Sixteen months after it happened, it is still difficult to grasp the enormity of the earthquake that destroyed Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince. Estimates put the number of people killed in that one long night of horror at some 250,000. Many thousands more now live without limbs that had to be amputated after being crushed by falling rubble. Perhaps 200,000 more have since been living in tents.

But poverty and suffering are nothing new to the brave Haitian people. They have survived the hellish reign of the murderous dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and, later, his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Dulavier. They have lived through the nightmare of one military coup after another, barely existing at lower than subsistence levels. They have had to pay ransom money to France because they dared to fight for their freedom.

And the rich nations of the world, which, today, are clamoring for democracy and financial responsibility and have bombed tyrants who have enslaved their people did nothing to help the Haitians, either economically or politically or militarily.

Even we Americans, alongside whom Haitians fought during the War of Independence, did very little to embrace this black nation a few hundred miles from our shores, while we did everything possible to destabilize another dictatorship, that of Fidel Castro, in Cuba.

Haitians who fled the tyranny of the Duvaliers and sundry military dictators were turned back from our country, while every effort has been made to welcome Cubans in a lopsided kink in our foreign policy that still exists though it harkens back to a day long past, that of the Cold War.

Many Haitians did get into our country as refugees, especially during the humane policies of the Jimmy Carter presidency, and while they have had to cope with outrageous prejudices, even from other black people in America, they have steadily built themselves and their communities. Inspired by what they saw around them and the opportunities available, compared with the harsh realities of life in Haiti, they have themselves professionals, business owners, major sport athletes, succeeded in most avenues open to all Americans.

Haitians have shown us how much the human spirit can endure while repressed and how high it can soar when liberated. The nation’s new president, Mr. Michel Martelly, has that spirit at his side as he takes on the daunting task of nation-building in its truest sense.

It is that spirit that has been celebrated during Haitian Heritage Month, which is drawing to a close, a celebration of Haitians at home and here in South Florida and in the disapora.