Fires burning in the streets, roads being blockaded, and citizens assembling together in protest. Schools and businesses closed and parents afraid to let their children leave their home. This is the situation in Jacmel the last couple of days and depending on where you’re looking from, things can seem pretty bleak. A story from a news source that I generally respect, Haitilibre.com, starts off by describing the scene at hand in the city as “Desolation, sadness, fear, revolt”. The article goes on to give an accurate account of the reasons behind the protests, but it paints a pretty hopeless picture of justice in Jacmel. When the news broke and I started hearing about what was going on in the streets my first thought was, “Oh great, just when I’ve been trying to convince people just how safe Haiti is, they’ve gotta go and do something like this and prove me wrong. Thanks a lot, Haiti.”
But as I’ve talked to friends of mine down there the last couple days and read more about the source of the problems, I’ve realized that my beloved Jacmeliennes have not, in fact proved me wrong, but are rather fighting to defend their right to be viewed as a safe and just society that will not surrender to the dangerous stereotypes that plague their country. While hearing the accounts from the area the words that come to my mind to describe the situation are “Courageous, strength, community, and change.”
It all started when a local Agronomist was killed while trying to defend his 3-year-old nephew from kidnappers that had broken into their house. The kidnappers escaped with the child and are now demanding ransom for his return. The people of Jacmel, however are demanding justice calling on the national police to take action and rescue the child and make the criminals pay for the murder of the agronomist. The entire city, whether they knew the victim or not, are standing up and making it known that they will not stand by idly while their community falls victim to crime and violence. This is the Haiti that I know. There may be a handful of wild ones who see kidnapping and crime as the only way to survive, but the other 9 million-plus citizens of the country will do whatever they have to do to defend their dignity and protect their children against the deterioration of their society’s values. This is not a population living in fear, this is a population that is fearless beyond belief. This is a population that still has the same blood running through their veins as that of their slave ancestors who rose up to take their country away from the European colonists and claim control of their own futures. The same ancestors who demanded to be treated as humans, as equals, and even as conquerors. Now they’ve proven that they won’t stand for injustice, even if it comes from within their own culture.
I don’t believe, however, that this occurrence in Jacmel right now is completely the result of this one crime that was carried out early yesterday morning. It seems like this kidnapping and murder may have just been the last straw to break the camel’s back, or mango to break the donkey’s back, as it may be. There have been several crimes committed over the last few months in the Jacmel area that have gone unaddressed by the authorities, and I think that with this most recent one the people probably just reached the tipping point where they collectively, organically, decided that they would take it no more.
This is not a culture that passively waits for justice to appear from somewhere, it’s a culture of action. And their devotion to their values is undeniable. Even last week, in my home community of LaVallee, the people collectively protested the inaction of the government in repairing the bridge over the river that was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. They refuse to be ignored when those in power prefer to focus on other things. They blocked roads and interrupted transportation to shed light on this essential intervention that their community depended on.
Whether it’s crying out for security against the threat of violence and crime or demanding attention to bring vital infrastructure, Haiti will not let her voice go unheard. At a time when I could be ashamed, afraid, or concerned for my friends in Jacmel, I find myself with a sense of pride for their bravery instead. For the families of the victims of the crimes, and for the community as a whole, I hope that they get the results they are searching for. I will continue to follow their fight for peace knowing that a brighter future is inevitable as long as they continue to stand together.