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Date : 17th November, 2017
Time : 55’ 02”
Number of runners : 7
Total distance run to date : 1300 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2342396681
“You can’t run round Port-au Prince at night time you poor, deluded idiot.”
That was the stark message from the UK’s Charge d’Affaires in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti.
OK, since Caroline is a diplomat (and a very nice one at that as I subsequently discovered), she didn’t put it quite like that. But I wouldn’t have blamed her if that’s how she felt. There she is, trying to look after the UK’s humanitarian and other interests in Haiti, when some mad Brit shows up on her doorstep looking for somewhere to run…
From afar, my impression has always been that Haiti has had far more than its fair share of tough times. Its always ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world ; it suffered enormously under the brutal regimes of ‘Papa Doc’ and ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier and their very scary Tontons Macoutes ;
and it periodically gets hammered by natural disasters such as the massive earthquake in 2010, which hit Port au Prince (below) very hard,
hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the current cholera epidemic (which was apparently introduced to Haiti by UN peacekeepers from Nepal.)
So Caroline’s advice wasn’t a complete surprise. But it did leave me with a problem. Flight times meant that I was going to have to run at night (we did try to arrange it otherwise..) and there didn’t seem to be a sensible way forward. I was beginning to think I might be running around the hotel lobby when Caroline came up with the solution. She’d spoken to Vivian at the US Embassy and they’d very kindly agreed that I could run round their compound.
Hence I ended up being driven down the main road straight from the airport to the US embassy. Since this was about the only bit of Port au Prince I really saw in the daylight, it’s probably worth describing in a bit of detail. The road was clogged to a visibly polluting standstill, the pavements were even busier and the whole thing seemed like a hellish version of a London commute (and that’s saying something…). Except for one small detail. Lots of the people milling around were smiling, chatting and laughing. Which you don’t often see during the London rush hour – and which probably says a lot about the Haitian spirit.
Vivian met me at the embassy entrance, walked me through security and introduced me to the rest of that evening’s running team.
There were seven of us in total including Tyler who is a budding young footballer (soccer player). With his best interests at heart, I taught him that, if anyone asks who you support, you should always say ‘Tottenham Hotspur’*. For those who feel this was questionable behaviour, I would point out that Kevin, one of my fellow runners, supports Sunderland because one of his friends told him it was a good idea. In comparison, I feel confident that I did the righteous thing. (Admittedly, it will be interesting to get Tyler’s view on this in about ten years’ time.)
I’m not going to describe the embassy compound in any detail in case there are any security implications but, suffice it to say, that, if you saw it, you would be in no doubt as to the identity of the regional superpower. No other country comes close to having a similar presence in this part of the world. Which, and this may not have been front of mind when they designed the compound, has the happy side-effect that, should you be attempting to run 10km in every country in the world, then you could run your Haitian 10k here.
One lap round the compound is approximately 0.7km – as long as you run up that ramp at the back where you get half a second of AC leaking out of a warehouse. (My favourite bit as, while the evening wasn’t hot, it was very humid.)
After 14 ½ laps we were able to call it a day, wring an extraordinary amount of liquid out of our tops (did I mention that it was humid?) and pose with our respective flags.
Thank you Vivian and the US Embassy for letting me run in the compound. Enormously appreciated. And thank you Caroline for arranging the run and for dinner afterwards. I quite literally couldn’t have it without both of you. And thank you Tyler, and everyone who ran, for the warm welcome and the company.
As a postscript, and comment on the local security situation, I was chatting to the driver the next morning as we drove to the airport at oh dawn thirty. We got onto the remarkably expensive cost of the hotel shuttle. At which stage the driver turned to me and said, “You think this is expensive because you think this is a taxi service. But it’s not. Je suis un garde du corps. Et je suis armé” (“I’m a bodyguard. And I’m armed.”) Put that like that, it did all seem quite reasonable…
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*Tottenham Hotspur are an English football (soccer) side and “by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen” (as the song goes).
Facts & Stats
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.
Haiti is a sovereign state located on the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles archipelago of the Caribbean Sea. It occupies the western three-eighths of the island, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti is 27,750 square kilometres (10,714 sq mi) in size and has an estimated 10.8 million people,] making it the most populous country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the second-most populous country in the Caribbean as a whole.
The region was originally inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people. Spain discovered the island on 5 December 1492 during the first voyage of Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic. When Columbus initially landed in Haiti, he had thought he had found India or Asia. On Christmas Day 1492, Columbus’ flagship the Santa Maria ran aground north of what is now Limonade. As a consequence, Columbus ordered his men to salvage what they could from the ship, and he created the first European settlement in the Americas, naming it La Navidad after the day the ship was destroyed.
The island was named La Española and claimed by Spain, which ruled until the early 17th century. Competing claims and settlements by the French led to the western portion of the island being ceded to France, which named it Saint-Domingue. Sugarcane plantations, worked by slaves brought from Africa, were established by colonists.
In the midst of the French Revolution (1789–1799), slaves and free people of colour revolted in the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), culminating in the abolition of slavery and the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s army at the Battle of Vertières. Afterward the sovereign nation of Haiti was established on 1 January 1804 – the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, and the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave revolt. The rebellion that began in 1791 was led by a former slave and the first black general of the French Army, Toussaint Louverture, whose military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of slaves into an independent country. Upon his death in a prison in France, he was succeeded by his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared Haiti’s sovereignty and later became the first Emperor of Haiti, Jacques I. The Haitian Revolution lasted just over a dozen years; and apart from Alexandre Pétion, the first President of the Republic, all the first leaders of government were former slaves.
It has the lowest Human Development Index in the Americas. Most recently, in February 2004, a coup d’état originating in the north of the country forced the resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A provisional government took control with security provided by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
After a period of disorder, in September 1957 Dr. François Duvalier was elected President of Haiti. Known as “Papa Doc” and initially popular, Duvalier was President until his death in 1971. He advanced black interests in the public sector, where over time people of color had predominated as the educated urban elite. He stayed in power by enlisting an organization known as Tontons Macoutes (“Bogeymen”), which maintained order by terrorizing the populace and political opponents. 40,000 to 60,000 Haitians are estimated to have been killed during the reign of the Duvalier father and son.
Haiti’s brief tourism boom was wiped out by the rule of Papa Doc Duvalier and his unstable government. When his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier succeeded him as President for Life, tourism returned in the 1970s. Vive la différence has long been Haiti’s national tourism slogan and its proximity to the United States made Haiti a hot attraction until the Duvalier regime was ousted in 1986.
Papa Doc’s son Jean-Claude Duvalier – also known as “Baby Doc” – led the country from 1971 until his ouster in 1986, when protests led him to seek exile in France. Army leader General Henri Namphy headed a new National Governing Council. General elections in November were aborted after dozens of inhabitants were shot in the capital by soldiers and Tontons Macoutes. Fraudulent elections followed. The elected President, Leslie Manigat, was overthrown some months later in the June 1988 Haitian coup d’état. The September 1988 Haitian coup d’état, which followed the St Jean Bosco massacre, revealed the increasing prominence of former Tontons Macoutes. General Prosper Avril led a military regime until March 1990.
In December 1990, a former Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected President in the Haitian general election. In September of the following year, Aristide was overthrown by the military in the 1991 Haitian coup d’état. In 1994, a U.S. team negotiated the departure of Haiti’s military leaders and the peaceful entry of U.S. forces under Operation Uphold Democracy. This enabled the restoration of the democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. In October 1994, Aristide returned to Haiti to complete his term in office. Aristide vacated the presidency in February 1996. In the 1995 election, René Préval was elected as president for a five-year term, winning 88% of the popular vote.
In November 1994, Hurricane Gordon brushed Haiti, dumping heavy rain and creating flash flooding that triggered mudslides. Gordon killed an estimated 1,122 people, although some estimates go as high as 2,200.
The November 2000 election returned Aristide to the presidency with 92% of the vote. The election had been boycotted by the opposition, then organized into the Convergence Démocratique, over a dispute in the May legislative elections. In subsequent years, there was increasing violence and human rights abuses. Aristide spent years negotiating with the Convergence Démocratique on new elections, but the Convergence’s inability to develop a sufficient electoral base made elections unattractive.
In 2004, a revolt began in northern Haiti. The rebellion eventually reached the capital, and Aristide was forced into exile, after which the United Nations stationed peacekeepers in Haiti. Some, including Aristide and his bodyguard, Franz Gabriel, stated that he was the victim of a “new coup d’état or modern kidnapping” by U.S. forces. Mrs. Aristide stated that the kidnappers wore U.S. Special Forces uniforms, but changed into civilian clothes upon boarding the aircraft that was used to remove Aristide from Haiti. The United Nations Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) was established after the 2004 coup d’état and remains in the country to the present day. Boniface Alexandre assumed interim authority. René Préval was elected President in February 2006, following elections marked by uncertainties and popular demonstrations.
In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne skimmed the north coast of Haiti, leaving 3,006 people dead in flooding and mudslides, mostly in the city of Gonaïves.In 2008 Haiti was again struck by tropical storms; Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike all produced heavy winds and rain. There were 331 dead and about 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid[ The state of affairs produced by these storms was intensified by already high food and fuel prices that had caused a food crisis and political unrest in April 2008.
On 12 January 2010, at 4:53pm local time, Haiti was struck by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake. This was the country’s most severe earthquake in over 200 years The 2010 Haiti earthquake was reported to have left up to 316,000 people dead and 1.6 million homeless, though later reports found these numbers to have been grossly inflated, and put the death toll between 46,000 and 85,000. The country has yet to recover from the 2010 earthquake and a subsequent and massive Haiti cholera outbreakthat was triggered when cholera-infected waste from a MINUSTAH peacekeeping station contaminated the country’s main river, the Artibonite. The country has yet to fully recover, due to both the severity of the damage Haiti endured in 2010, as well as a government that was ineffective well before the earthquake.
General elections had been planned for January 2010 but were postponed due to the earthquake. The elections were held on 28 November 2010 for the senate, the parliament and the first round of the presidential elections. The run-off between Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat took place on 20 March 2011, and preliminary results, released on 4 April, named Michel Martelly the winner. On 7 February 2016, Michel Martelly stepped down as president without a successor, but only after a deal was reached for a provisional government and leaving Prime Minister Evans Paul in power “until an interim president is chosen by both chambers of Parliament.”
In 2013, Haiti called for European nations to pay reparations for slavery and establish an official commission for the settlement of past wrongdoings. The Economist wrote, “Any assistance to the region should be carefully targeted; and should surely stem from today’s needs, not the wrongs of the past.” The topic, however, has more than a passing reference to a country that, as Lord Anthony Gifford wrote, “was forced to pay compensation to the government of France.”
On 4 October 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall near Les Anglais, making it the worst hurricane to strike the nation since Hurricane Cleo in 1964. The storm brought deadly winds and rain which left Haiti with a large amount of damage to be repaired. With all of the resources in the country destroyed, Haiti received aid from the United Nations of around US$120 million. The death total was approximately 3,000. Thousands of people were displaced due to damage to infrastructure. Also, the cholera outbreak has been growing since the storm hit Haiti. With additional flooding after the storm, cholera continued to spread beyond the control of officials. The storm also caused damage to hospitals and roads which created a larger problem in helping victims and moving resources. The devastation and damage that Hurricane Matthew caused was unpredictable and left Haiti in a state of emergency.
World Bank Data
Here’s the latest World Bank data for Haiti – with the year 2000 as a comparison.
GDP $8.02 bn 2016 $3.95 bn 2000
Population 10.85 m 2016 8.55 m 2000
Primary school enrolment* NA 112 % 1998
CO2 Emissions** 0.27 2014 0.16 2000
% below poverty line*** 58.5% 2012 NA
Life expectancy at birth 63.0 yrs 2015 57.7 yrs 2000
GNI per capita $780 2016 $470 2000
*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students
** Metric tons per capita
***The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)
Greatest Sporting Nation Data
Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Haiti performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:
Global Cup – 131st
Per Capita Cup – NA
The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive annual ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce an annual per capita ranking.