This village sits on the northwest tip of Haiti in one of the poorest rural areas in the country. It is an historical gem that many Haitians are anxious to preserve and protect, if only they had the resources to do so. Those with the resources—the United Nations-sponsored foreign occupation forces—do not show the slightest inclination to help Haiti preserve its precious historical heritage. They prefer to spend money here on guns and barbed wire.
The village sits on a large harbour where Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492. It is the only harbour on Haiti’s northwest coast that offers ships protection from storms. It contains beautifully preserved remains of fortifications built by the slaveholding colonial powers before Haiti’s independence in 1804 and later fortifications built by the newly independent republic to defend itself from the constant threat of a return of those same powers. It is amoving experience to stand inside the cavernous powder and ammunition-storing warehouse that lies a few hundred metres away from the former post-independence fortifications. Its interior remains intact and gives testimony to an impressive act of engineering and construction.
Residents have a profound sense of the historical importance of their village. However, these historical treasures lie cut off from the rest of Haiti and a potentially lucrative tourist industry by the virtually impassable roads. It took our delegation three hours to drive the forty five miles which separate Mole St-Nicolas from Port de Paix. Though Haiti has several national highways, the secondary roads are impassable in inclement weather and only trucks and sturdy 4x4s can travel on them when it is not raining.
Peasants transport their goods by donkey or mule to the only available ones, local and small.
Our delegation met with members of the village administration and interested citizens in a wide ranging exchange. The area is rich in fishing and agricultural potential, but residents are concerned by the environmental degradation they see going on around them. Over-fishing and destruction of the underwater habitat has led to smaller and smaller inshore catches. Fishermen are unable to reach the fish in deeper waters because they don’t have the money and training to purchase larger boats and equipment.
On the land, deforestation leading to soil erosion, and exhaustion of the land’s nutrients are making things harder and harder for peasants.
“Everything is going backwards here,” Mayor Gilbert Jean Charles told the meeting. “Haitian law gives municipalities autonomy. However, this law is on paper only. We do not receive the funding necessary to run a school system, health care and other essential services.” The village has little internet access and phone service. A cell phone tower is under construction. One of the anamolies of rural life in Haiti is that cell phone companies are bringing service to the entire country, but the foreign overseers will not assist the government to provide such basic needs as clean water and electricity.
Like most of Haiti, Mole St-Nicholas and the surrounding countryside has no potable water.
There is a large non-governmental organization presence in the area, at least according to signs posted on the signs of roads that announce generous donations for projects like water supply and road building by such organizations as CARE and the European Commission. Residents report that few of these projects are undertaken, still fewer completed. They also say that Haiti’s chronic political instability is a tremendous barrier to economic planning and development.
Residents want the central government to develop a port facility that would allow the area to export its products. They also want a crash program to give the area proper roads.
They are also adamant that any economic development be done in consultation with them. There is great unease with the mining company Matraco SA which is conducting surveying in the area but refuses to provide documentation showing that they have the necessary permits to be in the country. The company refuses to provide other details of their activities to the villagers, and the central government says it has no records of any exploration permits given out.
Another concern is rumours that the U.S. is interested in establishing a naval military base in the harbour due to its deep water and close proximity to Cuba.
A visit to a free, local medical clinic staffed by three doctors from Slovakia provided insight into the terrible conditions of public health in the surrounding countryside. The most serious diseases they treat are malaria, gastro-intestinal disease caused by bad water and food, and tuberculosis. The doctors repeated a refrain heard from the locals—the central government does not provide necessary resources, and government officials often promise to fulfill requests but in the end they never do.