Haiti – Future Imperfect by Tom Rhodes
Once the initial horror of the earthquake had passed, the international
community seemed determined that this most blighted state could
rise from the ruins with hope that things might change. But can it?
In the days and weeks after haiti’s earthquake sent its televisual shockwaves across the world, there seemed genuine hope that this natural disaster might finally bring salvation to the poorest people in the western hemisphere in a way that so many previous horrors had not. surely now there would be a chance to rebuild port-au-prince, to extinguish forever the slums of Cité soleil and rid the Caribbean nation of the most venal elements of oppression and violence that have marked so much of its history? as one Un official put it: “I sense that while most of us are focused on logistics at the moment and the day-to-day operation of getting food to the people on the ground, there are a lot of people who have a vision for a different haiti. a strategic change of direction. whether that is possible or not is anyone’s guess.” haiti has seen many false dawns, one of them the much-vaunted return to power in 1994 of president Jean-bertrand aristide, the liberation theologian-turned politician reinstated under the aegis of president bill Clinton’s peace initiative for haiti. Landing in a Us military helicopter on the then- pristine lawn of the presidential palace, aristide seemed the very embodiment of change.the streets around the capital were specially cleaned and even his Fanmi Lavalas party, literally Family waterfall movement in reference to the biblical flood, held overtones of a country that would be washed clean of its past.
It was a symbolism not lost on the diminutive aristide as, flanked by Us secret service agents, he addressed the nation under a baking Caribbean sun from behind bullet-proof glass. “honour, respect,” the president announced as he cast a dove of peace into the air. “no to violence, no to vengeance, yes to reconciliation . . . never, never again must one drop of blood flow.” next to him sat warren Christopher, the Us secretary of state, while the rev Jesse Jackson, the american civil rights activist, and Joseph kennedy, the congressman and scion of america’s most prominent political family sat on a raised dais. haitians ran through the streets of port-au-prince chanting the slogan of Lavalas: “one we are weak, two we are strong, together we are Lavalas.” The sense of hope was tangible, but like so much in haiti, short-lived. the desire for retribution lay just beneath the surface. one group carried a rooster, the symbol of Lavalas, sitting astride a guinea fowl, the icon of duvalierism, a movement long associated with the worst abuses of power. people moved towards the guinea fowl and plucked its feathers one by one, shouting: “Justice for all.” and within days the vengeance killings had started again and the streets were running with blood. this time the murders were committed in the name of a priest-turned president rather than the man who had ousted him three years earlier, the duvalierist Lt general raoul Cedras. the effect on the population, however, was the same. Fear continued to rule. the earthquake, though, seemed different. this was no man-made horror and, despite the devastation, there was a sense that here was an opportunity for haiti, a country whose people remain so resolutely and exemplarily positive in the face of endless tragedy, to emerge from the ruins as a modern nation. the scope of the destruction was vast, both in human terms and in damage to the infrastructure, its iconic epicentre the crushed cupola of the presidential palace. according to the bbC, the scale matched that of the asian tsunami in 2004, the death toll in Indonesia’s aceh province comparable to that in port-au-prince, now known to be more than 230,000.
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