Essay from Jacques Fleury

Young adult Black man with short shaved hair, a big smile, and a suit and purple tie.
Jacques Fleury
“I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when it’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it.” --Edwidge Danticat

Haiti Also Rises: The History of Haiti’s Resiliency against International Cruelty and Its Pivotal Role in the American Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery
By Jacques Fleury

[Originally published in Spare Change News & Jacques Fleury’s book You Are Enough: The Journey to Accepting Your Authentic Self]

“‘History is the memory of states’, wrote Henry Kissinger in his book A World Restored in which he proceeded to tell the history of 19th century Europe from the point of view of the leaders of Austria and England, ignoring the millions who suffered from those state men’s
policies.”

The aforementioned is from Howard Zinn’s revolutionary book: A People’s History of the United States. It depicts U.S. history from the point of view of the common man. His method of operation is in direct correlation to what I’m about to do: tell you Haiti’s history from my point of view. 

History is not necessarily or essentially “the memory of states” as Kissinger puts it. It is the narrative of the people whose lives were impacted, fragmented or altogether destroyed by intransigent politics and capricious foreign policies of dominant powers.

First and foremost, I want to outline Haiti’s historical chronology; thus giving you a theoretical basis from which you can begin to undergo a more comprehensive understanding of the country’s history and its present state of political and environmental instability.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the island and named it Hispaniola. Taino-Arawak Indians, who referred to their homeland as “Hayti” or “Mountainous Land”, originally inhabited the island. In 1697 slaves were sent to Haiti. The island was cherished by European powers for its natural resources, including cocoa, cotton and sugar cane. And so the French shipped in thousands of slaves mainly from West Africa to harvest the crops. 

In 1804 after a slave rebellion led by a man named Boukman in 1791, Haiti became the first black independent state under General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared himself Emperor. America feared that the slave rebellion in Haiti would ignite anti-slavery insurgents in the southern U.S. states. Perhaps this is one of the reasons America’s relationship with Haiti is strained to this day even though it was money from the then richest island in the Americas that France used to supplement the American Revolutionary War against Britain; a fact that was omitted in most history books. Haitians also
left Haiti to fight in the American Revolution. 

In 1844, after decades of strife and multiple rulers, the island was split into two nations: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In 1915, U.S. marines occupied Haiti to [supposedly] calm a state of anarchy. The Americans improved the infrastructure while helping to create the Haitian armed forces. In 1957 a reign of terror began when Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seizes power. His son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier then just 18 years old, took over in 1971, continuing his father’s legacy of tyranny. In 1986, a rebellion ignited. 

As protests gathered steam, the U.S. arranged exile in France for Baby Doc and his family. In 1990, after decades of dictatorship, former Roman Catholic Priest Jean-Bernard Aristide, becomes Haiti’s first freely elected leader. In 1991, after a military incursion, Aristide is ousted and is forced to seek exile in the U.S. The coup ignited a
mass exodus with more than 40, 000 Haitians rescued by the U.S. coast guard during a twelve-month period. In 1996 Rene Preval becomes president. 

In 2000 Aristide is elected once again. In 2004 political violence plagues the Haitian capital, with accusations of a fraudulent election looming, a few weeks after Haiti celebrates its 200th anniversary, a rebel movement usurps control and Aristide is forced into exile again. Deadly floods leave 2,000 dead and causing deforestation. 

In 2006 Preval was elected in the first election since Aristide was overthrown in 2004. In 2008 food prices in Haiti aggrandized as they have elsewhere in the world but the situation on the island was exacerbated since most Haitians only live on $2.00 dollars per day. 

Also deadly hurricanes left 23, 000 homes destroyed, many dead
and 70 percent of the nation’s crops wiped out. In 2010, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 ambushed Port-au-Prince, collapsing buildings with 100,000 thousand estimated dead. World
Vision—an organization that has worked in Haiti for thirty years—made an expedited trip to the island rushing emergency supplies to the survivors.

A great man once said, “Life’s most important question is: What are you doing for somebody else?” Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard Professor and anthropologist, is an avid supporter of Haiti. He became involved with the country when he went on a school trip as an undergraduate student.

Today, he has spearheaded the ubiquitous Boston based organization Partners in Health (P.I.H), devoted to aiding third world countries like Haiti. Farmer is known for his support of a Preferential Option for the Poor, a central precept of Liberation Theology. His approach to practice in Haiti, Peru and Russia has its basis in ethnographic analysis—the science that studies and compares human cultures—and real world practicality. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Could Cure the World by Tracy Kidder details Farmer’s work in Haiti and abroad. 

I have been a part of P.I.H. since I was bestowed with the honor of
being the Official Poet and Publicity Coordinator for the Annual Urban Walk for Haiti, which raises monies for P.I.H.

In Haiti, it was common knowledge that one’s own friends could be bribed as spies and government informants. Their jobs were to safeguard the brutal reigning regime by turning in anyone whom they considered subversive. Under the Haitian weather, the wind in the trees often swirled about all the fetid feeling of death and despair. 

However, contrary to what the American news media has imprinted as fact in the heads of people across the world, Haiti has more
dimensions than the poor, the poorer and the poorest. There are three classes of people: the bourgeoisie, the middle class and then the poor. 

I was part of the middle class. Both my parents owned property in Port-au-Prince and my father was a clothes designer, retail storeowner and mercantile entrepreneur. He was also a land and multiple homeowner, which he rented as part of his entrepreneurial endeavors. My mother was a house wife, socialite and landlord with degrees in cosmetology and the culinary arts. I attended an
exclusive private school near the Haitian palace called Frere Andre (Brother Andre). 

It was there that I leaned how not to think for myself through blatant memorization of pedantic texts and taking dictations to prepare me for the dictatorship of the ruling class. But Haiti is more than just
doom and gloom. I remember staring in stupor at the dance of the Caribbean wind over the azure sea, the deep green elegance of the palms, picnic by moonlight and sweet memories of mangoes. Purple
butterflies, a visual feast of dancing loveliness, under the flowery spring sun. The joyous sounds of laughter resounding from the young as they run about playing hide and seek during blackouts.

But unfortunately, there also lied in the sea a maelstrom of fear, violence, misery and poverty, which most can barely swim out of, while the orchestrating powers that ensnare them stand by cross armed and snarling. But one day, it is my fervent hope that Haitian children will wake up to shiny silver mornings and hummingbirds singing, promising freedom, serenity and prosperity.

We lived in a world dominated by the hetero sexist macho male culture. However, my mother who bears the same name as Haitian rebel fighter Toussaint L’ouverture, was and still is iconoclastic in that she dared to be a leader for her family when most women were subjected to being simply subservient to the men. Since we were considered middle class, she became caught up in the gaudy accoutrements of upward mobility, so when Haiti’s political and economic crises began to converge, threatening our lifestyle, we all came to America. 

She related to me that under the Duvalier dictatorship, tourism in Haiti flourished from the 1950’s all the way up to 1986, practically ending with the Baby Doc mutiny. Foreign groups like Arabs, Lebanese, and even Chinese exiled from their respective countries lived and built businesses in Haiti. Also Haiti’s number one tourist attraction, La Citadelle Laferriere, built on mountains overlooking Port-au-Prince 17 miles south of the city of Cap Haitien by Henry
Christopher—a general in the Haitian army—has walls 130 feet high is the largest fortress in the Americas and was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world history site in 1982. It was built to keep the newly independent nation from French incursions, which never materialized.

Haitians in American are for the most part hard working honest and joyous intelligent people. Most of the women work as Certified Nursing Assistants in nursing home facilities, caring for America’s elderly population and a plethora of men work as cab drivers. Large majorities also attend college to become doctors, lawyers, engineers and nurses. Both the men and women pursue the American Dream by buying cars and houses, sometimes working two to three jobs. 

I too am living my version of the American dream by graduating from college with honors (Phi Beta Kappa) and publishing my first autobiography of prose and poetry aptly titled Sparks in the Dark, which was featured in the Boston Globe. Yet still, there seems to be an undercurrent of fear and hatred towards the Haitian population here in the States. 

Maybe it’s because the conscientious and resultant collaboration of the “Have Nots” that often instigate the principal fears and resistance of the “Haves”, since the rich want to remain rich and in control. Robert Lawless, quoted in Farmer’s book The Uses, asserts Haitians are the immigrants Americans love to fear and hate.” 

But why, I ask of you? Which leads me to ponder, is hate and prejudice ever truly justified?

“Why should we care about Haiti?” writes politico and M.I.T professor Noam Chomsky in the introduction to Farmer’s book The Uses. “…We are the richest and most powerful country in the world, while Haiti is at the opposite extreme of human existence: miserable, horrifying,
black, ugly. We may pity Haitians and other backwards people who have, unaccountably, failed to achieve our nobility and wealth, and we may even try to lend a hand, out of humanitarian impulse. But responsibility stops there.” I once heard the adage “If your neighbor’s house is on fire, wet yours.” 

As we know tragedy affects all of us, having experienced hurricane Katrina, and 9/11. In relation to American occupation of Haiti, Chomsky goes on to say, “In a situation of domination and occupation, the occupier… has to justify what it’s doing. There is only once way to do it—become a racist. You have to blame the victim. Once you’ve become a raving racist in self-defense, you’ve lost your capacity to understand what’s [really] happening.” In other words,
it’s like putting someone’s eyes out and then accusing them of being blind. 

America’s exploitation of Haiti, its support of the Duvaliers and the military for the repression of the Haitian people and expedient U.S. foreign policies and an ongoing debate about Haitian asylum
seekers, are all impediments to the progression of the Haitian nation. 

It seems like light skinned immigrants like Cubans and Mexicans get asylum, why not Haitians?
Silhouetted figure leaping off into the unknown with hand and leg raised. Bushes and tree in the foreground, mountains ahead. Book is green and yellow with black text and title.
Jacques Fleury’s book You Are Enough: The Journey Towards Accepting Your Authentic Self

One thought on “Essay from Jacques Fleury

  1. Pingback: Synchronized Chaos First June Issue 2024: Remember Who You Are | SYNCHRONIZED CHAOS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *