History sometimes gets turned on its head, as it did last week when Dany Laferrière was inducted into the Académie Française. Laferrière was elected to this odd but august institution in December, 2013, so the induction was not a surprise, but still: amazing. You can be sure that not a French person living in Haiti in the early days of the slave colony, or in the centuries after, imagined that a true son of Haiti would ever be elected and inducted into Richelieu’s exclusive bastion of elite, supereducated, well spoken (no: perfectly spoken) Francophones.
Sometimes, a misreading of your own work just deflates you. Just one little line, and you want to throw in the towel. Instead: let me rectify matters here. In her interesting, smart, and necessary book on Haiti, Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, Gina Athena Ulysse writes about, among many other subjects, Mac McClelland, the Mother Jones human rights reporter who covered Haiti briefly in the wake of the Haitian earthquake of 2010. I’ve written about this complicated writer, too.
We’re all checking the news this morning, and noticing — in the margins of the reams of words on Charlie Hebdo and the 19th-arrondissement network — that it is the fifth anniversary today of the Haitian earthquake that took hundreds of thousands of lives in 2010.
Everyone wants to know how Haiti is recovering from that catastrophe. It’s a good question that is more about how well the international community can deliver relief and recovery aid than it is about Haiti in particular. A brief answer to the question is this: some good was done with foreign help, but that’s not the most important question to be asking.
This photograph of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier has been altered by this blog to give the former strongman the thick spectacles of his father, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier. the point being: he was not so different from his bloody-minded dad.
The dictator’s scion — nickname: Tet panye, or Baskethead — died on October 4 in Port-au-Prince.
Jean-Claude Duvalier is dead. I never met him. I saw him just once, at the airport in Port-au-Prince, in the early morning hours of a day that then seemed fateful: February 7, 1986. He was driving up to a U.S. cargo plane, and then heading into exile in France. His whole family was in the car with him. It was a brief moment. He whizzed by and was gone. The next day hundreds of thousands of Haitians came out into the streets of Port-au-Prince to celebrate.
But that was not the end of the affair, not by far. The effects of Duvalierism, as conceived by Jean-Claude’s father, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier and continued by Jean-Claude, resonate to this day.