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Real Life Stories
By: Claude Desnoyers
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Natural and political disasters have crippled this nation that could have been the greatest nation for the black world.

Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti on 5th December 1492 and was said by some historians to be the person who discovered Haiti [False]. He should really go down in history as the first documented tourist in Haiti and many parts of the Americas. Columbus’s visit began the long dark history of depopulation, plundering, slavery, political occupation and reoccupation in Haiti. This fate wasn’t suffered by other colonies that eventually benefited from colonization.

What first attracted the Europeans in Haiti was gold and silver. The early settlers inadvertently came with diseases that were new to the area and this almost got the indigenous settlers wiped out. The Arawaks who inhabited most of these areas really went through a lot of difficulties. Those who were not killed in the wars to take over their lands died eventually of diseases that came from Europe, very few survived.

The slave era saw blacks brought in from the western part of Africa to work on plantations. The inhumanity of slavery can never be overemphasized and the story of Haiti cannot be complete without its mention. The original inhabitants [Arawaks] of Haiti are no longer remembered that much as Haiti today is regarded as one of the black nations of the world, thanks to the slave trade. The slaves suffered unimaginable inhumane treatment in the hands of their masters, killing, maiming, raping, and all sorts.

This led to the revolution in 1791, barely two years after the House of Commons passed a law making “freed people of color” equal with every other person under the law. The revolution started in a voodoo shrine with voodoo priest Dutty Houkman spearheading it and in a few short hours the destruction was catastrophic. Houkman was eventually arrested and killed but the revolution did not end. A full-blown struggle erupted, with France struggling to keep their occupation, the British trying to take over, and also the Spainish fighting to keep their part of the island. The struggle ceased temporarily with France taking back control of the island, but this did not last. The war between France and Britain in 1802 made it difficult for the French forces to focus on two wars at the same time, and in 1804, Dessalines broke off his support for France, declared independence for Haiti on the 1st of January 1804, and went on to slaughter what was left of the French white settlers.

1806 saw the first coup de tart in Haiti with Dessalines killed and Haiti divided into two parts between two of his former advisers, Alexander Petion and Henri Christophe, both of whom executed the coup.

After their deaths, their successor was Boyer who united Haiti and went as far as bringing the whole island under one rule. He established diplomatic relations with the USA and France and was made to pay indemnity for the French interests that were destroyed during the revolution. Haiti did not recover from this singular act in 1826. For a long time and to date, it still is plunged into debilitating debt.

There were many coups and different leaders emerged over a period of time. Haiti has also had its fair share of military dictatorships. Michel Dominique 1911 had a stable government for a while but this suddenly came to an end. This period seemed to be the worst in the history of Haiti until recent events [the 2010 earthquake]. The United States had invaded and occupied Haiti from about 1915-1934 after failing to curb the ever increasing presence and power of some German aristocrats. It is also widely known that the United States was involved in the ousting of President Aristide.

Haiti has known revolution for the greater part of its existence. The resilience of its people, the corruption of its leaders with the influence of foreign governments, the revolutions and counter revolutions and the lure of some governments to get Haiti to constantly borrow and borrow has made a great country once the richest country in the western hemisphere now the poorest. Is this a master plan by the powers that be or is Haiti just unlucky? Is there a fear of Haiti’s potential if it ever gets back on its feet?

Natural disasters have not helped the situation either. The country with one of the greatest number of ousted presidents may also become the country with the greatest frequency of natural disasters. The documented disasters suffered by Haitians happened in the following years: 1508, 1737, 1751,1760, 1770, 1784, 1816,1830, 1831, 1842, 1843. 1875, 1887, 1930, 1935, 1946, 1952, 1954, 1963, 1965, 1994, 1998, 2004, 2008, and just recently in 2010, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude left over 300,000 people feared dead. Severe deforestation, leading to flooding, landslides, and lack of proper emergency services and infrastructure resulted in the storms causing the deaths of thousands.

Recent developments
By some estimates, the recent quake left about 33 million cubic yards of debris in Port-au-Prince — more than seven times the amount of concrete used to build the Hoover Dam. So far, only about 2% has been cleared, which means the city looks pretty much as it did a month after the January 12 quake. Government officials and outside aid groups say rubble removal is the priority before Haiti can rebuild. But the reasons why so little has been cleared are complex and frustrating. Heavy equipment has to be shipped in by sea. Dump trucks have difficulty navigating narrow and mountainous dirt roads. An abysmal records system makes it hard for the government to determine who owns which dilapidated property. And there are few sites on which to dump the rubble, which often contains human remains.

A commission co-chaired by President Preval and former US President Bill Clinton was setup to ensure that the aid/funds were allocated properly. It was also an attempt to let Haiti’s government have a say in reconstruction plans, set targets, prioritise and be accountable for any concerns for underhandedness/ corruption. This may well strengthen a government that has been criticized for weakness and possibly produce astounding results as all hands are on deck working towards achieving lasting results.

Weeks have been spent putting together a plan for Haiti by the government and international officials. When the disaster first struck, the first stage of a protracted 18-project plan was targeted at rebuilding important structures such as schools, hospitals, healthcare centres, and government offices. At a conservative estimate, Haiti’s officials project that $11.5B may help in this effort. However, it was also vital that they don’t lose sight of the immediate needs of the people of Haiti: an appeal for $1.44B was launched by the UN in March 2010. This exercise also needs the support of civic-minded members of societies world over. Please keep giving. Riddled with debts (Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere), nearly 11 months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble.

There was supposed to have been a general election in February 2010, but it was postponed due to the horrific and devastating quake. This election may have been the turnaround that Haiti had been expecting and longing for. However, questions have been asked if it is possible or likely that the same old foreign countries are playing their politics in Haiti. Are they looking to set up stooges in Haiti within the government to get back into the same old game? Actor Sean Penn accused hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean of possibly being one. Though nothing to do with the accusation, electoral officials in Haiti declared Wyclef ineligible for the race.

In addition to Haiti’s fight for survival, the recent cholera outbreak has seen more than a thousand people dead, and according to UN officials its onslaught is expected to continue for the next six months. A heart wrenching picture of a woman lying stark naked next to the General Hospital in Port-au- Prince where victims are being treated reinforces the fact that more treatment centres are desperately needed in Haiti.

However, a percentage of Haitians are now lashing out against the UN peacekeepers whom they blame for the recent cholera outbreak - leading to riots which was particularly acute North of Haiti. It is easy to lay blame on Haitians, but the world should not loose sight that their actions are borne out of frustration and also UN forces that are there to provide aid are limited to what they can do due to low resources. What is paramount is that order is restored and adequate measures implemented to give Haitian citizens their lives back.

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