As predicted, Hurricane Matthew caused massive destruction in the impoverished island nation of Haiti. The death toll currently sits around 900 and is sure to rise.
Generally, in these circumstances, we donate to the Red Cross, but I am sure there are many ways to give.
In light of this current tragedy, I would like to take a moment to reflect upon Haiti.
Occupying the western third of Hispaniola (the island where Columbus first landed), Haiti was once among France’s most profitable colonies with a slave-driven sugarcane economy. The crimes against humanity that occurred were so extreme, so horrific – indeed so shocking, its history should be part of school curriculum.
The conditions the slaves were forced to work in were so extreme, new boat-loads of slaves had to be imported each year, as the previous year’s slaves actually died. They died in such numbers and in such brutal conditions that the ethnic make-up of the country morphed according to where the next tragic batch of chained people were imported from.
In the face of such brutality, the people of Haiti did rise up – again and again. Little and deforested it managed to defeat Napoleon’s army and become independent in 1804.
Haiti was the second independent country in the Americans (the USA was first). The Haitian people – almost all slaves – managed to defeat the British Empire, the French Empire, and the Spanish Empire.
Upon independence, many slave owners took their human chattel and moved other regions such as Louisiana and Cuba.
Haiti began its story as a nation is utter poverty and against its own elite and those of the empires which continued to control the rest of the region. Since that time, Haitians have suffered under a stagnant economy, continuous foreign intervention and truly violent and oppressive dictatorships (reference Baby-Doc Duvalier).
I have not been to Haiti, but I have met many, many expat Haitians, particularly in Montreal, Boston, and Florida – usually as taxi drivers or working in hotels. Perhaps as a french-speaker, I feel immediately closer to Haitian people, but I always find Haitians to be friendly and warm.
Canada’s former Governer General, Michaelle Jean, came to Canada as a refugee from Haiti in 1968. While it is remarkably odd Canada should still have a Governer General (the Queen’s Representative), she was warm, effective and impressive.
When her country of birth was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, Ms. Jean spoke through teary eyes in Haitian Creole on national television.
It seems we only discuss Haiti when it suffers a tragedy. Is this short contribution, I am offering no solutions, but with some historical perspective, I feel we should all care about Haiti’s well-being. Haiti matters. It matters historically, it matters regionally and in light of the incredible wealth we share here in the Americas, the people in that crowded country should be empowered to look forward to their future.