People displaced by gang violence occupy a school turned into a long-term shelter, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.

Writer Edwidge Danticat describes how Haitians respond in times of deep crisis

The author joined The World's host Marco Werman to discuss the deportations of Haitians at the US southern border.

The World

At least six flights carrying Haitian deportees touched down in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday.

The passengers had been gathered at the US border in Del Rio, Texas, last week. Haiti is struggling to incorporate the new arrivals.

At least 2,853 Haitians deported from Texas have landed in Haiti in the last week with $15-$100 in cash handouts and a “good luck out there” from migration officials. For many, it's the first time they've set foot in the country for years, even decades.

Related: US begins mass deportations of Haitian migrants

More than a city, Port-au-Prince is an archipelago of gang-controlled islands in a sea of despair. Some neighborhoods are abandoned. Others are barricaded behind fires, destroyed cars and piles of garbage, occupied by heavily armed men. 

Related: Tensions over aid grow in Haiti as quake's deaths pass 2K

Even before the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July, the government was weak — the Palace of Justice inactive, Congress disbanded by Moïse and the legislative building was pocked by bullets. Now, although there is a prime minister, it is absent. 

Most of the population of Port-au-Prince has no access to basic public services and no drinking water, electricity or garbage collection. The deportees join thousands of fellow Haitians who have been displaced from their homes, pushed out by violence to take up residence in crowded schools, churches, sports centers and makeshift camps among ruins.

On Thursday, US Special Envoy to Haiti Dan Foote resigned, saying he could not defend a policy of deporting Haitians back to “a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life.”

The policy will backfire, he said. 

For writer Edwidge Danticat, the forced return is almost more than Haiti can bear. The author of several books, including "Everything Inside," joined The World's host Marco Werman to talk about key concepts in Haitian culture that inform crisis responses.

Danticat also discusses what it would take for US-Haitian relations to improve. 

Related: Lakou Mizik's new album highlights Haiti's creative spirit

Marco Werman: Like many of us, you're no doubt still processing the images from the past week. Haitians being chased by border guards on horseback, crowds packed with virtually no food or water under this international bridge. What do you think will be the lasting impact of those images and events inside Haiti and for the diaspora?
Edwidge Danticat: I, like a lot of Haitian and Haitian diaspora folks, are still processing these images, are still feeling very much with the folks who had to go through that in such a painful and humiliating and heartbreaking way. And in conversations that I've had with friends and family in Haiti, they, too, were shocked. People are starting to arrive in Haiti now and are telling their stories, and many of them speak of that harrowing journey, some of them going to 10 countries and walking on foot across that Darién Gap. And then many of them said they were woken up in the night and taken on a plane and then deported to Haiti, some of them shackled on the plane, not being able to hug their babies across the aisle, some have said.
At the center of this, obviously, are the Haitians who are being deported, who have crossed the dangerous Darién Gap in Central America. You've written and spoken about how Haitian communities survive in crisis. And there are two concepts I'd like you to just tell us about. One is the Creole term lakou. And my understanding is it's basically about inclusion. Explain lakou and how it comes into play in this moment of crisis. 
I come from an agricultural family in rural Haiti. People just organize themselves and gather into groups, and it's usually around a courtyard of an elder or someone who's at the center of the family. But we extend that concept when folks are in need. So, we've not seen those images so much in the United States. But after the recent earthquake in the southern peninsula, there were people traveling by boat with tons of food that they had grown to bring to others who were in the stricken areas. And the same happened after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, where people were coming from the north who had food to try to help others. So, because there's been such a lack of support from the state — and people in Haiti still believe in the state, like if they're being interviewed, they'll say, you know, "The state hasn't done anything. We haven't been given anything" —  but at the same time, they know that they can count on their neighbors. And often it is their neighbors who are their first responders who are helping them in these moments of deep crisis, which is the narrative that we don't always get to see on the outside — of Haitians helping Haitians when they're in most dire need. 
There's another concept that might help us understand how Haitians are coping: the word konbit in Creole. What does that mean and how are you seeing it being put into practice? 
Well, konbit comes from an agricultural practice in which if someone has a plot of land that they need working, you know, "Today you work my plot of land, and tomorrow I work your plot of land," which I was thinking about this whole past week as we're looking at folks coming across the border, this is the world — your program is The World. And you know, what is happening in the world right now is that we have something like close to 80 million people around the world who have been displaced. And if they were a nation, they would be the fifth-largest nation in the world. So, I think it behooves all of us to learn globally this notion of konbit, because today it's our turn, but tomorrow it could be yours.
Right. It's important to remember that Haiti was the very first place in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. That was 1804. I know the abolition of slavery there terrified many in the US. What do you think have been the long-term results — the consequences of that revolt in Haiti? Does it live on today in some way in US-Haitian relations? 
It absolutely does live on today. I mean, the images are literally trying to take us back into the past, into a moment where, after Haiti became the world's first Black republic, it was in the US' backyard. You know, Thomas Jefferson at the time urged Congress to suspend commerce with Haiti, financially choking this new republic, which was already struggling to pay an independence debt to its former colonizer, France. And there was the US occupation after the assassination of a previous president, Guillaume Sam. That occupation lasted 19 years and the US controlled Haiti's finances until 1947, so there's been a very long and sort of mired history of Haiti in the US, but often when it's presented, the US' failures in Haiti are often presented as Haitian failures. We have our own responsibilities, of course, in the matter. But there's a historical layer that Haitians know very well. But that needs to be told and retold, especially as Haitians are asking and demanding an opportunity to make their own decisions and guide their own course and lead their country.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report. 

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