Thy Kingdom Come: Hidden History and the Fall of Haiti


The story of Haiti, is the story of a fallen champion. Today, Haiti is tagged as, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. However, this tag it is unfair, incomplete, inaccurate and therefore misleading, as it proclaims Haiti’s present, without giving a full scope of its past.

Why don’t headlines ever talk about how Haiti was once, one of the most prosperous colonies in the world and one of the world’s leaders in coffee and sugar exports? Why don’t headlines emphasize how it was the first Black republic in the world and for that, it was isolated, punished and blackballed by its former colonizers and their slave-holding allies? Why don’t the headlines report how Haiti was occupied by the United States military for nearly 20 years and how the Haitian people were exploited for cheap labor against their will? Why don’t the headlines mention how the United States government sponsored Jean- Claude Duvalier, also known as “Papa Doc,” one of the most ruthless and notorious dictators of the 20th century with money and arms to rule Haiti for decades under pure fear and terror? I don’t hear many headlines tagging Haiti for having its already fragile economy destroyed in the 1990’s by Bill Clinton’s backdoor deal, that bankrupted and pushed out Haitian rice farmers, while subsidizing farmers from the Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. And more despicably, the hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to Haiti in response to the 2010 earthquake that the American Red Cross used to build gated communities for its workers, instead of homes for the victims of the actual earthquake. Oh yeah! What about the United Nation “peace keepers” who have impregnated hundreds if not thousands of Haitian girls and women, while leaving them to raise a generation of children on their own.  Did I mention how those same “peace keepers” brought cholera to Haiti, by contaminating the Haitian water supply with their human waste and feces, leading to the deaths of thousands of people?

To continue to simply tag Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is like watching Mike Tyson’s last fight against Lennox Lewis and deciding that Mike Tyson’s legacy would be cemented from the results of a fight, that should have never happened in the first place. Tyson had been far beyond his prime and to say that he was damaged goods, would have been a compliment. Tyson was merely a shell, a shadow of what his name meant to millions, who watched him in his prime destroy anything that dared to stand in the square with him. And let us rest assure, that his fall from glory, was not by happenstance. The untimely death of his mentor, coupled with his exploitation by the infamous Don King among others; lead one of the greatest fighters the world has ever known, to his back on a canvas mat, in an arena filled with perplexed eyes, pitied hearts and the realization, that this once great boxing warrior-god, had been reduced to a mere mortal. But still, in his downfall, Tyson will always be recognized as one of the greatest. We do not honor hour heroes in their defeat, but in their glory. We should do the same for Haiti.

Haiti has been down for quite some time now, but its true historical and cultural narrative, still outweighs its current calamitous present.  The black sheep, the dark child, prodigal son, the underdog. All these metaphors hold the real story of a nation that continues to fight for its rightful place in the history books and in a world that is quick to forget and dismiss the mighty legacy of the land where black people actually came together to achieve the unspeakable and the unthinkable… FREEDOM.

Many nations have built tremendous wealth on the backs of the oppressed. Just over 200 years ago in 1804, when New World slavery was at its relative peak in places like Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, 1000 miles away, nearly half a million slaves had flipped the script. Greater than any March on Washington, Million Man March, Emancipation Proclamation, Thirteenth, Fourteenth Amendment or Black Lives Matters hashtag… Just as the Patriots had defeated the British, the Africans on the island of Hispaniola had defeated the French army.  Inscribed on the Haitian flag you will find the quote, L’union fait la force, In unity there is strength; which is a kin to the motto of the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution… “Join or die.” To be Haitian is to know that you come from the same ilk of the only nation on earth to ever lead a successful slave revolt and to know that running in your veins is the same blood of men in women, who were the original freedom fighters. This is what Haiti should be known for. Because if not, then to be fair, accurate and transparent, we must tag those countries responsible for Haiti’s economic demise … France, the country that still owes Haiti billions in reparations. England, the country that colonized and enslaved millions of people and bled their resources dry until the mid 20th century. The United States, the wealthiest country in the world by inheriting a lucrative slave economy from the British and continued to profit for nearly a century from free labor and has yet to provide reparations to the families of former slaves, while the families of former slave owners continue to thrive from generational wealth.

With the recent landfall of Hurricane Matthew, today, Haiti is clinging onto the ropes. The combination of natural disasters, political and economic sabotage have taken its toll on Haiti. Her opponents have hit her with every hook, jab, uppercut and combination imaginable. She is hurt, wounded and bloodied. And though she has been knocked down and knocked out, she continues to pick herself up and fight again. What a mighty people! What a mighty nation! Haiti, the strongest country in the world, the champion of the people. 


What My People Go Through

When I woke up on the morning of Saturday, July 23, 2011 I did what millions of Americans do each morning. Before washing my face or even brushing my teeth, I looked over at my Blackberry to see if I had missed any messages, emails or phone calls. I noticed that the customary red light was flashing. I had missed a phone call from my older brother, Ray. This was odd because he never called this early. Immediately I dialed him back, without a greeting or a good morning, he said “Ashley, the cholera is back, six people have died already!”

It didn’t sink in right away, so I let him continue talking. What was I supposed to say or do? He continued to explain the grim events that had taken place over the past few days. Earlier that week, Wednesday evening, three people had reportedly been on their way to Immaculee, the largest medical center in Port de Paix. All three had died, two at the hospital and one in the ambulance. That was just the beginning. Over the next couple of days, it was said that nearly a dozen people had died from the cholera exposure.

I began to brainstorm about what I could do to help. Sitting around and feeling hopeless wasn’t going to solve anything, so I told Ray that I would call him back. First I went online and searched the internet for any new stories or releases talking about the most recent cholera outbreak in Northwest Haiti; The Miami Herald, New York Times, CNN, Google, nothing . No one was reporting anything.

My next step was to call my father down in Miami. He is an immigration consultant who primarily helps Haitians who are seeking to become American citizens. He’s been serving the Haitian community in Miami for over 20 years, if anybody knew about what was going on in Port de Paix, it would be my father. I called him and what he told me was even more graphic and detailed than what my brother had described.

One of his clients had just left his office in tears. The man had just come back from Port de Paix and said that dozens of people were sick and that the situation was dire. He said that they were running out of beds in the hospital, even worse, as people began dying, they would simply bury their corpses in a lot adjacent to the hospital. The potential ramifications of these actions were unimaginable.

If all this had happened within the course of three days, imagine what possible tragedies loomed ahead. As I began to brainstorm, I started to think about all the people I could call upon that would have ideas, resources or experience with this sort of situation and the name “Marie,” popped into my head.  Within seconds I was on the phone calling Marie Eusebe, founder of C2C, a New York based organization that has been doing incredible work in Haiti. We spoke briefly.  She was in a meeting and she said that should would have to call me back. Hours later, the phone rang. It was her and we began an ongoing dialogue and plan of action on what we were going to do, to help the people of Port de Paix…

Two weeks had gone by and thankfully the situation improved. Aqua tabs and medicine were distributed by local NGO’s and Sister City International.  I continue to receive updates from Ray about what’s happening on the ground.

Sadly, the local government of Port de Paix have been very slow to act and respond to the needs of the people. It has been rumored that the mayor had been in South Florida in the midst of the outbreak and essentially did nothing to improve the situation. As a result of his apparent apathy, many citizens of Port de Paix have lost faith in their local government, therefore taking matters into their own hands. When the people needed leadership the most, is when their local officials abandoned them.

As the rainy season persists the Northwest becomes more vulnerable to another cholera outbreak. The mud along with the trash and litter that piles and accumulates after each storm creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. The people of Port de Paix need the local government to get more actively involved, they need community leadership and some good fortune.

What makes the situation sad, yet hopeful is that it’s just as simple as giving people a tablet that can save their lives.  I hope that the people can make it through the next hurricane season without unnecessary loss. The resilient spirit of the people is a miracle in itself, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

This map illustrates the outbreaks of cholera in Haiti in the fall of 2010. Port-de-Paix is located in the Northwest Province of Haiti.
This map illustrates the outbreaks of cholera in Haiti in the fall of 2010. Port-de-Paix is located in the Northwest Province of Haiti.

How to Survive a Natural Disaster

Hurricane Andrew, 1992.

Twenty years ago, as I eagerly awaited the first day of school, there stood a category 3 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. This storm would go down as the most devastating storm in United States history (until Katrina). Every year we watched the summer storms batter the Caribbean; Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas. Usually, by the time the storms reached the shores of South Florida, they would lose their strength and touch down as tropical storms or at worse, at category 1 hurricane. It is said that Miami sees nearly 100 thunderstorms a year, so we were used to lightening, heavy rains, rough winds and blackouts.

By the time I was twelve, I can say that I had survived at least six hurricanes. All of them had been quite disappointing until Andrew in 1992. Sure, a few trees would fall, some light flooding occurred and we’d be out of electricity for a few days, but that was to be expected. But Andrew changed Miami forever. The category 3 hurricane rocked Dade County, leaving over 100,000 homeless. People sought shelter and protection in their closets because their windows were blown out and their roofs were torn away, and when they came out, they could see endless destruction as far as their eyes could see. Residents had to spray paint their addresses on the street, because their homes were blown away.

A massive mango tree fell on my neighbor’s house, we heard the crack, the thud and the screams. Our kitchen door was ripped off of its hinges. My father chased after it into the storm and nailed it back into the threshold. We prayed that it would remain put until the storm ended. With winds running through the house over 100 miles per hour, it would have pushed our roof off. We were lucky. After eight hours of torrential rains and winds, I am blessed to say that we survived Andrew with minimal damage. A few damaged windows, some roof damage and worn-out kitchen door.

We were without electricity for two weeks. School was cancelled for at least three and we all had a new-found respect for mother nature.

Sandy reminds me a lot of Andrew. New Yorkers (in the boroughs) got a taste of what a hurricane might bring, but Irene was misleading. I’m not sure what preparations were made along the Jersey Shore, Lower Manhattan or some of the lower-lying coastal areas, but I don’t believe those communities were physically or mentally prepared for the kind of aftermath that comes with a storm of Sandy’s magnitude. You can never really be prepared for “the storm,” you can only learn.

I will never forget what Andrew did, therefore I have the utmost respect for mother nature. Aside from stocking up on batteries, non-perishables, and clean water, there was not a whole lot anyone could do to really prepare for Sandy. From here on out, it’s all about the aftermath. How will the people respond? How will the local government, state government and F.E.M.A. handle the situation?

Once again, I was lucky, I think one tree was actually uprooted on my block, in Morningside Heights. Others were not so fortunate. Lower Manhattan is underwater. Flooding has redrawn the New Jersey shoreline. Breezey Point (Queens) was devastated by an uncontrollable blaze, leaving over one hundred homes charred to the ground and hundreds of thousands are left in the dark, without electricity.

The text messages, facebook check-ins and phone calls started at 5 a.m. “We are fine, thanks for checking up on us,” I quickly replied. They called from Miami, the Midwest, Boston and even West Africa. I rolled out of bed, fixed myself a bowl of cereal and began to watch the local news. The images were breath-taking and the stories were heart-breaking. I cannot believe that all this mayhem and destruction occurred all within the a few miles from my doorstep.

So I have survived Andrew, Katrina and now Sandy, three of the most costly natural disasters in United States history. How did I do it?  With a little intuition and a whole lot of luck.

Hurricane Sandy, 2012.