There is a stillness felt in Georgetown that is not felt in Haiti right now. It is a stillness quite unlike the unease I feel in my spiritual connection with Haiti. CARICOM leaders have returned home from their annual meeting in Jamaica, one of the region’s closest neighbours to Port-au-Prince. I’d also hope that those leaders felt uneasy sitting, eating, passing gas among Haiti’s president even as his country burns.
CARICOM, through its chairman Andrew Holness (Prime Minister of Jamaica), managed to conjure up a scanty seven-line statement of concern from its back-pocket on the situation in Haiti. The statement called, alarmingly in my opinion, for the assistance of the United Nations in monitoring the situation. I’d prefer not. After decades of the dark history of rape and sexual violence, lethal violence, exploitation, political manipulation, abandonment and cover-ups surrounding the UN’s Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the UN is the last thing the Haitian people need.
Regional leaders have come out one-by-one to support the lifting of visa restrictions for Haitian nationals travelling to their countries. Some still have reservations. Haitians moving freely through the Caribbean have the power to transform the image of Haiti, to change the flawed narratives that many of us have, and to contextualise and position the anger and frustration of the Haitian people so that we can join and stand with the resistance. And at the same time, I expect that Caribbean people would work towards building regimes that support the inclusion of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers moving within the region.
How quickly do we in the English-speaking Caribbean forget the mercies we received during our own time of need. Caribbean people owe a debt of gratitude to Haiti for showing us that we could be free even while our smaller rebellions were being quashed.
Haiti opened its doors to many enslaved Africans who secured their freedom once they touched Haitian soil during the early 1800s. That was a key part of Haiti’s constitution. I’ve seen correspondences from Haitian leaders during that time refusing to hand over runaway enslaved Africans to the British. Those stories need to be told.
As the Haitian government today continues to implement IMF-supported measures which blindside, anger and increase financial and economic burdens on their people, many of whom live on less than US$2 a day, the masses respond how they know best. When you live in a country where the ruling political, economic and foreign elite are merciless, where NGOs are plenty but somewhat ineffective, where your poverty is fetishized in the media and academic writing, where sex and sexual violence could be the currency for survival, where failed institutions reduce the people’s power, where people are seen as surplus labour waiting to be exploited by foreign companies, and where the legacy and history of structural violence from the state against the people is long, the people will respond in kind with a resistance aimed to cripple the heart of the elite—the economy.
The western media is picking up on the reports. Their coverage focused, of course, on the pillaging of foreign-branded businesses like the Marriott and Best Western Hotels as opposed to deconstructing and contextualizing the pain of the Haitian people grappling with decades of foreign manipulation of their political and economic systems, hunger and abandonment from their government which acts more as an agent of foreign investors than a guardian of the Haitian people.
But this has always been the case with Haiti. Resistance has always been necessary for a country still punished for disrupting a racist global order. Resistance is the very foundation on which Haitian democracy is built and preserved. It is this shining beacon that led many enslaved Africans from the colonies across the Caribbean to seek refuge in this first black Republic which snatched its independence from direct white supremacist rule decades before British powers rebuked slavery.
I see the IMF continuing its movements through the Caribbean and I worry. Even now as Barbados boasts its first woman Prime Minister, the country moves swiftly into a structural adjustment regime as a quick band-aid for its ailing economic regime. Institutions like the IMF remind us that our decolonization project is incomplete and that the comfort we find in national flags and anthems do very little to draw us out of the rabbit hole of dependency we continue to fall deeper into.
Eudine Barriteau writes on structural adjustment in Barbados during the 1980s:
IMF policies are unpopular but Caribbean governments continue to seek them out willingly. Despite Caribbean governments’ duty to their people, the mandates and unnegotiable conditions for accessing international financing set by the powers of the global political economy threaten to break democracies and polities even in face of proclaimed sovereignty and self-determination.
Ayiti is not short on love, but it damn well needs some healing. It is love that fuels our revolution—love of ourselves, love for our family, love for our communities, and love for our countries. The Haitian people have never stopped fighting for their independence and we must see and stand with their struggle and look within ourselves to gather all the love we can generate in our still, comfortable, quiet spaces and send them northward that it may cover that shining beacon of black resistance which is our revolutionary sister-nation so that she may find a long-deserved healing for her people.