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.