PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Angry over the treatment of their children by a Caribbean neighbor, they came out by the thousands – young and old, rich and poor, artists and athletes.
For three hours Saturday, they braved the sweltering heat, singing, dancing and walking shoulder-to-shoulder in an unusual display of Haitian solidarity to protest what they are calling Jamaica’s discriminatory and humiliating treatment of Haiti’s Under-17 soccer players during a World Cup qualifying tournament in Montego Bay.
“What happened to these young men could happen to anyone of us. We are here to send a response to Jamaica: They have people to defend them,’’ said Jenel Saint-Jean, 31.
According to Dr. Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, the team was forced to withdraw from the competition after Jamaican authorities were pressured to send them home because several members became ill with a fever that was later determined to be malaria.
Jean-Bart, a medical doctor, said the problems began as soon as the delegation of 28 arrived in Montego Bay on Feb. 3. The players were immediately subjected to medical screenings at the airport. Days later, two of the players came down with malaria. After Bart visited a local pharmacy to get medication, Jamaican authorities showed up in the team’s locker room with a medical brigade and armed security, he said.
After more tests and visits, the Haitian team was told that everyone would have to undergo testing. Bart said team members were later placed in quarantine and armed guards “blocked the exit’’ preventing team members from leaving.
“They didn’t give them food. They couldn’t sleep and they were guarded by armed guards,’’ he said.
“It was so urgent for them to get rid of us that they chartered an airplane that had 176 seats, all the way from Washington, D.C., to Montego Bay to come get us,’’ he said. The delegation had 28 members. Bart said he believes Jamaican authorities reacted the way they did because they believed the players had cholera.
In protest, the Haitian government recalled its Charge d’Affairs to Jamaica, Max Alcé, back to Haiti.
Jamaica said it regretted the team’s withdrawal and the nation’s minister of foreign affairs, Kenneth Baugh, said the incident was a “serious misunderstanding.’’
The Jamaican government confirmed that its ministry of health recommended that the Haitian soccer team leave the island.
“The decision was unavoidable and necessary in order to safeguard public health,’’ the government said in a press statement.
“Officials of the Ministry of Health made every effort to ensure that the members of the Haitian contingent were attended to in accordance with the health protocols in effect in Jamaica. Care was taken to provide meals for those in quarantine, both at the hospital and in the hotel where they were registered.’’
But marchers, including Alix Jean-Baptiste, Haiti’s former minister of Haitians Living Abroad, said there was no misunderstanding.
He called for a boycott of all Jamaican products, both in Haiti and elsewhere.
“They incarcerated these boys because they were afraid they were going to spread some virus. It’s incredible,’’ said Jean-Baptiste, draped in an oversized Haitian flag as he marched. “We should stand up and say enough is enough.’’
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