Haiti is a beacon of revolution and resistance where it’s people are born with the unwillingness to accept anything less than freedom and equality.
Reflecting on the 216th anniversary of the Haitian Independence on January 1, I think about how a single story often defines Haiti and her inhabitants — that Haiti is an impoverished, disaster beaten country that struggles with deep rooted political instability. This single story misses the reality: Haiti is a beacon of revolution and resistance where it’s people are born with the unwillingness to accept anything less than freedom and equality. From prolific military tactician and a founding father of Haiti, Toussaint L’Ouverture, to Haitian-American political campaign organizer under Obama from 2008-2012, Karine Jean-Pierre, Haitians have an inherent thirst for change and fighting spirit that grows with each new generation.
I’m a first-generation Haitian American and I want deeply for the US to actively raise up the contributions and achievements of my ancestral home. With that said, the question remains — what can the U.S. and other global communities learn from Haiti?
In the year following the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 that damaged Haiti’s agricultural backbone, Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar American argi-business company, gifted a $4 million donation of hybrid seeds to Haitian farmers, alleging to support reconstruction efforts. What seemed to be a gesture of good will was, in reality, an endeavor that would eventually disrupt Haiti’s fragile agricultural economy and ultimately create dependency on Monsanto’s seeds. In the U.S., Monsanto is known for their wide range of chemical products like Miracle Gro and Roundup Weedkiller. However, studies prove that the company produces dangerous and harmful products, select Monsanto products cause cancer, and illegally spreads toxic pesticides over Maui, Hawaii. Grassroots organizations like Haiti’s Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), the oldest and largest farmers organization in the country, responded by organizing a protest with over 10,000 farmers to protect the livelihoods of thousands of Haitian farmers and committed to destroying and burning the hybrid seeds if it reached them. The movement continues to take back the power of Haitian farmers and dismantling a narrative of dependency and helplessness.
Haitian folklore tells us about the creation of the country’s flag.
Haitian folklore tells us about the creation of the country’s flag. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first leader of a newly independent Haiti, created the flag with the help of his niece, Catherine Flon, to symbolize the union of black Haitians and free people of color to shake off caste systems of old colonial structures and structural colorism. Uprising against exploitive governments is nothing new to Haitians. Today, Haitians are embroiled in widespread pro-democracy protests dating back to when President Jovenel Moïse was seated in early 2017. Haitians stand united against rampant corruption to a level that has inspired the generally reticent Catholic Church to engage in demonstrations and stage peaceful protests calling for a change in the US-backed government. “The system is not for us. It’s for politicians to come in, get rich, and do all kinds of corrupt activities in accord with the private sector,” said Daphne Valmond-Bourgoin, a 40-year-old protester. Across the country, Haitians are calling for accountability of elected officials, transparency of public funds, and less foreign intervention similar to the American political environment. Haitian citizens have consistently criticized dictatorships and authoritarian leaders while making an effort to have more say in their government. Foreign intervention prevents progress to an inclusive democracy, but Haitians counter that by continuing to raise concerns at the world stage.
Haitian people have the grit to fight powerful adversaries and the resiliency to deal with the repercussions of it. On this Haitian Independence Day, the world must recognize Haiti and her people not only for their struggle, but also for their ingenuity, their resolve and their courage. As one of the oldest republics in the region, Haiti is the cradle of revolution and resistance.