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The Idea of Haiti

The Idea of Haiti: Rethinking Crisis and Development

Millery Polyné Editor
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Idea of Haiti
    Book Description:

    After Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, aid workers and offers of support poured in from around the world. Tellingly, though, news reports on the catastrophe and relief efforts frequently included a pejorative description of the country that outsiders were determined to rebuild: the troubled island nation, a nation plagued by political violence. There was much talk of inventing a "new" Haiti, which would presumably mimic Western modes of development and thus mitigate political instability and crisis. As contributors to this wide-ranging book reveal, Haiti has long been marginalized as an embodiment of alterity, as the other, and the idea of a new Haiti is actually nothing new. An investigation of the notion of newness through the lenses of history and literature, urban planning, religion, and governance, The Idea of Haiti illuminates the politics and the narratives of Haiti's past and present. The essays, which grow from original research and in-depth interviews, examine how race, class, and national development inform the policies that envision re-creating the country. Together the contributors address important questions: How will the present narratives of deviance affect international relief and rebuilding efforts? What do Haitians themselves think about Haiti, old and new? What are the potential complications and weakness of aid strategies during these trying times? And what do we mean by crisis in Haiti? Contributors: Yveline Alexis, Rutgers U; Wein Weibert Arthus, State U of Haiti; Greg Beckett, Bowdoin College; Alex Dupuy, Wesleyan U; Harley F. Etienne, U of Michigan; Robert Fatton Jr., U of Virginia; Sibylle Fischer, New York U; Elizabeth McAlister, Wesleyan U; Nick Nesbitt, Princeton U; Karen Richman, U of Notre Dame; Mark Schuller, York College (CUNY); Patrick Sylvain, Brown U; Évelyne Trouillot, State U of Haiti; Tatiana Wah, Columbia U.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3959-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction. To Make Visible the Invisible Epistemological Order: Haiti, Singularity, and Newness
    (pp. xi-xxxviii)

    The title of this book may be misleading. There is not a sole idea, a singular approach or paradigm to what scholar Walter D. Mignolo deems the “geo-politics of knowledge” that constructed Haitians and the Haitian republic.¹ Multiple designs exist. Its roots are rhizomorphic, maintaining local, national, and international strata, and also these ideas continue to be in conversation and in tension with one another. Furthermore, some specific knowledges occupy a more prevalent space in the psyche of laypersons and scholars, and within global communication apparatuses (for example, blogs, Tumblr, and print and television media). In some cases, an elision...

  5. I. Revolisyon/Kriz (Revolution/Crisis)

    • 1 Haiti, the Monstrous Anomaly
      (pp. 3-26)

      The creation on January 1, 1804, of the first decolonized republic to have banned slavery, universally and immediately, should rightfully have shamed and terrified the neighboring Atlantic states, founded as they were upon the economic system of plantation slavery. If Haiti was perceived after 1804 by the slaveholding powers as a terrifying monstrosity, its revolution and subsequent independence systematically and repeatedly ridiculed, belittled, caricatured, refused, undermined, extorted, repressed, denied, and above all, as Sybille Fischer has argued, disavowed, this is testimony to the enormous exertions required to sustain and ideologically justify even the largest, most powerful slaveholding societies when confronted...

    • 2 Rethinking the Haitian Crisis
      (pp. 27-50)

      Is it possible to speak of Haiti without speaking of crisis? After all, the country seems mired in crises: deep poverty, environmental degradation, weak political institutions, disasters, catastrophes. Even a cursory reading of the scholarly material shows widespread agreement that crisis is a normal—that is, regular and recurring—aspect of the country’s social, political, and economic institutions. For some, crisis is not just a regular feature of Haitian society but a normative one, an inherent, inescapable condition that plagues the country and its people.

      But what do we really mean by crisis, and what do we mean by crisis...

    • 3 Remembering Charlemagne Péralte and His Defense of Haiti’s Revolution
      (pp. 51-66)

      The United States government illegally occupied the sovereign nation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. While U.S. presidents and marines promoted this act as an intervention and a humanitarian gesture toward their neighbor, Haitian nationalists such as Charlemagne Péralte interpreted the U.S. presence as a war of conquest. For Péralte, the idea of an occupied Haiti was an affront to the nation’s sovereignty. Thus, in his efforts to protect the nation, he turned to Haiti’s revolutionary past. Using the memory of Haiti’s rebellious origins as a strategic ideological weapon, Péralte deployed this method in warnings to the U.S. occupiers and...

  6. II. Moun/Demounization (Person/Dehumanization)

    • 4 Haiti: Fantasies of Bare Life
      (pp. 69-86)

      Coming home from work one day in 2006, I found my two-year-old son drawing furiously on a pile of used office paper. “Look, Mami,” he said. Barely obscured by the childish squiggles, there was the grainy black-and-white photograph of a male corpse on a muddy road, sullied, naked, with no head. There were other photos spread across the floor. I gathered the sheets of paper and took them away, with my son looking at me uncomprehendingly. Pictures of severed limbs, festering wounds, pigs eating corpses: a human rights report on Haiti. I cannot remember who might have sent the images...

    • 5 The Violence of Executive Silence
      (pp. 87-110)

      Allan Stoekl’s contribution is crucial to the understanding of the French intellectuals who contended with, supported, or collaborated with Nazi Germany, then later agonizingly demonstrated their torments and contradictions through text during and after World War II. Stoekl’s text, Agonies of the Intellectual is of importance to my work as a social critic because it deals with the power of language and thought, especially the ways in which the rhetorician utilizes language. This chapter is far from being a work on textuality and formal rhetoric. However, Stoekl’s analysis of language and violent usage of it has proven useful in my...

    • 6 Religion at the Epicenter: Agency and Affiliation in Léogâne after the Earthquake
      (pp. 111-132)

      The earthquake of January 12, 2010, devastated Haiti’s Léogâne Plain and the capital at its eastern edge, breaking buildings and crushing bodies unable to dodge unearthly torrents of concrete blocks and cloudbursts of white dust. Whereas an assessment of the material and biological impacts of the seismic tremors may be undertaken without prior personal familiarity with the subjects of concern, understanding the effects of the earthquake on local religious faith and practice requires knowledge of the preexisting and continuing religious contexts of the communities affected by the disaster. Absence of longitudinal data has, however, unfortunately failed to hamper the dissemination...

  7. III. Èd (Aid)

    • 7 The Alliance for Progress: A Case Study of Failure of International Commitments to Haiti
      (pp. 135-164)

      The earthquake of January 12, 2010, generated unprecedented international mobilization for Haiti. Three months after this disaster, 150 countries and international organizations participated at the International Donor’s Conference towards a New Future for Haiti, which took place at the U.N. headquarters in New York. They pledged to grant Haiti assistance of $5.3 billion in 18 months. However, more than a year later, Port-au-Prince was still in ruins, and thousands of Haitians were living in tents. The chairmen of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (IHRC), former U.S. president Bill Clinton and Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive, begged donors...

    • 8 Urban Planning and the Rebuilding of Port-au-Prince
      (pp. 165-180)

      In the fall of 2011, a meeting of Haitian government officials, community leaders, foreign diplomats, and representatives from the international nongovernmental organization (INGO) community was held at a Pétionville hotel. After one panel, several attendees came to the microphone to express their anger about the extent to which Americans seemed to be leading the reconstruction efforts. They shouted about a lack of coordination among Haitians that had allowed this unwelcome influence to enter their nation. By the end, some called for the establishment of a state-level ministry of urban affairs or policy to assist in the redevelopment of Haiti’s urban...

    • 9 Cholera and the Camps: Reaping the Republic of NGOs
      (pp. 181-202)

      After Haiti’s devastating earthquake, the international community responded with a generous outpouring of aid. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy,¹ $1.3 billion was contributed by private U.S. citizens to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) within six months, $1 billion by March 1. Furthermore, at a March 31, 2010, U.N. conference, donors pledged $5.6 billion for the next 18 months. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, named U.N. special envoy in 2009, marshaled foreign aid, cochairing the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission. Despite the enormous infusion of postquake aid to Haiti, mostly channeled through NGOs, why was Haiti totally unprepared for a deadly epidemic of...

    • 10 From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History
      (pp. 203-242)

      The deadly earthquake that shook the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and its environs on January 12, 2010, killed an estimated 300,000 people, making it the worst disaster in the history of the Americas. The next day, television evangelist Pat Robertson, while hosting his news talk show, The 700 Club, on the Christian Broadcast Network, said that the earthquake could be best understood by a little-known event that “people might not want to talk about.” Haitians were cursed, he said, because they long ago “swore a pact to the devil.” His exact words were:

      Something happened a long time ago in...

    • 11 Twenty-First-Century Haiti—A New Normal? A Conversation with Four Scholars of Haiti
      (pp. 243-268)

      A few weeks after the January 12 earthquake and for most of the year of 2010–11, common mantras among politicians, strategists, and donors have been to “build back better” or to establish “a new Haiti.” How would you or have you been unpacking these phrases? What does “a new Haiti” mean to you? Who or what are the forces that are informing those aspirations?

      Évelyne Trouillot (ET): This is not the first time they have talked about a new Haiti. Even after the presidency of Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971–86) they were talking about a new Haiti. When Aristide came...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 269-272)
  9. Index
    (pp. 273-292)