The Director-General began her official visit to Haiti on 16 September by visiting the Citadel Henri Christophe, the iconic site of the quest for freedom of this country, which gained its independence in 1804 after 14 years of struggle led by the black slaves, and about which the poet Aime Césaire wrote: “For these people brought to their knees, a monument was needed to make them stand”.
This was the first time in the past 30 years that a Director-General had visited the site, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982 and comprising, in addition to the Citadel - which rises like the prow of a ship more than 970 metres high – the majestic Palace of Sans Souci and the buildings at Ramiers.
Accompanied by the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti, Ms Sandra Honoré, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Haiti, and Her Excellency Vanessa Matignon, Ambassador of Haiti to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, the Director-General acknowledged the challenges of safeguarding a site that is difficult to access and threatened by damp, water seepage, erosion and wild tropical vegetation. The engineer in charge of the monument, Jean-Hérold Pérard, pointed out, for example, the struts supporting a number of cracked arches, which had taken more than ten months to put up. “We work towards transmitting knowledge and skills. That is why we train young apprentices in building restoration – how to manufacture bricks and tiles, carpentry, lime rendering and whitewash – using traditional methods.”
The challenge here is also to promote a place that is steeped in history and culture. For Ms Monique Rocourt, Director-General of the Haitian Institute of National Heritage Preservation, “the Citadel is a landmark where visitors can remember and ask questions about why, how and where we are going.” The site’s development is included in the overall effort to rebuild the country following the earthquake of January 2010, which cost the lives of more than 250,000 people. The results are already visible: a multimedia room, toilets, signposting, preliminary rehabilitation of the officers’ quarters, a scale model of the site and wooden kiosks selling local crafts such as paintings, masks, sculptures, necklaces and wickerwork.
UNESCO is involved in each stage of this gigantic project, from the assessment of the structure to the training of experts, guides and custodians as well as the restoration and development work. The Director-General commended the determination of the authorities to protect and share the universal value of this site.
“We must preserve this heritage and the outstanding universal value of this park that is so important for the dignity, identity and future of the Haitian people”, said Ms Bokova, welcoming the efforts of all stakeholders – especially the commitment of the mayors of Milot and Dindon, municipalities located within the National History Park – and highlighting the involvement of local communities and the importance of establishing a sustainable management plan.
On the return journey, Ms Bokova and her delegation visited the Henri Christophe Campus at Limonade, funded by donations from the Dominican Republic following the earthquake of 2010. The Campus, which is part of the State University of Haiti, aspires to become a centre of excellence of the northern region, which is undergoing economic revitalization.
Welcomed by Professor Jean-Marie Théodat, the Director-General said that “owing to its position at the heart of the Caribbean and the quality of its infrastructure, the campus could become a platform for cultural, scientific and technological exchange in the region”, and that UNESCO would make available the network of its Chairs and institutes in order to strengthen cooperation and accelerate knowledge sharing.
Back in Port-au-Prince, the Director-General met eminent persons in the world of culture at the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien (MUPANAH), where she took the opportunity to reaffirm UNESCO’s commitment to Haiti in order to harness the potential of culture, cultural industries and creativity to accelerate the country’s recovery and development.