Haiti

Last night I listened to the entire presidential debate; I only watched the first and last five minutes or so.  I will leave my personal comments at that.  For an excellent summary of commentaries overnight: “The New Cleveland Show“.

There have been several comments and suggestions left at my Opinions blog from a couple of days ago, here, and yesterday’s blog was about a recent visit to Gandhi Mahal area devastated in late May.  Take a look.

This post is head-lined Haiti.  I will write about a learning about Democracy as viewed by Haitians perhaps later today.  I had two very powerful visits to Haiti in 2003 and 2006.  We have some things to learn from them.

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HAITI: In my life I have come to believe that there is no such thing as a “coincidence”.  Even supposedly random occurrences have meaning.

So it came to be, in 2002, that I met a fellow resident of Woodbury at a meeting in Minneapolis, and that led to an extraordinarily rich experience in learning about our impoverished neighbor, Haiti, including two study trips to the Caribbean island country in 2003 and 2006.

These were my first dives into how it was to be desperately poor.  We cannot imagine….

Both trips were facilitated by persons who were advocates for the poor.  My contribution to the Haiti literature, such as they are, can still be read here and relate my impressions after the trips.  The photo at the end of this paragraph is from Newsweek of March, 2004, less than three months after our visit, and right after the coup which removed the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Haiti Coup Feb. 2004 (click to enlarge the image).

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The remaining words are about Haiti and voting, and are motivated by the danger of American nonchalance at who to vote for, or even what the vote means, not only this year, but always.

Haiti has always had an intimate but very uncomfortable relationship with the U.S.  It was born of a slave revolt against the French in 1804, 17 years after the United States officially came into existence.  Being we were a slave nation, there was no interest in recognizing a neighbor created by slaves who cast off their chains.  President Thomas Jefferson had no interest in recognizing the new country of Haiti. I have heard it said that one of the first resolutions of the new Congress was to not recognize the new leadership of the new country of Haiti.  Haitians were no longer slaves; but their country was not treated as a partner in any sense of the word.

In my era, the Duvalier family were the dictators of Haiti for near 30 years.  A populist Catholic Priest, a proponent of liberation theology, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, took on the system, and engineered the first free elections in the country in 1990.

This was no easy task: the populists were enemies of the entrenched state; the peasants were largely uneducated, and the official written language of the country was French, not the community language, Kreyol, which was mostly verbal.

So when it came time to vote, there were immense impediments to voting, far, far worse than anything we experience in today’s United States, including threats and acts of violence.

Nonetheless, when finally given their opportunity, the peasants walked long distances, they stood in long lines, and they cast their votes.  Ask anyone who knows something about Haiti, and they likely will have stories they can share.

Of course, there are ways to put poor people like these in their place, and it was done.

I think of these wonderful Haitian folks this year in this election in our country, where an optimist will predict only 60% of those eligible will even bother to vote, and then only for a single person, the president of the country, then go into hibernation for another four years.

Those poor Haitians, some of whom I had the privilege to meet in 2003 and 2006, knew and know the value of democracy.  We should to.  We shall see how it all turns out.

Can we lose Democracy here in the U.S.?  Absolutely.

If one follows the political history of Haiti, you’ll find only brief moments of Democracy, one of which was largely the creation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

But Democracy is fragile, and in Haiti’s case an unusual coalition of the U.S., France and Canada, effectively killed the dream of Democracy by all of the means available to richer and more powerful people and countries.

Here we have a current President who wishes to be an autocrat, indeed, whose models are autocrats…and whose base is the wealthiest, and those with the most to lose if he wins, including those wealthy folks.

Haiti remains impoverished and under the thumb of the U.S., with all of its tentacles.

We deceive ourselves if we think it can’t happen here.

 

 

 

 

 

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