“Build Back Better!” “Build Back Better!” “Build Back Better!” This rather infectious chant became the unofficial campaign slogan for former American president Bill Clinton following the devastating earthquake of 2010. It was created by his Foundation in order to help galvanise the support required to get Haïti back on its feet. According to Clinton, the country where he had spent his honeymoon would not be forsaken and he would do everything in his power to aid the helpless island.
Five years on it would seem that the Foundation’s mantra worked at facilitating progress and evidence of Haïti’s resurrection have become abundantly apparent. A gleaming new airport adorned with brightly coloured flags emblazoned with the phrase, “Experience it [Haïti]” beckons visitors to stay. While the rhythmic sounds of steel drums resonate throughout the terminal further enticing weary travellers to put a smile on their faces, relax and enjoy Haïti.
Other remarkably noticeable improvements include the reconstruction of the capital’s bustling marketplace, Le Marché de Fer. It was rebuilt within one year after its demise and once again audible Creole voices can be heard mustering sales and haggling for bargains throughout the streets of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. And now, with the help of Digicel, the Caribbean’s largest mobile telecommunications operator, a new Marriott hotel has just opened its doors offering restful nights; much-needed local employment; and an added boost to the beleaguering tourism industry.
But are these renovations and erections the true way forward for this shattered country? Hasn’t Haïti been here before over 200+ years ago, when she first gained her independence? Back then she was forced to overcome a feat far greater than the rumblings of the ground in 2010. In the late 18th century, it took her years of bloodshed to finally be liberated from the vice of French colonists through the only successful slave revolt the world has ever known.
Once victory was declared, rebuilding began. In order to keep the country safe from any future infiltrations, one of Haïti’s key leaders at the time, Henri Christophe, built the stunning Citadel fortress just south of the city of Cap Haïtien. It took the labour of thousands of Haitians to build the imposing castle, which still stands today and remains the largest of its kind in the Americas. Its construction is a great testament to what can be accomplished through mutual exertion.
But for all the sweat, toil and mutual collaboration, the grand structure couldn’t keep its creator from harm’s way; Christophe was assassinated just years after its completion and a succession of leaders followed proving that no matter how austere a structure, great leadership has to be even stronger.
Although still reeling from the tragedy, Haïti was in need of a head-of-state and went ahead and elected former singer, Michel Martelly, as president even though there was no where to house him; the presidential palace laid in ruins and has yet to be rebuilt. The lack of this residence glaringly symbolises Haïti’s need for purposeful direction and acts as a stark reminder of how far Haïti has still to go in its renewal.
So what now? We know that Haïti is able to build itself back better because it already did so with the construction of places like the Citadel. However, we’ve also seen that the erections of such striking and imposing fortresses have done nothing to protect Haiti from the enemy within.
Throughout its history, Haïti has been the victim of political upheavals, in-fighting and has fallen prey to other natural disasters. Following every consequent calamity, Haiti has depended upon the outside world for help. History dictates that if you add up all of the external aid, any enduring transformation has yet to transpire! In order for there to be lasting change, there must be a revolution internally as well as externally, beginning with the Haitians themselves.
Haïti is a relatively young country with 65% of its population under the age of 25. In order to successfully guide these young men and women, a key feature in building Haïti back better, has to originate from the diaspora. Haïti is akin to a young girl who, having eradicated herself from brutal abusers, now needs to learn how to live on her own without the disturbing and haunting memories of the past, which prevent her from moving forward. She is in serious need of leadership from people she can trust: Haitians who love their country and who stand united in their resolve to restore Haïti once and for all.
Haïti’s Invisible Noose series will take a look at what demons continue to plague Haïti keeping her ensnared, unable to truly experience the freedom for which she fought so hard. Issues such as class, race-relations, education, and politics (to name but a few) will be scrutinized. A look at how some Haitians are “Building [Haïti] Back Better” will also be examined.
by Myriam Breton Jones