Raché Manyok Bay Té-A Blanche: Deforestation in Haiti and the Power of an Image

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Media representations perpetuate stereotyped images of Haiti and Haitians. Such expressions typically emphasize extreme poverty, mismanagement, exploitation, hopelessness, and also environmental degradation. The environmental image of Haiti is that it is massively deforested, and the connection of deforestation to poverty and other problems has been captured in an iconic aerial photograph of the Haitian and Dominican Republic (DR) border. First appearing in National Geographic in 1987 and replicated since in various sources, the image displays a stark contrast between the tropical lushness of the DR and a desert-like Haiti, stripped of its vegetation. The stark image in effect dichotomizes a supposedly dysfunctional Haiti with a normally-functioning DR. This study analyzes the “mythologies” that are reinforced by the photo and the discourse surrounding it, which produces an accepted story of the way Haiti “is.” Going beyond such stereotypes, the study considers ways of rewriting such depictions to account for greater complexity.

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