Reflections on the Death of an Unpunished Dictator

Patrick SylvainPatrick SylvainI was barely five years old when François Duvalier died and his nineteen year-old-son was sworn in as President in April 1971. This was done after the Haitian constitution was amended with neither national referendum nor proper parliamentary procedures to account for the dramatic change in the age requirement, from forty years of age to nineteen.

I remember my mom dressing me up for school: I had on a new pair of ankle-high black boots, khaki shorts and a white shirt. We had barely reached the first bend in the road when my grandfather quickly ran after us, ordering us to come back. I knew something was wrong, as other families scurried back into their homes. It was the first time that I recollect seeing my family gathered around a large radio in the living room; it was then that I had learned of the passing of a President. Read more

Get help renewing Temporary Protected Status at IIIC

In March and April, the Irish International Immigrant Center assisted 165 Haitian individuals and families renew their Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) with many having already been approved and received their work permits. TPS also provides eligibility for in-state tuition.

When renewal of Temporary Protect Status for Haitians was announced in March 2014, a full month earlier than expected, the IIIC immediately responded in order to smoothly handle the renewal period.

Thanks to an Arbella Insurance Foundation grant, IIIC was able to provide the legal and administrative support necessary for TPS renewal at minimal or no cost to the immigrants served. Read more

Reinstatement of criminal case against Duvalier a momentous victory for Haitians

The Appellate Court decision last month to reinstate political violence crimes against former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was a momentous victory for Haitians all over the world. The court courageously challenged the impunity of the justice system, but also applied international human rights law to protect poor people for the first time in Haiti’s history.

This historic win was finally sinking in as I left the Duvalier court room on that day with Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI). With an ear-to-ear grin, Joseph declared the hearing “une victoire totale” (total victory). Read more

Getting to Zero: HIV in my Haitian backyard

The conversation about HIV stigma is well overdue in the Haitian community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveillance data for HIV, from 2001 to 2007, Haitians accounted for 66.9 percent of the estimated 100,013 black adults and adolescents diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States.

Now is the time to initiate the dialogue about the stigma that infiltrates our beloved Haitian community. Read more

Nostalgia for Duvalier is misplaced: He destroyed the country

Jean-Claude'Baby' DuvalierJean-Claude'Baby' Duvalier
Editor's Note: Jean-Claude Duvalier died at age 63 on Oct. 3, 2014 in Port-au-Prince. This article by Patrick Sylvain was written in 2013.

As the country rapidly disintegrated into institutionalized chaos, with Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of disorder, Haitians of a certain dispositions are always complaining about yesteryears of “order” that never were.

Order is often confused with lawfulness.

The nostalgia for “order” under the Duvalier regimes have always been a problematic reading, forgetting that the reign of terror that brought about fear, did not cultivate respect in an ethical way. I am referring to an ethic of civility for the nation, and for citizenship, one that would establish a sustainable order because the nation have had viable institutions that raised and sustained ethical beings, not predators. The order that the Duvalier regimes imprinted upon the land was one of sheer terror, a colossal madness unleashed like a ticking bomb. Each government since 1986, wired their own fuses and imploded the nation to the chaos that has Duvalier asking, “What have you done with my country?”

Patrick SylvainPatrick SylvainMr. Duvalier, what they have done to “your” country is what your terror-obsessed father, and your narrow-minded macoutized self had done with it since 1957, a structural uprooting of institutions and of talents that left the country bare, diseased, vulnerable, and acrid. The distance past so often seems better than the present, especially when the past is never fully linked to the present. Mr. Duvalier, the corrupt and dictatorial President that we have today, or the inept President we had yesterday, or even the stubborn and one man presidency we had prior to that, is part of the same tumor, the malignant cancer your father had exacerbated.

Of course, to be fair, your father was also a part of another cancer that’s been growing in Haiti since independence. You are “a son of a great nationalist” you boasted, forgetting that nationalism creates and have created phobias. The nationalistic version of your father, and yourself for that matter, was a monstrosity of the Macoutized state that created a schizophrenic nation that hacked itself as if confronted with external mortal enemies. Read more

Stand up for justice for Haitian cholera victims

On March 23, 2013, the Boston Haiti community will have an opportunity to join and amplify the fight for justice for Haiti’s cholera victims by participating in an event organized by the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) from 5-7 p.m. at Mildred Avenue Middle School, 5 Mildred Avenue in Mattapan.

The event will screen the award-winning film 'Baseball in the Time of Cholera,' followed by a panel discussion moderated by Charlot Lucien, a Haitian journalist, professor and artist. The panel will feature a diverse range of community leaders: Marie St. Fleur, Esq., Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's Chief of Advocacy and Strategic Investments; Jean Ford Figaro, M.D., Health Education Coordinator at Boston Medical Center; and Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Director of IJDH. Read more

Martelly is ill-equipped to lead Haiti forward

Patrick SylvainPatrick SylvainThe relative jubilee over Michel Martelly’s victory in the Haitian presidential elections after the statistical rearrangements by the Organization of American States soon after the primaries in March 2011 that had placed Martelly in second place was seen as a political intervention. Such intervention allowed him to square off against Mirlande Manigat, a conservative constitutional law professor and a former first lady who appeared distant from the social suffering of Haitians and even remotely out of date when compared to the flamboyant Martelly who was well coached and extremely ambitious to attain the pinnacle of Haitian power. Read more

Loving Freedom, Loving Haiti, Repairing the Environment

Patrick SylvainPatrick SylvainChildhood 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. Read more

You say “blame game,” I say “rule of law”: the UN’s responsibility for cholera in Haiti

The contamination of Haiti’s Artibonite River with cholera bacteria by the UN’s MINUSTAH (the French acronym for the UN Peacekeeping force in Haiti) soldiers was no accident, but a risk that was well known and could have been easily avoided. Now that 542,000 Haitians have gotten sick and 7,140 have died from the UN’s malfeasance, it’s well past time for the UN to take responsibility. Read more

Want to help? Vacation in Haiti!

Reginald ToussaintReginald ToussaintYoung Haitian-Americans need to put their money where their mouths are and make Haiti their next vacation destination. We are often critical of Haiti and its government but are short on offering solutions. Visiting Haiti will infuse much needed money into the local economy and provide a better context for the current situation in Haiti.

The truth is, Haiti is a place we barely know. Most of what we know of our homeland comes from our parents (who probably left to escape horrible conditions) and the foreign media. As a result we often have a distorted and negative view of current conditions in Haiti. Read more

Book excerpt: Our weekly trip to Codman Square

Faith's LegacyFaith's LegacyThe following chapter excerpt is from the book Faith’s Legacy: A Haitian-American Family’s Journey of Faith Across Three Generations. The book, published by WestBow Press, is the work of Fabiola Powell, a Haitian-American woman who was born in the Central Republic of Africa before immigrating to the United States with her family in 1973.

Marie always spent a great deal of time preparing us for our weekly trip to Codman Square. She used a washcloth by the bathtub to scrub me and, after a thorough towel-dry, covered me all over with baby powder. After my hair was washed, I spent what seemed like hours sitting on the floor between her she tried to straighten my nappy hair. Then she’d brush it thoroughly and apply some grease to my scalp to give my hair a nice shine. Now we were ready for our trip. It was something I looked forward to, although I had to go through a lot just to get ready. Read more

Pressure mounts for UN to address role in Cholera outbreak

Mounting death tolls and calls for justice are intensifying the pressure on the United Nations to address the cholera epidemic it started in Haiti. Cholera has raged through Haiti like a wildfire for 16 months, leaving 7,050 dead and sickening 531,000, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health.  Epidemiologists and cholera experts had never seen the disease take hold of a population so quickly, or so violently, and today the epidemic is the worst in modern history. Read more

Health conference at BU to focus on care for the disabled

“I still remember my 10th birthday, “ says Jermen, who was born without arms. “It was on that day I was told that my parents had abandoned me. I knew then why I was here.”

Sadly, this is the fate of most children with disabilities in Haiti. A 2009 BBC News article entitled “Haiti’s Abandoned Children,” details the plight of Jermen and other children like her. Read more

Haiti: A Wobbly Cauldron Supported by Three Legs

BHR 3-12BHR 3-12The March edition of the Boston Haitian Reporter.Following the demise of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, Haiti enlisted a series of measures to heal the wounds of its venomous past. A new, more democratic constitution was written in 1987, Aléxandre Pétion’s red and blue flag was hoisted to re-invigorate the republic, and an electoral process was attempted to establish a representative democracy. Unfortunately, in Haiti, where power is traditionally lopsided, the practice of institutionalizing participatory democracy is often overtaken by leanings toward winner-take-all mentalities and practices. Despite preventive actions, the landscape unwittingly inclines toward dictatorship and corruption.

One fundamental problem with governance is the fact that Haiti has never been fully democratic. The subjugation of the masses has been perpetuated by not only the policies and practices of Haiti’s elite (both political and economic) but also by members of the international community. Foreign hands are perpetually mired in the workings of the nation’s governmental, economic and social affairs, often to their own benefit, as they propel Haiti to an unstable future. Read more

Why Haiti needs new narratives now more than ever

On Feb 3 at 6pm, BHR hosts a book launch at Harvard's Starr Auditorium - 79 JFK st in CambridgeOn Feb 3 at 6pm, BHR hosts a book launch at Harvard's Starr Auditorium - 79 JFK st in CambridgeAn excerpt from "Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake", edited by Mark Schuller and Pablo Morales

...I realize that in focusing on this issue of representation, I am in a sense actually doing Haiti a disservice. After all, the emphasis on deconstructing symbols only reinscribes the dominant narrative, which already gets lots of airplay. So here my activist and academic goals clash. A deconstructive exercise alone cannot fill the lacuna of stories from Haitian perspectives with counternarratives about the earthquake and its aftermath.

Those of us who study Haiti know this conundrum only too well. As scholars, advocates, or just plain concerned witnesses, we know, to put it crudely and in layman’s terms, that historically speaking, Haiti has an image problem. That remains Haiti’s burden. Sometimes I joke that when the first free black republic made its debut on the world stage, Haiti lacked proper representation. Read more