Harvey Neptune, author of Caliban and the Yankees: Trinidad and the United States Occupation, offered some background on Haiti for the arts blog at Temple University (where he is an assistant professor of history). I wanted to share some of his comments on the country’s history as well as his challenge for lovers of freedom to help Haiti rebuild–not just past the present moment of acute crisis, but to the point that it can thrive.–ellen
…despite lectures that laud the creation of Haiti in 1804 as the most inspiring and daring democratic movement in the modern Western world, the nation’s subsequent fate bears way more than its fair share of despair. From the very beginning, this fledgling black republic was punished for its precocious, defiant seizure of freedom from French colonizers. Over the next two centuries, peace and prosperity have proved precarious if not elusive on the western third of Europeans’ pioneering New World settlement. Racist international recrimination, destructive civil war, abrupt agro-industrial collapse, arrogant US occupation, violent chauvinist neighbors, cruel Cold War meddling, atrocious dictatorial leadership, relentless ecological ruin – name your setback, and there’s a good chance that it has visited Haiti, conspiring to make Haitians’ present often appear like a mockery of its heroic past. In their eyes, history must surely sometimes seem like an extended rendezvous with defeat. Once a sugar colony of legendary riches, the soil of this country has become in recent times an infamously iconic patch of global poverty.
For those of us who believe that insofar we have a “civilization” worth saving, we owe no small part of it the small black republic founded two centuries ago, it is time to give concrete meaning to that conviction. To be truthful, there is no silver lining in the dark clouds hovering over Haiti. Clichés do not apply. What does exist is a challenge, a monumental one. In the devastation lies an opportunity for us all to help build a Haiti that honors the large sacrifices this nation has made for liberties we all cherish today.
To read Neptune’s full commentary, see the post at Temple’s Cherry TArts blog.