Four Feet High
The ĎWhat Ifsí Of Hurricane Fiona
By Chris Oakley
(Adapted from material originally posted at the Alternatehistory.com message boards)
Summary: In the first three parts of this series, we recapped the actual sequence of events regarding Hurricane Fiona, then sketched out possible alternative scenarios for how things might have been different if A)Evan Hidalgo had managed to avoid the video scandal that ultimately wrecked his political career; B) the hurricane had made landfall in southern Florida as it had originally been predicted to do; or C)the Galveston fire and police departments had had better communications equipment at the time Fiona struck. In this chapter weíll discuss how the course of the past few decades in Haiti might have been altered if the storm had spared that island nation.
Bad luck often seems to be part of the very air that Haitians breathe, and seldom in the past five-odd decades has that been more apparent than when Hurricane Fiona rampaged through Haiti in June of 2028 on the way to blazing its now-infamous trail of destruction through Texas. What little stability the Haitian government had been able to achieve in the early 2020s was effective wiped out by the storm, and to this day the island country still finds itself in a state of near-total anarchy, causing untold political headaches for its neighbors in the Caribbean and an intensifying of the debate in the United States over illegal immigration.
But before we deal with the might-have-beens of Fionaís effects (or lack thereof) on Haiti, some background is in order regarding the actual state of affairs in that country at the time the hurricane struck. Since 2025, Haiti had been under the quasi-monarchic rule of Jean-Michel Chevalier, an ex-radio commentator who directed a mostly authoritarian regime that for some Haitians bore an uncomfortably close resemblance to the Duvalier tyranny of the late 20th century.
Many Haitians, in fact, were openly and violently rebelling against Chevalier by the time Hurricane Fiona made landfall on the islandís shores. Western tourists had been evacuating Haiti in droves even before the storm, an evacuation whose pace quickened after Prime Minister Chevalier was nearly killed in an assassination attempt directed by one of his own generals. Many of Chevalierís fellow Haitians had also fled the country, most emigrating to either the United States or to other Caribbean nations whose governments were more democratic than the regime in Port-au-Prince.
When Fiona hit, Chevalier was about to launch a sweeping crackdown on all opposition groups in Haiti; the hurricane, however, wrecked the island from one end to the other and effectively cut Chevalierís autocracy off at the knees. By June of 2029 he and most of his cohorts were scattered to the four winds-- those who hadnít followed Chevalierís own example and fled into exile were dead, in prison, or running their own personal fiefdoms in Haitiís smaller towns. To this day Haiti is still locked in the grip of almost perpetual civil war, with dozens of factions fighting each other and frustrating outside efforts to bring peace to the troubled island.
Yet as bad as this sounds, the situation might easily have been even worse. Such at least is the view of York University political science professor Serge Dumont, who since the late 2010s has been recognized as an expert in the complexities of Caribbean politics. In his view, Fiona, for all the death and destruction it caused, was a boon for the Haitian people in that it prevented Chevalier from making his dictatorial grip on Haiti tighter than it already was. While he acknowledges this viewpoint is controversial, he doesnít back down from it; in fact, defending this idea has made him a media superstar in Canada and one of the most recognizable citizens of York Universityís hometown, Toronto.
"The thing you need to remember," Prof. Dumont states, "is that Chevalier was an admirer of all the old-time dictators-- Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, and so on. He studied their life histories and their political careers down to the smallest detail because he wanted to have their kind of absolute power for himself. If Fiona hadnít wiped the slate clean, so to speak, he might yet have been able to pull it off."
Not surprisingly, Dumontís views are vehemently disputed. One of the most vocal critics of his take on post-Fiona Haiti is one of his York University colleagues, Prof. Jeanette McArdle, who feels Dumontís perspective is unduly ghoulish and pessimistic. She also sees a touch of racism in Dumontís take on post-Fiona Haiti: "He (Prof. Dumont) has an unfortunate habit of underestimating the capabilities and resiliency of the Caribbean peoples...Thereís no guarantee that Chevalierís efforts at creating a totalitarian regime couldnít have been undone in due time. Had it not been for Hurricane Fiona, in fact, I think we might have had a democratic government in Haiti by now."
Chevalier himself has made no comment either way on the subject; in fact, little has been heard from him on any topic in the years since he fled Port-au-Prince one step ahead of a rampaging mob bent on hanging him for his abuses of power. Like the zombies that are part of his homelandís folklore, the once-dreaded autocrat walks about in a catatonic state much of the time, not seeming to see or hear whatís going on around him. Thus, it is left to the surviving members of his inner circle-- at least those who are still at liberty to speak --to hint at what his opinions might be on the topic of democracy in post-Fiona Haiti. One such confidant is his former army chief of staff General Henri-Christophe Cedras, who has known Chevalier since the early 1990s and was among those that opted to accompany him into exile.
General Cedras is openly contemptuous of the notion that anything other than Hurricane Fiona could have toppled Chevalier from office. "He was and is the greatest man in Haiti in 30 years!" the general bluntly declares. "Those who stood against him were not fit to lick his boots, much less take the government away from him!" He also disdains the idea that Chevalierís brand of governing may have been just a bit too harsh for the Haitian people: "Our country needs a stong guiding hand if it is ever to prosper."
One might be inclined to question how Chevalier could help anything prosper, given that on his watch Haitiís status as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere was reinforced and national unemployment figures usually averaged between 80 and 85 percent-- before Fiona struck. But in Cedrasí eyes, the deposed ex-prime minister can do no wrong; his worship of Chevalier eerily reminds one of Joseph Goebbelsí adoration of Adolf Hitler.
The most enduring monument to Chevalierís tenure as ruler of Haiti, other than perpetual civil strife and an economy some fear may be damaged beyond repair, is an ostentatious bronze statue of the deposed prime minister in the heart of Port-au-Prince. Erected in the cityís main square four months before Hurricane Fiona struck, it was left almost completely untouched by the storm and has since resisted countless attempts to deface it or remove it from its pedestal. Some in Haiti believe the statue is protected by dark supernatural forces; others think the would-be vandals just arenít trying hard enough. But whatever the explanation for the statueís endurance, it is a fitting symbol of the hold Chevalier still has on the Haitian national psyche.
Much of the damage Fiona inflicted on Haiti en route to her subsequent rampages in Cuba and Texas has never been repaired, and some fear it never will be. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have fled the country in the years since the storm, trying to find new lives in more prosperous and less bullet-ridden locales. Haiti has gone through a revolving door of leaders since the collapse of the Chevalier regime; none has been able to remain in office for more than two months-- one, in fact, was ousted less than 36 hours after being sworn in.
In the next chapter of our series, weíll look at the question of whether New Orleans, a victim of the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Odetta twelve years later, could have stood up under Fionaís assaults.
To Be Continued