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Haiti and the Unites States: A turbulent history


The US has always kept a watchful eye on Haiti. Considering its small and poverty-stricken Caribbean neighbour as a client-state within its backyard and sphere of influence, it never wanted Haiti to go the way of Cuba. The Cold War period may be a thing of the past but apparently not realpolitik.


It has been said that Haiti will not be to Obama what Katrina was to George W Bush. And yet the delays caused by the Americans in getting much-needed emergency relief to the victims of the earthquake which struck Haiti less than two weeks ago and the general behaviour of the US military within Haiti may very well lead one to look suspiciously upon the US ‘intervention’ in Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.


In light of the huge American presence in the country – only last week someone was saying on the World Service of the BBC that the number of US troops in Haiti could be increased to 16,000 while others estimated the surge of army soldiers to reach 30,000 – the question has to be asked whether the US will effectively ‘occupy’ (or ‘re-occupy’) Haiti once the relief operations are over.


It is worth recalling the role played by the US in the two hundred years that separate the self-proclamation by Haiti of the first black republic in 1804 and the ousting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected Haitian President, in 2004.


In the 19th century, after the Haitians had successfully staged a slave revolt against the French plantation owners, the US refused to recognise the new republic for 60 years. And when the French then demanded 150 million francs as reparations, the US supported their exorbitant demands which virtually bankrupted Haiti. It was not until 1947 that Haiti finished paying off this crippling debt – a huge burden which undoubtedly contributed in turning Haiti into the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

From 1915 and 1934 US marines occupied the country which the US ran like a colony after removing the influence of rival European powers. And for nearly thirty years, between 1957 and 1986, the US supported the Duvalier dictators (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) because they feared that otherwise Haiti might turn into a revolutionary régime much like Cuba’s.

The ‘aid’ granted by the US to Haiti was not of the sort which could have helped the development of the country. For example, the dumping of food aid by the US undermined local agricultural producers. Furthermore, the US ‘aided’ the brutal, ruthless and puppet régimes of the Duvaliers because they were anti-communist. Under the Duvaliers, the US and other foreign investors enriched themselves in the newly constructed assembly industry while the vast majority of Haitians tried to survive on less than 2 dollars a day.

In 1991 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic and popular priest, was democratically elected. However, he did not last very long as the US aided his opponents who overthrew him in the same year. Bill Clinton negotiated his return in 1994 as long as he was able to force a neo-liberal set of economic policies upon the Haitian President. The Bush administration treated Aristide as a pariah and systematically undermined him over three years. In 2004 Aristide was deposed by local gangsters acting on behalf of the Haitian élite and supported by members of the Republican Party in the US. Aristide was ‘kidnapped’ and taken to Africa on a US plane. He is currently in South Africa and has said that he would like to be back in Haiti. His political party, though the biggest and most popular, is still barred from participating in the electoral process in Haiti.

After the 12 January 2010 earthquake, the US is back in Haiti. US troops have landed onto the grounds of the Presidential Palace and others have taken over the control tower at the airport in Port-au-Prince. Two US carriers (USS Carl Vinson and Bataan) are docked in Haitian waters. Hillary Clinton was at pains to stress that the US was there as “a friend, partner and supporter” of the current Haitian President, René Préval, and that it would remain in Haiti for as long as its assistance was needed. 

A number of aid agencies and humanitarian NGOs in Haiti are frustrated by the US military’s obsession with security. While it is true that there has looting and killing, for example in Cite Soleil, the looters and criminals have not taken over the whole capital. 


The US military had refused to allow several of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) flights to land at the airport and instead re-routed them through the Dominican Republic on ‘security’ grounds. The international NGO then had to get its medical supplies to Haiti by road (on trucks) which took much longer to reach Port-au-Prince. The Head of MSF’s Legal Department, Françoise Saulnier was reported as saying: “We lost three days. And these three days have created massive problems with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, when we could have really spared these people.” Other flights from France and Peru carrying medical supplies and other emergency relief items were similarly turned away by the US military. 


The US has the resources to help Haiti out of this crisis. It has the means to help rebuild the infrastructures of the country.  But will it do it, though, in a true spirit of cooperation and solidarity? Has the US learned the bitter lessons of its occupation of Iraq and its continued presence in Afghanistan, and indeed of its interference and intervention in so many countries of the ‘Third World’ during the last 50 years or so? Given the long turbulent history of the US in Haiti, it would be understandable if Haitians themselves have some serious doubts about this – Obama or no Obama.



Noor Adam Essack
London, 24 January 2010



RDC : Vous n’êtes pas seuls au monde !


Il a suffi que le gouvernement de Kinshasa offre une aide de 2,5 millions de dollars à Haïti pour que certains Congolais se déchaînent, avec des mots durs. Où l’on apprend que les petits drames quotidiens vécus par les Congolais interdisent, de fait, à leur gouvernement toute générosité, lorsque surviennent des situations dramatiques à l’étranger.

Les 2,5 millions de dollars offerts par Kinshasa ne suffisent en rien à régler les problèmes auxquels est confronté Haïti, pas plus qu’ils ne suffiraient à extraire les Congolais des « conditions de vie inhumaines » que décrivent les détracteurs de ce geste. Ce don a donc une valeur autre que celle que tentent de lui donner certains.

C’est dans des moments comme celui-ci que l’on réalise que si les peuples ont besoin de pain pour vivre, il leur faut aussi un peu de culture historique, de temps à autre, pour simplement exister. Pour l’Afrique, Haïti n’est pas uniquement « un pays étranger touché par une catastrophe ». C’est la première nation indépendante que les peuples noirs se sont donnée, au cœur de la nuit de l’esclavage, il y a plus de deux cents ans. Depuis, l’Afrique vit les échecs de Haïti comme les siens propres ; elle scrute avec angoisse son destin, comme si le continent ne pouvait espérer s’en sortir tant que Haïti ne s’en serait pas sorti.

La honte du caïman

Il faut saluer ici la spontanéité des autres Etats africains, qui ont fait des dons à Haïti, et l’élégance de leurs peuples, qui n’ont pas ronchonné pour autant. Et puis, pourquoi ne pas le dire ? Les Congolais sont, en Afrique, le peuple le plus mal placé pour protester contre une aide à un pays en détresse.

Voilà plus de dix ans que la RDC vit au crochet de la communauté des nations. Certains auraient pu dire que le sous-sol congolais recèle de quoi réparer le mal sans fin que ne cessent de faire les politiciens et autres chefs de guerre à leur patrie. Aussi, lorsqu’on les entend protester pour 2,5 millions de dollars, on a envie de dire à ces gens : « Messieurs, vous n’êtes pas seuls au monde ! Et quand on a autant tendu la main pour recevoir, il faut aussi savoir, de temps à autre, apprendre à donner. » Surtout lorsqu’il y a ce cordon ombilical, qui nous rappelle que le déshonneur d’Haïti est forcément celui de l’Afrique où l’on dit, justement, que la honte du caïman, est aussi, fatalement, celle du crocodile.


Jean-Baptiste Placca


Mind Your Language


Sahadeo from Highlands Establishment


We are in the month of June in the early 1970s. The UBS bus coming from Hermitage stops near the Highlands football ground. About 15 passengers get on, among them one Sahadeo and his mother. The son looks nearly 40 and the mother about 60. Both work at the Highlands sugar estate as labourers.


Formerly, all sugar factories and their respective sugar plantations were called “tabissman” by the lay people. But in the 1970s, it became fashionable to revert back to the correct and sophisticated “Establishment”. So, Shadeo and his mother, instead of being called labourers of Highlands Tabissman, were proud to be called “staff of the Highlands Establishment.” And, they were blissfully happy with the new appellation.


The bus was packed to capacity, mostly with young and middle-aged men. Almost all were going to Curepipe to attend the final and fateful football match between the Hindu Cadets and the Muslim Scouts. The match was taking place at the King George V Stadium. There was immense tension in the air and a complete hush in the bus, since most of the passengers were supporters of the opposing teams.


To break the unbearable monotony, Sahadeo’s mother, who had been admiring the blossoming sugar cane fields through the window, said, “Arey Sahadewa, hai dabal kaan dekh!”1


Sahadeo, poor simpleton that he was and in the camaraderie relationship he had with his mother, answered in his throaty, guttural Amrish Puri2 voice, “Highlands ke kaan ta jaroor dabal ba. Lekin, toun Camp Diable ke kaan dekh be ta, taur ganrrooeey phaat jai!”3



* * *


Happy Divali


The Bhoolawon4 family is well known around Quatre Bornes and Belle Rose for their Indian sweets. The cooks are Mrs Bhoolawon and her two daughters-in-law. The three ladies make a very friendly and homogeneous team, which is quite unusual these days.


Their cakes are moderately sweetened and are not as greasy as many Indian sweets tend to be. Meeting them often at Ram’s Supermarket, I usually tease them with the same remark, “be parsimonious with the sugar.” To which they jokingly reply, “we are using sweeteners instead.”


Every year, one or two weeks before Divali, many Hindu families go to them to order their favourite sweets. Some three years back, I stopped at the Bhoolawon’s to order my Divali cakes. Glancing at the telephone pole near their house, I saw a signpost with the following piece, “The Bhoolawon family wishes everyone, who orders their cakes here, a Happy Divali.”


When I returned to collect my order the next day, I looked up at the notice again. Overnight, some mischievous wit had put the following addendum to the sign, “But what about those who do not order their cakes here?”



Dr B Foogooa


1 Hey Sahadeo, look at this superb sugar cane!

2 Bollywood actor

3 I know Highlands cane is really superb. But, if you saw the cane at Camp

 Diable, it would blast your backside off!

4 Fictitious name.

Loto and household debt


I refer to V. Bhardwaj’s article in the Mauritius Times of 15 Jan 10 — “Loto and Household debt”.


All over the world people smoke, drink and gamble. It is a matter of personal choice – the onus is on the individual. Neither me nor you nor indeed the government – requests, asks anyone to smoke, play the Loto and drink.


M. Saccaran

Trou aux Biches

The Tree of Knowledge


Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836 – 1886)


Paramahansa Yogananda once said that if a person wanted to realize God, he must want God like a drowning man wants air. This perfectly describes Sri Ramakrishna.

The Vaishnava form of Sadhana was another type of spiritual discipline that Sri Ramakrishna practised. The Vaishnavas worship the Deity by cultivating various forms of personal relationship with Him, known as Bhavas or attitudes, as those of the servant towards the master (Dasya), of the friend towards a friend (Sakhya), of the parent towards the child (Vatsalya), and of the beloved towards her sweetheart (Madhura).

Sri Ramakrishna adopted all these attitudes one after another, and while doing so, he used to identify himself with the classical personalities with whom a particular attitude has been traditionally associated — with Mahavir for Dasyabhava, with Radha for Madhura-bhava, and so on. During such periods of identification, he used to live like those very personalities and express in himself their consciousness and behaviour. Thus for many months he lived like a woman, in the company of women, while practising the Sakhya and Madhura forms of Sadhana; and neither he nor the ladies in whose company he lived felt any sense of strangeness or artificiality in this. So radical was the transformation he could effect at will on his consciousness and even on his physical life.

Ramakrishna set himself to imitate Hanuman in every respect. “I had to walk like Hanuman,’ he recalled, ‘I had to eat like him, and do every action as he would have done it. I didn’t do this of my own accord; it happened of itself. I tied my dhoti around my waist to make it look like a tail, and I moved about in jumps. I ate nothing but fruit and roots, and I didn’t like them when they were skinned or peeled. I spent a lot of my time on trees; and I kept crying “Rama!” in a deep voice. My eyes got a restless look, like the eyes of a monkey. And the most marvellous thing was: the lower end of my spine lengthened, nearly an inch! Later, when I stopped practising this kind of devotion, it gradually went back to its normal size.’

Initiated by a Mohammedan teacher, Ramakrishna devoutly repeated the name of Allah, wore a cloth like the Arab Moslems, said the prayers five times daily and felt disinclined even to see images of the Hindu gods and goddesses, much less worship them — for the Hindu way of thinking had disappeared altogether from his mind. A Moslem cook was brought to instruct a Hindu cook how to prepare food in the Moslem manner — more or less. At this time, Ramakrishna never once entered the temple courtyard. He left his own room and slept in the Kuthi. He spent three days in that mood, and he had the full realization of the sadhana of their faith. Ramakrishna also said that he had had a vision of a shining impressive personage with a long beard. This figure merged into Ishwara, and Ishwara then merged into Brahman. Ramakrishna wished to demonstrate by it that non-dualistic Vedanta is the only valid link between the many dualistic religions… There is a very big difference on the surface. Unity can only be found by going deep, to the underlying, all-projecting Brahman.

Ramakrishna concluded: “One can ascend to the top of a house by means of a ladder or a bamboo or a staircase or a rope; so too, diverse are the ways of approaching God, and each religion in the world shows one of the ways… A truly religious man should think that other religions are also so many paths leading to the Truth. One should always maintain an attitude of respect towards other religions.” “Different people call on (God) by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Siva, and Brahman. It is like the water in a lake. Some drink it at one place and call it “jal,” others at another place and call it “pani,” and still others at a third place and call it “water.” The Hindus call it “jal,” the Christians “water,” and the Moslems “pani.’ But it is one and the same thing.”


Source: Excerpts from ‘Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna’, Sri Ramakrishna Math and ’Ramakrishna and his Disciples’ by Christopher Isherwood.

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