Reginald Dumas shares his 'Encounter with Haiti'
FROM the very beginning, Reginald Dumas sets out to demonstrate the forthrightness for which he has been known, both to public audiences and to the people for whom he worked, nearly 40 years in the service of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. He retired from the Trinidad and Tobago public service in 1991, at the exalted position of Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister and head of the Public Service. Before he arrived there he had served for many of those years in the country's diplomatic service, working in such stations as Addis Ababa, New Delhi, Ottawa and Washington, to name some.
Were he an American, Dumas who since retirement has made his home in Tobago, would be referred to even now as Ambassador.
From his perch in Tobago, with his diplomatic credentials still pretty much intact, and with impeccable language skills, he was picked as special adviser to the UN Secretary General on Haiti.
This was 2004, in the centre of the blazing international diplomatic heat which had surrounded the US- French-Canadian inspired ouster of Jean Bertrand Aristide as President. He spent six months there, reporting to his friend, former campus-mate and fellow international diplomat, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He used his experiences during that assignment and subsequently, to also pass on valuable insights to Caricom leaders, including Trinidad and Tobago's Patrick Manning.
"I shall no doubt be criticised in certain quarters for having written the book in the first place. I expect the charge to be that I have breached confidences and understandings," Dumas writes in the third paragraph of the Prologue to his An Encounter with Haiti-Notes of a Special Adviser, "and some of my comments will be thought to lack academic detachment. I am however satisfied that, as ordinary citizens of the world, we are greatly affected by, and at the same time are in general ignorance of, much that is piled under the carpet of regional and international behaviour.
"We need to know more," he says, "about these things, and to have greater transparency, if proper change is to come about."
And who better to help us peer beneath such carpets than one who knows intimately some of those secrets, how they came about, who generated them and their effects on people in whose name they were developed.
"I have argued that the international community should help Haiti more, and so it must. But Haiti must do more to help itself," Dumas writes deep into the book. It is a position that will not sit well with the legions of Haiti sympathisers and supporters who continue to insist that the problems there are all of other people's making.
A strong sense of nationalism is well, but it is not enough and those of us who wish Haiti well must say so, Dumas asserts, setting out the prerogatives as he saw them for real progress and development in that country.
Worse still, he knew, as he said in the Prologue, it was not going to be easy not taking sides. Jean Bertrand Aristide continues to have hordes of blinded supporters among Haiti's millions of poor and dispossessed citizens. And Dumas makes no bones about his conviction that he was done for by a conspiracy of international forces, governments and interests. But he also strongly asserts that Aristide did not help his own cause and that of the people who remain loyal to him, in the way he functioned as President.
With the ouster of Aristide, the "international community" had caused to be installed, an interim administration headed by Gerard Latortue who had made his home in Florida's well heeled Boca Raton area.
While saying that he was never going to be able to get far down enough to effect real change in his home country, precisely because he had "been away too long," Dumas nevertheless goes against considerable opinion in crediting Latortue with setting the country back on its current course. Among the least of these "gifts" was that he had created the environment for the "free and fair" election which brought current President Rene Preval back to power in February 2006.
Writing about the book, Emeritus Professor Anthony Bryan, comments on what he says is Dumas' "impeccable command of the English language," which he uses "not only to tell a complicated story but also to carry the reader into the dark corners of international diplomacy."
And just as he uses it to inform the reader about the myriad involvements of the big countries, and all the international aid agencies involved in the Haiti saga, Dumas bites just as clinically when it comes to Haiti and Caricom.
The reader is left with the depressing knowledge that among her own brothers and sisters in the region Haiti could not count on them. "The flow of unassailably anodyne sentiments continued," Dumas writes when talking about a meeting led by the Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis in October 2006. Haiti had expressed interest in the establishment in that country of a campus of the UWI. The possibilities of trade were explored, as well as the re-opening of the Caricom office in Port au Prince which had been allowed to wither on the vine after Aristide's departure in February 2004. His message was that these things too, would go nowhere fast.