Solidarity demands respect for Haiti’s complex past

By Patrick Saint-Jean SJ, 27 August 2021
A mural of an agricultural scene in Haiti. Image: Jacqueline Macou/Pixabay


Will foreign powers continue to call the shots while Haiti’s people suffer?

The 2010 earthquake, catastrophic flooding in 2016, a deadly hurricane in 2020: It seems that whenever Haiti is in the news, it’s in connection with a disaster. And now, once again, Haiti has made the headlines. First, on July 7, foreign gunmen assassinated Haiti’s president. Then, on August 14, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the island, killing more than 1,400 people. Is this Caribbean nation just terribly unlucky? Is it cursed by God? Or is it simply the victim of a series of unfortunate coincidences?

I believe the answer to all three questions is no. Haiti’s long history of crises has masked the true state of affairs. Haiti is a proud nation, with a rich cultural heritage and a history of tenacious courage and resilient dignity—but it has been the victim of racial oppression since its beginnings. That oppression has undermined its strength, making it vulnerable to both natural catastrophes and political corruption.

In 1983, when St. Pope John Paul II visited Haiti, he said, “Things must change here.” Nearly 40 years later, the conditions the pope observed persist. If anything, they have grown worse. Today, 2,500,000 Haitians live in extreme poverty. Two out of 3 Haitians live on less than $2 per day (U.S. currency), and 100,000 children under the age of 5 suffer from acute malnutrition, while 1 out of 3 children has irreversibly stunted growth. Less than 50 percent of Haitian households have access to safe water, and only 25 percent have adequate sanitation.

As followers of Christ in the United States, it is time we listen to what Haiti has to say to us. Christ’s example teaches us to reach out with respect and compassion, rather than with condescension and judgment. If we recognize Haiti’s dignity, complexity, and hope, as Christ did whenever he spoke with those whom his society had rejected, we can help create new possibilities for this neighbor nation. We can follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who said, “The Lord has anointed me . . . to liberate the oppressed” (Luke 4:18, 19).

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Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J. is a native of Haiti and a member of the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus. He currently teaches psychology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He is the author of The Spiritual Work of Racial Justice: A Month of Meditation with Ignatius of Loyola (Anamchara Books).

With thanks to U.S. Catholic, a publication of the Claretian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers dedicated to the mission of living and spreading the gospel of Jesus. 


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