28 February 2010

Free at Last!

John Maxwell

As a toddler on Derby Beach, now Silver Sands, I remember asking my father what was the roaring sound we heard when we put seashells to our ears. His answer, I believe, was to the effect that the shell concentrated all the sounds around us, the wind, the waves, the sand, every noise in the universe, into the shells and perhaps, with enough patience, we could unravel and make sense of some of it.
If my grandchildren were in the neighbourhood I don't think I'd need to answer that question, since I doubt that they would now be able to find a whole seashell on any Jamaican beach.
My father died when I was 12, of a heart broken (it was said) by the electorate of Northern Trelawny, who had forgotten the hard labour he'd put in as Member of the Legislative Council for the whole parish. His brother-in-law, Morris Thelwell, a comparative unknown, had won Southern Trelawny for the Jamaica Labour Party while the totally obscure Clement Aitcheson, head-teacher of the Duncans Elementary School, selected for that job by my father, had won in Northern Trelawny also for the JLP. Another brother in law, Hugh Cork, had won southern Clarendon for the JLP.
I remember as a ten year old cowering in my father's library in astonishment as my father excoriated Bustamante who wanted to recruit him to run for the JLP in 1944. It was an unforgettable confrontation: my father, all 5'6' of him facing down Bustamante, nearly a foot taller with a hairdo that exaggerated his height. Busta, furious, simply went across the street and recruited Aitcheson.
My father had refused to join the PNP because he thought that there was still a place in Jamaican politics for independents. His sympathies were with the PNP and he really admired Manley, but a decade earlier, Manley had been the lawyer whose arguments unseated him on the ground that he was not wealthy enough to be elected. It wasn't Manley's choice; in those days lawyers were more or less obliged to accept the first brief offered and the first brief was from the losing candidate, the richest man on the north coast, the manager of the building society, the chairman of the Parish Council, the Custos of the Parish, the MLC and the attorney for more than half the land and sugar estates in Trelawny – Mr W.U.Guy S. Ewen.
Manley regretted the result – as he wrote the Chief Justice afterward – why should people be prevented from being represented by the delegate of their choice simply because he was poor?

A few years later Manley joined a ferment with O.T Fairclough, Ken and Frank Hill, W.A.Domingo, Adolphe Roberts, Amy Bailey and the rest to first energise the Jamaica Progressive League in New York then Public Opinion in Jamaica and finally the People's National Party which was determined to give every man a vote and to bring universal human rights to Jamaica.

So, despite my father's defeat at the hands of Manley, he would tell me, as a toddler, that I had to grow up to become a lawyer like Mr Manley, to defend poor people.
Shortly after the case Ewen's solicitors distrained on my father for the costs of the case. They were determined to finish him off. The bailiffs seized everything in the house, including my baby crib and announced that they were coming back for the "body" – they were going to arrest my father for debt and cast him into the debtor's jail in the St Catherine District Prison.
This animus was provoked by the fact that shortly after winning the case against my father Mr Ewen dropped dead, felled according to the gossipmongers, by my grandmother's obeah.Dad won the ensuing bye-election with all his papers in order
When the sale of my father's pitiful possessions failed to satisfy the lawyers a commitment warrant was issued for his arrest and incarceration. My father's roots are in Accompong and in Maroon Town and he vanished into the Cockpit Country. Not even my mother knew where he was.
The plan was that he could not be 'attached' once he was sworn in to the Legislative Council. But Trelawny is a long way from Kingston; in those days of marl roads the drive was anywhere between four and five hours.
My father's best friend, Mr A.B. Lowe, MLC for St James and a very sober and upright Baptist deacon was the unlikely agent. By prior arrangement Lowe picked up my father somewhere on the Burnt Hill Road and then drove south, through Manchester, Clarendon and St Catherine, outwitting the small army of scouts on the expected North coast route.
In Kingston my father was stowed on the back seat of the car, covered by empty luggage and a carpet. Instead of coming through Duke Street and the northern approaches to Headquarters House, Lowe came from the East on Beeston Street. When he drove around Headquarters House seeking a place to park, special constables alerted to his friendship with my father, asked Lowe if he had seen Maxwell. Telling what was probably the only lie in his life Lowe said he'd seen someone resembling my father at the Beeston Street entrance and the bailiffs dashed off. Lowe and one or two confederates, pulled some of the luggage out of the car, blocking the sidewalk while my father sprinted up the steps, escaping capture by inches.
He was duly sworn in and in time paid his debt to the solicitors.

Like Mr Manley

My mother and various family members pressured me for years to become a what the Americans call a trial lawyer. Unfortunately as a teenager I had become hopelessly enmeshed in journalism.

Since January 29, 1952, except for 18 months or so spent as the first press officer for the Industrial Development Corporation( now Jamaica Trade & Invest) I have been employed or unemployed entirely as a journalist. Last month made it 58 years hard labour and there is nobody in Jamaican journalism, living or dead, who has spent more time at it.

There are others still alive who may have become reporters before me but they have spent most of their lives in other, more lucrative pursuits.
Over that time there must be quite a paper trail, millions of words, hundreds of lost causes. Some of this is because my career paralleled to a certain extent, the development of modern media. In broadcasting for instance, I did things in the fifties that no one in Jamaica had thought of doing, a weekly political commentary and a thrice weekly economics-made-easy commentary called Progress report. We did things because we didn't know they were impossible. I did an audio montage of the people who lived on and off, the Kingston Dump. C.L.R.James said he'd never heard anything as moving.
Moving back into print journalism in 1963 Having been fired by the Prime Minister, (and a certain Edward Seaga) brought me into direct conflict with the new government of Jamaica who behaved, as I and others said at the time – as if they had simply assumed the prerogatives of the British colonial dictatorship. I don't think any current Jamaican politician would even think about jailing a journalist; fifty yeas ago I was threatened with prison for my "rude, insolent, indecent" remarks, which verged, it seemed, on sacrilege. The threats were made in Parliament. THe government tried to shut down my paper and eventually forced me into exile.
I spent a few years in Britain, doing what I'd been doing at the JBC, but half the work for twice the money.
I have never fancied myself a politician, contrary to my detractors. I returned from Britain to contest West KIngston in 1972 because the sad truth was that every other plausible PNP candidate was too afraid to run. I ran to prevent the seat being handed to the JLP on Nomination Day. Some JLP people who know the facts, feel I should have graciously allowed a coronation in West Kingston in 1972,

Perhaps the single thing of which I am most proud is the invention of the talk-show –the Public Eye. There had been other talk shows, but none combining news, commentary and public participation. WE changed things. Despite attempts, there has never been anything similar.

Rosina Wiltshire and Gillian Monroe gave the programme a vital push soon after we started . They had done a study of working conditions among domestic helpers, then, as now, the largest single class of workers in Jamaica. I interviewed them, let them talk and was amazed at the horrors they revealed. When I asked domestic helpers to phone in,giving their side of the story it was as if a a massive dam of years of hurt, oppression and cruelty had suddenly burst, sweeping away all the pretensions of the Jamaican upper classes to civilisation.
In those days we used dial telephones and you could buy locks for them. It soon became a joke in Jamaica that every shipment of telephone locks was swept up within hours of arrival.
I have reported here before, how we recruited first the Prime Minister's wife, Beverley and then Michael Manley himself to the idea that only a national minimum wage with enforcement could rescue the workers.

Public Eye went on to campaign for other workers causes, equal pay, housing, against capital punishment and police brutality, and for what I and others thought was the essential framework of a civilised society.

It was my opinion that radio could be used to mobilise pubic opinion in the non partisan process of what Norman Manley called nation building.
At that time I was also the unpaid chair of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority,(the Beach Control, Wildlife Protection and Watershed Protection Authorities) and the National Gallery.
We managed to do some serious work including organising public opinion to clean up Kingston Harbour, , to alert people to the government sponsored theft of public beaches and other lands – Hellshire, Long Mountain etc) and to the need to guarantee safe land for housing.
Over the years I have accumulated some really good stories, for instance how I solved two murder cases that baffled the police,but the real story of my life has been in the small stories about the human rights of people without friends and most of all, the story of the defamation and despoliation of Haiti.
As I once wrote in this column, sometimes I think I can smell the blood of Haiti from here.
This column is the last one from me for a little while.
Some of you may know that I continued writing every week through my one year course of radiation and chemotherapy for advanced lung cancer.
The cancers are no longer in evidence thanks to the esprit de corps, optimism, determination and skill of dedicated practitioners in Jamaica and the Netherlands.
Having come out of what seemed a very long dark tunnel and having lost a slew of friends – Sonny Bradshaw, Trevor Rhone, Wayne Brown,Albert Huie, Rex Nettleford, to name only the most prominent, I remember that I want to publish my columns on Haiti, on Jamaican politics and on the Environment. I also want to select from and publish some of the 6,000 pictures I call 'Portraits of Jamaican birds.


So, if you see my column only occasionally, depending on my arrangement with my editors, it is not because I have abandoned you, just that I'm taking things a bit easier.
After all I've been working for longer than most people have been alive.
The problem of course is that no journalist is ever free.
Copyright ©2010 John Maxwell jankunnu@yahoo.com

27 February 2010

ballade of unexpected disaster

you haven't got the sense to make things short

when length must matter brevity's the key

to bridge the immense gap from is to ought

which many of us do not want to see

since clarity of vision makes us flee

straight to the place where no one wants to hide

afraid of all the facts that cannot be

but truth and passion have to coincide


your choices do not lead us to support

the cause that we learnt at our parents' knee

when we were told that it was dearly bought

and at that time all things seemed to agree

with what we wanted and no absentee

masters abroad were eager to deride

nor wail and whimper like a mad banshee

but truth and passion have to coincide


you think the vessel won't get into port

since nothing you commanded came to be

while those you ordered have to face a court

and some of then will hang from gallows-tree

or lie beneath a dark and angry sea

as fate and anguish either may decide

since neither time nor force will hear your plea

but truth and passion have to coincide


prince you have given cause to disagree

with all your actions but you've shown esprit

the problem is you've chosen the wrong side

the time has come to fight or else to flee

but truth and passion have to coincide

21 February 2010

the mad hatter’s teaparty

all softer magics fall before the lie

that eases into minds and dulls all taste

beneath its glamour we ignore the sky


where carrion birds in masses all now fly

above the lands that swiftly go to waste

all softer magics fall before the lie


we watch the largest rivers all run dry

and wonder just what pain we have embraced

beneath its glamour we ignore the sky


no one's ambitions here would move so high

now our best memories shall be erased

all softer magics fall before the lie


that all will soon be better by and by

when good and sacred words will be enplaced

beneath its glamour we ignore the sky


for far too long and now no honest eye

is left to note the urgent need for haste

all softer magics fall before the lie

beneath its glamour we ignore the sky

What the World Owes Haiti

John Maxwell

Some of us grow up with the feeling that being free means that we are at liberty to do whatever we want – as long as we don't hurt anyone else; that simply by being born, we are entitled to inherit the riches and beauty of nature and to do whatever we think will make us wealthy, healthy and happy.
Most of us grow up in very different circumstances, walking barefoot, wearing cast-off clothing and knowing that we are mostly free to do what we can get away with and knowing that we will probably always have to worry about the next meal.
In places like Jamaica, however, rich and poor tend to believe that there are some basic freedoms we all share: the right to life, to liberty and to say what we want and associate with whomever we choose.
These freedoms are rights for which the human race has been fighting for a long time, and a few hundred years ago certain people believed that because they had acquired the Chinese invention called gunpowder, they owned superior rights to all those who had not got the secret recipe.
Primitive firearms made it possible for long distance 'impersonal' murder. Until then, if you wanted to kill someone you had to stab, or to throw a spear or an arrow not much further than the length of a cricket pitch. Blunderbusses and muskets meant that you could remain out of the range of your enemy's arrows and spears and mow him down with invisible darts accompanied by horrendous noises.
Primitive firearms meant that men on horses, armed with guns, could round up dozens of fellow humans in a cost-effective time frame and move them like cattle to enormous holding pens where they were selected for desirable qualities and priced accordingly. Upright European merchants would then select those creatures most likely to bring good prices on the other side of the Atlantic, either for breeding purposes or for hard labour growing sugar or cotton.
As the history of the Palace of Westminster makes plain: The outbound slave ships were packed with British goods such as metal goods, firearms, textiles and wines, destined for exchange for human cargo. And returning vessels heading to their home port filled with plantation produce from the colonies.

Here was a trading network on an integrated international scale, lubricated by slavery, and all approved, regulated and monitored by Parliament.

We know of dozens of Acts passed specifically to encourage, regulate and monitor the trade in Africans."


The slave trade and the plantation system which it supported, provided the motive force of the capitalist system and the foundation of the Palaces of Westminster and Versailles, of the Louvre and the British Museum, of London, Liverpool, Bristol and Marseilles. The extinction of civilisations on both sides of the Atlantic and their replacement by plantation economies provided the capital on which the European Empires and social systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were erected.
The empires of Spain, and later France and Britain were built on the bones of the original inhabitants of the so called West Indian islands

The Spanish historian, Gonzalo Oviedo, estimated that of the one million Indians on Ayiti (Hispaniola) when the Spaniards arrived, less than five hundred remained half a century later.
Toribio Motolina, another Spanish priest, said in some parts of Mexico "more than one half the population died; in others the proportion was a little less; they died in heaps, like bedbugs." A German missionary writing in 1699, said the so-called Indians "die so easily that the bare look and smell of a Spaniard causes them to give up the ghost."
Then began the wholesale destruction of nations and civilisations in Africa– some disappearing almost without trace, further impoverishing mankind's cultural diversity and robbing Africa of the populations and skills it needed for its own development.

As Sybille Fischer remarks in her book Modernity Disavowed: "Colonialism in the Caribbean had produced societies where brutality combined with licentiousness in ways unknown in Europe. The sugar plantations in the new World were expanding rapidly and had an apparently limitless hunger for slaves." (Quoted in Common Sense "Christmas in Hell", Dec. 30 2007)

The whole mad vampire enterprise seemed destined to continue as long as greed endured, notwithstanding bloody uprisings in every colony, the most dangerous being in Haiti and Jamaica. In Jamaica the slaves and their escaped brethren, the Maroons, fought the British to a standstill, a truce and a land concession. Bouckman, a leader of the islandwide Taki rebellion escaped to Haiti and there helped light the spark of revolution.

An Unpayable Debt

It was the Haitian revolution that destroyed slavery and the slave-trade forever.
It was the Haitians alone of all of history's enslaved peoples who defeated the system, destroyed the institutions of slavery and legislated that thenceforth, all men, women and children of whatever colour or station or nationality were, in Ayiti, full and free human beings. It drove the Americans mad.
That declaration anticipated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by 144 years and should be recognised for what it is: the single most important definition of humanity ever implemented.
The world owes Haiti an unpayable debt.
At this moment apparatchiks of various ideologies are busy racing around in Washington and similar places, like scarab beetles marking out territory on a fresh deposit of excrement.
It is clear that the peoples of the world are minded to help Haiti recover from the most punishing natural disaster of modern times. The scarab beetles – with grand names and even grander resumes – intend to be first in line as was Cheney's Halliburton in Iraq – to milk the system and suck as much Haitian blood as possible.
People have already threatened to stop speaking to me – I'm anti-American or I'm anti-Haitian – because I believe that we need to assemble all those who want to work for Haiti to work for Haiti in exclusion to working for anyone else.
There are two huge problems:
On one side are Haitians, jealous of their liberty and suspicious of any and every one who offers to help. They have been victimised so often that they expect treachery as a given.
People like Clinton and Patterson do not impress them. Their records of anti-Haitian action speak for themselves. The hypocrisy is blatant.
On the other side – the American/French/Canadian side while there is knowledge of the grievous harm these countries have wreaked and are wreaking on Haiti, there is no understanding of the need – the absolutely essential requirement – that Haiti belongs to the Haitians and it is they alone who must decide what they want.
They may ask for help but the US, France and Canada must have the grace to apologise and atone for the heinous crimes they have committed in Haiti. If the Haitians want Aristide back, simple human decency should inform the Americans, the French and the Canadians that they have a duty to help the Haitians get back their President and a responsibility to protect him and the constitutional integrity of Haiti. The Haitians have the brains, the genius and the skills to manage their own country, if they are only left alone.
Haiti is a charter member of the United Nations and its various organs. Haiti has however been cheated, blackmailed, double-crossed and screwed by big powers in the IDB and IMF, for example.
Haiti needs to be able to summon the collective wisdom and skills of the General Assembly, to get rid of the so-called UN Peacekeepers – a bunch of bandits and rapists –and to assemble a force to keep the peace and help train a civil guard – as in Costa Rica – or whatever mechanism the Haitians prefer.
The United Nations General Assembly is the proper organ for the people-to-people assistance Haiti may require. The Security Council knows nothing about land reform, cooperatives or community development.
Finally, the General Assembly must find some way to organise an endowment fund for Haiti from the enormous sums she is owed by France and the United States. This fund should be for the development of Haiti, not Halliburton or Bechtel. The $25 billion Haiti paid to France and the United States in a brute force extortion scheme was the single resource whose absence made Port au Prince so vulnerable to the earthquake. Generations of capital investment were lost because they were never installed. Simple justice and human decency requires they be returned.
The countries of the Caribbean, Haiti's siblings and neighbours, owe Haiti more than most. Haiti's abolition of slavery led to the immediate abolition of the Caribbean slave trade and Caribbean slavery, a few years later.
When the US, France and Canada decapitated Haitian democracy in 2004 Caricom first protested and demanded a UN investigation into the affair. Patterson and Manning led Caricom's cowardly retreat from that position.
But the Caribbean was honorably represented at the UN by the experienced Trinidadian diplomat, Reginald Dumas. He had just been appointed by Kofi Annan as his Special Representative on Haiti – one of the few sensible actions Annan took in the affair. Dumas recommended to CARICOM that it should use the General Assembly to get assistance for Haiti. As Reggie Dumas has reminded me, the President of the General Assembly at the time was Julian Hunte of St Lucia, who could have used his position to help CARICOM seek justice for Haiti.
CARICOM (and Hunte) ignored Dumas, and some of the same cowardly leaders are now poised to 'help' or again betray Haiti and the aspirations of the downtrodden of the world.
If the Caribbean wants to make sense and to help Haiti, we could do much worse than seeking the advice of Dumas and other Caribbean and Third World sages who know more about the problems of small states and are better disposed to help than the UN's caravanserai of scarab beetles and Praying Mantises.
Copyright©2010 John Maxwell – jankunnu@gmail.com

14 February 2010

Shameless and Graceless


John Maxwell

Henry Kissinger once said that the United States had no friends, only interests. Watching the US intervention in Haiti makes it clear that the US, in the pursuit of its interests, does not need to exhibit any human attributes, such as shame or grace.
I said a few weeks ago that it seemed a little counterproductive sending masses of soldiers to Haiti since you can't eat soldiers and soldiers needed to be fed and, in Haiti, one American probably consumes as much as ten Haitians. Feeding 20,000 US soldiers takes as much resources as feeding the entire population of Cite Soleil - the biggest slum in the Caribbean.
It is heartbreaking to read of the screwed-up relief efforts, screwed up mainly by sending in soldiers instead of relief workers, nurses and just ordinary people willing to follow instructions and to use their imaginations and initiative. Remember that army put-down from the comic books:
"You're not being paid to think!"
Famines, famously, are not caused by shortages of food but by deficiencies of imagination and planning. In Haiti at this moment, some of the world's most disciplined people are too often
, being treated like wild animals. The problem is that many of Haiti's self-appointed rescuers are scared witless by their own superstitions and the garbage fed them by irresponsible journalists and crazy preachers.
You can see it in the pictures, where people have on their own, formed orderly queues but are still being harassed by men with rifles and an inflated sense of their own importance. One of the scourges of Haiti, self-righteous NGOs, are clearly wasting resources, time and lives insisting on being protected against starving women and children instead of getting out and doing what they should be doing.
Above it all are the mainstream journalists, busy viewing with alarm, scornful of the
heat, the smells and the people, and prophesying at any moment, outbreaks of mindless violence.
It is impossible to view Haiti without realising the enormous tax the world pays for ignorance and fear, and without understanding the real cost of journalism in promoting strife, frustration and unhappiness.
The Internet has made it much easier to transmit lies and superstition. A piece that landed on my screen supposedly from a black person in South Africa was so full of misinformation and outright lies that I thought that it must be a production of one of the thousands of rightwing solfataras of hate. Briefly, this farrago of nonsense claimed that no black country had come to the aid of Haiti – when his own country had been one of the first responders. Venezuela and other Caribbean countries had also made their contribution and of course he forgot Cuba, with 1,200 doctors and other emergency workers now there and more to come.
The letter was meant to discredit the poor, the black and the developing countries who are clearly not grateful for the incredible blessings bestowed on the by colonialism.
One of these days someone should try to estimate the real economic cost of 'journalists' like James Anthony Froude, Rudyard Kipling, Bob Novak, Jules Dubois and their more recent versions, the Wolf Blitzers, Judith Millers and their ilk.
These people are among the most important factors in the current confusion about Haiti and about the true state of the world.
Robert Novak, for
instance, parachuted into Haiti in 2004 on a mission to sanitise the bloodthirsty La Tortue and his way of doing that was to malign Jean Bertrand Aristide.

According to Novak, the Haitian 'Prime Minister' La Tortue was correct in describing the bandits, rapists and murderers backing him as 'freedom fighters'".
According to Novak "The radical
president's [Aristide's] reign left a country without electricity, passable roads or public schools, with a devastated economy and, according to LaTortue, a looted treasury."
La Tortue told Novak: "The public finance is in crisis. They (the Aristide regime) took everything they could from the reserve of the country." His estimate: "over $1 billion stolen in four weeks." (Emphasis added)
The problem is that there has never been one billion of anything in Haiti worth stealing, and what is remarkable is that a
remark so completely unbelievable and outrageous as to verge on the insane, was published and republished in newspapers and magazines considered reputable in the United States. Aristide, despite his interruptions, left a country better off than he found it. (See http://www.haitiaction.net/News/WWNF/2_28_5.html)
The question of course, is why the US has such a down on Haiti and why apparently sane people are so ready to believe the rubbish they do about Haiti.
Some of the reasons are:
    • Haitian insubordination in declaring themselves independent and offering universal emancipation and universal rights.
    • Haiti's strategic position, commanding two of the most important gateways to the Caribbean;
    • Haiti's potential as a base to attack Cuba;
    • Haiti's position on top of a super-giant oil-field, rivaling Saudi Arabia's in importance
    • Haiti's potential as an offshore slave plantation from which US companies can import cheap 'manufactures' without worrying about unions or human rights.

Haitians of course, have completely different ideas.
• They want to be allowed, for the first time at last, to govern themselves without the brutal interference of the former slave-owning states;
• They want back the money – €20,000,00,000 – extorted from them by the French and the Americans over 120 years, and which robbed them of the resources to develop their own country;
• Haitians driven abroad by US backed dictators want to go back home and work for their development of their own country.
• Haitians cannot understand why they are denied the benefits of their membership in the United `nations and other International organisations of which they were foundation members.
Part of the problem with any discussion of Haiti with Americans is the political illiteracy
of so many Americans – particularly journalists – some of whom think Obama is a Socialist or a Nazi. Aristide's opponents, including some so-called journalists, have portrayed him as a blood-drinking, baby-sacrificing black-magician Communist. This garbage has been spread so wide and so deep that outside of Haiti, most people do not know that Aristide is a gentle, God-fearing priest. A practical man whose ideology is Haiti.
The Haitian people know this and keep telling the world that they want their democracy and their President back. The world press this week is full of stories about the lack of leadership in Haiti. There is no lack of leadership in Haiti; the leadership is there but it is the leadership of the majority, of the Fanmi Lavalas, of people loyal to Aristide. The United States and their clients in the United Nations Security
Council do not wish to see this.
Aristide does not want to be President again, but he wants to help Haiti develop. Between him and that aspiration sit a small gang of parasitic margin-gatherers who call themselves businessmen but are really sophisticated gang-leaders operating by
remote control.
If Haiti is to regain its integrity and autonomy there will need to be a programme resembling the post-war de-
Nazification in Germany to re-educate people in elementary civics. Otherwise, sooner or later there will be another Papa Doc or maybe, even an Idi Amin.
In 2004, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, Reginald Dumas, a Caribbean man,
declared that the UN should be committing itself to a long-term mission in Haiti to last about twenty years, "We cannot continue with the start-stop cycle that has characterized relations between the international community and Haiti. You go in, you spend a couple of years, you leave, the Haitians are not necessarily involved and the whole thing collapses. This has to stop," Dumas said.
He told the council:
"There has to be a long-term commitment, which I perceive the council is ready and willing to give," Dumas said. "It must be coordinated assistance. It must be sustained assistance, and it must be assistance that involves the people of Haiti. It cannot be a situation in which the UN or some other agency goes in a
nd says `I have this for you.' There has to be discussion. There has to be cooperation, or else it will fail again."
I agree with Dumas but for one particular: The Haitians needs to get out of the clutches of the Security Council and seek help from the General Assembly, where they have friends.
Copyright©2010 John Maxwell. jankunnu@yahoo.com

07 February 2010

old mapmaker

you think the boundaries are all the same

imbued with meaning by the hand of time

not records of some old forgotten crime

but guarantees the world is safe and tame

that there are limits set to hate and flame

so we keep back the fury and the grime

of human nature and wall in the slime

of all our hatred that is the full game

now miracles come extra that's the rule

you must expect as we deploy each troop

of brazen rescuers who'll save the day

in proper form and manage to stay cool

keep things in order and then all regroup

off to one side while others come to play

Jamaican Mahogany

John Maxwell

There are lots of places in this world where, for weeks or months to come, people will be turning to other people and saying – "Let's ask Rex what he thinks …" before realising that there is no Rex to ask, that the man they depended on for advice or counsel is not there any more.
Rex is dead. Gone.
He has been part of the intellectual landscape of Caribbean society for so long that he seemed to be a permanent fixture, one of those features that were here when we came and will be here long after we've gone
That will be true in a sense, except that when we lose a tree of this size, the space it once occupied appears so big that it seems impossible to fill.
Trelawny and more specifically, the Cockpit Country and its environs is where the soul of Jamaica goes for rest and recuperation. It is the spiritual home of Jamaican culture, the centre of resistance to slavery and colonialism, the last bastion of the maroons and the first place where the British Army first conceded defeat in the Western hemisphere. And here, every little boy has a built-in feistiness, and the knowledge that he is no one's inferior.
As Rex Nettleford grew to young manhood he never appeared in any doubt that he was not simply destined to be 'somebody' but that he always had been somebody and he took it upon himself to carry this effortless self-confidence into the building of a Jamaican personality worthy of the Kojos and Akkompongs that populated the mists of Burnt Hill, Bunkers Hill and all of the Land of Look Behind.
But he was also acutely aware of the other side of his patrimony and embraced his European heritage as eagerly as the rest. In the Jamaica of the 1950s the idea of country boys dancing ballet was so outlandish as to seem bizarre, but that did not bother Rex Nettleford who knew what he wanted to do and refused to be fazed by opposition or even ridicule.
His determination to excel at anything he did swept away the ridicule and the opposition and by the time he won the Rhodes Scholarship it was clear that here was someone out of the ordinary. His selection by Norman Manley to be a member of the Mission to Africa on behalf of the Rastafari movement was recognition at the highest level, if any were needed, of his quality , and his career since then has simply amplified our understanding.
A little while ago, I had just returned from nearly a year of medical treatment abroad. Rex sought me out to invite my wife and me to the season's final presentation of the National Dance Theatre . At the very end of the concert came an electrifying session from the company's massed drummers – a performance that I told him deserved to be on DVD on its own. It was hair-raising, and with the dance, one of the most profoundly exciting theatrical experiences I've ever had; And I thought, this was the ultimate artistic tribute to Rex, who in the near half century of the NDTC has forged an instrument of national expression that is professional, imbued with enormous confidence and skill and with an elan that elevates them to the highest class. The NDTC's achievement alone would be the pride of any one auteur working full time. That Rex managed this intricate and demanding human enterprise along with his other 'day jobs' is an amazing feat.
Rex was above all a teacher dedicated to his students and to none more so than the Diploma classes at Carimac that he and (Sir) Roy Augier, by far the most senior members of the university, insisted on teaching, year in and year out in an extraordinary example of commitment to the welfare of the young. He never gave up even when he was Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. He took the Extra-Mural Department and converted it into an open University, inadequately named the School of Continuing Studies and singlehanded he created the Trade Union Institute – in my view the crown jewel of his successful campaign for the 'smaddification' of Jamaicans like him
It is impossible to do justice to Rex Nettleford. It is, for instance, unprecedented and amazing that of Oxford's more than 7000 Rhodes scholars, Nettleford should be among four singled out for special centenary honour and even more extraordinary that the University of Oxford should create, in his honour, a special prize in Cultural Studies, a discipline almost unknown when he was at university.
I could go on, piling statistic upon statistic, fact upon fact, honour upon honour, degree upon degree, but none can add to the lustre that was Rex's.
I am proud, simply to say that I was honoured to have been his friend for most of our lives.


Albert Huie

    Albert Huie, the most renowned of all Jamaican painters, died a few days before Rex . Huie was another piece of Trelawny mahogany, having been born in Falmouth, a dozen or so years before Rex.
He was another feisty man of the Maroon country who knew what he wanted to be at a time when country boys could become sign-painters, not artists. Albert told me that when he was a bare teenager he threw stones to help chase away gangs of bullies who had been hired to break up political meetings held by my father. My father, a penniless country parson, had challenged the power structure of Trelawny, then the last bastion of planter power in Jamaica. My father was running against one of the richest planters in Jamaica, Mr Guy Ewen; the leading lawyer on the north coast, head of the largest building society, chairman of the Parochial Board, Custos of the Parish and Member of the Legislative Council for 25 years. Against all the odds, my father beat Ewen despite the fact, according to Albert, that Ewen's supporters had descended to hiring gangs of toughs to break up my father's meetings. The toughs would march up the road, liquored up, swinging their kukkumacca sticks and making as much noise as possible, to the alarm of those waiting to hear my father speak.
Huie and his friends would lie in wait for the marauders, armed with slingshots and rocks and at a signal would attack the surpised bullies who ran in all directions shouting 'murder!' Two or three such encounters stopped the rot.
Huie came into Kingston and headed straight for the Institute of Jamaica, then the centre of everything intellectual and artistic in Jamaica. There he was soon noticed by Mr Molesworth, the Director, but more importantly by Edna Manley, who was teaching art classes there.
Soon, he was selected to represent Jamaican art at the New York World's Fair. He was 18. Huie won several prizes at the fair and never looked back. He was a foundation member of the so-called Drumblair group. He did spend some time earning money by 'interior decorating' or house painting, but he never gave up his art and for years Albert could be seen with his easel, on various mountainsides or river banks, painting the Jamaican landscapes he loved. In a more civilised society Huie would have made a good living, but it wasn't until near the end of his career that patrons began to realise the importance of his work and began to pay for it.
I believe that Huie brought with him to Kingston something of the quality of light of his Cockpit Country backgrounds – adding a mysterious quality that pervades some of his best work.
His work is in collections around the world, not as well known as it should be, but now commanding the sorts of prices that should have made Albert a wealthy man But his wealth is in his vision and he, like his fellow Trelawny man, Rex, is a national treasure and he fortunately, like Rex, lived long enough to know that.
The title of this piece is "Jamaican Mahogany", because Huie and Nettleford remind me of the giant mahogany trees which during our lifetimes, adorned the Cockpit Country. Their lightness and grace belied their immense size and it was only after they were no longer there that it was possible to understand what an important part of the landscape they formed. In the case of Huie and Nettleford, these were not simply a part of our intellectual and cultural landscape, they were also, more important, architects of the very landscape in which they were such important components.

Dr George Proctor

    I first met Dr George Proctor when I was at school, spending my Saturdays at the Institute of Jamaica – either at the Junior Centre or at the Science Museum. I remember Proctor as a rather gawky American reputed to be very learned and aloof. He would not remember these encounters. It was much later that we had any real contact, and only a few years ago I at last did what I had wanted to do for years, interview him for a column

As I wrote in a column (Treasure in the Badlands) seven years ago, The Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, is the world's third most biodiverse region. and an almost unknown place in Clarendon called Harris Savannah is one of the jewels in our crown, unlikely as it may seem.

"I consulted the leading expert on Harris Savannah, Dr George Proctor, who has spent the last fifty years attempting to find and catalogue every species of plant in this part of the world. In the first 6 years of this somewhat quixotic mission, Dr Proctor collected and catalogued about 12,000 specimens in Jamaica alone. Since then he has catalogued and described well over 100,000 plants and has become one of the world's foremost botanists. He is THE expert on the Jamaican flora, particularly on ferns – of which we possess 609 taxa – a great many of them discovered by him. At the age of 82 he is still exploring, discovering, collecting, and cataloguing.
Dr Proctor thinks Harris Savannah is a very special place - not only by Jamaican standards, but by any standards. It is, he says, is a scientific treasury."
This column is not about Harris Savannah and the riches it may mean for Jamaica. It is about Dr Proctor who, at 90, has just been found guilty of conspiracy to murder his wife and three other women and sentenced to four years in prison.
I do not contest Dr Proctor's guilt, although I find it hard to believe that he has been convicted on the word on a man who is a professional liar and con-man with 70 convictions for various frauds and misrepresentations.
If a jury found him guilty, so be it.
My objection is to the sentence. I appeared in court on Dr Proctors behalf to give evidence in mitigation. I told the judge that I believed Proctor to be a man with a great respect for life, as evidenced by his life's work.
I told her I was there to try to prevent him going to jail because , I said, if you lock him up you are going to kill him. I thought it would be pointless to send a 90 year old man to jail in any case
The judge referred specifically to my appeal and declared that despite what I said, a 'balance' had to be struck
I do not understand what balance she meant and I implore my readers help me understand.
Prison sentences are supposed to induce remorse, to be deterrent, to set an example, to prevent future offences. Does this apply to Proctor?
Dr Proctor is 90 and in Britain and the US would be accounted legally blind. He suffers from diabetes, from macular degeneration of the retina and from glaucoma, any and all of which would tend to slow anyone down, particularly at 90.
Dr Proctor spent five days in the lockup at Central Station, sharing a cell with an accused murderer who he said treated him kindly. He was supposed to sleep on a concrete slab, to be shared with his cellmate. Dr Proctor can barely walk, cannot stand straight and in court was unable to sit up. His head rested on the pew in front of him.
He said to me, before court began
"John, my head has shrunk from the few days in jail," and it appeared to be true. As a diabetic he requires special food. None was available. He couldn't eat. He was not allowed to buy even a cup of coffee. The first cup of coffee he had in five days was at the Supreme Court.
I believe that conspiracy is notoriously the easiest charge for prosecutors to make. It is very difficult to disprove a conspiracy.
Whatever the merits of the Crown's case, I believe, in the end, that the proceedings cannot be described as either in the public interest, nor, as civilised.
Copyright 2010©John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

03 February 2010

the blessing of the giver

not unexpected even kings must die

it was no secret everyone had heard

there was no cloud across the winter sky


you sense the shaping know that what went by

though it was sudden was when it occurred

not unexpected even kings must die


at their due time emit their one last sigh

while many gathered hoping for some word

there was no cloud across the winter sky


no final opening of one bright eye

not a hoarse whisper we had long inferred

not unexpected even kings must die


in a bright room with no friend there to cry

a century's tears nor declare absurd

there was no cloud across the winter sky


you have to dance as if you were to fly

a man no more but a returning bird

not unexpected even kings must die

there was no cloud across the winter sky