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A Letter from Haiti: A Dream Unfulfilled

New America Media, Commentary, Marc Pralte Dandin Posted: Jan 25, 2010

My Dear Friends:

It is to thank you for your overwhelming compassion, generosity, and solidarity that I write these words. I need not tell you that with a calamity of this magnitude, no family is spared from loss. My parents are thankfully unhurt but other family members have fallen and some of our friends as well, and others are still missing. Nevertheless, such times require that we go beyond grief, that we transcend our differences and grasp our common humanity. Your outpouring gestures of support are a testimony to that. Thus, forgive me for demanding more of you when I ask you to read the lines that follow. I feel it is my duty to honor the fallen by telling you of the Haiti you seldom hear of.

As we desperately and heroically tear through the rubble with our bare hands to free our fellow citizens, as we hopelessly seek medical care for the injured, we lament not only the dead but we also weep for the Haitian Dream. The dream which seems even less palpable than it was prior to this tragedy, the dream of a prosperous and independent state, fair to all, and at peace with its neighbors.

It took a faithful night of 1791 to realize that dream. Gathered in the waking dark, in the deep forests of the north, hidden from their masters, a few marooned slaves, weary from decades of institutionalized dehumanization, invoked their departed ancestors along with the divine horsemen, the spirits that helped shoulder their daily misfortunes. That night, they swore an oath to one another. They vowed to live free or otherwise die, but more importantly, to yield their lives whenever and wherever the cause of freedom needed to be defended. That night was later known as the Ceremony of Bwa Kayiman, and what followed it was a large scale slave rebellion, which sparked the Haitian revolution, delivering the first significant blow to slavery.

It is this pivotal moment in world history that was called a pact with the devil by Christian-right minister Pat Robertson. Sadly, this is not the first time that this hateful theory has been put forth. There have been, since the nations birth, a number of perverse attempts at assigning negative connotations to its culture, to rewrite its history, and particularly to discredit Bwa Kayiman. In order to shed light on our detractors motivations, I must first provide you with a few redeeming words about my forebears, who are today wrongfully and ignorantly being accused.

Let it be known that it was they who volunteered to defend the American flag in Savannah, Georgia. With honor and bravery, they bled, alongside their American brothers, to help free America from the yoke of colonialism. Let it be known that without them, Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, would not have freed South America from tyranny. It was they who planned and financed his initial military expedition to the sub-continent.

Why was this forgotten? Why was Bwa Kayiman challenged? It is because the survival and prosperity of our short-term allies, as well as that of the colonial empires of Europe, required that the Haitian experience fail. The young republic founded in 1804 was ostracized from the very beginning of its existence. Moreover, it was ransomed and bankrupted by its former colonial rulers, making it what is today callously being referred to as the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere. The reasons were clear: Haitis founders and the ideals of Bwa Kayiman were a threat to the slave trade and the entire economic system that was based upon it.

Why challenge Bwa Kayiman now? Mr. Robertsons comments are remnants of this systematic pattern of isolating and discrediting Haiti. Although the motivations have changed and are more in line with his extremist evangelical agenda, Mr. Robertson has shown that the same old hateful tactics are still in vigor.

Is this the right time to engage in such a debate? Absolutely! Although our state failed last Tuesday, what remains is the Haitian Dream, and it too is at risk. It is my hope that you look beyond the media sensationalism, beyond the scenes of human despair, and beyond the negative portrayals of our culture and history, and see the people I describe here.

I hope you see a resilient people still eager to positively contribute to human affairs. I also wish that you see an honorable people; a people who notice, not the ruins of its national monuments, but that the flag that flew over them did not perish under the rubble; a people that use the word honor as a greeting and on whose behalf I thank you for your friendship renewed. We once stood together. Today, fate has allowed you, us, and the whole world to stand together, and for that, we are eternally thankful.

Marc Pralte Dandin was born in 1982 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where he also attended elementary school and high school. In January 2000, he moved to College Park, Maryland, and has since been attending the University of Maryland where he is now pursuing the Ph. D. degree in Bioengineering. Dandin returned to College Park from Haiti, days before the earthquake.

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Temporary Protection for Haitians: A First Step

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