Courtesy Reuters

Darkness in Haiti

Haiti is in many ways a true social relic. Having lingered almost intact for more than a century and a half, this unfortunate country to a great extent is the past; its every ancient curiosity remains as precisely visible as a well-preserved archaeological artifact.

It is a land that may be seen under many aspects. Beauty is one of them, the beauty of mountain and sea, and the clouds and lights and mists that move over these. Exoticism is another. Colorful almost beyond description for the northern observer, everything in it is unfamiliar, fused out of dream-stuff into a wild semblance of reality. Poverty is still another, poverty more extreme than anywhere else in the hemisphere, more extreme than imagination, almost.

These are all proper angles of vision, but they reveal less of the nature of things than does the concept of division. In everything except the historical process itself there is a sundering, a discontinuity. Haitian geography, the frame of the national life, is as perverse and disruptive as anything outside the Indonesian archipelago. The long southern peninsula, the somewhat shorter northern peninsula, the middle area that separates rather than unites them, and the large island of Gonave in the bay of the same name, are continuous only in a formal sense. The straight-line distance from Port-au-Prince, the capital, to Jacmel on the southern coast, is a mere 40 miles. A road between the two centers exists, but only for a jeep or a Land Rover. Part of it consists of the rocky bed of a shallow stream, followed at the traveler's peril if sudden rains swell the flow of water, and the trip requires the better part of a day.

There is division among the people. If the intellectual élite is enlarged to include all those who can read and write, it still numbers less than 50,000, and the gulf between this generously defined élite (regardless of its own internal differences) and the illiterate others is very nearly a total barrier.

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