Pirates of the Caribbean, Haiti’s Path from Underdevelopment to Catastrophe was the theme of a talk at Federated Church on Saturday, Feb. 16.
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Part of a series of presentations called the “Season for Nonviolence,” two sociology professors from Cameron Park discussed the work they have done in Haiti over the past 10 years before a small but engaged audience.
Paul Burke and Leisa Faulkner, who are co-founders of an organization called Children’s Hope, covered the history of the island of Hispaniola from pre-Columbus to its present-day misery. They said the title of their presentation describes the history of Haiti, which makes up part of Hispaniola, as a plundered country that has had its wealth extracted by different countries over the centuries.
Once referred to as the Pearl of the Antilles, Burke and Faulkner said the native people of Hispaniola lived in “rich abundance and in harmony with nature” prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
However, once they declared it their territory, the Spanish enslaved and conscripted the natives into mining for gold. Disease and cruel working conditions decimated their numbers, leading the Spanish to import slaves from Africa for labor.
As the gateway to the Caribbean, Hispaniola later developed into a haven for pirates and French buccaneers. Successive wars between the French and Spanish ended with the island being divided.
The French part of the island, which was later named Haiti, went on to become one of France’s wealthiest colonies due to coffee and sugar exports. The rest the island, which later became the Dominican Republic, remained largely under the control of the Spanish.
In 1791 there was a revolt by the slaves. Wholesale slaughter took place as the Haitians, French, Spanish, Germans, Dutch and others battled over control of the island. When the war finally ended in 1804, Haiti declared its independence, becoming the oldest black republic in the world. Among other things, its new constitution prohibited the foreign ownership of property.
Haiti later agreed to pay France 90 million gold francs for the loss of property and slaves. However, according to Burke and Faulkner, paying off the loan forced Haiti to close down its schools and cut down its forests to generate revenue.
During this period, Haiti experienced numerous periods of political instability as different leaders ascended and declared themselves emperor or king. Later presidents were elected but were often overthrown, assassinated, or forced to flee the country.
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson, in response to complaints from American banks to which Haiti was deeply in debt, sent in the Marines to occupy the country. They ended up staying until 1934. Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, wrote a new constitution for Haiti which allowed foreign ownership of their land. Burke and Faulkner said the U.S. also created the Haitian military in order to protect the island elite from the rest of the population.
In 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president but was in office less than a year when he was overthrown. He was reelected in 1994 and again in 2001 but was ousted in 2004 in a coup. According to Burke and Faulkner, the first coup was organized by President George H.W. Bush and the second by his son, President George W. Bush, who also brought back the Marines in 2004.
Faulkner said one of the ways she became involved in Haiti’s politics was after she was invited to be a human shield in a parade of the newly elected leaders, many of whom were coming out of hiding after the 2004 coup.
At the time they needed white women, and especially white American women as shields from the snipers on top of the buildings. Burke wryly said they didn’t get a lot of takers, but Faulkner and another woman volunteered to go.
Luckily neither woman was shot and since then democracy has made something of a comeback even though 80 percent of the population continues to live in poverty.
In 2010 Haiti received another blow when a major earthquake killed over 300,000 people and rendered 2 million homeless. Adding to the general misery was cholera that was brought into the country by U.N. troops from Nepal who by then had taken over for the Marines.
Faulkner said within a few days of the quake, she and Burke were in Haiti with all the medical supplies they could muster. Amputations had to be done on tables with people laid out in nearby fields on tarps. They said they still remember the young man they met who only had a white bucket after the earthquake. His family, home and all his possessions were gone but he thought himself fortunate because he could help others less fortunate than himself.
Faulkner said that despite all the aid given to Haiti, 400,000 people are still homeless with most forced to live in 500 different tent cities. Over 8,000 people have died from cholera and clean water is still unavailable to many.
Adding to what Faulkner and Burke described was Sara Munday of Camino, who said she went to Haiti to help in 2011 for the first time and has been back two other times since. She said on one of her trips, a woman handed Munday her child and said “keep her” knowing that Munday could do more for the child than she could.
Munday plans to return again this year as will Burke and Faulkner who are going back to Haiti in July — their 23rd trip to the country. Usually they are accompanied by students and community members. They said this year students will also be able to earn college credits for their work.
Burke and Faulkner said one dream they have is buying a water tank for a community so they can have a reliable and clean water supply. The tank only costs $25,000 but they are having trouble getting funding. Meanwhile, they said the biggest project built since the earthquake has been a five-star hotel. It was partially funded by the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund. “Clinton built it for his wealthy friends,” said Burke, noting that there is little accountability for how donated funds are spent.
He also noted that the new president of Haiti — Michel Martelly — recently signed an agreement with a U.S.-backed extraction company. “Martelly is friendly with Clinton and Obama,” said Burke.
The “Season for Nonviolence” includes different events and presentations through March 30. The next event is at 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 called “Being a Resource in Your Community.” For more information, contact Eddie Zacapa at 530-295-4210. People can also go to their Website and click on the brochure for a listing of all the upcoming programs at edpjc.org/snv.html.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.