The Resentment of Peter Poul
Peter Poul speaks Creole with difficulty. Even so, he closes his eyes and whispers a prayer that his father taught when he was a small child. He thought he had forgotten it, after joining the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra mountains in 1958 and professing the tenets of the Communist Party of Cuba.
His religious chant was buried in his subconscious for over 50 years. He prays to Papa Legba (Eleguá* in the Yoruban pantheon of Haitian voodoo) for the native land of his father, devastated by an earthquake, and “occupied by the Yankees.” Peter Poul repeats what he hears. The Cubans, he says, are saddened by the events in Haiti and “angered by the intervention of American troops” in the tiny nation.
He accepts at face value what the Cuban media say, that the United States wants to take over the gold mines in Haiti. On Telesur, he saw Chávez talking about the “invasion,” and on Cuban television the writer for the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, Heriberto Feraudy, accused the “monstrous empire of not leaving these people alone, who were the first black republic in the continent. ”
The official press does not explain that the Haitian earthquake nearly destroyed the government and all its institutions. And that their already inadequate state and social infrastructures crumbled with the earthquake. Also unmentioned is the fact that it was their president, René Préval, who asked Obama for urgent help from the United States. Nor do they say that the devastation and chaos prevent international aid from being provided immediately. And that desperation and famine have led to incidents of violence.
Cubans don’t know that the main prison in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, releasing thieves, rapists and murderers, who roam the streets with guns, machetes and sticks, trying to loot what little was left standing in homes and businesses, and to hijack the places where humanitarian aid has been stored.
The Cuban leaders are unwilling to set aside political differences. They are incapable of joining the efforts of other nations, including the United States, to help hundreds of thousands of Haitians who anxiously await a global relief effort that can match the aid provided in 2004 when a tsunami devastated several Asian countries.
It is easier to launch smear campaigns than to modestly join a humanitarian effort alongside nations with differing ideologies and social systems. In the face of an emergency such as Haiti’s, it doesn’t matter the color of the flag, or the name of the person or NGO who is working alongside you, trying to save lives and rebuild a devastated country. Nor does it matter who directs all these urgent tasks, nor who gives how much.
These are attitudes and feelings that Haitians don’t need now. What they need is for everyone to join forces and as quickly as possible dispatch crews and materials to build homes in record time before the rains and the hurricane season next June, the natural phenomena that would otherwise complete the devastation of this shattered land and its people.
Peter Poul accepts the message of the official media, and spreads to others the hatred that for 51 years has been instilled toward the United States, the number one enemy of the Cuban Revolution. However, he doesn’t question the fact that the Communist Party once required him abandon his roots and his religion. Or that his grandchildren will not know the life and the traditions of his Haitian grandfather.
Nor does he stop to consider whether this is the appropriate time to place blame. And if the thousands of those homeless, injured, or buried beneath the rubble need us to focus right now on ideological disputes. Quite the contrary.
The Cuban public knows only one point of view of the Haitian tragedy. The view spread by the media, which in Cuba’s case is equivalent to saying the government’s view. What else can you expect from a government that out of pride and political disagreements, when several regions of the island were destroyed by two powerful hurricanes in September 2008, rejected humanitarian aid?
Currently, the possibility of cooperation between Cuba and the United States is zero. And that will not change while the Cuban government continues to blame all the ills of mankind on its eternal enemy. But to do so, to misrepresent and manipulate the facts, furthers its interest.
Thanks to the systematic disinformation, resentment breeds in the souls of some Cubans. This is true in the case of Peter Poul. But not against those who once demanded that he give up the cultural heritage of his Haitian father. Not against those who do everything possible to lift up a people in disgrace.
Photo: American Red Cross, Flickr
Translated by: Tomás A.
*Translator’s note: Elegua is the messenger to the supernatural, often invoked at the beginning of a voodoo ceremony.