Haiti and the US:
A Disparity of Soul


Why is the United States afraid of Haiti? For many people this question may sound like a joke. After all, Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere. It has no army, since it was dismantled by President Aristide. There are only eight million people on this tiny island. There are no unique resources for export. The educational and medical systems are inadequate and only serve the elite.

Anyone who has ever visited Haiti quickly becomes aware of the poverty of material resources, but also of a richness of spirit. Haiti has a large and deep soul with which its people are in immediate touch. There is a liveliness and resilience of spirit that is only faintly echoed and hardly understood in the US. The texture of the Haitian soul provides a bold and unique identity. An implication of this soul-based identity is clarity of vision. With eyes unshielded, the Haitians are able to see, among many other things, the US clearly - with all our gifts and flaws.

The sources of the richness in spirit are multiple; they stretch well beyond the confines of this article and this writer’s mind. However, it might be useful to mention a few:
— Haiti never turned its back on its African roots;
— it achieved its own freedom from slavery and colonialism;
— its ingrained sense of hospitality has enabled Haiti to absorb positive qualities from other cultures without losing integrity;
— a widespread belief in the immanence of God in the affairs of human beings gives the present a vital importance;
— a strong belief in the connectedness of all things makes the barriers of race, class and force transient, while hope and development of life are permanent.

Haiti sees the US for what it is - a people so out of touch with our soul that we do not even know how to start looking. Plus, when the US is faced with a people in touch with their soul and its emanating spirit, our government’s first reaction is indifference...followed by ridicule and then by destruction. The profound irony is the US is like the man dressed up with the world to gain whose soul is as hollow as a drum. By contrast the Haitians are hardly dressed but have a soul bared and filled with an unquenchable spirit!

The US has long been fearful of these powerful spirits it cannot control. Having glimpsed appearances of national manifestations of power emerging from soul-filled poor people, the US government has moved to squash them. It has little regard for emerging democratic traditions, international laws guiding intervention or world opinion (cf. its coups against democratic Guatemala, Chile, and Venezuela).

The US reaction, of course, is irrational! It is not reason based on a range and balance of political and cultural understandings. It is a reaction grounded in fear and poverty of the spirit so deep we can’t recognize the value of cultural integrity, international justice, and respect for sovereignty.

Pinyoun is a friend of the Haitian community in Syracuse.