Friday, June 29, 2007

Quote of the Week

"We are evangelizing by loving people into a relationship with God. We are evangelizing by dealing with the needs that people have which if not addressed will obscure the message. We are evangelizing by challenging unjust situations, the disparities and inequities of life. Some may say, 'That's just social action.' I beg to differ with you. No, it is not just social action. It is far more than that. Have you not read the New Testament, especially the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? In reading them did you not discover that is just what Jesus did? Can we dare do less?"

Emmanuel McCall, Moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

School of the Americas: The Haitian Case

A number of bloggers (e.g., see here and here) have been commenting on last week's narrow failure of a bill in the U.S. Congress that would have finally closed down the infamous School of the Americas (SOA).

The SOA is a U.S. sponsored training program for Latin American military personnel. SOA Watch, one of the major groups seeking the closure of the SOA, reports that graduates of the school have consistently used their skills to wage war against their own people by targeting educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. They also note that hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained by the SOA.

While the atrocities committed by SOA graduates in Latin America are well known, most folks are much less familiar with the SOA's legacy in Haiti. To that end, Adrianne Aron has written an informative article for the Haiti Action Committee that shows how the SOA and U.S. military assistance to Haiti, in particular, have been especially devastating.

Thanks to SOAW's annual Vigil at the School of the Americas, the persecution of the religious community in El Salvador during the 1980s is not forgotten. Every year we commemorate the massacre that the Jesuit Provincial called "an act of lavish barbarity," when six Catholic priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were murdered on the campus of the University of Central America in San Salvador, by government soldiers trained at the School of the Americas.

In Haiti, a number of equally barbarous events carried out by SOA graduates are not so well known, and have been neglected by world attention. The perpetrators are still free, and in some instances, still wielding power. It's time we took notice.

A case in point is Haiti's September 11, a day of infamy in 1988 when SOA alumnus Franck Romain, then Mayor of Port-au-Prince and leader of the brutal Tontons Macoutes, orchestrated a siege of Saint Jean Bosco, the parish church of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Click here to read the rest of this article.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Incarnational Ministry, Part I

I’d like to begin by telling a story about a man named John Perkins. Perkins is an African-American with a third-grade education, who grew up during the Jim Crow era in a sharecropping family in rural Mississippi. Following the murder of his older brother by the local sheriff, he escaped from the South by migrating to California where he married, started a family, and became a successful businessman. He also began searching for spiritual meaning in his life—a journey that eventually led him to make a commitment to Jesus Christ.

After several years of active ministry as a Christian businessman, Perkins sensed God’s calling to pursue a new ministry in his hometown back in Mississippi. So during the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement, John Perkins and his family left the relative safety and economic security of California to return to the poverty-stricken and racially-charged atmosphere of the rural South. When he got back home, he was received with mixed feelings. It’s not that his friends and family weren’t excited about seeing him again. But they just couldn’t understand why he would leave the good life in California to come back to a godforsaken place like Mendenhall, Mississippi. But what his friends and family didn’t realize is that Perkins had simply given up the good life of economic comfort to pursue that abundant life that Jesus promises in John 10:10.

In spite of the initial skepticism surrounding his return, Perkins was ultimately able to minister to both the spiritual and physical needs of his former friends and neighbors, eventually pioneering a model for ministry--known as Christian community development--which has been widely replicated by hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians seeking to effectively minister in urban settings. Basically, Christian community development is a holistic approach to urban mission that is not just interested in saving souls—important as that task is—but is also concerned about meeting the physical and social needs of others as well. Holistic ministry is rooted, in part, in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said:

Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men, and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls, the economic conditions that stagnate the soul and the city governments that may damn the soul is a dry dead do nothing religion in need of new blood.
The linchpin to Perkins’ method is the concept of relocation, which is based on his understanding of incarnational ministry. By incarnational ministry, I simply mean that in order to reach others, we must become like them in the same way that God chose to become human in order to minister to us. So by relocation, Perkins advocates that we must live in the same community as those whom we seek to serve. Increasingly, many Christians have recognized that their ministries are most effective when they choose to reside amongst the people they hope to reach, even if that means leaving the economic comfort and cultural security of their homes and neighborhoods to do so. It is only by living side-by-side, in solidarity with the others that one can truly understand their needs and problems and, ultimately, the solutions that are needed.

Coming Next: The Biblical Basis for Relocation

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Review of Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins

Miguel A. De La Torre, Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004. xvi + 280 pp. Paperback, $20.00. ISBN 1-57075-551-5.

Written in the same vein as his award-winning Reading the Bible from the Margins (Orbis, 2002), De La Torre's latest book achieves two important objectives. First, it fills a much needed void for instructors looking for an introductory textbook on liberation ethics. Second, it adds to the growing number of Christian voices on the margins that proactively seek to challenge those from the dominant Eurocentric culture in the U.S. to think and act theologically or ethically from the perspective of the disenfranchised. This book is based on an undergraduate course that De La Torre, a Cuban-American professor of religion, taught by the same name at Hope College, a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. [Note that De La Torre is currently teaching at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.]

Doing Christian Ethics is divided into four parts. In part I (chpts. 1-3), De La Torre outlines his understanding of ethical theory, the major contours of which will be recognizable to those already familiar with liberation theology. Beginning with the premise that ethics is done from a particular social location, he points out that educated white males have traditionally dominated ethical discourse in academia. Consequently, their scholarship is not value neutral but reflects their position of privilege and power in society. Common pitfalls that characterize both historic and contemporary Eurocentric ethics include, amongst other things, the ethical dualism that emphasizes (1) spiritual concerns to the exclusion of social concerns, (2) individualism to the neglect of koinonia, (3) grace in favor of works, (4) heaven instead of the here and now, and (5) failure to generate life- and society-transforming praxis. Consciously or unconsciously, ethics done from a position of privilege only serves to reinforce ideologies of power that perpetuate unjust social structures such as racism, classism, and sexism. Because such ethics thwart Christ's mission "that they (the marginalized) may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10), De La Torre challenges his readers to embrace a system of ethics that is consistent with Christ's example of identifying and standing in solidarity with the oppressed.

For De La Torre, the starting point for doing such ethics is reflection on lo cotidiano or the everyday life experiences of the disenfranchised. On this point, De La Torre makes a significant yet welcome departure from typical liberation theologies. Even though he has elsewhere established his identity as a Latino theologian, he deliberately chooses not to limit his ethical reflection to the life experiences of U.S. Hispanics. Instead, he attempts to construct an inclusive approach to ethics that encourages marginalized groups to work together in their common struggle for justice while refusing to allow them to be pitted against each other by dominant culture. One significant omission is that De La Torre draws primarily from the work of liberation ethicists while ignoring the ethical reflections of disenfranchised evangelicals—a sizably larger group from the margins. While this is a perennial oversight of liberation theology in general, exclusion of such a large constituency compromises De La Torre's claim that his ethics are fully grounded in the experiences of the marginalized.

Part I concludes with an outline of De La Torre's own five-step version of the hermeneutic circle, an important tool which moves the reader beyond simply questioning the ethical discourse of the dominant culture or analyzing the social conditions of the disenfranchised. Rather, it encourages the reader to engage in society-transforming praxis. For the reader from the dominant culture, such praxis is not about exchanging social locations with the marginalized but completely leveling and dismantling racist, sexist, and classist power structures. By doing so, the reader moves beyond mere belief, which is inadequate for salvation in and of itself (Jas. 2:19), and embraces the deeds of faith (Jas. 2:17) that are required to work out his or her salvation with "fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).

Parts II, III, and IV give the reader an opportunity to apply the hermeneutic circle to a variety of ethical case studies under the broad categories of global relationships, national relationships, and business relationships. Each section is four chapters in length, with the first chapter of each giving an overview of the topic and the remaining three chapters offering a series of case studies under specific subtopics. De La Torre's case studies differ from those in traditional textbooks in that they are not canned stories designed to elicit a theoretically "correct" answer to an abstract question (e.g., Is killing ever justified?) Instead, they are real-life stories, grounded in the experiences of marginalized people, which seek to move the reader beyond "spectator-type" ethics into society-transforming praxis. Only the first three steps of the hermeneutic circle are covered in each case study. They are followed with a series of discussion questions designed to help the reader arrive at a strategy for praxis by reflecting on the remaining hermeneutical steps through the worldview of the marginalized. For the most part, this is an effective pedagogical tool. But since many prospective readers may have little experience at viewing the world through the eyes of the disenfranchised, it would have been helpful if De La Torre had given two or three case studies where he shows how they have been resolved in his own classroom.

De La Torre's choice of case studies is interesting as it demonstrates how even something as simple as deciding what topics are worthy of ethical reflection is determined by one's social location. Not surprisingly, topics such as genetic technologies and human cloning—standard fare in most contemporary ethics textbooks—are omitted as they are issues far removed from the everyday experience of the disenfranchised. In contrast, De La Torre includes an entire section on business ethics, focusing on topics such as corporate accountability, affirmative action, and private property—concerns that directly impact the marginalized yet rarely, if ever, are addressed in mainstream Christian ethics texts. Most telling—perhaps a reflection of De La Torre's own social location as a middle-class male—is the conspicuous absence of case studies on topics such as prostitution, domestic abuse, abortion, and birth control—all of which are crucial for women on the margins. Nevertheless, De La Torre has succeeded in providing sufficient methodological background that creative instructors will find this book to be a good starting point for considering ethics from the margins in their own classes as well as writing additional case studies that consider the life experiences of marginalized people from other social locations.

De La Torre makes a compelling theological case that those from the dominant culture find their salvation by giving up their power and privilege so that those on the margins can live the abundant life. More importantly, he provides the necessary ethical tools for committed readers to engage in society-transforming praxis. Even so, this is a message that many in the dominant culture will find difficult to accept. And while some might readily give their theological and mental assent to the truth of his words, the real question is how many of us will actually engage in the praxis that De La Torre's method calls for.

This review originally appeared in the Denver Journal.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Upcoming Community Development Conference

The Christian Community Development Association will be holding its 19th Annual Conference this coming October 10-14, 2007 at the Adam's Mark Hotel in St. Louis Missouri.

“Show Me Jesus—Beyond the Walls”, is the challenge we face in a society and world that is more and more divided. As followers of Christ, must show everyone that Jesus is indeed alive and working to heal our world, with the church as His primary agent of hope. And, to be faithful to this mandate we must go beyond the walls of our comfort zones, into places of extreme brokenness and marginalization.

We invite you to join us in St. Louis, where we are working to provide an experience that will encourage you, inspire you, connect you with others, educate you and challenge you to go beyond the walls in your ministry to the least, the last and the lost of our world.

This year we have another great lineup of general session speakers, including: Dr. A.R. Bernard from New York City, Pastor Cheryl Sanders from Washington, DC, Pastor Robert Guerrero from the Dominican Republic, Pastor Phil Jackson from Chicago, and Pastor Efrem Smith from Minneapolis, MN.
Learn more about the conference here; register here or browse the program from last year's conference here.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bahamas named in report on human trafficking

The Nassau Guardian recently reported that the U.S. State Department has included the Bahamas as a "special case" in its annual report on human trafficking for the second year in a row. Amongst other things . . .
The report gives special attention to the Haitian community in The Bahamas, thought to be vulnerable to exploitation because of the illegal status of many migrants.

"Some Haitian immigrants may be subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude," according to the US Embassy in Nassau. "Although these migrants arrive voluntarily in The Bahamas to work as domestic servants, gardeners, and in construction, local sources indicate that labor exploitation of these workers may be widespread; employers coerce them to work long hours for no pay or below the minimum wage by withholding documents or threatening arrest and deportation."

Ermitte St. Jacques, a Haitian-Bahamian who is pursuing a PhD in the United States, interviewed more than two dozen Haitians residing in The Bahamas as part of a masters thesis she did in 1998 and said she found frequent reports of this kind of exploitation.

"Sometimes they would work, but when they were supposed to be paid the employer would say they were not going to be paid and they would call the authorities," St. Jacques said in a phone interview yesterday.

Ermitte said the nature of migrants' work, often as casual workers in construction and housekeeping, mean that they don't have much recourse on the job, either, if they are being overworked or underpaid.
Click here to read the rest of the article.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men, and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls, the economic conditions that stagnate the soul and the city governments that may damn the soul is a dry dead do nothing religion in need of new blood."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Christian Principles for Immigration Reform

David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, offers some helpful theological insights on the recent immigration reform efforts that were derailed in the U.S. Congress last week. While I'm not certain that I agree with Gushee's assessment that the bill on the table was the "best approximation of Christian principles" (which is a moot point anyway, as the bill is no longer under consideration), I do think that he provides some thoughtful reflections on the biblical principles that come to bear on the question of immigration. Even though Congress has, for the time being, washed its hands of the issue, the immigration debate will continue to rage on and Gushee's analysis will give U.S. Christians a theological framework for positively contributing to the ongoing discussion.
I have become persuaded that immigration reform is one of the most important moral and policy issues facing Christians and the nation today. And there is landmark legislation on the table -- the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill, supported by the president -- that in my view reflects the best approximation of Christian principles.

The first question a Christian must ask when thinking about immigration is whether the highest priority for us is American self-interest or biblical principles. As American Christians, are we more Christian or more American?

I think that we should be Christians first. We should seek God’s will for his people (the church) as revealed in Scripture. Only then do we take the second step -- considering our loyalty to the nation -- to see how we might best apply biblical principles there.

Biblically, the five most relevant moral principles on this issue are love, justice, hospitality, family and humility.

Click here to read the rest of Gushee's commentary.
Immigration, of course, is not an issue that is unique to the United States. Many countries here in the Caribbean such as the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Dominican Republic are challenged with significant immigration problems as well. Given the large numbers of professing Christians in these countries, it seems that Gushee's analysis of immigration might well be a good starting point for Caribbean believers to begin articulating a truly Christian response to the immigration crises in our own region.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Seeking Cancellation of Haiti's Debt

The Jubilee USA Network is encouraging U.S. citizens to contact their congressional representatives about supporting a House resolution that would immediately cancel Haiti's debt.
The Haiti debt cancellation resolution (H.Res. 241) urges the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and other international financial institutions to completely cancel Haiti's debt without delays.

Last year, Haiti was added to the World Bank and IMF's list of heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) eligible for debt cancellation, just after the election of new president Rene Preval. But under the harmful economic conditions of the World Bank and IMF's debt relief program, Haiti will not see this relief until 2009 at the earliest ­by which time the country will have paid $138 million in debt service to these institutions. This is money robbed from children drinking contaminated water and growing older without learning how to read because of inadequate resources for education, health care, or other social sector spending. H.Res. 241, which was introduced March 13 by Representative Maxine Waters along with Republican Spencer Bachus, Donald Payne, Luis Gutierrez, and Carolyn Maloney, among others, will urge the World Bank, IMF, and IDB to immediately and completely cancel Haiti's debt.

Haiti's debt is both unpayable and unjust. Nearly half of the country's $1.3 billion debt was accrued under the Duvalier family dictatorship and used to finance the Duvaliers' lavish lifestyle and support their brutal, 29-year rule. The Haitian people continue to pay interest on these loans of a clearly odious nature. This is money that could be used to invest in health care or education in a country where almost a quarter of children under five are chronically malnourished and only 35% of students are able to complete primary school. From 2007-2009, Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is projected to pay $138 million in debt service. To put this number in perspective, this is more than double the amount Haiti spent in FY2001 on education, health, roads, the environment, and water and urban infrastructure combined. Immediate cancellation of Haiti's debt would allow the country to stop paying interest on odious debts and free up much needed resources for the country to invest in health and education.

You can help Haiti achieve immediate debt cancellation without delays or strings attached by calling your representative and asking them to co-sponsor the Haiti debt cancellation resolution in the House (H.Res. 241). To co-sponsor the resolution, the Member's staff should call Kathleen Sengstock in Representative Maxine Waters' office at (202) 225-2201 - Representative Waters helped introduce this resolution to Congress along with six other Members. If your Representative has already co-sponsored the resolution, please call to thank them. This resolution garnered 65 co-sponsors in the last session of Congress, and we want to ensure it passes this year.

To find contact information for your representative, click here. To find out whether your Representative has co-sponsored this resolution, click here. See the phone script below for use when calling your congressional representative.

For more information visit Jubilee USA or theInstitute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Phone Script to call your Member to cancel Haiti's debt
My name is XXX and I support debt cancellation to release resources to fight poverty in Haiti. I am calling to encourage Representative XXX to co-sponsor H.Res. 241 which would immediately cancel Haiti's debt.

Haiti is the most impoverished country in the Western hemisphere. Close to one in four children are chronically malnourished. There are only 2 doctors for every 10,000 people. Haiti needs debt cancellation to pay for social services like education, hospitals, and medicines.

The Haiti debt cancellation resolution urges the World Bank, IMF, and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to completely cancel Haiti's debt without delays. To co-sponsor H.Res. 241 please contact Kathleen Sengstock in Representative Maxine Waters' office at (202) 225-2201.

Thank you for your time!
The effort to cancel Haiti's debt is an important initiative that citizens of other countries are encouraged to support as well. For an example of how this is being done in the Bahamas, click here.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Quote of the Week

"If there is any fault in the modern Christian, it is a lack of understanding of what Christ was talking about. Many see Jesus Christ only as an extension of themselves, hindered by the same worries and prejudices. As long as this type of thinking continues, Christ will remain to many people only a Jewish philosopher who taught a rather interesting philosophy of love two thousand years ago, and nothing more. Can Christianity work? Rather, let us ask, has it been tried?"

Ircel Harrison, Coordinator of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, commenting on the topic of Christian Ethics and Racial Discrimination

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Profile on the Bahamas Human Rights Network

At the invitation of a local pastor late last year, my wife and I have gotten involved in the work of the Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN), which has turned out to be a great way to stand in solidarity with the people we serve in the local Haitian churches on a number critical issues affecting their community.

BHRN is a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to insuring the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons living in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, as defined by the Bahamas Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To that end, BHRN seeks to collaborate with any groups or individuals living in the Bahamas whose human rights have been violated. Since BHRN was officially launched on December 8th of last year, it has made it a priority to involve itself in a number of areas that impact the Haitian community in the Bahamas.

The first area of involvement is educational. BHRN is currently collaborating with the Legal Aid Clinic of the Eugene Dupuch Law School (EDLS) to translate and publish literature informing Haitians and Bahamians of Haitian descent about their legal rights regarding their immigration status as well as the application process for Bahamian citizenship. This literature will be made available in both English and Haitian Creole and will be distributed through local Haitian churches as well as the Carmichael Road Detention Center. BHRN is also committed to providing information about its activities at important events in the local Haitian community as it did during last month’s United Evangelistic Crusade.

Secondly, BHRN is also partnering with the EDLS Legal Aid Clinic to offer legal assistance to Haitians whose rights have been violated. Just two months ago, for example, an unarmed Haitian man was shot in the leg by a police officer while attempting to flee a routine Defense Force roundup of illegal immigrants. That man is now being charged with attempting to assault and disarm the officer who shot him. Currently, this case is working its way through the local court system and the accused is being represented by a legal aid attorney provided by EDLS. BHRN expects to continue collaborating with the Legal Aid Clinic on these and other cases involving human rights violations.

Thirdly, BHRN is especially committed to addressing the issues that are faced by Haitians and Haitian-Bahamians residing in the Mud and Pigeon Pea, both of which are Haitian squatter settlements on the outskirts of Marsh Harbour, Abaco. In addition to providing the same kinds of services mentioned above, BHRN is also seeking a more comprehensive political and socioeconomic approach to the problems in those communities. That process has already begun as representatives from BHRN have traveled to Abaco several times over the past year (beginning even before BHRN was officially launched) to hold “town meetings” and dialogue with community leaders in the Mud and Pigeon Pea.

BHRN’s next step will be to broaden this dialogue to include government and community leaders from outside the settlements. On the 22nd of June, BHRN and EDLS will team up with the College of Bahamas (COB) School of Social Sciences to conduct a panel discussion on the topic “Shackled Freedom: Immigrant Communities in Crisis, Human Rights and Social Justice.” The event will be held in the proximity the Mud and Pigeon Pea in order to facilitate the participation of the members of those communities. Tentative panelists will be Dr. Antoine St. Louis, pastor of Victory Chapel Church of the Nazarene in Nassau; the Rt. Hon. Fred Mitchell, MP and former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Thaddeus McDonald, Dean of Social and Educational studies at COB; as well as a representative from the new FNM government.

Fourth and finally, BHRN has become involved in political advocacy on matters in Haiti that affect the flow of Haitian migrants to the Bahamas. In March, for example, BHRN passed a resolution calling for the cancellation of Haiti’s international debt so that money being used to pay off loans (the bulk of which were accrued under the Duvalier regime and, instead of being invested in national development, ended up financing the family’s lavish lifestyle) can instead be redirected to the country’s national development efforts.

Having outlined this somewhat ambitious agenda, it is important to keep in mind that BHRN is not exclusively about Haitian rights but rather human rights and, as such, seeks to secure the rights and freedoms of all persons living in the Bahamas. While Haitian rights have been the starting point for its work, BHRN has also been in dialogue with other groups as well. A few months ago, for example, BHRN met with leaders from the Rastafarian community to discuss their human rights concerns. Ultimately, dialogue such as this will result in BHRN broadening its activities to encompass the concerns of the Rastafarians as well as other groups in the Bahamas whose human rights must be secured.

In the weeks and months ahead, I hope to continue to chronicle the ongoing activities of BHRN.

For more information about BHRN or to find out the date for BHRN’s next public meeting, call 242-327-1660. BHRN is also putting together a website and, hopefully, that will be available online soon. When it is, I will be sure to post a link here on this blog for those who might be interested.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

COB tuition policy for non-citizens under review

The May 26th edition of The Tribune reported that Carl Bethel, the newly appointed Education Minister, plans to review the policy under which Bahamian-born youth who are not yet Bahamian citizens must pay the foreign tuition rate at College of the Bahamas (COB). This action is in response to concerns raised by Lucien Emmanuel, a Haitian Bahamian student who has been admitted for studies at the Eugene Dupuch Law School this coming September. The Ministry of Education will work with officials from the College of the Bahamas to review this policy.

Persons who are born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents are not considered to be Bahamian citizens and must wait until they are eighteen years old to apply for Bahamian citizenship. In practice, it takes years for citizenship applications to be processed, if they are even processed at all. In the meantime, these young people, typically Haitian Bahamians, remain second-class citizens in the country of their birth. In regards to their education, this can be a major setback as inability to obtain Bahamian citizenship in a timely fashion prevents them from pursuing tertiary studies at the College of the Bahamas unless they can afford the foreign tuition rates. Likewise, lack of citizenship prevents them from applying for a Bahamian passport in order to pursue study opportunities abroad.

Unfortunately, the definition of who does or does not qualify for Bahamian citizenship on the basis of birth is a bit complex. The Tribune article notes that a child born in wedlock in the Bahamas to a Bahamian mother and a foreign father does not qualify for citizenship on the basis of birth. In contrast, a child born in wedlock in the Bahamas to a Bahamian father and foreign mother does qualify for citizenship on the basis of birth. Thus, in marriages between a Bahamian and a non-Bahamian, the children will not automatically qualify for citizenship on the basis of their birth UNLESS their FATHER is a Bahamian.

But wait! Things are even more complicated than this. Unlike children in the previous category, children born out of wedlock to a Bahamian mother and a foreign father automatically acquire citizenship at birth through their unmarried Bahamian mother. Put differently, the law seems to reward the children of unmarried Bahamian women with citizenship while penalizing those of women who are legally married.

Again, those who are born in the Bahamas but do not qualify for citizenship due to one of the above situations must wait until they are eighteen to apply for citizenship, a process that is fraught with difficulties and, more often than not, doesn't have a happy ending.

From a human rights perspective, changing COB's tuition policy to accommodate non-citizens born in the Bahamas doesn't really get at the heart of the problem. These young people would be better served if the government were to commit to processing their citizenship applications in a timely fashion or, better yet, simply grant citizenship to all persons born in the Bahamas without exception. For a variety of reasons, however, such changes will not likely be on the horizon anytime soon. In the meantime, Education Minister Carl Bethel is taking a bold step that, hopefully, will open the doors for Haitian Bahamians and others to pursue their education and, perhaps, lay the groundwork for even bigger changes in the future.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Legacy of Bahamian Labour

As Tropical Storm Barry heads towards the gulf coast of Florida, we are enjoying a cool, drizzly, and wet holiday weekend here in Nassau. Yesterday, June 1st, was significant for two reasons: it was (1) the observance of Bahamian Labour Day and (2) the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Burma Road Riots.

Since most countries in the world celebrate Labour Day on May 1st (with the major exception being U.S. Labor Day, which is observed on the first Monday in September), I should mention that Bahamian Labour Day has its origins in the Burma Road Riots, which took place on June 1, 1942. So let me begin by giving a brief overview of that important event.

Following the great economic hardships of the 1930s, the onset of World War II brought new economic opportunities to Bahamians living in Nassau, particularly through the joint collaboration of the U.S. and British militaries to build shared training facilities near Nassau.

The Nassau Guardian reports:

New Providence was chosen to be the site of an Operational Training Unit under the joint auspices of the Imperial and United States Government. The installation which had to be built was supervised by the United States Army Engineering Department. An American firm, Pleasantville Incorporated, began work on the 20 May, 1942. Two sites were chosen; the Main Field just south of Grant's Town, the predominantly black section of Nassau, at the site of the small landing field (later called Oakes Field) that had been developed by Sir Harry Oakes. The Satellite Field was in the Pine Barren near the western end of New Providence, later called Windsor Field which became the Nassau International Airport. The operation called the 'Project' employed over two thousand men, many of them Out Islanders (Family Islanders) who had flocked to Nassau during the previous two decades in search of jobs. The Project not only provided work for Bahamians but also caused an influx of many white American workers who were brought in as foremen.
While at first glance this seemed to be an important employment opportunity for many previously unemployed Bahamians, it soon degenerated into a wage dispute. By law Bahamian workers were only to be paid four shillings per day BUT it seems that rumors had been circulating that the U.S. contractors were willing to pay the much higher wage of eight shillings per day, which was precisely the same wage that unskilled American laborers were being paid for doing the exact same work. When it became apparent that this dispute was not going to resolved in favor of the Bahamian workers, they held a strike on June 1, 1942 which quickly degenerated into violence, killing five persons and wounding many more.

The end result was that the Duke of Windsor, who was then serving as the governor of the Bahamas, negotiated a compromise with the workers resulting in a one shilling per day wage increase as well as the appointment of the Russell Commission to investigate and recommend legislative changes based on the concerns of the laborers. In actuality, only token changes were implemented based on the Commission's recommendations and most of its recommendations were simply ignored.

The really significant outcome of the Burma Road Riots was the impact it made on a young high school student named Randol Fawkes. Years later, Fawkes became active in the Bahamian labor movement, founded the Bahamas Federation of Labour (1955), and began holding labor rallies on June 1st of each year in order to draw attention to the plight of rank and file Bahamian laborers. As a member of the House of Assembly, Fawkes was eventually able to introduce and pass legislation in 1961 to establish June 1st as a paid public holiday. Fawkes political clout as a labor leader also positioned him to become one of the chief architects of Black Majority Rule in 1967 (of which the 40th anniversary is being observed this year).

So while the Burma Road Riots did not bring about immediate change to plight of unskilled Bahamian workers, it did inspire a subsequent and more successful movement that not only significantly improved the plight of Bahamian laborers but also significantly contributed to the momentum that ushered in the major political changes achieved through Black Majority Rule.

As important as these achievements have been for the cause of Bahamian national development, it is important not to overlook the new underclass of laborers in the Bahamas that routinely work under unfair conditions: Haitians, Dominicans, Jamaicans, and many others. I will not elaborate on the details of these laborers here, but simply point them out as a reminder that even as we celebrate the accomplishments of the past we must continue to struggle against the injustices of the present.