Former Jamaica prime minister P.J.Patterson recalls ‘abduction’ of Haitian president at Canadian book launch

By Lincoln DePradine


P.J. Patterson

For former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, “one of the things that stands out most” during his time in office was the 2004  “abduction ” of then Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was forced to  resign in a move backed by the United States.

“Aristide, the president, was abducted from Haiti and taken against his will to the Central African Republic. I found that to be repugnant,’’ Patterson said Monday in an online discussion with Dr Luz Longsworth, principal of the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The former Jamaican leader recalled threats received after Caribbean leaders condemned President Aristide’s abduction.

The Aristide incident “angered’’ Patterson.

“What really angered me most,’’ he said, “was that when the plane with Aristide landed in Antigua to refuel, the declaration on the manifest was, ‘no passengers, cargo only’. We came across the Caribbean as human cargo; and I said, no matter what it costs, so long as I had breath, and so long as I controlled the levers of political office, and in relation to my colleagues in the Caribbean, it is something we should denounce.

“It’s one of my most difficult periods because we were threatened for having the courage to stand up. But, it had to be done.’’

Longsworth  who is also pro vice-chancellor of global affairs at UWI and chair of the board of UWI Press, engaged Patterson in what was described as a “fireside chat’’ for the Canadian launch of his memoir, “My Political Journey’’.

The virtual event was hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto.

It was Patterson’s latest book launch in a series that has involved similar activities in places such as Jamaica and London, England.

“The launch series could not be completed without including Canada, a place where I have so many friends and so many pleasant remembrances,’’ said Patterson, who succeeded Michael Manley to serve as Jamaica’s sixth prime minister.

Patterson, 85, had planned an in-person visit to Canada earlier this year for the book launch. However, he was forced to cancel the  event due to a personal injury he suffered and also because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus pandemic is “a call of urgency’’ for countries to work together, said Patterson.

The virus, he  noted, has been “reverberating throughout the entire world’’, affecting rich and poor nations alike

“COVID-19 does not discriminate in any way,’’ he said. “It threatens not only the health of people but also the health of our economies, particularly in the developing world with the accumulation of debt, with the fight that we have to make against hunger, against poverty, against ignorance.’’

According to Patterson, COVID-19 “is showing that no part of the world is really immune from what is happening in another part of the world. We keep on talking about a global village. This is perhaps the clearest example that what happens in one place can have deleterious effects throughout the world. I would almost call it a call of urgency that we have to come together in the fight against disease, against climate change. People are starving when in other countries food is being thrown away.’’

Patterson, after being prime minister for 14 years, resigned in 2006, handing over the leadership of Jamaica to Portia Simpson Miller.

His current activities now include chairing the “Ramphal Commission’’, which is involved in a study of migration and development in the Commonwealth. In June, he was named “Statesman in Residence’’ at the P.J. Patterson Centre for Africa-Caribbean Advocacy at the UWI.

“My Political Journey’’, described as a  a bestseller, is published by UWI Press and was released in December 2018.

The book chronicles Patterson’s participantion in the political and social development of Jamaica and the Caribbean. Proceeds from the sale of books are being allocated to supporting student scholarships at the University of the West Indies.

Patterson said that although the attempt at a West Indies Federation had failed, Caribbean countries were “smart enough’’ to realize there was “common interest in practical areas of collaboration’’, which led to the establishment of regional institutions such as UWI and the Caribbean Development Bank.

Patterson, in discussion with Longsworth, also remarked on his love for cricket and music, disclosing that he was the drummer for a high school music band and once managed the Skatalites, which was founded in the 1950s.

The Skatalites was Jamaica’s “greatest aggregation of musicians’’, Patterson said.

One of the sponsors of Monday’s virtual book launch was NCB Financial Group, which is chaired by Dr Michael Lee-Chin.

Patterson contributed to “building of a better Jamaica’’, and the book launch was an opportunity to showcase “someone whose life’s work is one that we should all be proud of and whose dedication to Jamaica is a role model for all of us’’, Lee-Chin said.