Haiti in Crisis

— Honor Ford-Smith and D. Alissa Trotz

IN 2004, SHORTLY after the coup in Haiti in which President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed from office, in the year of the bicentenary of the Haitian revolution, a group of concerned Caribbean Faculty at the University of Toronto organized an emergency public meeting that was exceptionally widely attended.

Much interest was expressed in a follow up discussion, as very little information was available at that time. One year later, a slightly larger group (M. Jacqui Alexander, Honor Ford-Smith, Melanie Newton, Mary Nyquist and Alissa Trotz) organized a teach-in that was held at New College, University of Toronto, in March 2005.

The main goals of the teach-in were five-fold: to underline the historical significance of Haiti and the Haitian revolution for thinking about transnational projects of freedom and liberation from racial and other modes of oppression; to place in historical context the current events and patterns of violence in Haiti; to consider the relationship between the events of 2004 and past U.S. interventions and its implications for the wider region in a post 9/11 era; to discuss Caribbean wide responses to the Haitian crisis; and to address the troubling silence in the Canadian media both on the Haitian crisis and on the Canadian government’s troubling relationship (at least partly in concert with U.S. and French administrations) to the interim regime of Gerard Latortue.

When Haiti has appeared in the mainstream press, it has tended to relate to endorsements of Canada’s role in ensuring a “smooth transition to democracy,” with very little critical engagement. In Canada there is a significant Haitian diaspora (especially in Montréal), and we wanted to contribute to providing a space for these diverse voices to be heard.

The Teach-in was divided into two parts. The first involved a staged reading and adaptation of an excerpt from Derek Walcott’s “The Haitian Earth,” which saw a cast of fifteen actors and actresses from the Toronto area take to the stage. This cultural segment was organized by Theatre Archipelago, a Caribbean theatre company, and directed by Rhoma Spencer.

The Collective of Black Artists also performed an excerpt from their repertoire, “Transe” (Choreographed by Jeanguy Saintus), and provided the drum/percussion for the reading.

The second part of the evening was devoted to a panel discussion with five Caribbean scholars/activists: Frantz Voltaire, Director of CIDIHCA (Centre International de Documentation et d’Information Haïtienne; M. Jacqui Alexander, Professor at the Institute for Women’s Studies and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto; Melanie Newton, Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Toronto; Robert Fatton, Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics, University of Virginia; and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, houngan asowe and Professor in the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Teach-in was extremely well-attended, and we are in the process of putting the talks together, soliciting more contributions and ensuring that they are published widely inside and outside the region and across languages. Against the Current is the first step towards this goal, with the publication of the presentations by Robert Fatton and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith.

Since the forum, the situation continues to deteriorate in Haiti, and the death toll mounts. In the spirit of the Teach-in, we urge readers not to allow Haiti to slip from your radar, even as it disappears from or is managed by the mainstream press.

ATC 117, July-August 2005