Living and working in Haiti for over 10 years (2010-2020), travelling the length and breadth of the Haitian countryside, and interacting with thousands of farmers, business people, students, technocrats, politicians, and Haitians generally was peculiarly stimulating and instructive and I am constrained to offer a perspective on the importance of Haiti to us in Jamaica.
The history of Haiti over the past 500 years has run a similar course to Jamacia's — European invasion and conquest; decimation of native peoples; trafficking and enslavement of African people with cruel, unjust, and inhuman degrading treatment; violent and heroic struggles for freedom; a mixed bag of social, economic, and political fortunes, often interrupted by periods of rampant crime and violence bringing waves of outward migration and despair; and a society on the brink of implosion.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the Haitian people, like us Jamaicans, are a proud, resourceful, resilient, and determined lot, ever pushing to better ourselves/themselves and build a just, free, developed, and peaceful society.
Haiti is primarily an agrarian society, and with a topography similar to Jamaica's produces a wide range of crops so familiar, believe me, you would feel right at home in most parts of the Haitian countryside. Haiti is, however, more than just an agrarian society as there is much commerce and trade-related businesses, especially in its principal cities. Haiti has, like us in Jamaica, a rich cultural heritage, a breathtakingly beautiful and varied landscape, which could be tremendously appealing to tourists, and a resourceful and vigorous youthful population eagerly yearning for educational/vocational development and gainful employment.
Like many post-colonial countries, Haiti has to be grappling with problems inimical to its human development on all fronts. Presently, Haiti is extremely wounded, hurting, and desperately needing relief from its multiplicity of complex challenges.
So Haitian lives matter to us. First, because of our common humanity. Haiti is our close neighbour, we must resist the temptation to be like the proverbial self-righteous priest and Levite of scripture, who saw a robbed, beaten, and wounded man lying by the road but chose to turn his eyes and pass by on the other side.
Secondly, Haiti matters to us as it relates to our health and security. What happens in Haiti does not stay only in Haiti. For example, the environmental degradation and pollution issues from impoverishment pushing poor garbage disposal, especially of non-biodegradables, washing into the sea all along Haiti's western shores are already finding their way to our shores and if remained unchecked will have deleterious effect on our marine life and fisheries and ultimately also our tourism. Again, for example, the growth and proliferation of violent gangsterism in Haiti, if not urgently addressed, will continue to increasingly help to fuel our crime problems in Jamaica (see police reports of "drugs for guns").
Thirdly, Haiti and Haitian lives matter to us economically. Haiti's population of over 11 million is greater than that of the entire rest of the English-speaking Caribbean peoples. A well-educated, secure, politically stable, industrialised, and thriving Haiti, fully integrated into Caricom, provides vast opportunities for trade and investments in areas which Jamaica has some expertise, such as agriculture/agribusiness, housing, tourism, and institutional development. Most importantly, growth in trade instead of aid to Haiti will more assuredly fuel their development and help the country to overcome the stain of being branded "the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere". Ninety-nine per cent of Haitians look like ninety-nine per cent of us Jamaicans and this stain is really being rubbed in the faces of all of us Caribbean and African-diaspora peoples.
We have got to bend down and help our neighbour like the Good Samaritan would. We have got to be our Haitian brother's keeper. We must respectfully partner with our Haitian brothers and sisters in areas of their choosing and respect the fact that Haiti's problems will only be sustainably solved by Haitians and so we must first listen and then the actions we take towards assisting Haiti must align with and support the priorities identified by our Haitian brethren themselves.
"Yes we can" help Haiti now. Anyone can partner with and help fund reputable organisations (like The Salvation Army) working for human development in Haiti. All of us can lobby our parliamentary representatives to have a foreign policy approach which seeks to, in every international forum, represent and advance Haitian developmental interest. Our intellectuals, and those concerned with restorative justice, can and should ensure that Haiti is at the centre of the global movement for reparation because the so-called indemnity Haiti paid to France, up to the 1940s, valuing billions of US dollars in today's money, represents a unique case of gross international extortion in which a formerly trafficked and enslaved people who fought and won their freedom were forced to compensate those who had once enslaved them.
To look away and pretend we are or will be unaffected by developments, good or bad, in our neighbour Haiti is illusionary.