Haiti’s spunky attitude towards visitors is on display from the minute they step off the airplane. In the midst of the dizzying frenzy, YourStory advocates are quickly shunted through the airport’s corridors, forced into a line, and charged ten U.S. dollars. As this occurs, black Creole speakers are expedited through check-in and sent right to customs without a charge. Without even asking, the airport staff knows not to charge these folks a tourism fee, because they’re coming home. A brief walk into Haiti’s history is enough to make anyone realize that the small fee may not mean much to you, but to the residents, the gesture means much more.
To understand this tourism fee, the first place to look is the name of the airport. Almost all air traffic arrives in Haiti through Toussaint Louverture International Airport. Toussaint Louverture is a national hero in Haiti, and his attachment to his principles freed his fellow countrymen from foreign invaders. Understanding him is critical to understanding the country.
Toussaint Louverture was born a slave in Haiti, which was then a French colony called Saint Domingue. When a slave revolt rocked the island in 1791, Louverture raised his own army and contributed to the rebellion against the French colonial leaders.
Like the leaders of many smaller countries, Toussaint Louverture was skilled at manipulating the large, powerful empires of the age to advance his own country’s position. He began by utilizing England and Spain to weaken France’s hold on Haiti. After the French abolished slavery and its power over Haiti was diluted, Louverture switched sides and led the Haitians in driving out English and Spanish control. When Napoleon later took power in France, Louverture assured him that he was loyal while simultaneously building an army to fend off Napoleon’s inevitable attempts at reconquest.
History has mixed views of Louverture, but his commitment to the end of slavery in his homeland was anything but ambiguous. He was offered recognition as “King of Haiti” by Britain, but shunned the title because Britain still practiced slavery. Despite his angry and passionate resistance to their rule, he colluded with the French colonizers many times if he truly believed their colonial government would not support slavery.
Toussaint Louverture was later lured to the French colonial officials under peaceful pretenses, captured, and sent to France, where he died. Louverture’s proud defiance of foreign conquerors and commitment to ending slavery would inspire others to carry on the fight, and Haiti became the first independent slave republic in 1804. Louverture would not live to see this victory, and his tragic betrayal at the hands of the French cemented Haitian distrust of foreigners.
Haitians are peaceful, and over time their distrust of foreigners has evolved into something else: pride for their history and their uniqueness. When you step into Toussaint Louverture International Airport, your ten dollar tribute is a polite reminder from Haiti that despite its strife, it has made foreigners submit to its beauty and resilience. Before you experience it for yourself, you’ll have to submit to it, too.