The significance of May 18 for Haiti and for the entire world
Cinco de Mayo is now a household concept almost all over the world. It is not the day of the celebration of Mexican independence, which falls on September 16; it is rather the day commemorating the winning of the battle by the ragtag Mexican army against the formidable troops of Napoleon III, in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
Napoleon thought he was in for an easy win but encountered fierce resistance from an army of villagers who killed some 500 of the 6,000 French soldiers; later on, with the help of the Americans, the Mexicans threw out the French occupier from its territory.
The Mexican Diaspora has been able to convince their friends wherever they have established roots in the world to celebrate their heritage with them in that momentous event. As such, Cinco de Mayo needs no lobbyist or promoters; it is a worldwide event with the support of the beer marketing system.
It is not the same with le 18 Mai or May 18, the day the Haitian people celebrate their flag day. It is my contention that slowly le 18 Mai will become as popular and as universal as Cinco de Mayo. May 18 represents the symbol of unity over division, of fraternity over strife, of the concept: in unity there is strength. Whether in Paris, Port-au-Prince, Chicago, New York, Albany or in Washington, le 18 Mai is being heralded a special day for Haitians and for unity.
Indeed it was on that day that General Jean Jacques Dessalines, a dark-skinned soldier, met with his counterpart General Alexander Petion, a mulatto in Arcahaie, Haiti, to seal a strategy whereby the mulattoes would stop fighting for their right to emancipation by themselves. They have been doing so for the last three centuries without success. Petion and Dessalines, by agreeing to tear apart the white piece from the tricolor French flag, had knitted a new flag, which is now the Haitian flag made of blue and the red.
That alliance gave birth six months later on November 18 to the divine moment where the black soldiers butted out the troops of Napoleon from Vertieres, giving a definite victory to the Haitian troops. Two months later, the consecration of that victory on January 1, 1804 produced the first and only victory in the whole universe of slaves over their rulers to create a new nation, the Haitian nation.
Haiti is filled with issues and challenges but the significance of its mileposts are valuable lessons for people and nations all over the world to take notice of and learn from. The issue of unity is first and foremost the fundamental cornerstone that will break or make a nation. We are confronting these days internal strife all over the world, whether we are in the United States, France, Haiti, Mali or Somali. I will use this essay to demonstrate it is better to sow the seeds of unity than ruminate into the cocoon of discord, division and arrogance that prevents reconciliation.
Thirty years ago, I was a personal actor in the process of reconciliation of two antagonists after the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier from power in Haiti in 1986. The vision of the general and the human rights lawyer on how to lead the nation’s destiny, freshly eschewed from dictatorship, had fallen apart. I was friendly and familiar with both of them. I tried to talk fraternity and embrace both of them. Arrogance and pride from both of them prevented their reconciliation. Since then, Haiti has suffered agony because of that arrogance for 30 years. There is no recovery in sight at the end of the tunnel.
I am today a witness of such insistence to dwell on the differences instead of the commonalities in all corners of the world. I am watching the daily debates, the war of tweets on both sides of the aisle by the Republican and the Democratic Party. It is virulent, vicious sometimes, I have the impression that the American people are asking for a time out for the daily barrage of attacks and innuendos by the partisans and the enemies of President Donald Trump. In the spirit of May 18, is it not time to use the tune of Vivaldi or of Professor Claude Steele to see how both parties could truly advance the cause of those who have been left behind in the American recovery?
The story of discord may be more acute in the case of Venezuela where the lives of millions are at stake. Three million have already left for Columbia, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic; finding the regular means to lead a daily normal life for the rest of the citizens is a pure luxury in Venezuela today. It is time for the partisans of Chavez, as well as those who have found that Chavez and his successor have failed, to unite in the good name of Miranda for a prosperous Venezuela. Doing it without foreign help might even be easier.
The story can be repeated for Turkey where President Recep Tayyip Erdogen is engaged in a fratricide struggle with his brethren Fethullah Gulan, who may have betrayed his trust with an attempted coup on July 15, 2015. While Erdogen maintains a full grasp of the population at home, Gulan enjoys strong partisanship within the Turkish Diaspora. Both sides are needed for Turkey to fly towards its divine destiny of a nation in the spirit of Mustafa Kemal, a nation builder with the lamp on the hill to enlighten those around and those far beyond.
South Korea and North Korea can also use the spirit of le 18 Mai to try to seed the spirit of unity so the people will enjoy the rewards of East and West Germany that became one nation after Ronald Reagan dared to ask Gorbachev to tear down the wall. President Donald Trump, in the grand tradition of Ronald Reagan, should send the same signal to his friend Chairman Kim to tear down the wall of the demilitarized zone, destroy the nuclear installation and bring prosperity to all the people in the Peninsula of Korea.
There are so many lessons in reconciliation that have brought peace and prosperity to several parts of the world. The Good Friday agreement sealed with the good offices of President Bill Clinton, (he deserved his late Nobel Prize for this achievement), stopped the daily killing in Northern Ireland between the British and the Irish.
The 2016 agreement between the FARC (a terrorist group) and the government of Columbia made that volatile nation yesterday, today, a haven of peace where rose and begonia bring tons of money instead of cocaine and opium.
To conclude, the example of South Africa is the best embodiment for humanity of the power of unity over division. South Africa, this apartheid nation destroyed through the sacrifice of reconciliation by Nelson Mandela, is a work in progress, yet the tyranny of a black man considered inferior just because of his color is a nightmare of the past.
July 4 for the United States, July 14 for France, le 18 Mai for Haiti, or Cinco de Mayo for Mexico, are days that must all become international days for all the world to celebrate and emulate the virtues of courage, of unity, of determination to render the fate of each human being better every day on this earth.
• Jean H. Charles LLB, MSW, JD, is a regular contributor to the opinion section of Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.