A young Haitian man I know recently referred to his island as “cursed,” an understandable viewpoint.
First, a down-and-dirty historical recap: Haiti was colonized by the French, who enslaved the indigenous people and exploited the rich land until a successful revolt ended their rule in 1804. Sore losers, the French forced Haiti to pay astronomical reparation costs and crippled their ability to trade with other nations. They also left behind a tyrannical political system, colorism, and forced Catholicism. The result, in part, involved political corruption and instability in which leaders rarely served a full term without coup, assassination, or suicide, and if they did, it was because they were dictators, like the infamous father/son duo, Papa and Baby Doc, who inflicted horrific pain on Haiti’s people and collective memory. Cumulative result? Haiti is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The political corruption and instability continues to this day with, and as you likely know, the July 7th assassination of President Jovenel Moise, whose entire presidency was punctuated with questions of legitimacy and scandal, in his home. The country is currently being run by an interim prime minister and, due to the aforementioned instability, a government that is severely understaffed until the next election.
Why doesn’t the U.S. do something? The USA’s history with Haiti is problematic, at best. On one hand, we’ve sent troops, etc. to Haiti twice to offer “assistance” and, instead, essentially taken over and exploited the Haitian people, most notably during the occupation of 1915-1934. Additionally, when we support leadership, we are often siding with dictators or minimally, greedy, corrupt, and ineffective leaders, so instead of helping to promote the growth of a fair democratic system, we’re are actually stifling it by maintaining the status quo. These are actions that should not be repeated. In contrast, when we don’t help Haiti, we are viewed as “abandoning” the country in a time of great need. I can only hope that we find some middle ground, in which we help to facilitate a fair next round of elections.
That said, it seems unlikely that equitable elections will occur this fall, since both the party that former Presidents Martelly and Jovenel belonged to is corrupt as is the primary opposition. Furthermore, with gangs causing violence on parties’ behalf and, I believe, unrelatedly as well, many lives are in danger, which doesn’t exactly encourage a welcoming voting atmosphere. Atrocities have occurred regularly over the past two years, including weekly robberies, kidnappings, and murders, in addition to countrywide lockdowns due to political protest, with far-reaching economic consequences.
Add to this the 2010 earthquake, 2016 Hurricane Matthew (and smaller hurricanes), and recent August 14th earthquake, and the results are devastating. Haiti is deforested, which means less protection for towns and cities, and climate change is only worsening the frequency and severity of tropical storms. This isn’t just a horrible streak of bad luck; the issues will only continue to mount.
In Haiti, there is no division between church and state. The Cathedral of St. Louis Roi of France, which is located on the main square in Jeremie, located in the southwest, where 119 deaths occurred in this month’s earthquake, is used for multiple purposes, including such events as graduations. This is the second time that it has lost its roof in the past five years.
Haitians are having even greater difficulty than ever keeping roofs over their heads, food in their bellies, and their health. Simply put, the main issue involves increasingly inflated prices accompanied by depreciation of the Haitian gourde and merchants wanting to be paid in USD, Keep in mind, too, that this is a land in which you must pay for something as simple as potable water.
I don’t believe in curses. Haiti is a country that experiences many humanmade difficulties, including climate change, that need humanmade solutions, both internal and external. Until said solutions are actualized, Haitians are dying.
Please help if you are able: Haitian Connection