On October 4, 2016, approximately one thousand civilians of the first independent, black nation in the Western Hemisphere died. On October 4, 2016, the first post-colonial independent, black-led nation in the world witnessed their homes and loved ones being uprooted and destroyed right before their eyes. On October 4, 2016, the only nation, whose independence was gained as a part of a successful slave rebellion, was struck by Hurricane Matthew. By now you should’ve realized its Haiti that I’m referring to, though if you didn’t, you’re not to blame due to the manner in which the country is often depicted.
It seems like these days, bad news is a daily special that we can look forward to and expect before we can even step foot out of bed in the morning. With events such as the Syrian Refugee crisis worsening by the minute, the domino effect of worldwide terrorist attacks occurring country to country, and incessant reminders of this year’s tumultuous presidential election and its rattling results, from the outside looking in, it would appear as though we are trapped in a nightmare that we can’t wake up from.
Haiti, on the other hand, has been battling a nightmare of its own for the past two centuries. After gaining their independence in 1804 and defeating the French to become the first independent black nation, things quickly deteriorated for Haiti. The country was forced to compensate their freedom with reparations to France, which ultimately reduced and delayed the economy of the country for years while they worked to pay off the 150 million francs. Additionally, the United States, many European nations and other republics around the world refused to acknowledge and support the Haitian government for decades due to the fear of their revolutionary ideas spreading, and this eventually led to the US invasion and occupation in 1914. The list of misfortunes endured by Haiti goes on to include incidents of natural disasters, massacres (specifically the Parsley Massacre of 1934 under Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo), disturbances related to political corruption and coup d’états, like the 2004 revolt that established UN forces in the country – whom I encountered during my visit to the island earlier this year when they stopped to help with our flat tire.
In just the last two or three decades alone, we’ve seen Haiti probably at its height of misfortunes. Whenever Haiti appears in the news or is referenced by the media, the nation is linked to some catastrophe or another, which conditions us all to see one single story of Haiti. All of the things mentioned above; natural disasters, invasions, occupations, and political corruption, are all things that many other countries endure, but why do we most usually associate these negative things solely with Haiti, failing to realize it is not innate to Haiti alone.
So let’s stop talking about Haiti. Don’t talk about Haiti unless you’re going to talk more than just about the bad things you hear or read about. Don’t talk about Haiti unless you’re going to talk about the newly renovated airport located in Port Au Prince that establishes the country amongst its first world counterparts. Don’t talk about Haiti unless you’re going to impart the little known fact that they played an instrumental role in many South American countries receiving their independence from Spain. Don’t talk about Haiti unless you’re going to boast of the exclusivity of many of the country’s beautiful beaches. Don’t talk about Haiti unless you’re going to mention the fact that it’s the most mountainous nation in all of the Caribbean, making it possible to see Cuba on a clear day. And lastly, don’t talk about Haiti without making mention of the Citadelle Laferrière, which is the largest fortress in all of the Americas and is considered to be on of the eighth wonders of the world. Interesting, right?
It’s time to change the way we talk about Haiti. After speaking with my Haitian friend Jorji about this matter, he told me he wishes people would realize that yes, Haiti does have its problems like the rest of the world, but the “real” Haiti is a good country, with friendly people, delicious food, nice beaches and a unique culture. We must allow ourselves to see past Haiti’s disasters and become aware of its triumphs and accomplishments as well. We must stop talking about Haiti in such a negative manner and abstain from relating the country to be synonymous with the terms “disaster” and “havoc”, if we hope to see Haiti flourish and persevere.