Comments on Official Visit of Haitian President Michel Martelly
Saturday, February 11, 2012
THE PRIME MINISTER: I want to make some comments about the commentary that has been appearing in the press in connection with the commentary by the President of Haiti (President Martelly) during his visit to The Bahamas.
Firstly, I want to say the The Bahamas Government did not invite President Martelly to The Bahamas. There is no need for The Bahamas to invite the President of Haiti or any other president of a friendly country to The Bahamas. A government of any country with which we have relations, can have their head of government visit The Bahamas at any time they choose. It doesn’t require our permission to do so.
Just as I do not need the permission of the President of the United States to travel to America, or in travel to Jamaica, Barbados, Haiti. etc.
As a courtesy, heads of government will inform the government of the country in which they are visiting, if only to ensure that certain security arrangements and protocol arrangements are put in place.
I became aware through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday that President Martelly intended to stop in The Bahamas en route to Mexico. It was then confirmed later in the day Saturday that he would be spending the day and night in Nassau and he requested to meet with the Governor General and the Prime Minister.
The meeting with the Prime Minister was scheduled for 12 noon on the day he was in town. Mr. Branville McCartney of the unestablished party calling itself the DNA, says that I invited President Martelly to The Bahamas. That is untrue.
In recent times, Mr. Christie of the PLP felt occasion to remind Mr. McCartney that he ought not be telling lies. I can do the same thing. When you tell more than one lie, you become a liar.
One of the things that young politicians and old politicians ought to do is to establish themselves as credible persons; that you take steps to verify things before you make pronouncements. You don’t go and shoot your mouth off and make statements that are untrue and that can easily be verified in advance. Carelessness is not a good thing for a young politician, or indeed an old politician. I caution Mr. McCartney not to continue telling lies.
Secondly, the President of Haiti made several statements as reported in the press and through the broadcast media on two items that appear to have elicited public concern.
Firstly, there were no FNM politicians at the function at Joe Farrington Road. There was a PLP Member of Parliament and former attorney general Mr. Alfred Sears and the PLP candidate for Fort Charlotte Dr. Andre Rollins, at the meeting with some 7,000 or more Haitian and/or Bahamian nationals.
My recollection is that President Martelly had the meeting the day he arrived, and the following day he went to see Mr. Christie. He went to Mr. Christie’s house where he met Mr. Christie’s wife and a number of his colleagues.
Presumably, if Mr. Christie had an issue with what President Martelly had said, he would have raised it with President Martelly while he was at Mr. Christie’s house. He certainly would not have waited until last night (Friday) at his candidates launch. Clearly, that’s what I would have done if I had taken issue with a statement that Mr. Martelly had made.
At the time he had come to see me, I was unaware of the comments he made, and I had not seen them in the newspaper or heard them on the radio. One of the statements that he made that I take issue with is when he said children of Haitian descent born in The Bahamas are entitled to citizenship and that they are Stateless because they cannot apply for citizenship until they reach the age of 18.
Such persons are not Stateless; they have the nationality of their parents under our Constitution which differs from the Haitian and the American Constitution. Persons born in The Bahamas of non-Bahamian parentage do not have a right to Bahamian citizenship until they reach the age of 18 and subject to them making an application before they reach the age of 19. Otherwise, they lose that right.
And so from birth until 18 they are nationals of the country of their parents; mostly their father. The Haitian Constitution differs from that. And so I think that President Martelly was mistaken in suggesting that our position was identical to Haiti’s or the United States, because persons born in the United States become citizens of the United States at birth. That is not the position of The Bahamas.
With respect to the second statement he made which was that he encouraged his former citizens who have become citizens of The Bahamas to support the political party of their choosing at election time: he was perfectly entitled to make such a statement.
In fact, quite frankly, I don’t see why it would be difficult for The Bahamas countenance saying to Bahamians living in America, Jamaica or Barbados, etc, that if they are going to vote and they are entitled to vote in those countries, that they ought to choose the Party that best fits what their interest is.
And so, insofar as the persons who are citizens of The Bahamas who were formerly Haitian nationals, we certainly look forward to receiving the votes of the majority of Bahamians whether they were born in The Bahamas or naturalised in The Bahamas or otherwise. We certainly look forward to receiving the majority of votes of persons who have been naturalised of Haitian parentage and who have been in The Bahamas for a long time because we do think that Haitians and others in The Bahamas have determined that the FNM is the best Party for them.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Q: Did President Martelly have to get permission from The Bahamas to hold the meeting he had?
PM: No. And let me give you an example. The PLP went to London to meet with Bahamian students in connection with the election that is coming up to encourage them to support the PLP because they have overseas voting. They went to Jamaica to do the same thing. They went to Miami, Atlanta and I believe New York, etc. Do you think they asked President Barack Obama whether they could come and do that? Of course not. Did they ask Prime Minister Cameron (of Great Britain)? No, they didn’t. Why should the Haitian or the Jamaican or anybody else need to ask us permission to do so? We are a free country. We are a democracy. And just as we are able to go to other people’s country and meet with our nationals at any time of our choosing, why shouldn’t they have the same right to do so in The Bahamas?
Secondly, its not the first time the Haitian President has met with his nationals in The Bahamas. And it is not the first time other heads of Government have met with their nationals in The Bahamas. The reality is that they do not get as much publicity as the Haitian President got for his visit. It has happened before and it will continue to happen. I’ve gone to Canada and had a function for Bahamians, I’ve done it in Jamaica, Trinidad, New York, Miami, Atlanta. I assume Mr. Christie did so. I know Mr. Pindling did so.
And in doing so, we speak to them, answer questions from them about whatever issues come up or whatever we want to talk to them about. And the Haitian President therefore was perfectly entitled to meet with his nationals and those who are former nationals of Haitian descent.
What we must not forget is, the fact that a person was formerly of one nationality and chooses to change that nationality, does not mean any more than if you become an adopted child and you have your adopted parents who look after you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care for or have any interest in your natural parents. And the same thing would apply to someone who is a former national of another country and who becomes a national of this country or any other country – their interest or concern for their home country will not disappear simply because they change their nationality. That is a reality.
Q: Did you discuss concerns regarding Haitian/Bahamian relations with Mr. Martelly?
PM: I have met with Haitian presidents on many occasions. We have continuing dialog with the Haitian Government because of our particular interests in matters related to migration and the extent to which the Haitian Government can help to dissuade its nationals from coming to The Bahamas illegally, and the extent to which they can be cooperative in the repatriation of nationals from The Bahamas. That is of great concern and of great interest to ourselves and the Haitian Government has been very forthcoming, very supportive, and most accommodating in all the exercises The Bahamas has ever sought to do.
What must not be forgotten – and all of you are very new reporters – so let me remind you of something that you might be able to find in your archives or take as a historical lesson.
When the FNM won the government in 1992, the relationship between The Bahamas and the Haitian government was such that The Bahamas could not repatriate any Haitian nationals to Haiti. They were locked up in Fox Hill Prison and they could not be sent back to Haiti.
We established protocols with the Haitian government and we have maintained those protocols, and so any day we can advise the Haitian government that a flight is coming in at 5:00pm – we give them reasonable notice, and they are most accommodating at all times. We want to continue to maintain that.
Q: But specifically during this trip did you meet with him to have such discussions?
PM: I had a public meeting. He came to my office. He saw the Governor General, he saw the Leader of the Opposition and he saw me. What you didn’t have is all the photographs of me laughing up with him and my wife being introduced to him and all of my colleagues joining in the photograph as one big happy family and then several days later [my] saying “you (Martelly) did a bad thing.” You didn’t have that. We had a normal, sensible discussion about the Haitian Government’s interest in exporting agricultural produce to The Bahamas, in increasing their business to The Bahamas and in providing opportunities for Haitian nationals to find Haiti more attractive to go back to Haiti.
Haitians have made significant contributions in the development of The Bahamas whether in the public service or in the private sector, and we treat Haitians like we treat other nationals – we treat them all equally. They know who is better at looking after their interests. For those who are illegal in The Bahamas we have regular, consistent repatriation exercises.
We have populated the Defence Force with more craft than it has ever had in its history. We bought them two new aircraft since we came to office and 10 new boats. We are opening up a new Defence Force base in Ragged Island. We have now put Defence Force officers in Grand Bahama, Abaco, and in Inagua – all by the FNM – primarily to deal with migration, poaching and illegal drugs.
From our point of view, the Haitians have been very cooperative whenever we’ve had the opportunity or need to repatriate. So have the Cubans. And so have other Governments and we’d like to maintain that. We had no special meetings with the Haitian President or anybody else.
Q: President Martelly told his nationals not to riot. Is there any concern there?
PM: I think that that must have been a mistranslation on his part, I think. I think that he would normally have said that they don’t have to agitate or demonstrate. I don’t think that he meant to say the word riot. But if he did, clearly I don’t agree with that, but I do not think so. That is not been my view of him in all the discussions I have had with him either in The Bahamas, or on the sidelines at various international meetings that we have attended together. He comes across as a very reasonable person who understands our particular concerns and who is willing to assist us in any way he can in terms of reducing the number of illegal immigrants who come to The Bahamas – I don’t think he meant that.
Q: Does the Government have an estimate of the number of illegal immigrants in The Bahamas?
PM: No, if I had that I’d be delighted, so that I could be able to go and find them. But there are thousands of persons of Haitian descent who are Bahamian citizens and who have been becoming Bahamian citizens since 1973. And some of them even before 1973 were naturalised in The Bahamas. I’ve seen people as old as 75 years old who have been in The Bahamas for 40-45 years who were legal in The Bahamas and who are just getting their status straight now. And of course the young ones who become 18 who go to your school who you do not even know are Haitian apply for their citizenship. They do very well in our school system, and they become citizens. They are policemen, Defence Force officers, civil servants, etc. One of the Under Secretaries in the Government; his mother is Haitian.
You have heard before that Stephen Dillet, the first black person elected to the House of Assembly in The Bahamas, was of Haitian descent. They are a part of our society, that is the reality, so our job is to assimilate them and to make sure that they are Bahamians, and to help to culturalise them to be Bahamians; not to have them living in enclaves, etc.
Insofar as illegal persons are concerned, whether they are illegal Haitians, Jamaicans, Africans, Brazilians, Peruvians, etc, we want them not to be in our country and as we find them, we will repatriate them.
Q: Do you think this whole situation was blown out of proportion because of the current political climate or did Bahamians have a right to be concerned about what was said?
PM: Who am I to determine what Bahamians have a right to say? This is a free country, Bahamians have a right to say whatever they wish to say. Bahamians, generally speaking, are very sensitive about foreigners and very sensitive about foreigners telling them anything about their country and what to do, etc and so they are perfectly entitled to feel incensed and outraged and enraged.
I would think that in terms of households in The Bahamas, that the vast majority would have been enraged when they heard the comments in the context in which they were given, etc.
But I think upon reflection, to look at the comments that he (President Martelly) made, that one can see that they are not as outrageous as one thought they were.