By Don Rojas
“Haiti is too rich to be poor”. This seemingly contradictory statement uttered by a well-known Haitian educator the night before our departure echoed repeatedly in my mind as I flew back to the USA after a brief but eventful visit to Haiti in mid-February, 2014.
But amidst these bleak scenarios, we also observed the rich spirit of a proud people with a unique history and a vibrant culture. We could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, feel it in their warm embraces, all of which served to remind us of the invaluable contributions of so many talented Haitian artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals to the enrichment of world culture.
As I contemplated the words of the noted Haitian educator, many snapshot images of an intense four-day visit that had lodged somewhere in my sub-conscious mind began to surface, providing clarity and insight into the living paradox that is Haiti today.
I recalled the impeccably dressed school girls in their pressed uniforms and with cute hair bows walking back from a day of learning to their tiny, mud-walled homes in villages perched on the steep hillsides of the mountain range where the great Citadel sits;and images of their mothers and grandmothers who, after sending these kids off to school, would venture into the fields to plow the land or to the rivers to wash their clothes; images of the enterprising and intelligent young crafts vendors and horse guides at the Citadel, barely literate youth who, nonetheless, can communicate effectively in the native tongues of visiting English, Spanish, Dutch and German-speaking tourists.
After defeating the powerful armies of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, thus ending slavery and establishing the first Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere, the formerly enslaved Africans and their progeny found themselves paying a heavy toll throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries to Europeancolonialism and US imperialism for the “sin” of liberating themselves and for inspiring freedom fighters and independence movements throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as abolitionists and anti-slavery activists in the USA.
Bonaparte, one of the greatest military minds in the history of Western civilization, and a proponent of white supremacy, once wrote, “my decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Saint Domingue (Haiti) is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block forever the march of the blacks in the world.”
Beyond mobilizing material support and technical assistance for projects and programs initiated by organizations within the popular movement for democracy inHaiti (peasant, labor, women, youth, religious) and providing humanitarian relief in the event of natural disasters, HSP works to influence US foreign policy towards Haiti so that it conforms with the aspirations of the popular movement for participatory democracy inside the country.
HSP also encourages support for investments in sociallyresponsible business and community economic development projects and enterprises in Haiti and has acted as a “good-faith facilitator and mediator” wherever and whenever appropriate to promote peace, justice, reconciliation and unity within Haitian society.
For me and the rest of the delegation, visiting the Citadel during the recent trip to Haiti was akin to going on a pilgrimage to a shrine that symbolizes freedom and self-determination for Black people all over the world. It is the largest fortress in the Americas, declared by the United Nations a few years ago as a world heritage site….a truly breath-taking place with huge tourist potential.
The town of Milot is the gateway to the Citadel and it is HSP’s intention to work with Milot’s residents to ultimately transform this lovely town into a showpiece that celebrates the history, ingenuity and freedom-loving spirit of the Haitian people.
Today, 210 years after its liberation from French slavery and colonialism,Haiti continues its struggle to realize the promise and potential for meaningful independence and self-determination.Evidence of progress is starting to emerge. Post-earthquake re-construction, glitches notwithstanding, is well underway spurred on by the legendary resilience of the Haitian people. In recent years Haiti has broken out of its regional isolation and is now an active player in CARICOM, the Caribbean community of nations, and in ALBA, the organization working towards closer economic integration between Latin America and the Caribbean.
Even though its economy grew by an impressive 5.6% in 2013, it will take a continuous flow of foreign aid coupled with sustained job growth and efficient economic management over the next several years to lift Haiti out of a state of extreme poverty. A very long road to recovery lies ahead and HSP and its collaborators will be fellow travelers on that road,marching hand-in-hand with the people of Haiti.
As for me, I am determined that the long hiatus of 19 years not visiting this amazing country, will not be repeated. I plan to visit again with my friend Ron Daniels before the end of 2014 and to make whatever contribution I can to the noble work of the Haiti Support Project.
Maybe on my next visit I will unravel new insights into Madame Marie’s tantalizing proclamation that Haiti is, indeed, “too rich to be poor.”