Haiti Websites

Some websites with Haiti information, gathered from COHA‘s country pages:

The official website of the Republic of Haiti. You will find useful information here about Haiti, the Government, Business opportunities, Visa and Tourism.

Governments on the WWW: Haiti

The CIA’s World Factbook page for Haiti

Human Development Report on Haiti 2002
An independent reporting tool for policy analysis reflecting people’s priorities, strengthening national capacities, engaging national partners, identifying inequities and measuring progress.

Haiti Reborn – Let Haiti Live
The Let Haiti Live Coalition unites organizations and individuals to advocate for U.S. policies which respect the independence and self-determination of the Haitian people and their Republic. The Let Haiti Live Coalition is committed to building a dynamic and well-informed network of solidarity to support the Haitian people in their pursuit of democracy, human rights and equitable development.

My Philosophy

God bless my fianc�e Louise. I�m going to start running these essays by her before I post them. (She�s a trained editor, don�t you know!) She pointed out some serious weaknesses in Saturday�s entry, including unsubstantiated claims and sweeping generalizations. Most of all she wants me to support the assertions that I make. (Imagine!)

Louise, baby, I will, I will, I will. But first I�m going to get a few things off my chest.

First of all, if I didn�t make it clear before, I�m writing these essays in-process, if you will, in reaction to my research on Haiti. Ultimately I�m more concerned with events that took place 200 years ago, but I felt that I had to know more about Haiti today, so I�m spending some time getting up to speed on the current situation in that country and on events in the intervening years. My normal pattern lately is to read emails or websites or a couple of chapters in a book, taking notes in my trusty PowerBook along the way, then to write a short essay encapsulating what I�ve discovered. I intend that these essays will be searchable records of my impressions as well as talking points for the occasional visitor to the site.

Still, the fact that these are more or less personal accounts of my process is no excuse for sloppy writing. I can certainly see Louise�s point about, for example, the third paragraph in yesterday�s post, where I kind of took off with a broad swipe at what I perceive to be the US�s hypocritical policies. While I feel justified in my point of view based on my reading and thinking about the issue, the unsupported assertions only distracted the reader from the point of the article. (I also think I can do a better job of explaining to what my essays are responding; such as, �I read the following chapter in Lib�te today, which was concerned with [so-and-so].�)

So, it would seem that I�m feeling the need to record my personal philosophies as well as the facts I uncover in my research. I intend that my writing will ultimately be fair and balanced (oh, that phrase!), but I can�t escape the fact of my bias, nor do I think it wise to try to hide it. Perhaps it�s best that I just declare my biases here and now. At least then the reader may be able to evaluate these posts with some perspective.

So, here goes. What follows are some of my personal feelings, snap judgments, and liberal and libertarian philosophies which undergird and inform my writing, and some of which have developed in my two months of research into Haitian history.

1) I believe in the radical and revolutionary notion of liberty and justice for all. I believe the ideas recorded in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are some of the most beautiful, eloquent, and powerful statements ever crafted by man, and I believe that they should be applied unequivocally and equally to every human.

2) I don�t believe that Haiti is blameless for the situation she is in now. Far from it. Short-sighted self-interest seems to be a hallmark of Haitian decision making. If my comments, though, seem to focus more on US weaknesses, perhaps it�s because I don�t feel qualified to offer advice to Haiti on how to fix its problems. I do feel I have some insight at this point on what America�s mistakes have been and what we might do to make amends.

3) I believe that, as the most powerful nation in the world, the United States has a moral responsibility to assist Haiti in whatever way we can. We are wealthy and we have a responsibility to use that wealth wisely and compassionately.

4) Furthermore, Haiti is our sister in independence. She was forged in the same fire of revolutionary spirit that formed our democracy and the French republic. Her people fought for their independence and became the second free republic in the Western Hemisphere, and the first free black republic ever. We should have supported her from her birth. However…

5) As reported by organizations like the Council On Hemispheric Affairs, for 200 years, we have pursued an �unjust and mindless U.S. policy towards Haiti, a policy that began with Washington�s initial refusal to recognize the newly independent country until 1862, nearly six decades after its independence, continued through the often brutal U.S. military occupation of 1915-34, and culminated in the U.S.�s enthusiastic support of the corrupt dictatorships of the Duvaliers, both father and son, and their military successors.� (COHA Press Release 04/03)

6) While it is the right of the United States to support democracies which uphold the democratic ideals of human rights and freedom, and to withhold such aid from countries whose philosophies oppose those ideals, there has been no sustained effort by the US to assist Haitians in developing a political and economic climate which would nurture such ideals. Therefore, withholding our support at this point seems to me rather cruel, mean-spirited, and ultimately ineffective in producing real change.

7) Haiti�s defeat of the French forces so weakened Napoleon�s hand in the New World that he sold the land that today makes up a third of our country. For that, we owe Haiti a debt.

8) Almost 200 years before Rosa Parks, the people of Haiti demonstrated to the world the principles of civil rights. Though the actions of Dessalines and Christophe fostered racial tensions in that country, it should never be forgotten that Toussaint Louverture�s constitution declared all people free regardless of color, gender, or nationality. For setting such an example, we owe Haiti the respect and honor of a nation that took close to two centuries to put such assurances in place for its own people.

9) I�m fully aware that I�m incredibly naive about a lot of this stuff, but that�s why I�m researching it. I expect that by the end of the year my acquired knowledge will inform and mature my viewpoint. I�ll be interested to re-read this baseline philosophical statement at that time and see what has changed.

Whew! That was – you�ll pardon the pun – liberating. Starting today, I will maintain a separate category in the blog just for personal statements of philosophy like this. That way I can leave the biased speech out of my other essays and focus on more on presenting a judicious and encompassing view of the facts.

Haiti Film Festival

The American Museum of Natural History will host Haiti on Film on this Saturday, January 31st from 1pm to 5 pm. See this link for details.

I looked into flying to New York for this, but decided instead to make plans to attend the Haiti On Screen Film Festival slated for March 31 to April 4, 2004. Will post further details when I get them.

With Friends Like These…

In thinking about my post from yesterday, I want to make sure I’m not misunderstood on one point: In criticizing ways that aid to Haiti is sometimes delivered, I don’t mean to call into question the genuine good will of those who are trying to help. I’m also not saying that Haitians shouldn’t be helped, or that they somehow deserve their misery and poverty. I’m saying that they should be taken on their own terms. I’m saying that the dignity and situation of any people is not enhanced by outsiders who dictate conditions based on their own arbitrary conclusions about how the world should work.

Amy Wilentz’s article on page 124 of Libète underscores the pitfalls of judging behavior we don’t understand by filtering it through our usual pair of lenses. Haiti, she suggests, must be taken on its own terms. We cannot force our ideas and sensibilities on others.

Take, for example, our insistence on forcing our idea of democracy on Haiti, a policy which has led to the withholding of over $500 million in aid money. We seem to forget in this country that one of the major reasons our representative democracy works so well for us is that we decided on it ourselves. We fought for it and we won it because we thought it was right for us. We declared independence because we thought that King George’s tyranny was crushing us and depriving us of our lives and liberty. I dare say our constitution would be meaningless if it had been forced on us at bayonet-point by some country who thought they knew better.

Yet, I can sympathize with those who ache for change in Haiti at any cost. Conditions there are miserable, of that there is no doubt. The infrastructure that might supply basic human needs such as clean water, sewage, and health care are non-existent. The token number of garbage trucks that actually run can’t manage to make a dent in the hundreds of tons of trash that pile up in the streets. Families who have shelter are reduced to living either in cardboard hovels or tin boxes that become ovens in the noonday sun. Eight people might live in a 12-foot by 12-foot room, and so must either sleep standing up or in 4-hour shifts. One lady reported sleeping standing up holding two children while flood water mixed with human waste flowed past her belly button. Children as young as four years old are given up by poor families to well-off urbanites who will use the toddlers as house slaves. Twelve-year-old prostitutes satisfy their johns for the equivalent of 30 American cents. Doctors warn patients not to go to the public hospitals. Misery after misery after misery splatters the canvas of Haiti like an epileptic Jackson Pollack.

What feeling person wouldn’t respond with sympathy and love to such a situation? When faced with such stark poverty, caring people want desperately to help. Yet, putting a bandage on someone with internal bleeding is not help.

Take the food shortage, for example. Drought and degraded agricultural conditions are causing a severe famine in Haiti. Humanitarian aid that does make it to the country is so laden with conditions as to make it meaningless. The US government surplus food aid is referred to as manje sinistre, and Haitian criticisms of it are stinging. As the Haiti Briefing’s Famine and Food Aid (p 117, Libète) reports:

“A coordinator of the Tèt Kole peasant movement harshly denounced the government’s emergency food-for-work programme administered by CARE. Hungry people must work for three weeks to receive a small quantity of US-government-supplied surplus cracked wheat. He told Haiti Info that Tèt Kole had met with the government in March and suggested that local food instead of food aid be used, and instead of road work, peasants should be paid to work on their fields to prepare them for the upcoming season.”

The same criticism is leveled in a 1997 report by Grassroots International. The report, entitled “ Feeding Dependency, Starving Democracy: USAID Policies in Haiti,” opens with the following quote:

CARE has been “helping” people in the Northwest [of Haiti] for decades. But each year, the misery of the people of the Northwest increases. What is the real impact of this aid? To make people more dependent, more vulnerable, more on the margins?…The aid is not given in such a way as to give the people responsibility, to make them less dependent….This is what you call “commercializing” poverty….The people’s misery should not be marketed…. – Samuel Madisten, Haitian Senator

The report found that US-funded food aid and job-creation programs actually hurt Haitians by, among other things, lowering the prices farmers could get for rice and other grains, initiating projects which are at odds with “stated national, regional, and local priorities,” underfunding agricultural revitalization programs, and luring people into job-creation programs at key harvest times. This last item had the stunning effect of letting entire rice crops rot in the middle of a famine.

Treating our brothers and sisters in Haiti in this way is not right; it is not just. Compassion is from the Latin and means “to suffer with.” A compassionate nation will suffer with – not profit from – its brother in need.

A compassionate nation offers assistance without strings attached. A compassionate response becomes the “rising tide that lifts all boats.” A compassionate response would invite participation of the Haitian people in coming up with solutions. A compassionate response to people in need would be one that made future instances of help unnecessary. If, like Amy Wilentz, we learn to understand Haitians and meet them on their terms, then we may yet hope for improvement. If not, then more and more lives will be wasted in suffering, and more of them will suffer at the hands of those who would help.

Annoying the pig

I’m continuing to get up to speed on the full scope of Haitian history, reading today from Libète.

After three centuries of subjugation and brutal government, the resilience of the Haitian peasantry is extraordinary. After reading the third chapter in Libète, though, I wonder if the peasant population hasn’t been pulling the wool over our eyes all along. Amy Wilentze’s The Rainy Season suggests that the peasants have absolutely no care for national politics generally, but can become incredibly impassioned and active citizens when their way of life is threatened. She suggests that the major events in Haitian history – the Revolution, the end of American occupation, and the ouster of Duvalier – were possible only because of the peasant class’s “organization and unrest.”

It’s quite possible that Western sensibilities will never take root in Haiti, nor will oppressive regimes truly dominate. For a system of government to be effective, people have to participate. We all have to care about similar issues and buy generally into common solutions. The peasant class in Haiti considers most of the debates that go on in their parliament to be just a bunch of noise. The decisions that are made in the Haitian government will have little effect on a population that has adapted defensive strategies to keep their simple way of life intact.

Mats Lundahl in Underdevelopment in Haiti describes various tactics developed by the peasant society to maintain their way of life and avoid being affected by the state. These tactics include:

“’getting liked’ by outsiders, hiding facts (like the voodoo cult and the site of real power), as well as using multiple names for the same person. Moreover, structures that are built by intruders are eroded by peasant action… Development projects are left to decay as soon as the outside experts have left the project site. Dissuasion – persuading the outside aggressor that his intervention is in vain – and mockery complete the picture. Ultimately, resort is made to force. When all other mechanisms have been rendered ineffective, outbursts of violence are directed against the sources of disturbance of the peasant equilibrium.”

People writing in the Haiti listserv have noted how long it takes the Haitians to do projects that we might do much more rapidly in this country. I remember in particular a recent discussion about organizing medical records. The author despaired that the Haitians could not stick to the discipline of maintaining records that he had put so carefully in order. But I wonder if he had considered the reasons why Haitians might be averse to keeping records. Might they, for example, be worried that those records could be used against them at some point? Might not mistrust of the government – not laziness or ignorance – be at least a contributing factor?

At the risk of making an unflattering comparison, I am reminded of the farmer’s admonition to someone engaged in an act of futility. “Son,” says the farmer, “don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” For all of the good intentions of those who would bring Haiti politically and economically into the 21st century, maybe Haiti just doesn’t want to go.

Another essay in Libète drives this point home for me. In Ideas and Action, The Low Voice of Saint-Jules Clocy, A Haitian Farmer, Gérald Belkin asks a peasant farmer why he and his countymen ignore the advice of the experts who teach them to plant in straight lines. The farmer replies with a splendid analysis of local economic and agricultural conditions which require him to plant the way he does, as well as a reasoned consideration of why planting in rows doesn’t work for his farm. Then he basically says that the outside experts insult the intelligence of the peasants by not taking their years of knowledge into account. He says, “If people found that planting in straight lines really worked, they wouldn’t be so stupid as to reject the method.”

The insistence of the UN, the OAS, the US, and others that Haiti become a properly functioning democracy may be a losing battle. Haitians seem determined to be exactly what they want to be; no more, no less. Ironically, the money that the Western powers are withholding might be the very thing that would move the democratic cause forward. When Haitians have their most basic needs taken care of, they’ll be much better able to pay attention to larger issues.

Obviously, of course, there are those in Haiti who do want to move that country forward soon, who long for a better life. But do they have the right to do it at the expense of the peasant classes? Are they wasting their time and annoying the pig?

Squeezing French from a Stone

I�d like to get to the point where I�m posting here at least once a day. It might not always be interesting, but here goes…

As a lot of the original materials having to do with the Haitian Revolution are in French, I�ve been studying the language through Rosetta Stone. I paid for a quarterly subscription to their online course, and I�ve been very happy so far.

Logging in to their website loads a Shockwave browser window which contains the entire course. You start by matching spoken phrases with pictures and can progress to writing and even speaking, via a microphone on your PC. I may post a thorough review after I�ve had a chance to get through a few more lessons, but my initial impressions are quite positive. There�s a free demo of the online version available, too, so try it out!

Other than that, I�m reading Libete and the occasional online essay at Professor Corbett�s site or elsewhere. Also keeping up with the steady stream of news and discussion on the Haiti List.

Silencing the Past

From Silencing the Past – Power and the Production of History, by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, p 25:
“For what history is changes with time and place or, better said, history reveals itself only through the production of specific narratives. What matters most are the process and conditions of production of such narratives. Only a focus on that process can uncover the ways in which the two sides of historicity intertwine in a particular context. Only through that overlap can we discover the differential exercise of power that makes some narratives possible and silences others.”

Trouillot is describing a theory of history much like the philosophy of art. In art, one learns that the negative spaces have value; what is left out describes the ultimate image as much as the impressions that the artist leaves. Trouillot is arguing that the same holds for historical silences, and that if we can understand the reasons such silences show up in a particular historical narrative, we’ll gain insight into the complete history. Indeed, he seems to be saying that one cannot consider history without considering the silences also.

On page 26, Trouillot writes:
“Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).”
Continue reading Silencing the Past

After the flood…

Just finished reading all 250 posts to the Haiti newsgroup since I joined at the beginning of the year. Whew!

My brain is on overload right now and I’m still sifting through my thoughts, but here are a few observations:

1. It is striking how different reports of the same event can vary so widely. Of course, this is rather obvious, but I think this is the first time I’ve read about the same event – the Haitian Independence celebration of jan 1, in this case – covered by so many sources. From AP wire stories to personal accounts to government propaganda, descriptions of particular events vary so widely that it’s impossible for me to know what the truth is. I can’t tell if Haitians love Aristide or hate him. Is the Group of 184 a spontaneous and legitimate dissenting voice, or was it manufactured here in the US? How many people really have been killed in protests during the last month.

I find this all especially interesting now that I’m reading Trouillot’s Silencing the Past. Given our unprecedented access to information in this age, if it’s impossible to know right now what truth is, how can historians hope to make any sense of it?

To that point, Louise turned me on to the New Yorker article Theatres of War by Daniel Mendelsohn. In it, the author describes Thucydides’ History of the fall of Athens, and current authors’ attempts to deconstruct it and use it for their own purposes. The significant discovery for me in the article, though, is that Thucydides wrote a sort of interpreted history. He wrote the dialog of the players involved, sometimes as if an entire people was speaking with one voice. He used the device of dialog to try to capture the sense of the debate, the flow of ideas that was taking place at the time. Perhaps this is what history can do: capture a flavor, an essence.

2. Haitians, most of them, are poor. Really, mind-bogglingly poor. When you read descriptions of people eating mud just to survive, it’s hard to fathom that kind of reality. Toussaint must be weeping to see what’s become of his country.

3. It seems that all Haitians agree that things need to improve – many of them are desperate for change, for a better life – yet none seem to have any hope that things will really ever be different. There is outrage and agitation aplenty, but few talk of an actual plan for how things are going to improve.

For my part, my armchair observer’s two cents says that Haiti needs stability. Aristede needs to serve out his term, even if he spends too much on cars and has goon squads running amok. The man that Haiti elected needs to finish a term, and elections for the next president need to be held and that person needs to finish HIS term. Democracy must be seen to be working, and without the further intervention of outside forces. When Haitians see that they have a voice in the voting booth, they may start to speak with more confidence and authority.

Of course, without money, even a stable governmental body may not make much difference. Desperate people are driven to desperate measures. (You see? You see how easy it is to lose hope for Haiti?) If the international community would simply release the money that has already been allocated for use in Haiti, and if it could somehow be distributed rationally – perhaps along the lines of the cash infusion that Ireland has seen in recent years – then it’s hard to see how there wouldn’t be some improvement. Of course there will be abuses, but the current practice of withholding funds is certainly contributing nothing positive.

Combien c’est Louisiana?

I’m reading from Henry Adams’ “The history of the United States of America during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison.” Zounds! In this he declares that the Spaniard Godoy, by refusing to relinquish the Louisiana Territory upon discovering he had been duped, had as much influence as the revolt in Haiti on Napoleon’s decision to sell the territory. The details in Adam’s book are sketchy but tantalizing.

The question of Louverture and Haiti’s role in US history is key as I move forward with this project. I suspect that my grandfather made a little much of the revolution’s importance on Napoleon’s decision to sell the LA Territory. If events in Haiti can be established as having had a profound impact on that transaction, then the focus of whatever story emerges should rightly focus on that fact. If not, then I’ll be able to keep the story in Haiti and not have to explain French and American history in addition to Haitian.

[Just noticed this from the General Editor’s Preface to Adams: “The books in this series were designed for reading, not research. All documentation has, therefore, been eliminated.” Then, from the book editor’s introduction: “Only a few of the high points of the History could be represented here…” This is an abridged edition. Time to find a new volume of Adams.]
Continue reading Combien c’est Louisiana?

A couple of things to kick off 2004

Happy New Year!

I just came across this article on What You Can’t Say by way of Slashdot. I find myself wishing the author would find more evidence for his viewpoint, yet the topic of moral fashions is an intriguing one. Herman Hesse said, “We should remember that it is easy and foolish to sneer at the mistakes or barbarities of remote ages.” To impose today’s moral fashions on other generations is as silly as dressing them in our clothes would be. This is an important concept to remember as I read about Toussaint Louverture.

Secondly, a big congratulations to the team at JPL for a successful landing of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. Louise and I watched the coverage on Nasa TV last night. It was so exciting to see the years of hard work pay off so handsomely. Best of luck, you guys, and continued success!