Haiti: Rebuilding our Symbols, a Pressing Matter

According to Wikipedia, “A symbol is something that represents an idea, a process, or a physical entity. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning.”  On the other hand, Carl Jung, who studied archetypes, proposed an alternative definition of symbol, distinguishing it from the term sign. In Jung’s view, a sign stands for something known, as a word stands for its referent. He contrasted this with symbol, which he used to stand for something that is unknown and that cannot be made clear or precise.


In our lives, as individuals or as communities, symbols play an important part.  We all need a flag, regardless of creed, color, religion or might.  That flag represents and embodies the concept of nation, that  which defines,unites and binds us.  At the Olympic Games or in any other situation, seeing that flag flowing with dignity and majesty gives us a sense of pride almost impossible to describe and almost to strong to bear…Well, at least that’s how I feel when I see my flag.

When the January 12, 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, it left the Departement de l’Ouest (Western Department) devastated and the city of Jacmel in total disarray.  In the capital city of Port-au-Prince the Champ de Mars, which is the center of our Government, was totally destroyed.  What remains, and thank God for that, are the many statues of our Independence heroes; they stood and continue to watch as if to remind us that it will take more than an earthquake to topple them.  I appreciate the symbolism of their survival more than words can express.  As for our buildings, they have all been destroyed.  Our beautiful National Palace was brought to its knees as were all of the other offices that housed the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.  If we refer back to the above definition of symbol, it would be fair to say that as we stand today, all of the sites, structures and buildings that symbolized our Sovereignty have been erased by that quake.  The government today has to function in temporary shelter or borrowed space.  But, for how long?  If the flag must continue to flow even in the face of danger and tragedy it is because it symbolizes the mere existence of a nation and its right to stand free.

I wonder about the symbolism behind a country without governmental structures; both figuratively and literally.  When our Executive branch continues to function in temporary shelter built on the ruins of the National Palace, are they sending a message that their purpose is transient?  While I do understand that caring for the wounded and providing shelter for those rendered homeless was a priority of priorities, the second urgency on that list should have been rebuilding the Center of Government.  Yes, promises have been made for a new downtown.  Yes…blueprints of a new town are circulating all over the net and yes we are all dreaming of a new Port-au-Prince with gorgeous waterfront properties, free of “bidonvilles” (slums) with well manicured parks.  I am not holding my breath.  The International Community, in whose custody we are  these days (what a shame!), is very skilled at making promises and even more skilled at not keeping them.  The truth remains that rebuilding or building anything or any part of our territory must be first and foremost our responsibility as a free and sovereign people.  We have to sever that hand that keeps reaching out for the smallest handout, it diminishes us and it offends our Forefathers.

The current administration has tremendous challenges to overcome.  They have clearly expressed their desire to do and accomplish great things that will in a foreseeable future change the face of Haiti.  The desire is there and the love of country is certainly there, I do not doubt that.  What lacks, it seems, is a coherent plan of action to turn those desires into accomplishments.

After 1 year in power, it is true that many victims of the earthquake have been relocated; but, too many continue to call the various parks and empty lots their home. As for the Champ de Mars, which still resembles a postwar zone, it is imperative that it be completely free of makeshift shelters and that it be given back its rightful place as the heart of the Government.  The National Palace must once more stand majestic and pure in its white robe while willfully beckoning the stare and the pride of the passerby.  If the purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning, today the Haitian Government is saying that it is scattered, temporary, chaotic and incoherent.  Rebuilding the Center of Government is a pressing matter, one that should have the immediate attention of our decision makers.

Cassandra Honorat

June 17, 2012