Year Zero

Carlos Cazalis

2010 - 2011

Haiti’s present is the product of its history: of a nation founded by enslaved people who overthrew their masters and freed themselves; of the hostility that this revolution generated among the colonial powers surrounding the country; and of intense struggle within Haiti itself to define that freedom and realize its promise.

The 2010 earthquake devastated a country that at least on paper, was showing international signs of growth. The news then rattled the same signals over the year, as it always did: Haiti “the poorest country in the western hemisphere” hit by chaos, hurricanes, violence, cholera and fraudulent elections. Few spoke of the opportunity the vacuum created with the fall of the three most powerful institutions on the island: the National Palace, the cathedral and the UN offices. This was Haiti’s “Year Zero”.

Born from a brutal world created by European colonialism where 9 out 10 inhabitants were slaves working the plantations, Haiti was then the most lucrative business of the time, the production of sugar; surpassing British Jamaica, Spanish Cuba and Portuguese Brazil combined. The system consumed the landscape and was already destroying alarmingly large areas of the forests for the export of precious woods.

On my first visit to Haiti in 2004, the second coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide was in place amidst the celebrations of 200 years of independence. It was most evident that the constitutional structures established in the nineteenth-century had made it very difficult to vote the country’s leaders out of office, leaving insurrection as the only means of effecting political change. The twentieth-century laws were more liberal, but government was still changing hands primarily through extra-constitutional, and often violent, means. The political structures remained largely unaccountable to the majority. While the country is labeled a “failed state”, one must recall that Haiti’s state has been quite successful at achieving what it was set up to do: preserving power for a small group. The only successful slave revolt in history was under the control of a few.

The deep division then of what Haiti should be has shaped the entire political history of the country. These images represent today on ongoing stalemate created between the desires and influence of the ruling class and an international community who plays a game of knowing best and being united over the broader population’s wishes, in the past two centuries. These decisions have lead to a devastating set of authoritarian political habits that keep the first black republic in dire economic conditions, of destroyed forests and countryside, a contaminated environment and water sources, cursed in its religious practices and obscured in communication for speaking Kreyol.

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  • A Haitian girl looks out into the town of Leogane destroyed by the Janauary 2010 earthquake and furthermore from flood by Hurricane Tomas hittung the small town in October.
    After Haitian independence, the country went through a long period of civil strife and wars to protect the newly created freedom by the slave population. The rural population wanted to live in auto-sufficienty with sustainable farming while the upper hierarchy wanted to return to a plantation system due to its wealth. These socio-economic differences would haunt Haiti for many years to come;

  • A funeral procession along the outskirts of Port Au Prince crosses in front of a United Nations office severly affected by the 2010 earthquake

  • A primary school in the rural community of Blecke in south western Haiti. Education in Haiti remains primarily under patriachal and private control, where a mere 20% reach secondary level. Creole, spoken by 90% of the population was not considered an official language until 1987, meaning that law and the constitution written in French since it's independence was kept out of reach by the majority of the population.

  • Sugarcane plantation worker. Haiti was once the leading producer of sugar, during the French colonial perido that enslaved over a million Africans. The slave plantations of sugar and coffee enriched France until a slave revolt drove them out, declared independence and spread fear all across the other European colonies with slaves. Today thousands of Haitians cross into the Dominican Republic eager for work but living in sub-standard conditions due to the racial and class differences. In many cases being sent home without pay.

  • A Haitian family outside their home on deforested land on the outskirts of Leogane. Soil erosion and deforestation are endemic in Haiti due to centuries of agricultural exploitation, first under colonial rule in the plantation system -intensive monocropping of export commodities such as cotton, indigo, tobacco, sugarcane and coffee - and later by the widespread harvest of timber for export markets and the expansion of peasant subsistence agriculture on marginal sloping land. A growing urban population and an increasing demand for charcoal and fuel wood have further stressed the environment.

  • Haiti has the highest per capita tuberculosis (TB) burden in the Latin America and Caribbean region. After HIV/AIDS, TB is the country’s greatest infectious cause of mortality in both youth and adults. SInce the devastating earthquake of 2010 in Haiti, health and education services in Haiti have diminished considerably due to the state concentrating its efforts on rebuilding the capital. Haitians more than ever are now depending on the goodwill of foreign NGOs in country. A young Haitian suffering from tuberculosis waits in clinic in the community of Thiotte in southeastern Haiti, close to the Dominican Republic. He is being tested on the development of the disease. Today thousands of Haitians cross into the Dominican Republic eager for work but living in sub-standard conditions due to the racial and class differences. In many cases being sent home without pay.

  • The destroyed cathedral in Port-Au-Prince due to the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Haitians were apalled by the destruction of the three pillars of power in the country who lost their main points of infrastructure, the National Palace, the Cathedran and the offices of the United Nations.

  • View of the Cannan and Obama camps overlapping on a mountainous flood plain on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince and in close vicinity of the first IDP camp, known as Corrail. Both camps remains a mixture of occupation of squatters and government lent land.
    In the aftermath of the earthquake the international community replaced the homes in central Port-Au-Prince for over 60,000 unemployed people creating a new town with no infrastructure. Thousands moved to these camps in squalid conditions without services but in hopes of receiving international aid, making them dependant.
    Foreign interventions in Haiti since its independence have limited the country's possibilities of achieving the promises set out by the slave revolt, auto-sufficiency.

  • Members of the La Kou Souvenance a Vudou practicing community that congregates in Gonaives, dance around one of the sacred, ancient and few trees on the island during easter celebrations. The celebration is a mixture of Easter Catholicsm and post colonial African rites. These rituals were practised by slaved during the colonial period but were prohibited, done in secret and if caught led to severe punishment and even death. Today vodou is still regarded by many as a demonic practice and frequently chastised by christian religious leaders in America.

  • Foreign and local powers have disputed political and economic control of the island for over 400 years, creating a stalemate were the majority of Haitians have little say. Pictured the first day of the creation of the Camp Corrail for Internally Displaced People outsidePort-Au-Prince. Some 1.5 million people were left homeless due to the earthquake. Six months after the earthquake 5,000 people were moved here. A year later, little infrastruture was in place to provide economic opportunities. In many ways the international community including the US Army, Haitian NGOs, UN personnel and forerign NGOs created a satellite community complete dependant on foreign aid failing to provide signigicant aid to the Haitian people to rise above their social status.

  • A woman drinks water from a river near Leogane. Rivers in Haiti have become a center of contamination since the Cholera outbreak of October 2010 that killed over 8,000 people and infected another half million. Haiti historically was the ideal place for its plantations system due to its high mountains bringing abundant water to the western plateau. Erosion of the soil due to forest depletions begun in the colonial period and global warming have salinized and eroded the plateaus making agriculture nearly impossible.

  • Tombs of elders are flanked by seven tombs of children in the town of Blecke in south eastern Haiti. Infant mortality rate in Haiti suffered a sharp decline since 2010 at 73 per 1,000 births according to the World Bank. In 2014 the rate was 55. During the colonial period, tens of thousands of slaves were imported from Africa every year because even though there were attempts to have the slave population reproduce, the children born rarely reached adult age due to the brutal living conditions.

  • A Haitian woman sits outside her home in the city of Leogane ravaged by flooding from Hurricane Tomas. For three days the town was submerged in flood waters with no international assistance, even when the island found itself with thousands of international NGOs due to earthquake six months earlier.

  • A vudou cross lies atop a mount hill on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince. Below lie the mass graves of thousands of Haitians that were never identified after the 2010 earthquake that killed over 200,000 people.. During the French coloniast period thousands of slaves were also buried in unmarked graves.

  • A Haitian evangelist pastor holds a child, part of the flock that has gathered for Sunday mass in Cite de Soleil to pray against the cholera epidemic that has killed over 1,100 people and infected more than 20,000. Throughout a visiti to several evangelist temples in Cite de Soleil the prevailing message amongst children was the story of David and Goliath. The community of Cite de Soleil considered the lowest class in the capital in many ways resembles the condtions lived by slaves during the colonials period but it marks more relevantly the poor and chaotic urban planning that occured in the capital when Haiti was deprived of the possibilitie of becoming a self sustainable agricultural country due to the dumping of foreign subsidized imports like US rice, that destroyed that economy and forced rural migrations to the city.