Haiti, a Catholic nation that was once called the gold mine of the New World, is now the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. A history of foreign occupation, corrupt military dictatorships, continued U.S. support of Haitian regimes with long records of human rights abuses, and economic exploitation by foreign business interests have left the country in shambles. Eighty percent of Haitians live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.
Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, sponsored a fact-finding tour in September 1989 to experience firsthand the reality of Haiti. Two members of the delegation, artist Helen David Brancato, IHM, and Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, national coordinator of Pax Christi when this article appeared, introduce us to the faces and voices of Haiti. - The Editors
This thin, frail, bird-like man is Aristide, the revolutionary priest? There must be some mistake.
WHAT IS SO DANGEROUS about giving penicillin to the poor? In Haiti, one child dies every five minutes from malnutrition, dehydration, or diarrhea. What is so threatening about putting thin mattresses on concrete floors for hundreds of homeless boys? One million people inhabit Port-au-Prince; 40,000 of them live on the street. What is so frightening about teaching boys and girls to read and write? In Haiti 80 percent of the population is illiterate. What is so revolutionary about running a clinic, an orphanage, a school?
Only when Aristide opens his mouth do we understand. A firebrand prophet, his words detonate the dreams dormant for centuries in city slums and countryside shacks, setting peasant hearts aflame. He preaches human dignity. He demands equal distribution of wealth and land. He insists that the church divest itself of power and privilege and stand with the poor.