Monday, 24 March 2008


I have mixed feelings when pulling into Labadee, Haiti on a sunny Monday morning. This island (half-island?) shares the island space with Dominican Republic. It is responsible for many firsts in the region.
Some are definitive Caribbean milestones- Haiti was the earliest Caribbean colony to overthrow slavery with François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, also known as Toussaint Bréda, or Toussaint-Louverture (born 20 May 1743 - died April 8, 1803), the important leader of the Haitian Revolution. In a long struggle against the institution of slavery, he led the blacks to victory over the whites, freed the blacks, and secured native control over the colony in 1797.

For many of us that live in the region, Haiti is both an historic beacon and a tragic example of all that can go wrong on so many levels. It was also the first island in the region to explode into a full blown Aids crisis in the 1990s. It is well known for its distinctive art
scarily real voodoo and Edwidge Danticat, renowned author who has written beautifully and eloquently about the Haitian experience and Wyclef Jean, performer who has worked tirelessly to draw international attention and aid to his homeland.
Below is a brief recent hostory of Haiti
In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, but was overthrown that September in a violent coup led by dissatisfied elements of the army and supported by many of the country's economic elite. Following the coup, Aristide began a 3-year exile in the U.S. Several thousand Haitians may have been killed during the de facto military rule. The coup contributed to a large-scale exodus of Haitians by boat. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians at sea during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued boat people from the previous 10 years combined.
From October 1991 to September 1994 an unconstitutional military de facto regime governed Haiti. Various OAS and UN initiatives to end the political crisis through the peaceful restoration of the constitutionally elected government, including the Governor’s Island Agreement of July 1993, failed. When the military refused to uphold its end of the agreements, the de facto authorities refused to allow a return to constitutional government, even though the economy was collapsing and the country's infrastructure deteriorated from neglect.
I found them to be a proud and friendly but there is an underlying edge. The women, especially, tended to be more suspicious and less open. But one can hardly blame them.

I saw these shells and I had not seen them before any where else in the Caribbean.
The terrain is quite dry and rocky with unusual formations. And the above unusual nest like plant is actually a bromeliad.

David Rudder's Haiti (early 1990s) with its haunting lyrics- Haiti, we're sorry- put Haiti's plight back on the Caribbean agenda. It is impossible for us, the regional citizens not to take some responsibility for our fellow Caribbean brothers. CARICOM policy towards this little island has always been hazy to say the least and Haitians are not usually welcomed when they arrive in their makeshift and dangerous escape boats.. Unfortunately in the Caribbean these days, we're all trying to keep the pieces together in our own islands. Spiralling crime, inflation and poverty are just a few of the factors that affect us in our small post colonial societies.

What struck me the most in Haiti (and bear in mind that I only had access to approved vendors) was how similar they are to us in Trinidad in so many ways. Even in a society that has supposedly collapsed, the human spirit is still so resilient in songart and craft No matter how bad it gets, meals must be cooked, children are born and raised and there are good and bad people. But in Haiti many still work hard, buy school books and uniforms for their children and deal with the harsh lot that fate has handed them in the best way that they can.
So did I enjoy Labadee. Yes, I did. We snorkelled on a lovely reef which I will post about tomorrow. And it is sad that we enjoyed so much natural beauty in such an unhappy country but without these cruise ships, many would have no jobs.

In the words of David Rudder, "Haiti, we're sorry". We really are, we didn't mean to turn our backs on you.