Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sake pase nan Ayiti?

What's happening in Haiti?

A little reminder: last year, 2004, was the 200th anniversary of the Haitian Revolution, which created the first Black free state--and the second free nation after the USA--in the Americas. Haiti's remarkable self-liberation unleashed a chain of history-changing events. Among other things, it freed hundreds of thousands of enslaved people on the island of Hispaniola (which includes what is now the Dominican Republic); Haitian Flagit directly contributed to the eventual decolonization of Latin American (Simón Bolívar received arms, supplies and fighters for his campaign to liberate what became Grán Colombia) and the rest of the Caribbean; and its presence pressured the European powers themselves to end slavery (Britain would emancipate slaves in its colonies two decades later). Haiti, both literally and figuratively, was to enslaved blacks across the Americas a beacon of possibility and promise.

Fast forward to 2004, which was to have been a year of celebration and commemoration, like the US's Bicentennial in 1976 (I was "John Henry" in a play that year). Haiti's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had previously been overthrown in the early 1990s by a cabal backed by the US, then restored to power by President Clinton, was again overthrown by rebels who very likely had US backing. In fact the US and France, Haiti's historical nemesis and former colonizer, flew Aristide out of the country, and placed a puppet in control, as Aristide's supporters were gunned down and the rebel leaders, who included several known human rights violators, triumphantly rode and strode through the streets of Haiti's first capital. Aristide claimed he'd been deposed, the US denied it. Ignore him, we were told, this was the start a new day in Haiti; the intransigent opposition, which had claimed Aristide was dictatorial (though he was freely elected, mind you), was going to work with the new leadership, and everything was going to turn out well.

Only it hasn't. It's March 2005, and the U.S. media barely utters a word about Haiti, which remains in dire shape, unless there's a slaughter or hurricane damage; in fact, despite the presence of US troops and UN peacekeeping forces, the rebel leaders and forces remain armed and powerful. Aristide's supporters also are armed, and are demanding that he be allowed to return from his exile in South Africa. A vacuum exists in the country's executive branch, while its legislature is still at loggerheads, and its police force is ineffectual. Despite all the talk of "democracy" flowering in the Middle East, it has yet to be resown in Haiti, which in the meantime has been devastated by floods and the grinding poverty that withheld international loans and foreign aid over the last few years have only exacerbated. In short, the situation in Haiti, that beacon, remains grave, and the current administration is showing no desire or will improve things. The new Secretary of State is busy mending fences (or burning them) with Canada and Mexico. Does she even realize the problems her boss has created in Haiti (let alone anywhere)?

One of these days (soon) I want to go to Haiti, particularly when the political situation is a bit more stable. I figured I'd get some learning on in advance with Kreyòl. Actually, my amazing friend, polymath Ella T., who's the editor of Revolution/Revolisyon/Révolution: 1804-2004: An Artistic Commemoration of the Haitian Revolution (Liv Lakay, 2004), suggested I do so a few years ago. In fact, I even know some writers who write in Kreyòl, like Patrick Sylvain--and Haiti has produced some of the best writers (and visual artists) in this hemisphere. For a while I could only say about two phrases, "Sak(e) pase?" (Whassup?) and "Mesi [anpil]," (Thanks [a lot]). Then it was "M ap aprann kreyol."

Men kounye-a m kapab pale ak ekri piti kreyol. M kompran plis men vokabilè-mwen se piti. Premyèman m panse toujou mo franse yo! M konnen ki chemen sa a se lon ak gen anpil pou m aprann. Men ki chemen pa se lon? Lon oubyen brèf, plezi a se pam.

In the meantime, you can write your Senators and Congresspersons about Haiti and ask, "What are you doing to help the situation there?" Nou vle lapè men san plis san. [We want peace, but without more bloodshed.]

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