Haiti Looking Back and Looking Forward

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The history behind the Haitian Revolution is rich, fascinating, and complicated. When the generals, soldiers, and slaves met for the final battle of Vertières that fateful night, they were walking with their destiny. Against the odds, they remained steadfast to principle and harnessed themselves to a collective effort toward justice. It is an improbable tale of courage that ennobled the human condition, dignified the virtues of liberty, and made human progress possible.

Today, two hundred and thirteen years later, candor obliges me to say that our forebears would be disappointed at the state of things in Haiti. As many reports have pointed out, Haiti is by far the most destitute country of the Americas. The statistics are all too familiar, and we have all heard them before. Nearly 60 percent of Haitians live on less than $2.42 per day, the infant mortality rate is 59 deaths for every 1,000 live births, and for those who survive there are too many obstacles to overcome in order to live a life of dignity. It is an understatement to say that these are desperate times in Haiti.

In contrast, amid the catastrophic situation in Haiti, the Haitian diaspora have enjoyed success abroad. Beyond Haiti’s traditional borders, Haitians have done well in the arts, sciences, business, law, medicine, and academia. In fact, some have reached the apogée of success in their field of work. One extraordinary example is the Haitian-born author Danny Laferrière who became one of the few non-French citizens inducted into the Académie Française as an official custodian of the French language. There is no greater honor in the French world.

Haiti’s most valuable asset has always been her people.

To my utter dismay, however, Boston College Professor Richard Albert recently wrote an op-ed in which he suggested that Haiti ought to relinquish its sovereignty in order to usher in what he called an era of transformation for the better. Mr. Albert’s call is dangerous and cynical. Moreover, it does nothing but stoke up those old fears and sow further distrust between Haitians in Haiti and those living abroad.

In particular, Mr. Albert’s disturbing argument is fodder for populist nationalists in Haiti who disingenuously warn of disastrous consequences, such as the relinquishment of sovereignty to foreign powers, if dual nationals were allowed to serve in government. Ironically, his argument mirrors the rhetoric of self-serving Haitian politicians who regularly block legislation aimed at granting Haitians in the diaspora the privilege of dual citizenship so that they may serve in government, open businesses, and overall enjoy the full panoply of rights, privileges, and responsibilities of being full fledged members of Haitian society.

Mr. Albert’s argument is hidden underneath a thin veil of indifference and inconsequence. I trust that no one in the Haitian diaspora, considering the really critical issues facing Haiti, will agree with his sentiments.

Remarkably, Mr. Albert glosses over history and mentions the possibility that Haiti could become a foreign policy accomplishment for Canada if it surrendered its autonomy. This is wholly unpersuasive. My sense is that Prime Minister Trudeau is a leader who believes very deeply in the knowledge of history and would not acquiesce to Mr. Albert’s call to use power to undermine the autonomy of a sovereign nation. Canada and Haiti share a relationship rooted in mutual respect and admiration. Haitian-born Canadians have been key contributors to Canadian society. Indeed, Michaëlle Jean, the 27th Governor General of Canada was herself born in Haiti. And, as previously mentioned Danny Laferrière entered the Académie Française, but not just under the banner of his birthplace of Haiti, but also as a Québecer.

As Winston Churchill once said: if we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future. Nonetheless, though time may heal wounds, the passage of time should not, however, obscure facts, ripen falsities into truths, and turn villains into saviors. Faced with numerous embargoes and interferences engineered by the United States, France and other hostile colonial powers, Haiti has always been a defiant leader in freedom’s cause. From the Siege of Savannah during the American Revolutionary War to the rugged terrains of South America, Haitian freedom fighters made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of others.

Haiti was born of revolution and raised in freedom.

There is no dispute that Haiti’s democracy is not working as well as it should. One of the reasons for this is the mass exodus of a brilliant middle class over the years.  Many of whom are now accomplishing remarkable feats in their own little corner of the globe. Haiti’s human capital endowment overseas is remarkable. Imagine if her diaspora were to return to Haiti en masse to serve in business, government and other important affairs. It would lead to a real transformation of Haitian society.

Though Mr. Albert’s op-ed may have poisoned the well, I am confident that the current crop of young, competent, and ambitious Haitians do not share his views. They are eager to help their country fulfill the promise of its forebears, not relinquish it to a foreign power.

If, as Mr. Albert argues, Haiti’s problems are the fault of no one but Haitians, thenthey ought to be solved by Haitians as well. In our despair we cannot permit the pressures of the circumstances to force us to relinquish the splendor of our ideals. On January 1st, 1804, the proudest boast in the free world was mwen se yon sitwayen ayisyen—I am a Haitian citizen. I truly believe that with a deep sense of duty and high resolve, a renewed commitment by Haitians from all walks of life and from all over the globe will help lead Haiti to the new frontier.

Wesley Lainé

Wesley Lainé

Wesley can be reached on twitter @WesleyLaine.

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