Darcus Howe recalls his first visit to Haiti

In Haiti, the other Caribbean governments see a reflection of where they are all headed

Two hundred years ago, the slaves of Haiti led the long march to Caribbean freedom, having defeated all the imperial armies on the country's soil. Now, coup after coup, American occupation after American occupation, dictatorship after dictatorship, insurrection after insurrection have led that tiny half-island into a state of nothingness.

I visited Haiti in the 1980s as a TV journalist, after one of its insurrectionary moments. The population had just lifted itself to overthrow Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who had kept Haitians at heel with a combination of the army and armed civilian gangs called the Tontons Macoutes. My first stop was La Saline, a slum in the heart of the capital, Port-au-Prince. I had never seen such degradation of human life. Human faeces and urine flowed everywhere. Shelter in many cases consisted of cloths tied to bamboo sticks. We filmed the last gasp of a child lying alone on an earthen floor. A line of caterers cooked broth from rotten meat and vegetables, queues standing by listlessly to fill their bowls. I cried my heart out. Bread and cheese was all I managed to eat. I left Haiti constipated in mind and body.

In a small church on the edge of La Saline, I discovered Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He told stories of state brutality, about that dark night when the Tontons Macoutes swarmed La Saline and killed until they were physically exhausted. Through Channel 4, I introduced Aristide to the world.

Yet he did not impress me. He babbled a strange, populist ideology that he described as democracy from below. I sensed the seeds of demagogy. Now Aristide has been deposed as president for a second time.

While I was in Trinidad over Christmas, George W Bush approached Caribbean leaders and asked them to assist in the regeneration of political, social and economic life in Haiti. Hardly anyone stirred. Why? Because in Haiti, Caribbean governments see a reflection of where they are all headed.

They are all drowning in a sea of globalisations. Agricultural economies cannot compete with mass production in developed countries. There is little industrial activity. They squeeze drips of revenue from largely inactive populations. Governments are reduced to being mendicants with a flag and a national anthem.

They keep Haiti at arm's length lest the virus of insurrection sweep them all away.

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