Originally: Look past status as a nation

Look past status as a nation

By Joseph M. Bernadel
Posted February 23 2004

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Is Haiti a nation, or simply a place where human beings live?

The bicentennial anniversary of Haiti’s independence (1804-2004) is cause for many celebrations within the Haitian diaspora. It is a reminder of a moment of great achievement in the historical annals of humanity and a justifiable source of pride for all Haitians. Determined African slaves, propelled by dreams of freedom, equality and justice, defeated in battle Napoleon’s mighty colonial armies in November 1803 and proclaimed Haiti a free and independent Nation on Jan. 1, 1804.

But today, the terms most often associated with Haiti include: dire political crisis, catastrophic ecological disaster, severe economic collapse and ongoing human tragedy. In this light, the bicentennial anniversary also invites some reflection:

First, what determines a nation and what purpose do nations serve? Political scientists generally accept certain characteristics to represent the concept of nation. Among these are a common past, history and geographical space. Culture, political organization, language, religion, mores and traditions also serve to define a nation. Haiti surely meets that test in general.

Second, are nation-states, under their present conceptual framework, viable entities, especially in the case of a country in crisis? One of the main reasons for people to assemble in a geographical space under the concept of nation is for the welfare of the inhabitants. While we may agree that Haiti presents many characteristics of a nation as defined above, the evidence of its abysmal failure as a society is undeniable. Some writers will advance as principal cause of Haiti’s failure the lack of a common vision for its people’s future; others may cite the intrinsic weakness of Haiti’s internal institutions of civil society. Yet Haiti is not alone in this; many other nations today are unable to deliver the aspirations of their people and present symptoms similar to Haiti’s grave illnesses, albeit, not at the same critical advance stages.

What then is the answer? The birth of Haiti 200 years ago had worldwide historical implications, even though they were, at the time, conveniently overlooked because of prevalent racial attitudes.. Today, Haiti’s potential disintegration as a nation affects more than just Haiti and Haitians. Haiti’s traumatic struggles may yet be the best sign that indicates the world’s need to revisit the concept of nation-state as a political system. This may truly be the time where we need to look at Earth not just as an accumulation of distinct nations, but a place where human beings live.

Let’s start with Haiti.

Joseph M. Bernadel is a retired U.S. Army major who served in Haiti as U.S. military attache and consultant to the U.S. State Department from 1996-1998. He is the first Haitian-American to have started a public school in the U.S., the Toussaint L’Ouverture High School for Arts and Social Justice, in Delray Beach.