Haiti Is Courageous
The international press diffuses a single narrative of Haiti - one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. "The poorest country in the Western hemisphere" - this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.
In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows are trip participants' reflections that defy the stereotypes and offer a different perspective on Haiti, not a place of desperation but a land that is verdant, passionate, vibrant, and courageous.
Part 4. Haiti Is Courageous
The term courageous reverberated in my mind throughout our learning tour. It permeated each and every encounter. Even if only in small doses, it was ever-present.
Our time in Port-au-Prince commenced with a presentation led by Nixon Boumba, who delved into the historical background of the region. Boumba began by imparting his knowledge of Haiti’s past, characterized by periods of intermittent struggle for freedom and human rights; he fastened links between this earlier period of its settlement and its contemporary state of affairs. Through this learning session, the courage of Haiti’s inhabitants quickly revealed itself as evident: it is the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave uprising and active resistance to the ruling elite.
The courage exhibited in this bygone era of overtly violent struggle pervades the landscape of ongoing struggles within Haiti’s borders. We interacted with numerous individuals who continue to fight for self-determination and who do so with a discernible firmness of purpose and intent. Examples of this determination emerged throughout the learning tour in connection with MCC's programming and partnerships, from the fight for food security and long-term reforestation projects in the Dezam region, to PAPDA’s multifaceted advocacy campaigns.
For me, one of the most inspiring illustrations of Haitian courage surfaced in discussions with Pierre Esperance of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), an organization dedicated to the monitoring, education, and promotion of human rights in Haiti. On the afternoon of our visit, elections constituted the core of the conversation. In the context of a politically unstable region, RNDDH detailed the manner in which they acted as observers for the electoral process which included mayoral, legislative, and presidential elections in 2015. As a result of the fraud and corruption they detected, RNDDH joined other civil society groups in requesting an investigation be conducted by a verification commission. The commission’s ensuing report recommended the elections be rerun so the Haitian people can participate in a fairer electoral process.
Working in the field of advocacy repeatedly reminds me that fighting for political change in any context requires great perseverance. This endeavor in Haiti seems particularly daunting given its history, and yet Haitians like Esperance exhibit their diligence, strength, and determination in continuing to advocate for the long-term goal of building just institutions and political stability – one small victory at a time.
Kati Garrison is Program and Advocacy Associate at the MCC UN Office.