The Uses of Haiti is a book about, well, the uses of Haiti. Written by Paul Farmer, a physician who has worked in Haiti since the 1980s establishing a hospital and health network to serve the rural poor, it is one account of the Haitian story, a story that has almost always been of vast injustice and violence but sprinkled with a few periods of peace and equality. The tale runs from Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492, through three centuries of massacres and slavery leading to Haiti’s independence in 1804 (thus forming the world’s first black republic and the second republic in the western hemisphere after the USA), and the subsequent 190 years of independence that is marked by incessant intervention of world powers and the abuse of Haiti’s poor by it’s own ruling elite. Written in 1994, the book is still vastly popular and relevant for the courage with which the author presents the version of the nation’s history which so many prefer not to recognize.
As a person who has been sobered and saddened to witness some of Haiti’s darkest moments and meet countless Haitians who have suffered from crimes committed against the sick and poor, he begins the book with a disclaimer, clearly stating that the book was written “under the influence of this indignation, and it suffers, no doubt, from the shortcomings of any work of passion.” This sets the stage for a book that tells an explosive tale, one not reflected in the developed world’s media and government “aid” (in quotation marks because the dollars purportedly provided for humanitarian relief are frequently and unabashedly for the self interest of the “aider”). Specifically, it is told that the countries of US, France and Canada have selectively supported military and political movements while turning a blind eye to atrocities so that the balance of power isn’t disrupted, ensuring a continuity of cheap manufacturing labour and a supply of nuts and fruits.
I am only a quarter way through the book and am overwhelmed by the contents. Critics of the book accuse the author of being “leftist” and of a staunch anti-American bias. I will finish reading the book, seek out other sources, and continue discussing the matters with my Haitian and international friends before resolutely proclaiming my disgust with my own country’s actions. In the mean time, I’ll try to keep my passion in check and my hopes high that better days are ahead for Haiti.