Childhood treks, I conjure up memories of happiness as I experienced the countryside at times with my father, and at other times with my older cousin, who were both too happy to replenish themselves with fresh air while also taking time to meditate under their own favorite trees, or simply contemplating nature. They, separately, yet at around the same time, made me appreciate a green environment.
Although they are both departed from my existence, they nevertheless are still implanted in my memory. Just like my father or my cousin, the trees that imprinted my psyche with awe for a reverence of nature are no longer present on a vast part of the land that we once trekked. My eyes captured the giant presence of silk-cotton trees, fig trees and logwood trees. The trees of my childhood can only be seen when I travel to other countries like, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Saint Lucia. Once there, I’m always nostalgic for what we once had in abundance.
With less than 2 percent of Haiti’s environment forested, Haiti is already a burden to itself and its neighbors. Despite the slew of problems that the country faces, repairing the environment should be a fundamental priority for it is ultimately the safeguarde of Haiti’s freedom. It is from the environment we derive our food, shelter, pleasure, local identities and the territorial self that is called the nation.
Without a sustainable, viable and protected environment, some of us will continue to be forced to migrate in order to avoid starvation, and those who stay behind will have to fight to survive; and there lingers the continuous and yet ultimate threat to our freedom. For, we would be bare, exposed to the elements, further vulnerable to predators of all sorts who prey and have preyed on Haiti.
Repairing and then restoring the environment should be a matter of state emergency. Every single life depends on the environment and no nation can become relevant without at least having an environment to sustain its independence. Maintaining a viable environment is supporting life, and having life is having potentialities, which can easily be translated into having dignity.
Currently, due to environmental degradation, Haitians are not living with dignity given the large amount of food insecurities that exist in the country, and the millions of people who are living without a dignified form of shelter. The harsh reality of poverty is not at all negotiable, nor exotic. So Haitians must buckle-up to reset the country to a path where the collective is ready to sacrifice certain luxuries so that we can finally be counted among dignified nations, where the word sovereignty has a meaning and where the utterance of the word freedom is not just a nationalistic pastime, but one which is anchored in environmental sustainability.
It is necessary, critical even, for us to start thinking about the environment as our ultimate freedom, and the bottom line is that political democracy weighs far less than economic democracy which includes having equal access to: jobs, education, health, food security, and shelter security. Freedom should be tied to economic democracy rather than only political democracy (voting privileges and free speech); for economic democracy has inherently in it the notion of the physical environment from which the essentials for survival derive. Political democracy has a feel good quality to it after casting a vote in a national election, or participating in a political debate without fearing for your life, but an empty and dependent stomach, for the most part, does not really have the freedom to choose; instead is forced to choose.
The prime virtue of repairing, maintaining and protecting the environment is to establish an ethos of freedom. Freedom is an obligation, freedom is a necessity, and freedom is a life force. The environment is our life force. A life force becomes a preservation and it is fundamentally a primordial element; therefore a right.
By including the protection as well as the rehabilitation of the environment in our register of rights, especially a primordial right, despite knowing Haitian politicians’ long history of abuse of rights, including those of children who are lost in servitude; it becomes quintessential to address the issue of the environment as a fundamental national issue that requires immediate solution, care, and protection.
Haiti’s decimated and degraded environment deserves the world’s attention in helping to guide a positive outcome and in preventing Haiti from having a greater negative footprint in impacting the global environment. By reforesting Haiti’s deforested environment which started under the Spaniards in 1493 when they began their ecological transformation through colonial settlements, mining excavations, as well as establishing a plantation economy that required hectares of land; and which the French proceeded in a massive way by aggressive conversion of land for crops plantations. The transformation continued under the Americans who hauled large quantities of hardwood, and mahogany to satisfy their expansion of continental infrastructure. Additionaly, the environment was also abused by Christians, who in 1941 embarked on a systematic witch-hunt known as Rejeté (rejection of Vodoun), that sought to systematically destroy the sacred trees, known as repozwa lwa (spirit dwellings).
The Rejeté movement contributed to our staggering deforestation that President Lescot and the churches led in the name of civilization and God. He also foolishly and aggressively pursued the rubber-tree campaign by pandering to the needs of the US prior and during World War II. Finally, the transformation of the environment receives its death nail with the ever growing urban population demands for coal that further aggravated the denudation of the environment.
Over 60 years ago, despite the massive logging that took place during the United States’ occupation of Haiti (1915-34), and Lescot’s reckless destruction of thousand of acres of land; most of the land that occupies the outer center of Port-au-Prince to form the larger part of the West Department, which includes La Plaine, Tabarre, La Boule, Kenscoff, Archaie, Lamanthin, and Léogâne were actually still forested areas with large canopy of public land where tropical fruits could still be found and collected. At the age of 10, in the mid-70s, I remember seeing an abundance of woodpeckers, turtledoves and flamingoes in the greater Port-au-Prince area, and life, with nature still palpable, was pleasantly bearable.
Now, after many years of chaotic usage of the land, severe deficiencies of infrastructure, as well as an abundance of inept governmental “leaders”, people are engulfing and gulping the environment the way that cancer destroys good cells. As I trek through various localities in the country, I search for those giants of the tropic that once gave Haiti its beauty, but unfortunately, for the most part, are no longer with us. Like the aboriginal inhabitants who were decimated by Columbus, Haiti’s environment is being decimated and one day we too will be gone.