Day One in Haiti

Port au Prince! We flew in this afternoon from Miami on one of the several daily flights of American Airlines. A full flight, and I’m guessing that many of the Haitian passengers were arriving for summer visits from the U.S. and Canada.

Port au Prince is on the coast and it lies on a plain surrounded by impressive mountains. We got a good view of much of the Haitian coastline as we flew in.

The airport scene was like that in any other airport—friends and family meeting each other, lots of smiles and good-natured banter. It’s not a large airport, but the name is a reminder of the historic glory that surrounds this country and nation. The airport is called, and I translate, “Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport.” L’Ouverture was one of the giants of modern civilisation—he was the key political and military leader for much of Haiti’s independence struggle that lasted from 1791 to 1803. This was the first successful revolution against slavery; it predated the U.S. civil war against slavery by 70 years.

On hand to welcome us to Haiti was our delegation coordinaor, Eugenia Charles of Fondasyon Mapou. A surprise visitor was also on hand to welcome us–Paul Chery of the Confederation des travailleurs haitiens.

We are staying for one night at a comfortable lodging house in the Delmas district of the city. Our delegation consists of eight members. We have an extremely ambitious and informative schedule of activity laid out for us over the next two weeks.

Our delegation’s education activity began this evening with a very informative talk on Haiti’s history by an invited speaker, a Haitian educator. His talk was followed by a lively question and discussion period. I was very impressed by his understanding and appreciation of the important place of the Cuban Revolution in the liberation struggle of Haiti and the other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. When asked what effect the visit of Hugo Chavez to Haiti earlier this year had on the hopes and aspirations of the Haitian people, he said, “The Haitian people are very perceptive in understanding who are their real friends. The aid offered by MINUSTAH and the countries that currently occupy Haiti is designed in such a way as to reinforce the structures of domination and underdevelopment of our country. Cuba and Venezuela offer something different—real, meaningful aid, with no strings attached.”

I learned from our guest that the 500 or so Cuban doctors in Haiti offer services not only in the countryside but also in Port au Prince.

Tomorrow, we hit the road for five days, visiting the countryside and numerous towns between here and Cap Haitien, on Haiti’s north coast. Cap Haitien is Haiti’s second largest urban area, but it is dwarfed by Port au Prince’s population of 2 million.