Reproducing Inequities: Poverty and the Politics of Population in Haiti

By M. Catherine Matemowska | Go to book overview

1
Introduction
When Pigs Feasted and People Starved

Menm solèy la nan detrès
(Even the sun is in distress).

–Yolette, Cité Soleil resident, 1993

Ivoute Nationale #I is Haiti's major thoroughfare. It runs north and south through the capital of Port-au-Prince, directly past the entrance to Cité Soleil, a slum community in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. Inevitably, traffic backs up for miles on the two-lane road. Exhaust fumes, the incessant noise of huge semis, the suffocating heat, and the smells of squalor make this ride an uncomfortable one. Yet every day, thousands endure it, packed tightly into dilapidated Peugeot station wagons and trucks composed of spare parts. The passengers, many of them residents of Cité Soleil, are displaced peasants going to and from their work within a harsh urban setting, working in construction, selling in the markets, or serving, sunrise to sunset, in the homes of the rich. A market vendor is lucky if her daily wage is US$I, and domestics earn an average of less than US$20 monthly. A single ride along the route costs 20 cents, a fare out of reach for the thousands more who must travel by foot in the filthy roadside ditches.

Above this struggling slow tide of humans and vehicles are brightly colored billboards. They advertise things the poor enjoy only in their dreams: Barbancourt Rum, American Airlines weekend getaways to Miami, the ATM machines at the newest Sogebank branch, or the expected opening of Hilton d'Haiti, Haiti's first international hotel chain. Nearly all of this promotion is written in French, the language of the ruling elite, a language most Haitians do not speak. Of Haiti's population, 90 percent speak only Haitian Creole and of those, less than 40 percent can read. For years, though, there was one billboard purportedly designed for poor women. It promoted Minigynon, a low-dose birth-control pill. The graphics depicted a silhouette profile of a woman's head. Her nose was that of a Caucasian, pert and upturned. A tiny pill, held between her delicate fingers, was ready to drop into her expectantly open mouth. The message read: ”Minigynon—think of it every day.” The message was in French.

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