By Jean H Charles
Each nation has some characteristics that determine its ethos and the behaviour of its people. Removing those characteristics leaves the nation vulnerable to self-pity and, finally, decomposition. The structural underpinning of the people of Haiti rests on the Catholic Church, voodoo and the Haitian army.
On the Haitian Army
The dismantling of the Haitian army by Jean Bertrand Aristide under the pretext that it was guilty of fomenting a coup that sent the priest-president into exile, or the rumour that the American government wanted it that way, was at best imbecilic; at worst it has disintegrated Haitian society.
The Haitian army was the only national institution that could claim national coverage of Haitian territory. With its rural branch (chief of rural counties) linked to each division, the general in chief could send a command that instantly reached the urban as well as the rural areas.
In addition, the Haitian army provided a sense of security that the present Haitian police cannot, even if its capacity was doubled, and the fragility of living a safe and secure environment would still be shattered. The disintegration of the Haitian army produced in the Haitian citizen, whether rural or urban, a sense of insecurity that goes to the bone. His attempt at self-protection, albeit commonplace, is counterproductive.
Kidnapping, a phenomenon so rare in the past, has been a current practice for the past 28 years. It has, however, now been reduced to zero, due to the arrest of a powerful gang that counts amongst its leaders the son of one of the most influential business families in the country.
The Haitian police, an invention of and cherished by the so-called Friends of Haiti, is a nine to five institution that lacks the patriotism and the sense of belonging of the Haitian army. It is a much younger force, better educated than the former Haitian army, yet it is a force in transit, on the way to something else that implies a secure job in a world where unemployment is rampant.
Haiti will regain its confidence and repatriate its sovereignty only when the Haitian army is re-integrated. The new Haitian army will certainly not be framed in the same mold as the old one, I foresee a Haitian army made up of the men and women who have reached the age of 18 and 19 while attending a class of rhetoric and philosophy, the terminal classes in the regular cycle of classical studies.
They will spend two days per week in the barracks, learning the tools of arms as well as leadership, language and citizenship. Rich and poor, urban and rural will have to eat the same food, forging as such a new citizen who gazes on Haiti’s heroic past while rebuilding together the heritage bequeathed by the founding fathers.
Those who choose to continue in the Haitian army beyond two years will be sponsored by the state in their pursuit of professional studies. As such, the Haitian army will have its corps of engineers, its medical corps of nurses and doctors ready to provide services in case of disaster. Its agronomists will facilitate the reforestation of the ecology and its economists will help in rebuilding the shattered country into becoming a nation.
MINUSTHA, the UN stabilization force dispatched to the country for the past 25 years, has been, according to the lowest standard of evaluation, a complete failure disguised as a cottage industry, with half a billion dollars spent under the label of helping the people of Haiti. The Haitian army will need less than a quarter of that sum and Haiti will regain its dignity and its sovereignty while the army will help in the rebuilding of the country.
On Voodoo and the Catholic Church
Voodoo is an old practice of culture, a way of life and religion brought to Haiti from Africa through the Middle Passage. It was synchronized with the Catholic Church upon arrival in the Caribbean. The practice was frowned upon by the colonists. Voodoo has survived not only the first 300 years of colonialism, it has also survived the 200 years of Haiti as an independent nation.
Last week, I attended the fiesta of our Lady of la Chandler in the town of Gros Morne in the northern part of Haiti, I was completely surprised to find at least some one million pilgrims completely devoted to both the Virgin Mary and the corresponding loas of whom favour is asked before returning to their homeland. This religious and spiritual experience is repeated with the same fervour in July in the village of Saut d’Eau for the fiesta of our Lady of Carmel as well as in Limonade and Plaine du Nord for the fiestas of St Ann and St Jacques.
Whether voodoo will survive as a religion or re-appear as mythology will depend on the development of Haiti as a democratic and educated country. Ireland before St Patrick was a bedrock of superstitious and barbaric practices. Its conversion to Catholicism was due to St Patrick. The superstitious practices have survived as mythology, spreading the luck of the Irish well beyond the confines of the country. In fact, St Patrick of Ireland has his best celebration in New York City, bringing the luck of the Irish to the United States.
I have reported in this column that St Laurent in the southern part of Haiti is slowly but surely dismantling voodoo practices. A prayer or a novena to St Laurent has been found more effective than offering food and sacrifice to the loas.
The Catholic Church has been recently engaging in helping Haiti to repatriate its sovereignty. Re-orienting Haiti to head in the right direction will necessitate transforming Haitian voodoo into Haitian mythology, rebuilding its army from the ground up and resting on the church to help the people to regain their souls so shattered by dissension, immorality, and self-serving politics.