comments have triggered a backlash from some activists.
Rights Bahamas denounced these remarks from the prime minister accusing him of using tragedy in Haiti to encourage fear, xenophobia and ethnic hatred.
The prime minister's comments, the human rights group added, showed the world The Bahamas was selective with its Christian values and humanitarian standards.
Dr Minnis also seemed to simultaneously suggest another immigration crackdown, and Ms St Fleur said it would disproportionately target those born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, proving that the government is still intent on cleansing the Bahamas of Haitian ethnicity, the group accused.
Meanwhile Progressive Liberal Party chairman Senator Fred Mitchell said the former Christie administration left in place a policy with regard to all CARICOM countries that there is a standard of donation of $50,000 to support emergency relief to any nation in the group of countries that suffered a natural disaster.
Senator Mitchell said there was no need for the Minnis administration to reinvent the wheel.
He said the government's lack of understanding of the need for generic policies to meet situations, which always occur, was shocking.
Ms St Fleur said: "How can our prime minister be so heartless in the face of a natural disaster that is affecting our neighbours in Haiti? How can he be so hypocritical? Do we not rely on international aid and charitable donations in our times of need, for example when hurricanes ravage our communities? Are we not called upon as Christians to pay such charity forward?
"When the prime minister speaks publicly about international issues, he is speaking on behalf of the Bahamian people. He is telling the world that our Christian values and our humanitarian standards are very selective, even discriminatory. His tearful concern for Dominica following a recent hurricane was the complete opposite of his near total disregard for the suffering of the people of Haiti following last week's earthquake.
"Why do the people of one Caribbean nation struck by tragedy deserve our concern, but not the people of another? It is, quite clearly, simply because they are Haitians and because our FNM government has chosen to continue in the discriminatory, xenophobic spirit of their predecessors." Ms St Fleur went on to express disappointment in Dr Minnis, for whom she campaigned in the 2016 election.
"I openly supported Dr Minnis and his party which I campaigned hard for, especially among Haitian-Bahamians. While I agree that the prime minister should focus on the Bahamas and Bahamians, he is also being selective here."
The 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday at 8.12pm.
Officials at the Haitian Embassy in Nassau say at least five replicas were felt following the initial quake. Two of these were felt between Sunday and Monday and another magnitude 4.2 was recorded on Tuesday morning 32km northwest of Port de Paix.
Saturday's earthquake caused the deaths of 17 people and injured 353 people. The same number of homes were destroyed, with more than 7,000 houses heavily or slightly damaged, the embassy said in a press statement.
Infrastructure assessments the embassy said begin to be refined as different teams are deployed and have found 42 institutional buildings, schools, churches and others to be either heavily or slightly damaged at Gros Morne. This is in addition to four national and private schools being destroyed in Pilate in the north.
Civil protection teams continue to work hard throughout the north and northwest and its agents and brigadiers are deployed in the field for assessments, while specialised officers conduct search and rescue operations.
For his part, Mr Mitchell's press release said all civilised nations have these policies including the country's neighbour to the north.
"It's right there in the records. The FNM does not have to look far and sullies the country's reputation as a reliable international partner if they are insensitive to these obligations," Mr Mitchell said.