Haiti’s turbulent history


Shari Geistfeld gave a virtuoso performance at the ACE MV seminar on Saturday.

A social scientist and college professor, Ms. Geistfeld, an Island resident and PeaceQuilts volunteer, gave her audience a Cliff Notes version of Haiti’s history, punctuated by sweeping gestures and constant motion. It is unlikely that her students sleep through her classes.

She described Haiti as the “jewel” of French Colonialism in the 18th Century. Taking a cue from their masters, the enslaved population staged the only successful slave revolt in history to create their country through an armed struggle that lasted from 1789 to 1803.

Thomas Jefferson, the recently rebellious, slave-holding, and likely nervous U. S. president, promptly embargoed Haitian products from our shores as one of his first acts upon taking office, she said.

Ms. Geistfeld noted that former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier and one-time president Jean-Bertrand Aristide have both sought to return to their country following the earthquake. After 25 years in exile, Mr. Duvalier returned last month, apparently to try to access the fortune he amassed while running the country for 15 years. He is now under arrest and awaits charges on embezzlement.

Demographic details:

Women live to age 62 on average.

Men live to age 58.

Only four percent of the population is over 65 years, of age and 37 percent are under 15 years of age,

Nearly a quarter of the children under age 5 are underweight.

Nearly half the population is under-nourished.

Less than half of Haiti’s population is estimated to be literate, while among 15- to 24-year-olds, illiteracy is even higher.

Chances of owning a car are less than 1 percent.

Chances of owning a cellphone are less than one in three.