U.S.-Haiti Relations Defy Easy Summation

The United States is home to a large Haitian population, yet relations between America and the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere remain lukewarm at best. Commentator and Haitian-American Gary Dauphin explains why.

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ED GORDON, host:

Haiti is getting a $48 million boost from Canada to help its ailing government.

Like Canada, the United States is home to a large Haitian population. But relations between the U.S. and the poorest nation in the western hemisphere remain lukewarm at best.

Commentator and Haitian-American Gary Dauphin explains why.

GARY DAUPHIN reporting:

There are over a million Haitians, Haitian-Americans, and Haitian-Canadians like me in Canada and the U.S. Immigrants and children of immigrants who are citizens of a virtual country called Jaspora, the Diaspora. This conceptual nation stretches along the Atlantic coast from Montreal to Miami, with occasional outposts in places like Los Angeles.

Possessed of eagle eyes and a generally over stimulated nervous system, the Jaspora is constantly fretting about events back home, cycling endlessly through hope and despair, and back. Today, the major story lines form the election in February--New Haitian President, U.N. peacekeeping troops struggle to maintain order--have yet to collapse under their own weight, allowing the Jaspora to momentarily stop holding its breath.

The newly installed Haitian President, Rene Preval, had a few minutes with his counterpart in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, announcing that he had found a quote, "good environment of comprehension." A Bushism if there ever was one. Soon after that, he was in Cuba meeting with Castro, the Caribbean political version of keeping it real.

The Congressional Black Caucus' stalwart Maxine Waters paid a visit to Haiti along with Florida Republican Mark Foley in March--the pair meeting with Preval and declaring themselves hopeful. Conde Rice was also traveling and talking Haiti last month as well, paying a visit to our neighbors in the CARICOM Caribbean Nations Group, and heralding a new day of hemispheric amity. This despite the fact that nations like the Bahamas and Jamaica are still sore about the U.S.'s treatment of Haiti's previous president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Conde claims to be bullish about Haiti, so long as the tiny island nations in the region cough up some dough.

That's a bit like a fabulous wealthy, lay-off happy CEO lecturing the workers about everybody pulling their weight. But such is the often absurd stuff of American-Haiti policy.

Haiti resists casual analysis and confounds easy summation. So these professions of optimism, these applications of pressure, should be taken not to much with grains of salt, but with cold swigs of bitter tasting real politic.

For example, neither Rice nor Waters went within 100 meters of the question of Aristide's continued exile. While troubling, conflicting reports persist about Aristide's character and conduct during his second stay in Haiti's parle nacional(ph). His former lieutenant, Preval, has said that he's fine with him returning to Haiti. That's no huge surprise, considering many people voted for Preval precisely on the theory that he'd return their beloved Titi to the island, if not quite to the presidency.

Still, the can of worms presented by the possible return of Aristide is of epic proportions. For one, what exactly do you call an illegally ousted ex-President who comes home to a stabilized nation to find his second-in-command sitting in his old chair? Mr. Once-and-Future President, perhaps?

If you want to incite rhetorical and/or physical violence between two otherwise calm-seeming Haitians, ask them innocently whether they think Aristide should come home. Whether pro or con, Haitians invariable speak of Aristide in outsized terms usually reserved for true loves, cheating exes, unfairly maligned parents, or sinister uncles--our relationship to his record viscerally personal.

In Haiti, the political is not so much personal as it is familial. So we idealize and we hold in contempt. We love and we hate Aristide like children trying to come to terms with a difficult, complicated father. Our hearts brim with nostalgia, fear, and resentment, and we make brave noises about moving forward. This, even as we keep moving backwards, desperate for one last chance to get things right.

GORDON: Gary Dauphin is a writer based in Los Angeles, California.

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GORDON: This is NPR News.

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