My take on “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History” by Laurent Dubois, published in 2012 by Metropolitan Books
- Catégorie : Littérature
- Publié le mercredi 8 août 2012 12:31
- Écrit par Claude Joseph
- Affichages : 3230
When talking about Haiti most people including Haitians and foreigners alike have a single (distorted) image in mind that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. No one would dare argue that Haiti’s economic and social situation is the most desirable one.
With more than half of its population living with less than $1 a day along with an unemployment rate exceeding 60%, Haiti has over many decades been living a Great Depression (far worst than the Great Depression that hit USA in 1929); and also with its broken political system that projects no sign of a better future, it is obviously legitimate to be concerned. However, when academic pundits, daily headlines, and NGOs’ holders (owners) relentlessly keep referring to Haiti as the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, this also whispers some great deal of concerns about their desires to really see Haiti moving forward. It seems to me that this kind of dogged trademark constitutes a self-fulfillment-prophecy, which somewhat keeps the country into a poverty trap by the simple fact that poverty is the only way it is being described. And, I am certain that whenever such a label is removed (say, in case that its $20 billion of copper, silver and gold is accurately extracted and the resulting wealth evenly distributed), many developing country’s expects will lose their jobs. For, there won’t be any convincing rationale to mobilize more aids on behalf of these destitute in this remote area of the Caribbean islands. Who wishes to be unemployed in such a harsh time? Since the response is NONE, the perfect and sound description will always be “Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,” a backward place of disaster, destitution, sorrow, you name it…
The worst of all of that is the reason put forward by some famous ‘development experts’ to explain why Haiti is so poor? Haitians, they contend, are lazy, undisciplined and lack the work ethic. In other words, Haitian’s culture – defined in terms of “values, attitudes, beliefs, orientations, and underlying assumptions prevalent among people in a society” – is the primary obstacle that impedes its development. A fair illustration is Lawrence Harrison’s book “Underdevelopment is a State of Mind.” Harrison’s book used parallel case studies to show that in most Latin American countries, culture had been inimical to development. In the case of Haiti, Harrison is blunt. To him, “while [in Haiti] the caste system has clearly been a major obstacle to national integration and progress, a number of values and attitudes shared by the entire society also get in the way of progress.” The former USAID expert further contends that Haiti’s culture is inherited from West African values, attitudes and institutions, particularly from the Region of Dahomey, known today as Benin. Cultural values such as the Voodoo is so inculcated in Haitian mind that they refuse to look forward but focusing their attention on the ancestral past.
This ethnocentric account regarding Haiti, however, is not new. It has over the times taken different shapes. Victor Cochinat, a visitor from the French colony of Martinique, had painted a similar picture of Haiti at the end of the 19th century. After spending few days in the island, Cochinat came to the conclusion that Haitians were lazy and ashamed of work and this was the reason why they were so poor. He went on to say that Haiti is a farce and a phantasmagoria of civilization. This unsubstantiated claim did not go unchallenged. Our then young eminent intellectual Louis Joseph Janvier offered a sardonic six-hundred-page history of “Haiti and its visitors” in which he asked for a shred of objectify to anyone like Cochinat visiting the country.
In Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, Laurent Dubois sets himself a likewise task. Like Janvier, he writes a four-hundred-thirty-four-page history starting from the nation’s independence to the present aftermath of one of the deadliest earthquakes in modern history that struck the country in 2010, killed more than 250,000 people and left millions homeless. He intends to demonstrate that the argument of modern-day Cochinats and other like-minded Haitian-phobic intellectuals are ill-informed speculation. For those who are still wondering why the once richest colony in the world is now the poorest country in the hemisphere, Dubois is straightforward: the true causes of Haiti’s precarious conditions shouldn’t be a conundrum. Haiti’s poverty has nothing to do with any inherent problems on the part of the Haitians themselves. Quite to the contrary, “Haiti’s present is the product of its history: of the nation’s founding by enslaved people who overthrew their masters and freed themselves; of the hostility that this revolution generated among the colonial powers surrounding the country.”
One should bear in mind that for these ancient slaves to build the first independent black nation on earth could not by any means be a smoothly process. For decades, Dubois recalls, France refused to acknowledge Haiti’s independence, and both Great Britain and United States followed France’s lead. Haiti represented an imminent threat to these countries that wanted to show it is unlikely for a black nation to succeed. And, stubbornly unwilling to re-taste the cruel savor of slavery, Haiti devoted its utmost to defend itself against potential attack. They hence poured lots of monies into building fortifications and maintaining a large army. “Being Haiti,” Dubois suggests, “it turned out, was costly.”Pressured by France, they finally agreed to pay an incredible amount of indemnity to compensate the slave-owners for their losses, and “by 1898, fully half of Haitian government budget went to paying France and the French banks. By 1914, that proportion had climbed to 80 percent.”
Dubois, however, is not a conspiracy theorist. He does not believe that Haiti’s predicament stems exclusively from outside. He asserts: “Haiti’s current situation is the culmination of a long set of historical choices that date back to its beginning as a French plantation colony. And it is the consequences of the ways that powerful political leaders and institutions, inside and outside of the country, have ignored and suppressed the aspirations of the majority.”
And Dubois is not alone. Analyzing the failure of Western pundits to come to grips with the problems of many developing countries, Hernando De Soto argues: “the suggestion that it is culture that explains the success of such diverse places as Japan, Switzerland, and California, and culture again that explains the relative poverty of such equally diverse places as Estonia…[Haiti, I add this], and Baja California, is worse than inhumane; it is unconvincing.” And I agree…
For both native Haitians living abroad and foreigners who are interested in having a better picture (not a distorted snapshot) of Haiti, I can’t suggest you a better book than Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois.
 See Harrison, L., & Huntington, S. 2000. Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, p. xv.
 See Harrison, L. 1985. Underdevelopment is a State of Mind, p. 84.
 Dubois, L., 2012. Haiti: The Aftershock of History, p. 4
 p. 5
 p. 8
 p. 369
 De Soto, H. 2000. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, p. 4