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Haiti, you are too rich to be poor!


Published: Oct 09, 2013

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This exclamation coined by Pamela White, the actual American ambassador to Haiti, fits squarely for this nation island.  I have been able to verify the observation on a recent trip to the southern part of Haiti named la Grande Anse.  It was my first foray into that idyllic corner of the country.

I was invited by a couple from the city of Dame Marie to visit their hometown.  The occasion was the fiesta of the Natividad of our Lady Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Dame Marie that maybe gets its name from Mary the mother of Jesus.  The couple is Seven Day Adventist, but Haiti is a country where the Catholic Church and voodoo practice prevail.

You may be Baptist or Seven Day Adventist, the Catholic culture is so strong that the feast of the parish cannot be ignored.  I was in for a treat.  I have known la Grande Anse to be the breadbasket of Port au Prince, the capital.  Indeed, every Wednesday, the giant boat arrives at the port named Port Jeremie filled with produce, goats, charcoal and fruits for merchants to sell in the city.  I was wondering whether there would be an end to that profusion.

There is no end to the wealth of the Grande Anse.  Travelling from Jeremie to Dame Marie, a two-hour drive through the mountains with fields of breadfruit, cocoa, coffee and yam filling the horizon, Haiti reminds me of another nature island, Dominica, yet much bigger and much more promising.

La Grande Anse is home to a plant, which by itself can constitute a green gold mine for Haiti.  The vetiver, which is not processed and exploited as much as in the south of the country because there is no processing plant in that area, grows everywhere – on the slopes, protecting the hill against erosion; as a fence for one’s garden and as a cushion on the side of the road as a divider.

The plant is multi-functional; its roots are used for the production of perfume, for mixing in oil for airplanes, as a derivative in facilitating delivery.  Its leaves serve as thatched roofing and I have found another use for the processed roots that shall remain for the moment a business secret.

La Grande Anse is filled with breadfruit trees that nowadays the medicinal value of which is well documented.  The produce is considered a super-food.  It is a member of the mulberry family so prized by Dr. Oz in one of his most recent health focus programs on national TV.

The breadfruit is excellent as a baby food; its protein value is low in fat but rich in niacin, which is another name for vitamin B3.  It is full of iron, calcium and potassium.  Its leaves used in tea, control high blood pressure (only a small quantity will suffice).  It is an energy booster high in fiber that facilitates bowel movement; it decreases cholesterol, it is good for diabetics and an excellent additive for poultry feeding.

The Haitian breadfruit is not yet a produce in the food chain of exportation.

For the produce already in the export food chain, coffee and cocoa, la Grande Anse reminds me of the Haiti of 50 years ago, when in the months of autumn such as September and October the peasants were filled with money because their coffee and cocoa beans would dry in the sun, producing an aroma of coffee or cocoa that is well known by fine aficionados of good coffee or good chocolate all over the world.

I did not even mention the yam, which is cultivated as a grapevine.  One stick for each plant will do.  You will have those sticks way into the horizon aligned in a straight line with the leaves of the yam interlacing itself to find a place on the stick, while the yam in the ground is taking shape, enriching itself with all the good vitamins of Mother Nature, without any additives or chemical fertilizer.

The government of Haiti has been building the road leading to the Grande Anse.  It was so perilous that I was wondering why it was taking so long to be built.  At the fiesta in Dame Marie, I heard the musicians brought from the capital play for the festivity swear they will not return to Dame Marie until the road construction is finished.

The city of Dame Marie, an old town of 300 years old, has all the characteristics of an elegant grande dame that has seen better days.  Decades of decadence and few injections of funding in infrastructure and in institution building have caused the city to be a way out towards Jeremie or Port au Prince, where the youths see a better future for their growth and their development.

There was and there is a diaspora committee in Dame Marie that culled the resources of the citizens migrated abroad and in Port au Prince to bring a renaissance to the motherland.  Indeed, Dame Marie is known as the only town in the Grande Anse that has all its streets well paved.  It has electricity (at least at night) and it has running water in the homes.

It needs incubation for economic development.  I spoke with one of the richest families in town and in Haiti, the Weiner family, who exported coffee and cocoa for centuries from this place.  A partnership, between the diaspora, the government, and civil society could render the city a place to be like Negril in Jamaica, which is, by the way, not too far from Dame Marie.

The day after the fiesta, Dame Marie organized a mega party for two days in Layer and Formantin, two unspoiled beaches with miles of fine sand, an event which is known only in the Grand Anse.  I am dreaming of a day when this beach party will become an international affair where partygoers will come from their yachts sailing from Jamaica and beyond to take part in this bacchanal at the end of summer.

I was only speaking of the wealth of one state in Haiti, the Grande Anse.  Haiti has nine other states, maybe not as rich as the Grande Anse, but with their own characteristics and their own wealth as tantalizing.  Haiti you are indeed too rich to be poor!

• Jean H. Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now.  He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.com and followed for past essays at caribbeannewsnow/haiti.  Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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