The Republic of Haiti is the first black independent nation in the world and has consistently fought to abolish slavery, gain fundamental freedom, and achieve racial equality. Its relationship with Japan spans nearly 100 years. In the future Haiti will devote efforts to industry and tourism that leverage its rich natural resources; it is also working to achieve economic growth. Toshio Motoya spoke with Chargé d’Affaires Ad Interim Judith Exavier about Haiti’s tumultuous history and future prospects.
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You have also attended my wine gathering and Shoheijuku school. It is well known that a major earthquake struck the Republic of Haiti in 2010, and the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) were dispatched for peacekeeping operations. However, there are still many Japanese people who don’t know very much about the country of Haiti. Today, I hope you will start by sharing some basic information.
Exavier Thank you for inviting me. Opportunities like this are precious to the Republic of Haiti, and I look forward to speaking with you.
Motoya Firstly, where is Haiti located?
Exavier The Republic of Haiti is located on the west side of Hispaniola, an island in the Caribbean Sea. The Dominican Republic is on the east side of the island. Haiti is to the southeast of the United States, and Cuba and Jamaica are to the west of Haiti. Haiti has an area of roughly 27,000 square kilometers.
Motoya That’s right between Shikoku and Kyushu.
Exavier Yes. Haiti is the third-largest nation in the Caribbean after Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It boasts beautiful coastlines spanning 900 kilometers. Because of this beauty, Haiti is also called the “Pearl of the Caribbean.”
Motoya I have been to Cuba and the Bahamas in the Caribbean several times, where I enjoyed activities like scuba diving and trolling for mahi-mahi. My impression was that the ocean was very beautiful, including the coral reefs. I also met with former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Exavier That’s great, although it’s too bad you came to the Caribbean without visiting Haiti! Haiti is a popular diving spot that attracts divers from across the world. I definitely hope you will come and will set up a meeting with Michel Martelly, our current president.
Motoya I would love to. How long does it take to fly there from the U.S.?
Exavier It takes 3.5 hours from New York and 1.5 hours from Miami.
Motoya I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando. I also saw the IndyCar Series race at the Daytona speedway.
Exavier Japanese people seem to think that Haiti is very far away, but by airplane it’s quite close to Disney World, which is visited by many Japanese people. Taking a Caribbean cruise from Miami and stopping at Haiti is also popular.
Motoya A cruise sounds like fun. Haiti is a tropical region – is the average temperature high?
Exavier Yes, it is. But it’s comfortable because the elevation is high, there is little humidity, and there are always soft breezes blowing.
Motoya I know that Haiti used to be a French colony. Is French the official language?
Exavier French and Haitian Creole are the two official languages. Haitian Creole was naturally created as people from various countries came to the Caribbean and attempted to communicate with the locals. Spanish, Portuguese, French, American English, and other languages are mixed into the local language. The population of Haiti is approximately 10.5 million people, and nearly 90% of them can speak Haitian Creole.
Motoya So you have two official languages. You are also good at English. Where were you educated?
Exavier I studied at universities in the U.S. and England. I have wanted to become a diplomat since I was very young. In Haiti, many parents hope for their children to become lawyers, doctors, or engineers. But during my early years of elementary school, when a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered “diplomat” instead of those three professions. This was because I was sick of the political situation of my country at that time. In my young mind, I thought that by becoming a diplomat I could change things and make a difference in the people’s lives in Haiti.
Motoya It sounds like you’ve had a solid way of thinking since you were an elementary school student.
Exavier This awareness of mine is closely tied with Haiti’s history, which I will give some information about. Hispaniola, where Haiti is located, was inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people from the pre-Christian era. Christopher Columbus “discovered” Hispaniola in 1492, and the island was conquered by the Spanish afterwards. During this process the Taíno were eradicated by cruel enslavement and infectious diseases brought from Europe. France occupied the western part of the island in the 17th century. The territory of Haiti today was a French colony. The French brought many black people from Africa as slaves to use as a labor force to grow coffee and sugarcane. This produced immense wealth for France. But when the French Revolution broke out in 1789, a vigorous movement for independence was carried out by the black people, and independence from France was declared in 1804.
Motoya It was the first independent nation in Latin America.
Exavier The independent Haiti drove out all of the French and Spanish and ruled the entire island. France sold Louisiana to the U.S. in 1803, which was impacted by Haiti’s independence. At that time, the French economy was highly dependent upon Haiti. For instance, 40% of the coffee circulated in Europe was grown in Haiti. France had to let go of Louisiana because it had lost Haiti. Louisiana became an American territory, and the Creole culture that was cultivated until the 18th century is still alive there today.
Motoya It’s certainly true that Louisiana, including New Orleans, still has a unique culture in terms of food and other elements.
Exavier Although Haiti gained independence, the political situation was not very stable. Symbolizing this instability, a total of 32 coup d’états have taken place from 1804. Another serious issue was the differences between the former French and Spanish territories. There were still many descendants of the black slaves on the west side, while the east side was ruled by the white descendants of Spanish people born on the island. There were also cultural conflicts between the two sides. After many civil wars, the eastern side was broken off from Haiti and became the Dominican Republic in 1844. Even now Haiti and the Dominican Republic don’t get along very well, and Dominicans have the historical awareness that Haiti was colonized. Yet Haiti has never been a colony. In contrast, military and economic assistance was given to Simón Bolívar to help Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador gain independence from Spain.
Motoya All countries experience issues of historical awareness with their neighbors.
Exavier Haiti’s goal was to free the slaves. Assistance was given to Bolívar based on the condition that slaves be freed after independence, so Haiti played an important role in freeing slaves in many Latin American countries. In addition to wars in Latin America, Haiti also participated in the American Revolutionary War. It sent 500 soldiers to Louisiana in 1779, where they fought with the American soldiers against England.
Motoya I suspect that the U.S. gaining independence from England lent courage to other colonies as well. Perhaps the people of many colonies across the world felt the same way as when Japan won the Russo-Japanese War.
Exavier I think so. Haiti’s series of movements towards independence also greatly impacted Africa, which was colonized by the Western powers. Haiti had a thorough stance of being against colonialism and slavery. When Benito Mussolini of Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Haiti criticized this action as being absolutely unacceptable. And when the United Nations was founded in 1945, Haiti participated as one of the original member-nations.
Motoya It sounds like Haiti has worked for racial equality for many years.
Exavier It has. However, after World War II there was an era of terrible government in Haiti. François Duvalier, who became president in 1957, created a dictatorship that lasted for two generations and made the people suffer. Even after his son, President Jean-Claude Duvalier, left Haiti in 1986, multiple coup d’états occurred and the government was still unstable. Roughly 220,000 people died in the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, and the afflicted people totaled one third of the population. But reconstruction has taken place with aid from countries including Japan, and right now the political situation is stable.
Motoya So you became a diplomat due to this history. Is coffee still a major export of Haiti?
Exavier It is, but other agricultural produce is increasing. One example is vetiver, which is in the Poaceae family. The essential oil produced by subjecting the root to steam distillation is used in the world’s highest-grade perfumes. India exports the world’s top amount of vetiver, but Haiti is number two. The diaspora also provides economic support to Haiti.
Motoya What does “diaspora” mean?
Exavier It refers to the Haitians who have immigrated to North America and France for various reasons. Haiti has a population of 10.5 million people, but the Haitian diaspora numbers 4.5 million people. These people have not forgotten Haiti, their home country, so they send money to their relatives and family members and also invest. People say that 52% of Haiti’s GDP depends on its diaspora.
Motoya How much time has passed since you came to Japan? During that time, what are your impressions of Japan’s good points?
Exavier I came to Japan five years ago. My greatest impression during that time is that the Japanese spirit is wonderful. In particular, after the Great East Japan Earthquake I keenly felt a sense of kindness and the feeling of the Japanese people attempting to unite together. Japan also revived itself from ruins after 1945, rebuilt the country, and became the world’s second-largest economic power. In these and other ways, Japan has accomplished things that no one expected. I have great respect for this will and ability to get things done.
Motoya Thank you very much. Japan achieved rapid reconstruction after World War II, became number one throughout the world in the shipbuilding industry in the 1950s, and held the Olympic Games in Tokyo afterwards. Through this process, the citizens joined together and enlivened the nation, accomplishing many great things along the way. Yet Japanese people have a masochistic view regarding their own country. Many people think Japan is home to numerous problems, but in my opinion – as someone who has visited 81 countries across the world – no country is more wonderful than Japan. I have written a book advocating this view, entitled Japan: A Homeland That is Worthy of Pride. I think Japanese people should feel more pride in their nation.
Exavier I agree entirely. One thing I would like to point out is how Japan has continually maintained the Japanese culture even though it temporarily experienced disastrous scenarios, in many senses of the world, especially after World War II. I think that’s a very important point.
Motoya Until the end of the Cold War, it was fine that Japan was only striving to be a major economic power. The U.S. finally won the Cold War by expending massive amounts of blood, sweat, and money. It changed its hypothetical enemy from the Soviet Union to Japan’s economic power because it thought the U.S. would be defeated by Japan in economic warfare if things continued in that way. Meanwhile, the Chinese president changed from Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin at that timing. Jiang Zemin, who had no splendid military or party career in the central government and was the Shanghai Party secretary, became president thanks to the patronage of Deng Xiaoping. But he had a weak foundation of power, so he spread historical falsehoods and bashed Japan – which would not wage a counteroffensive – in order to hold onto political authority. Japan has continually had short-term governments since the Cold War due to pressure from the two major powers of the U.S. and China. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a spectacular speech at a joint session of the U.S. Congress on April 29. I think this is an opportunity for the Abe administration to become a long-term government and for Japan to be revived once again. Abe helped win the bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and I hope he will declare the opening of the games. Did you hear his speech?
Exavier I did not, unfortunately. I was in the U.S. at that time, but the media was devoted to reports on the rioting in Baltimore, which was a conflict stemming from racism.
Motoya Yes, that occurred at the same timing. Abe’s recent speech was wonderful and even inspired 14 standing ovations. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won the Nobel Peace Prize by calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. But this was a performance saying that no more countries will be allowed to have nuclear weapons, not that the U.S. will give up its nuclear arms. He also stated that the U.S. will not be the “policeman of the world” and that he was “disappointed” when Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine. In this way, he has caused chaos across the globe. Yet the Republican Party has a majority in both houses of the U.S. Congress, so many people supported Abe’s speech. As a result, I think this led to standing ovations that even the Democratic congressmen were drawn into. Abe advocated for an “alliance of hope” in his speech. As this name indicates, I think we are at the dawning of a new, correct U.S.-Japan relationship. I feel that Abe has also gained confidence for maintaining his government over a long period of time.
Exavier I also hope that Japan and the U.S. will maintain good relations. My daughter is currently studying in the U.S. but will return to Japan in August. She is not sure what school she will enter afterwards, but is considering Waseda University or Temple University in Japan.
Motoya Is that so? My wife, the president of APA Hotel, completed a doctoral program at Waseda University and is currently a visiting professor at Tokyo International University. I definitely hope your daughter will choose Waseda University (laughs).
Exavier I will tell her (laughs).
Motoya As shown by the expression of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as he sensed the closeness between the U.S. and Japan, during the Japan-China summit meeting in April, China is rapidly changing its attitude and is attempting to cozy up to Japan. Only South Korea presently views Japan as an enemy. South Korea still insists on the historical falsehood that Japan forcibly transported 200,000 women from the Korean Peninsula, even though comfort women were legal according to Japanese laws of that time. Yet the South Korean soldiers committed acts of violence against many local women during the Vietnam War, which people say has resulted in more than 10,000 children of mixed blood known as “Lai Dai Han.” The former Japanese Army, which tried to fight according to international laws to the utmost degree, did not produce many children of mixed blood like that.
Exavier I cannot comment on that issue since I don’t know much about it. However, all countries do have different views regarding history. The important thing is to construct a future based on the past. That’s how progress is accomplished.
Motoya I agree. Because Abe has fully declared his historical awareness, I think there will be developments towards the future in the historical issues related to Japan.
Exavier I hope so. Do you mind if I promote Haiti a little bit? Today, one million tourists from across the world come to Haiti each year. Haiti is implementing various policies to become a tourism-focused nation. It has also invested 300 million dollars to construct the preeminent industrial park in the Caribbean, with the aim of creating 65,000 jobs. South Korean corporations have already expanded into Haiti, resulting in 5,000 jobs. Major hotels are also advancing into Haiti in consideration of future tourism and business demand, including Marriot Hotels, Best Western Premier Hotels, and Hilton Hotels. I would like to tell Japanese people that Haiti is a beautiful country with good future prospects. I hope you will visit to see it for yourself and consider providing business support. After all, Japan and Haiti have had a friendly relationship for a long time since the establishment of the Haitian consulate in Kobe in 1921.
Motoya I understand. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Exavier I have observed young Japanese people for the past five years. Japan is home to wonderful opportunities. I hope that young people will take another look at Japan’s ancient culture, feel pride and confidence in it, and then think about what they should do next.
Motoya Japanese people lack pride because of the educational system, but this is changing due to Abe’s educational reform. This year, The New History Textbook created by the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform and published by Jiyusha – which does not mention the Nanking Massacre – was approved, and I think the circumstances are improving. What hasn’t changed is the existence of three anti-Japanese countries: China, South Korea, and Japan, which is the most anti-Japanese nation of all.
Exavier Various histories exist between all countries, but I think we should interpret these positively and let go of grudges. It’s no good to constantly dwell on the past; being oriented towards the future is important in the truest sense of the world.
Motoya I agree. Thank you for joining me today.
Born in Port-au-Prince (the capital of Haiti). Earned degrees including a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Seton Hall University (the United States) and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Nottingham (England). Is currently a PhD candidate at Waseda University. Exavier traveled all over the world for more than 10 years and worked in international development at private-sector corporations, etc. Afterwards, she entered the diplomacy field and served as a senior diplomat in the Government of Haiti. She became the chargé d’affaires ad interim in Japan in 2011.