Haiti's Uncertain Future, 2 Years Later
Little progress and a lot of self-doubt remain in the first black republic after the earthquake.
Depestre is not far from the truth. Haiti, crippled from the start by having to pay off a staggering indemnity to France throughout most the 19th century and ruled mostly by dictators, has never had a strong governmental infrastructure. During the last several decades, few foreign donors were willing to pour money into ministries where it had a tendency to vanish.
None of Haiti's problems are unsolvable. But the country cannot move forward without overcoming its long-standing divisions of class and color. It needs to embrace the often-reviled Diaspora Haitians who have acquired knowledge and management skills abroad.
I have relatives in all classes in Haiti: the mulattos, the black elite and the black middle class. I lost an aunt and a cousin in the 2010 earthquake. My childhood home was destroyed.
As a Diaspora Haitian, I have witnessed unusually candid conversations among all my relatives. Those with a deep commitment to a better Haiti cannot be simply defined by skin color. Some cousins who operate a hospital kept it going 24 hours a day for several weeks after the 2010 earthquake and treated thousands of victims. Many members of my family have devoted themselves to public service and public good.
But the wealthiest Haitians live in a bubble of secure compounds, armored cars and bodyguards that reflect their fear of the masses of poor Haitians. Many Haitian business leaders to whom I've spoken claim no obligation to Haiti beyond providing jobs -- and then complain about being unfairly maligned by foreign reporters.
It's true that if you believe in capitalism, being rich should not be a sin only in Haiti. But being rich and not having the courage to take entrepreneurial risks -- or to develop a philanthropic structure to save your country -- is a damnable offense.
On the other side, my black relatives, even when successful, often chafe at the barriers placed in their paths. They have reason to complain.
I remember a conversation with a light-skinned relative who was also a physician. I had heard about a brilliant young man from a poor black family who had immigrated to the U.S., attended Harvard Medical School, acquired a sought-after specialty and come home to Haiti to set up a practice. He was struggling to make ends meet. "Why won't the elite go to him?" I asked the doctor.
"Because we don't know him," he replied.
If, after 208 years of independence, Haitians can't get to know one another and to trust one another across these barriers of class, race and history, then no amount of foreign aid and international goodwill will save Haiti.
Joel Dreyfuss, senior editor-at-large of The Root, is living in Paris and writing a book about his family's role in 250 years of Haiti's history.