Cry For Haiti Again

After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, I volunteered for over 12 deployments where I interacted with persons at almost all levels of responsibility.  Therefore, any opinion I have on Haiti is an informed one.

When our Prime Minister announced that Barbados would remove our visa requirement for Haitians, I was surprised at the daring offer.  But I had assumed that our Prime Minister’s advisors were far more informed than I, so I kept silent.  Now that Barbados has restored the visa requirement, it is important that this type of error never happen again.

Haiti is a politically unstable country of over 11 million people.  Many of them live in poverty, fear of violence, and hopelessness.  Visa requirements prevent most Haitians from travelling by air.  Therefore, many risk illegal travel by sea, an have drowned in their desperate search for a better life.

Almost 20% of Haitians live in: the United States, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Bahamas, France, and Jamaica.  Many in Haiti depend on funds sent to them from their family and friends who successfully made it out.

Barbados gave Haiti the most generous visa requirement of all countries on this planet.  The next generous visa requirements were offered by: Israel, Rwanda, Benin, Gambia, and South Korea.  These countries are all outside of the Caribbean region, and outside of the Western Hemisphere.  Therefore, Barbados’ offer was the most attractive, safest, and the most realistic legal hope for desperate Haitians.

I was in Haiti after the Prime Minister’s announcement, and can confirm that Barbados’ invitation to Haitians, who were desperate for any glimmer of hope, was excitedly known.  We have now crushed that hope with the sorry excuse that too many Haitians were coming.  What else did we expect a desperate people to do?  Who advised our Prime Minister to remove the visa requirement in the first place?

Why would Barbados, with a land area that is 1.5% of Haiti’s, and a population that is 2.5% of Haiti’s, and an economy that is smaller than Haiti’s, and a debt-to-GDP profile that is worse than Haiti’s, invite Haitians to Barbados without a visa restriction?

Why would Barbados, that: has defaulted on its foreign debt, has a major unemployment problem, has long wait-times for limited public services, and is in a severe IMF austerity program, invite Haiti’s desperate millions to unnecessarily expense themselves with their precious limited funds, to travel to Barbados in search of work that even Barbadians cannot find?  It seems a most cruel joke of false hope, to play on a people who least deserve it.  So why did we do it?

We are accustomed to our politicians making impossible promises to get elected.  We are accustomed to our Members of Parliament practising their ‘Public Relations Economics’ of giving and taking away.  If they promise to reduce taxes in one part of our lives, then they will certainly increase taxes in another part, so that we always pay more.  But Haitians were not accustomed to this type of broken promise from us.

When the Government of Barbados attends regional or international meetings, our politicians do not represent their political parties or their base supporters – they represent all of us.  Therefore, any promises made at these meetings should not be like their campaign promises that they dismissively break at will.  Instead, these promises should be properly thought out.

It is almost impossible to develop well thought out policies if dissenting opinions are not considered.  For this reason, Solutions Barbados’ policy was that each Minister must have an advisory committee, not of loyal party supporters, but of experts in their fields.  This committee would carefully consider public opinions.  Had our Prime Minister been advised by such a committee, then it is unlikely that she would have made such a reckless promise to our Haitian brothers and sisters.

Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados.  He can be reached at

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