By Jean H Charles
I was in Cape Haitian over the weekend, en route to Grand River for the gédé celebration on November 1. There, I was invited at the posh hotel of Cormier Beach to meet with a group of wholesale travel agents from Germany, Great Britain, Spain and the United States. They were lamenting to the fact that their own governments are putting obstacles in the way of their goal of selling Haiti as a tourist destination by placing the country on the list of the most dangerous places to visit, while the reasons for such a classification are spurious at best, discriminatory at worst.
Haiti, as an emerging democracy, has no political prisoners; its people, with no clannish tradition, refuse to fight amongst themselves, while surviving with resilience in the most difficult economic situation. Compared to other nations in the Caribbean and in Latin America, its crime rate is low, it has none of the at risk indices that plague the nations that comprise the so called pestiferous countries. It includes Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, DR Congo, Syria, Libya (I am sure will be off the list soon) and Haiti.
Que vient faire Haïti dans cette galère? It is the French translation of the English language term that cannot be printed in this essay.
When you are included in that league, the insurance companies refuse to provide the umbrella of protection for damages, injury and medical coverage. The travel agents have both hands tied, unable to pour into Haiti the million travelers that cannot wait to visit the last vestiges of pre-industrialization, where the McDonalds and the K-Marts are not king and queen in a bland post modernization culture where Bergen Norway is undistinguished from Bergen New Jersey.
Haiti’s descent into hell started with a quarantine imposed on the young republic in 1806 by the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. In between there was gunboat diplomacy and plenty of ostracism from Europe and from the United States. Closer to us Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States in 1987, told the tourist industry to avoid that country because AIDS is rampant and maybe endemic to the country. Yet AIDS was brought into Haiti by Canadians and Americans who found a fertile niche in the country with young boys with parents too poor to provide them with education and sustenance.
As a plague when it is affixed on your back, the characterization is difficult to be removed, and the governments of the western countries blindly follow the lead of the United States. As a self prophecy Haiti has been sinking since, into the abyss of renegade and predatory governments that were too corrupt to lead the proper fight to facilitate the removal of the country from the list of the most dangerous nations on earth.
Worse, one of its own governments invited the United Nations peacekeeping force to set up shop in the country justifying the alibi that the nation is at war. Yet the only harm endured by any soldier of the United Nations in Haiti is the wearing of military fatigues that multiplies the centigrade temperature on the body by two from the year-round summer temperature.
In the chain of the Caribbean islands, Haiti occupies the pendant with pearls, gold and diamond that made that nation the reservoir of wealth for Europe in general, France in particular for three hundred years. Why was that reservoir tarnished and stopped in the last two hundred years, when nation building took hold under the command of the Haitians?
It is a story of self flagellation of course but it is also a story of discrimination against a nation that for the rest of humanity dared to stop the world order of slavery of man by man.
The last manifestation of that discrimination is in the placing without proper justification of the Republic of Haiti in the list of one of the most dangerous place on earth to visit. I have with the detached professional lens of a foreigner visited the four corners of the country. I have found a nation and a people at peace with itself, labouring every day with meager buying and selling to send the children to school, to eat every day, one day at a time with no protection from and no security in a police presence, yet they are living as though the police presence was everywhere.
While in Cape Haitian, I heard a big commotion in the middle of the night, it was a large crowd yelling, “Baré! Baré!” -- Take hold, take hold! They were in pursuit of a thief, the stronger ones holding the night intruder until the police arrived to take him to jail. Haiti’s cultural background that has its roots in the fear of authority, the Catholic Church and the voodoo syncretism offers a natural barrier against hooliganism, criminality and social disruption.
I am in awe every day at two manifestations that would fray the patience and endurance of any other population. In the midst of the extreme misery of the large part of the people, they do not take up arms against their successive predatory governments and they do not succumb to desperation leading to suicide or pathological behaviours.
Even the earthquake of January 12, 2010, that destroyed life and limb on a large scale did not produce a nation in constant mourning unable to recoup but one that keeps moving forward in the struggle for daily survival. The noblesse oblige attitude sort of national social security net that bonds the poor with the rich that was disrupted under the Lavalas regime is being replaced by an engaging president who believes hospitality for all must be the ultimate goal of its government.
Tourism is to the Caribbean what oil is to the Middle East. Haiti, well positioned in the Caribbean Sea, is unable to reap its share of the green gold bonanza because the Western nations have declared it should not do so!
Aside from good governance, Haiti needs no help or grants from the rest of the world, it needs the lifting of the embargo against tourism in the country. It has a large population (10 million people), a young population, resilient and very creative that needs to be educated and oiled with the rudiments of sophistication.
Bill Clinton, the nemesis of Ronald Reagan, albeit not from the same party, the Cardinal Richelieu of Haiti imposed by the United Nations, has bread on the ground; he must undo the harm done to Haiti by Ronald Reagan! He should start the worldwide campaign against the listing of Haiti as one of the most dangerous place on earth, starting with his own government, the United States of America!
November 7, 2011