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Haiti’s historical cross

Frantzo Simbert, seminarian

By Frantzo Simbert, seminarian

Many are elected to lead the destiny of a nation but few assume such a noble responsibility as they should. Power can make us stupid. It is unfortunate to have in leadership positions people like President Donald Trump, who are blind to their human imperfection, and either unwilling or unable to rise to the demands of high office.

The president’s derogatory statement to describe Haiti and African countries suggests a wistful desire to reverse the course of history. He represents the visible face of the colonial process where you think yourself superior to those under your rule.

Historically, this can be seen in the attitude of the US administration when it refused to recognise Haiti’s independence in 1804, only to do so in 1862. This was because Haiti’s process of independence was begun by free slaves—Francois Dominique Toussaint L’ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Capois La Mort.

After the Haitian independence, there was always the fear that the country would negatively influence the black slaves in the Southern US. From that initiative taken by our ancestors to the present, Haitians have been subjected to systematic isolation, discrimination, humiliation and described by the most derogatory terms in migration literature. This is a historical cross we have to carry wherever we go, not only in the US but also in the Caribbean region.

As I look at President Trump’s statement from the perspective of the biblical tradition, I see several examples of mighty leaders who experienced catastrophic downfall as a consequence of their attitude, which often determines the altitude of their fall.

I think of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (625–562). The president’s arrogance is no different from the king’s arrogance. His pride bears all the marks of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, which will lead eventually to a similar end. Without being deterministic, common sense dictates that the same cause will always produce the same effect.

Moreover, the slanderous statement pushes my imagination to the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Jesus, especially his mockery by Pontius Pilate.

The latter said to him, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and have power to crucify you? To which Jesus replied, sharply, “you would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above”.

The mockery of the people of Haiti and the African nations is no ‘high mass’ but a requiem; a sad reminder of the abuse committed during the various military interventions in the country, even though the president’s selective memory would have failed to remind him about the historical debt owed to Haiti. But, a minimum sense of guilt from a humanistic standpoint requires a sense of respect and solidarity.

The impact of the much-publicised remark on our Haitian identity is incommensurable, sociologically speaking. It determines the way some people approach US-Haitian nationals, placing an additional burden on the difficult reality we experience in the area of international relations.

The magnitude of this attack on the people of Haiti is like the explosion of an atomic bomb that leaves nothing unspoilt in the radius of its blast. The damage is done and no apology expected.

I find consolation in the prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which she says, “He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted. He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly.  He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty”.

Frantzo Simbert was born in Haiti. He is studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Roseau, Dominica at the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs, Mt St Benedict