2010: The Year of the Haitian Tragedy

1/20/2010 – Daaim Shabazz met the Haitian chess team at the 2006 Olympiad – a genuine and enthusiastic group. They missed the Olympiad in 2008 because of a series of hurricanes. The country had a small, but thriving chess community before the earthquake struck. Since then Daaim has been unable to make contact with anyone in the Haitian chess community. An appeal for assistance.

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2010: The Year of the Haitian Tragedy

By Dr. Daaim Shabazz

 “Ou we sa ou genyen, ou pa konn sa ou rete.”
You know what you've got, but you don't know what's coming. –
Haitian Proverb

As the day ended on January 12, 2010, Haitians were finishing their daily routines and returning from school, work and preparing for dinner with their families. Unbeknownst to 9.8 million citizens of Haiti, something was brewing underneath the surface and had been waiting to unleash its power for 200 years. At 16:53:10 local time, a massive 7.0 earthquake shook the land of Haiti, and within seconds turned the capitol city into massacre of death. It is projected that the disaster would claim an estimated 100,000-200,000 lives. Despite temblors in recent years, no one could have predicted the enormity of this disaster.

The land of Haiti was once a land of lush pastures, mangrove forests and river valleys. A favorite subject of 15th century history, Haiti sits on the western side of the island of “Hispanola” which it shares with the Dominican Republic. The nation’s rich history that is highlighted by its battles with Spain, British and France and its successful slave revolt which led it to its independence as the Republic of Haiti in 1804. Since its independence, economic and political instability have hindered its ability to become a prosperous nation. Moreover, it has created an impoverished economic landscape. It is deemed the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and among the lowest on many social indices.

Despite these misfortunes, Haitians are generally optimistic and have worked to improve the quality of life not only materially, but socially. In a vibrant social culture with the Creole language, Kompas music and eclectic cuisine, Haitians happily relish their social interactions. One of the social outlets having been reignited is chess. The nation first participated in the Dubai Olympiad in 1986 and according to olimpbase.org, has competed a total of six times (1986, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1996, 2006). The nation broke a 10-year hiatus when they traveled to Turin Olympiad in 2006. They were full of spirit, ambition and it was apparent that they were enthusiastic about returning to the international stage.

Donning their distinctive Haitian caps, they were part of the photo of the opening ceremonies with the Italian team and seemed to bask in a bit of glory. Led by National Champion Piersont Lebrun and top scorer Jozy Bazile (8½/13), the Haitians ended on 21½ points (+3 =4 -6). While this was a modest showing, it provided them momentum for rebuilding their confidence and to make progress as an active federation. During the Olympiad, I introduced myself to Lebrun and told him, “My Creole is a bit rusty.” Lebrun broke into a smile. Of course, I spoke none of the indigenous language, but we did exchange a few words of French. He later introduced me to the rest of the team during an analysis session. The interaction was pleasant.

By 2008, the Haitian chess community was making steady progress and in January, the Haitian Chess Federation had launched Academie d’Echecs, a non-profit initiative to promote chess in the schools. From the academy’s website, they appeared to be very active and the programs they had organized seemed to be gaining support. Sabine Bonnet, the President of the academy, had worked tirelessly to promote chess in Haiti. According to Adia Onyango, a chess promoter in New York,

I met her while playing in the North American Open in 2008. She traveled from Haiti to play in tournaments in the US at least two times because of her love of the game. Her organization, The Chess Academy, is based in Port-au-Prince and started in January 2008 for the promotion and teaching of the game of chess in Haiti.

 Looking at the pictures it is obvious that chess was beginning to take hold on the island. The Academy had secured a sponsor and was staging several tournaments both in Haiti and also participating in activities in the Dominican Republic. In 2008, the Haitian team had planned to send a delegation to the Olympiad in Dresden, but a series of hurricanes rendered that impossible. Eight-hundred people were killed and the island was ravaged. Despite the devastation, the Haiti chess community pressed on and continued developing programs.

In December 2009, the country held its National Championship and crowned Mondoly Sanon as the National Champion after his undefeated performance of 7½/9 among ten finalists. He was poised to be the top board for the Haitian side in the 2010 Olympiad in Siberia. Just weeks after the championship, the earthquake devastated the capitol of Port au Prince, a densely-populated city of one million. The media images of Haiti have been horrific. We have seen death and destruction in the streets and the most pitiful sight of mangled and bloated bodies left by the devastating earthquake. Assistance has poured in from around the world, but logistical challenges are hampering efforts.


Haitian player Valery Afriany

Thus far, no word has been heard from any of the Haitian chess players. The amount of damage done to Haiti will take generations to repair. Thus far, several sports organizations and Olympic committees have pledged moral support. FIFA President Joseph Blatter also released a statement of moral support. It is my hope that organizers, players and officials from around the world will show some solidarity in supporting relief efforts of a devastated nation. This is not a political conflict, religious, ethnic or class war, but a battle between the earth’s natural forces. Who knows where the next battle will be fought?

The Haitian National Palace (Presidential Palace), located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, heavily damaged after the earthquake. Note: this was originally a two-story structure; the second story completely collapsed. Photo: United Nations Development Programme. There are some truly stunning photos of the devastation from the earthquake on the following page: Haiti from above.

The Haitian national anthem speaks of the Haitians being urged on by their ancestors to fight a valiant battle without the fear of death. It urges, “Our past cries out to us: Have a disciplined soul!” The ultimate battle that remains for Haitians may be survival, but we hope their strong resolve will result in a stronger nation. The chess community will be waiting for their return!

Please donate to any of your favorites charities around the world. Organizations such as UNICEF have also set up a fund. Google “haiti earthquake fund" and choose from a variety of organizations to which you can contribute.

Two games by Haitian players

Mohd Omar,Ak Hirawa (BRU) (2335) - Sanon,Mondoly (HAI) [B34]
Turin ol (Men) 37th Turin (8), 29.05.2006 [Shabazz,Daaim]
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 d6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Qd4 Nf6 8.e5 dxe5 9.Qxe5 Bg7 10.Be3 0-0 11.Qc5 Qd6 12.Qxd6 exd6 13.0-0-0 d5 14.f3 Be6 15.Na4 Nd7 16.Ba6 Rab8 17.Rhe1 Nb6 18.Nc5 Bc8 19.b3 Bxa6 20.Nxa6 Rbc8 21.Bc5 Rfe8 22.Kd2 Bf8 23.Kd3 Bxc5 24.Nxc5 Kf8 25.Kd4 Rxe1 26.Rxe1 Re8 27.Rxe8+ Kxe8 28.Nd3 Nd7 29.b4 Ke7 30.b5 Kd6 31.bxc6 Nb8 32.Nb4 Nxc6+ 33.Nxc6 Kxc6

34.Ke5 f5 35.h4 [35.f4] 35...Kc5 36.g4 fxg4 37.fxg4 Kc4 38.h5 gxh5 39.gxh5 d4 40.h6 Kc3 41.Kd5 a5 42.a4 Kxc2 43.Kxd4 Kb3 44.Ke5 Kxa4 45.Kf6 Kb3 46.Kg7 a4 47.Kxh7 a3 48.Kg8 ½-½.

Bazile,Jocelyn - Silveirinha,Jose Antonio C (2200) [B13]
Yerevan ol (Men) Yerevan (11), 1996 [Shabazz,Daaim]
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Ne2 Bg4 6.f3 Bh5 7.Nf4 Bg6 8.Nc3 e6 9.Nce2 Bd6 10.c3 0-0 11.Bxg6 hxg6 12.0-0 Qc7 13.g3 Nc6 14.Nd3 b5 15.Bf4 Nd7 16.Bxd6 Qxd6 17.f4 b4 18.Ne5 bxc3 19.bxc3 Nb6 20.Rf3 Ne7 21.Qe1 Rac8 22.h4 Rc7 23.g4 f6 24.Nd3 Na4 25.Qd2 Rfc8 26.Rc1 Qa3 27.Ne1 Rc4 28.Ng2 Rb8 29.Rc2 Rb1+ 30.Rf1 Rxf1+ 31.Kxf1 Rc6 32.Ne1 Nc8 33.Qd3 Nd6 34.Qxg6 Nxc3 35.h5 Kf8 36.h6 gxh6 37.Qxh6+ Ke8 38.g5 Nf5 39.Qg6+ Kd7 40.Qf7+ Kc8

41.Rxc3! Ne3+ 42.Rxe3 Qxe3 43.Qh5 fxg5 44.fxg5 Kb7 45.g6 e5 46.g7 Rf6+ 47.Nf3 Rxf3+ 48.Ke1 Qf2+ 49.Kd1 Rd3+ 50.Kc2 Rf3 51.Qxe5 Re3 52.Qxd5+ Kb6 53.Qc5+ Ka6 54.Qc4+ Kb6 55.g8Q Rxe2+ 56.Kb3 Rb2+ 57.Ka3 1-0.

About the author

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, where he teaches international business. He has served the journalist community for 20 years (including a short stint with Sports Illustrated in New York) and is a member of Chess Journalists of America.


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