Some last impressions of Haiti

First, today’s the 4th anniversary of 10/7, the day the US began bombing Afghanistan. This isn’t often seen as a turning point the way 9/11/01 or the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was. But maybe it should be.


First, today’s the 4th anniversary of 10/7, the day the US began bombing Afghanistan. This isn’t often seen as a turning point the way 9/11/01 or the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was. But maybe it should be.

I wanted to share some impressions of Haiti before moving on to normal blogging. It’s really easy for a foreigner to deal out impressions and they tend to say more about the foreigner than about the place. I’m not eloquent or flowery as a writer to begin with but I deliberately avoid such writing because going to someone else’s country and writing fancy words about it irks me. I met Colombian photojournalist Jesus Abad Colorado this morning and complained about this and he instantly understood what I meant. He called it the ‘aesthetization’ of politics, in which the life and death issues and problems are lost by the writer or artist’s ego. It irks me that Haiti is always associated with music and dancing and stark landscapes and beautiful phrases, as if politics and ideas are for other places. Maybe I’m overreacting or seeing something that isn’t there. But for a place under occupation, like Haiti, where everyone from the worst-meaning militarist to the best-intentioned NGO worker seems to participate in eroding the place’s sovereignty, writing like this seems like an even more insidious thing to do.

And yet, a writer has to try to convey what is unknown to the reader in terms of what is known to the reader. For a foreigner writing for a foreign audience (a ‘blan’ writing to an audience of ‘blans’, to use the Haitian term. Foreigners in Haiti are ‘blan’, which literally means ‘white’, and that includes those of us who have never had the experience of being whites before), impressions might offer a window for understanding the important things. So here’s a few.

In the wealthy areas of Port au Prince, you will always hear the roar of engines. They aren’t engines, but ‘backup’ generators that produce electricity from oil and gas. They aren’t exactly ‘backup’, since they provide most of the electricity – Port au Prince households get a couple of hours of electricity a day. I am not familiar with the efficiency of a proliferation of private generators compared to large public power projects. I suspect the former are energy inefficient, but I haven’t looked into it yet. Whatever their energy efficiency, private generation precludes possibilities for redistribution, ‘energy justice’, or even reduction of dependence on oil. As for oil and gas, the prices are comparable to North America: it costs $40 USD to fill up the tank of a jeep, which is what most private vehicles are – the roads are rough, Haiti is mountainous, and cars need to be big and tough to survive. This prices most people out of transportation, given that the minimum wage is less than $2 USD a day. There are ‘tap taps’, public buses that leave when they’re full and are relatively cheap, but plenty of people are priced out of these too.

You’ll see some green and some trees, but Haiti’s deforestation problem is devastating. You know the story of the creole pig? The insurance policy for the Haitian peasant was once a hardy black pig that could eat anything. Then the Americans, with help from Baby Doc Duvalier, wiped the poor creole pig from the face of the earth because of fear of swine fever. That was in the 1980s. The Americans lost the possibility of having to worry about swine fever. The Haitian peasant economy lost its safety net and social protection. The new social protection became trees – cutting them down for charcoal. Deforestation had already been a problem when this started. But it has accelerated. Without forests, there is erosion, and Haiti’s topsoil is leaking into the sea at an unbelievable rate. We heard some detail about the villages of Mapou and Fond Verettes that were wiped off the face of the earth by a tropical storm in 2004. All the buildings, all the inhabitants, washed into the river by a mudslide. The alternative to these deaths that stem from the deforestation and cutting down of trees seems to be the slow starvation in the countryside that would occur if the trees weren’t cut down.

These aren’t precisely political problems. They are social, economic, ecological. And yet any possible solution to them would be political. It would probably involve a sovereign government that would mobilize the country’s resources (and, one hopes, reparations) to create the kind of public sector many countries take for granted and that Haiti has never been allowed to have – saddled with punitive debts, occupations and plundering dictators and foreign powers. It’s this last step that the Haitian people have struggled so valiantly over the past 20 years to take and have been so cruelly denied – currently denied by all the countries of the rainbow, many of which are poor and conflict-ridden themselves.

As far as I can tell, the genie really did come out of the bottle when the population ended the reign of the Duvaliers in 1986. Not the US, not the Army, not the paramilitaries, not the ‘MRE’ (a term I learned from Haitian tycoon Boulos, he said roughly: ‘they call us the MRE, the most repugnant elite, but we aren’t. We are actually the most resilient elite’), could put that genie back in the bottle. The most powerful don’t seem to have that power any more. What they do have, though, is the power to destroy, to despoil, to create chaos. What’s the endgame they envision? All of Haiti looking like the bare rock of Mapou, with the Haitians dispersed around the Americas?

More than one Haitian reminded us that Haiti, as the first successful slave rebellion in history, did humanity a great service and provides humanity with a great example. To say the rest of the world responded ungratefully would be an understatement. The world owes Haiti a lot better, and time is short.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

5 thoughts on “Some last impressions of Haiti”

  1. Tell me more about Haiti.
    Tell me more about Haiti. We go there in January to build methane generators for LoveaChild.
    Paul

    1. If you have the availability
      If you have the availability of options, such as payday loans in finance, or the choice of either beef or chicken for dinner – be thankful. Over a billion people across the globe don’t have those kinds of choices. World hunger is fast becoming a pandemic, and some of it is in our own backyard – such as the Caribbean island nation of Haiti. Citizens of Haiti have resorted to literally eating dirt – making cookie sized clumps of dirt and eating them, which exposes them to an untold number of bacteria and possible infections. This last month, there was a resolution that went before the floor at the United Nations, and it was whether or not food was a fundamental human right, and it passed by a margin of 180 to 1. There were no abstentions, or nations that didn’t have an opinion, and only 7 countries were absent. The sole opposition to the resolution was the United States of America. The reason must have been sound – it had to do with opposition to the wording of the resolution – but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Be thankful that you have the option to go to either Safeway or Albertson’s, and that you can get payday loans if you need to. For more about the UN and world news, read this article at the payday loans blog

  2. Paul, I’d just suggest that
    Paul, I’d just suggest that you pay attention to the political context and to the role of North America in what has happened in Haiti. It is good that you are going and doing alternative energy projects. But if Haiti had not been plundered by France after independence to the tune of $22B, if there hadn’t been an embargo against Haiti to the tune of $600M, if there had just been a normal chance for Haiti to develop, Haiti wouldn’t need the ‘help’ of people like us. I met a lot of people who thought what they were doing in Haiti cleansed their conscience and made them good people. But the truth is that what we owe Haiti far outweighs the tiny projects we can do. So, please have our responsibility and the political context in mind when you go.

  3. Hello,
    I consider your

    Hello,

    I consider your critics to be very helpfull in some ways. I do agree that cutting trees in Haiti will cause significant problems to the environment. I also believe that are many new methods for alternative energy in Haiti out there. Do you know any ways that we can help Haitian besides cutting trees as their main energy fuels. If anyone wants to help or voice his opinions please email me because we can make a hughe difference togehter.
    Thank you very much!
    Dimitri

  4. I don’t know what I can do
    I don’t know what I can do to help Haiti. But I often wonder why the U.S. government will not give aid to or assist the people. What have these people done to be treated in an inhumane way? Is it because they are an all Black country? If anyone out there can answer my question it would be most appreciated.

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