By M. Skye Holly
This past week in Cuba, an unprecedented event was pioneered to honor Haiti and Haitian culture. A Week of Haitian Culture was introduced to highlight the Haitian Revolution and its impact on the nation of Cuba and around the world. Activities commenced on Jan. 23 and continued through Jan. 30.
Geri Benoit, Ambassador of Haiti to Cuba announced the celebration: “A week devoted to the culture of Haiti and to 213th anniversary of the triumph of the Haitian Revolution, will take place for the first time in Havana,” Benoit said.
“I don’t recall any programs of this kind before,” said Dr. Lisandro Pérez, Professor and Chair of the Department of Latin American and Latina/o Studies at John Jay College of the City University of New York. “I’m glad to see that this is taking place.”
The week’s activities will include art exhibitions featuring artifacts, paintings, photographs and sculptures from Port-au-Prince at San Geronimo College. Screenings of Haitian documentary films, such as “Port-au-Prince is Mine” and “From Kiskeya to Haiti, Where Did Our Trees Go?” were held at Havana’s Multicine Infanta. Floral wreaths were presented in honor of Toussaint Louverture and Alexandre Pétion, the founding fathers of Haiti. Wreaths were also presented in honor of José Martí, the Cuban Revolutionary hero who made a visit to Cap-Haitien during Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain. Martí’s writings and efforts for independence were largely influenced by the Haitian Revolution.
“There hasn’t been enough recognition in the Cuban consciousness, as far as Haiti is concerned,” Dr. Pérez said. “There are linked histories.”
“The Haitian Revolution, specifically, had a tremendous impact on Cuba. One of the most significant results led to the development of Cuba’s sugar revolution,” Dr. Pérez said.
He pointed out that Cuba’s Haitian Culture Week could “also serve to heal historical wounds” associated with the sugar trade and the influx of Haitian workers that were brought to Cuba in 1898 to cut sugar cane and later sent back to Haiti when they were no longer needed. “This is the kind of event that could change that,” said Pérez.
Haitian Culture Week included a concert of Haitian music featuring the National Choir of Cuba at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Havana.
“For a very long time, this hasn’t happened…obviously, for political reasons,” Dr. Pérez said. “This is a great opening.”