“A complete and endless tragedy. As if the cosmic and seismic terror had come to join the political and social terror from which the island had already been suffering,” René Depestre, the 83-year-old exiled Haitian writer tells the Spanish newspaper La Razón. From his home in southern France he has commented on how “extremely impressed” he has been by the international mobilization to help his homeland. “It is the first time I see such universal, planetary, solidarity.” He adds, however, that vital as monetary assistance is at a time like this, money is not everything, and that the tragedy has to also serve to inspire a moral rebuilding.
“Now we must bring new values to light, and that is the task of writers and artists, so we can re-found Haiti. And not only its infrastructures, but a re-founding in the spiritual sense, said the author of Hadriana in All My Dreams, the novel for which he won the prestigious Renaudot Prize in 1988. Historically, if anything has defined the intellectuals of the former French colony, it has been their political commitment, its militant literature. “Haiti has retained its very lively intelligentsia,” he adds, proud of all those who resisted leaving the island and to whom the nation’s ideological renewal is now entrusted. “But avoiding old notions, clichés and preconceived ideas. We must set the imagination to work, something I ‘m already doing.”
Depestre also deplores the sensationalism of the newspaper and television reporting on the tragedy: “an earthquake in Italy is a disaster,” he says, “in Haiti, a curse. As a headline, it is much more attractive.” But talk of “curses” offends Depestre.
Depestre sees in the disaster “the opportunity to lift us, to recover the spirit that made of Haiti the first country to rebel against oppression and gain its liberty in 1804. His own history is marked by a deep feeling of ambivalence towards France, from which he was expelled in 1952 as a militant believer in the anticolonial ideas of Négritude. “It is paradoxical that Haiti has never been recognized as a nation state, nor respected as such, but it is known as a cultural nation. There is a high level of illiteracy, but is not an uneducated country.” His life has been marked by exile, but he is now at peace with France. “We are responsible for our misfortunes,” he says, agreeing with Eric Sauray, a political scientist of Haitian origin who has written that “there is a historical and cultural link between the two nations that should be encouraged. It is not a debt, is a natural solidarity. But I do not believe that France has a historical debt to Haiti’.
For more (in Spanish) go to http://www.larazon.es/noticia/5846-las-letras-de-haiti-sacudidas-por-la-tragedia