The crisis in Haiti affects individuals, communities, and the entire Haitian people. In the first article of this series, the Superior of the Jesuits in Haiti explained how the crisis also affects his confreres and Ignatian works. In this article, Father Ambroise Gabriel, SJ, coordinator of the social sector in Haiti, describes how the situation affects him personally and then shares his perspective on the situation and suggests ways in which the Ignatian family can continue to provide support.
How does the chaos in Haiti affect you personally?
Strange as it may seem, I find it very difficult to answer this question. I would like to know what psychologists would call my particular situation right now. I have come to believe that when something so completely envelops you, it no longer affects you and becomes dangerously second nature. As I write these words, I have a friend who is being tortured at the hands of kidnappers. And I just learned that there has been a mass kidnapping—passengers who were on a bus from the Dominican Republic. The video of my friend that was circulated by these criminals seemed like something from a horror movie. Yet it did not shock me very much. It seemed to me to be a tactic of persuasion, to make family and friends aware of the need to come up with the ransom as quickly as possible. It feels like déjà vu.
As I write these words, I have a friend who is being tortured at the hands of kidnappers. And I just learned that there has been a mass kidnapping—passengers who were on a bus from the Dominican Republic. The video of my friend that was circulated by these criminals seemed like something from a horror movie.
Are you still capable of empathy in Haiti?
It would seem that any attempt to step back to better assess the situation and rediscover one’s humanity becomes only a coping strategy. In the present chaos, the order of the day is to live, to go about one’s professional and pastoral activities as if everything were fine. We go out, but have no certainty that we will return home. To live in Haiti, especially in the metropolitan area, one must be recklessly cautious. No one is fooled. When you go out, you have to expect that anything and everything could happen in any neighborhood at any time. No one is immune.
I have spent a lot of time listening to the young people I work with, my colleagues, members of my community, and some of our guests. They agree that this chaos calls for practical wisdom if we are to avoid being victimized or abused. They offer advice as simple as what to do and what to say when you are caught by a traffic cop, how to convince or even bribe him without appearing to bribe him, how to be wary when you are on the street because men dressed in suits—as well as street beggars—can be antennae for kidnappers, if they are not kidnappers themselves. On the other hand, news of mass murders, of people tortured for lack of payment of ransom, is reported as if it were part of a Hollywood movie. The crisis is deeper than it seems; it not only affects our work and our mobility, it not only impoverishes and starves a large part of the population, it blocks our human capacity for empathy and our sense of solidarity.
On the other hand, I note with sadness how easy it is to mobilize billions of dollars, in the blink of an eye, to finance the massacre of thousands of human beings and the destruction of an entire country in the name of purely geopolitical and economic interests, and how difficult it is, and has been for decades, to mobilize the resources that are indispensable in creating even the slightest sign of hope in a small country like Haiti.
When the crisis is internalized, when cynicism sets in, the suffering becomes indescribable.
As a Haitian, a citizen, and a committed Christian, I see that the suffering caused by the “gangsterization” of my country is so deep that it is beyond words. In Haiti, the concept of the state has been stripped of all meaning. We speak of a strong or weak state when its institutions are strong or weak, but what are we talking about when the institutions have been destroyed or are nonexistent? Indeed, there is no president of the republic, there are no judges (those who are there are “sellers” of justice), no legislators (the mandate of the last ten has expired), no mayors, no communal councils. Haiti has been handed over to groups of gangsters formed and financed by politicians and people from the business and commercial establishments. The self-appointed government remains dependent on their wishes. And corruption and violence permeate every aspect of the social fabric. The descent into hell of thousands of families, the impoverishment of the middle class, the massive exodus of educated youth make living together in Haiti even more unbearable.
[The Ignatian family can help] through constructive cooperation. Knowing that Haiti has been the testing ground for all kinds of development programs, the Ignatian family can finally help, through its multiple networks and the spaces where it is invited to speak, to promote the Haitian cause from a perspective that takes into account genuine Haitian realities, without forgetting that the country has been victim to historical contempt and neglect, and without making any assumptions about Haitian responsibility.
On the other hand, I note with sadness how easy it is to mobilize billions of dollars, in the blink of an eye, to finance the massacre of thousands of human beings and the destruction of an entire country in the name of purely geopolitical and economic interests, and how difficult it is, and has been for decades, to mobilize the resources that are indispensable in creating even the slightest sign of hope in a small country like Haiti. This little country, of some 27,000 km2, located in the heart of America, is a victim of systemic cynicism. Since 2010, we have witnessed some truly moving scenes where representatives of the world’s great leaders parade in front of cameras and microphones to express their mea culpa in the Haitian disaster. A few months ago, the Organization of American States (OAS) publicly acknowledged that gangs were formed and consolidated during the time when friendly countries were in charge in Haiti. It is said that we do not want to make the same mistakes as in the past, but we continue to finance and strengthen the power of a de facto government that was set up with the support of the gangs, and we do nothing to ensure that direct aid to civil society reaches its destination. In fact, it is almost always used to fund small militant groups that support chaos, including gangs.
How can the Ignatian family help the Haitian cause and the Society in Haiti?
First, through prayer. May this great family continue to pray for Haiti in general and for the perseverance of the Jesuits and collaborators who work there. I give thanks to God every time I see young Jesuits and others braving the danger either to buy supplies in markets that are located in lawless areas or to go to school. Although the risk is great, they take it, arguing that they cannot let themselves be paralyzed, that they have to deal with this situation. We must pray for the Haitian Jesuits in formation who are studying in safer countries and who must one day return. The temptation to stay abroad is and will be great and perfectly justified. We must pray for them, that they will understand the great mission that awaits them and the fact that Haiti needs them at a time when the exodus of trained and educated Haitians is only increasing.
Second, through constructive cooperation. Knowing that Haiti has been the testing ground for all kinds of development programs, the Ignatian family can finally help, through its multiple networks and the spaces where it is invited to speak, to promote the Haitian cause from a perspective that takes into account genuine Haitian realities, without forgetting that the country has been victim to historical contempt and neglect, and without making any assumptions about Haitian responsibility. More concretely, this family can make Haiti one of its priorities for the next ten years. It could set up a monitoring centre for international cooperation aid in Haiti. This centre would be responsible for ensuring accountability for the aid sent to Haiti, verifying whether specific aid reaches its destination and whether it meets the real needs in Haiti. In addition, without wanting to replace Haitian diplomacy, which does not exist, the Ignatian family can help bring to light what is rarely talked about: Haiti’s potential. Finally, this cooperation can take the form of partnerships between academic institutions, schools, and research centres.
Third, by funding the formation of Jesuits for Haiti, as was done in the past for China and Russia, as well as funding Jesuit projects that bring meaning and hope to Haiti. The Society of Jesus in Haiti is facing an exodus of leaders. If we cannot ask young people to stay, we cannot use that as an excuse not to invest in the formation of youth at all levels. There will be some who, like us Jesuits, will choose to stay in the country. It is obvious that Haitian nationalism is put to the test when it comes to deciding whether to stay in the country. However, we have an evangelical duty to continue to believe in Haitian youth, who constitute the largest part of the Haitian population. The international Ignatian family can contribute significantly to an integrated apostolate that is directed towards the human, spiritual, intellectual, and civic formation of Haitian youth, who are at once enthusiastic and energetic but completely destabilized.