The Haitian crisis (Manno Michel)

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Manno Michel

The Haitian crisis (Manno Michel)

Post by Manno Michel » Wed Dec 31, 2003 4:24 pm


Re: this seemingly neverending crisis which pervades all areas of life in Haiti and sadly enough is corrupting the celebration of our Bicentennial.

From my standpoint, what is happening now is symptomatic of a much deeper crisis which encompasses all aspects of Haitian life. We all know about the myriad problems in Haitian society. It is not my intent to go into all of them. What we are witnessing is the complete failure of a political and intellectual class whose incompetence has come to the fore in a most tragic way. On one hand, you have a Government sometimes trying to assume some responsibilities, sometimes avoiding them, sometimes ignoring them altogether or incapable of assuming them; on the other hand, you have an opposition completely ignorant of what its role should be in strengthening democracy and in adopting a constructive attitude in order to advance the democratic process.

If one were to look at what is unfolding now in Haiti, he could very well describe the situation as one of wasted opportunities by the Government, the opposition and the international community. There seems to be a pervasive sense of « dérive » and of improvisation which is frightening. I identify below some of the major problems plaguing the country and I do not pretend to cover all of them.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of Haiti that a Government has had at its disposal such a vast pool of Haitians willing to help in all critical areas of Haiti. Those Haitians would offer their services and expertise for free. Indeed, so many Haitians stood ready to help Lavalas, submitting project after project, yet, they became bitterly disappointed. There is a long list of Haitians who are disillusioned, discouraged, frustrated, sad, angry and the list of adjectives could grow.

Why did all that happen? Here are some possible answers: lack of infrastructure, corruption, bad administration, rivalry between local Haitians and the diaspora, lack of vision, lack of political will etc. This enumeration is not exclusive. Corruption remains probably the biggest culprit. A legacy of 35 years of institutionalized corruption from the Duvalier era cannot be easily erased. One needs only look at countries like Mexico or Nigeria.

Despite the fact that many government officials spent years in exile fighting dictatorship and supposedly acquiring experience, it is sad to admit that this did not help them at all. Some of them did much worse upon their return to government than others who had never left. I am at a loss to explain the behaviour of some of them who seem to be completely transformed (for the worse) once they were in power. And that is the key word: power. Ah! The corruption of power and the power of corruption!

On the other hand, Aristide was so busy playing politics, protecting his power and micro-managing that he lost control. This is a far too co
mmon a scenario with our Haitian leaders. Aristide has also been incredibly ill-served by bad advisers who often made a bad situation even worse. Incapable of providing forward thinking, they act with such amateurism that only disaster can result from their actions. This is tragic.

But, even worse than the Government's clumsiness is its opposition, that I find most scandalous, disheartening, disconcerting, and many more words could be used. Let me explain.

In my view, this Opposition (with capital O) is perhaps the most incompetent group of politicians Haiti has ever produced. Even though it is made up of “la crème de la crème” of our historians, sociologists, political scientists, writers, men of theatre, reporters, anthropologists, economists, university professors, lawyers etc., this Opposition has proven incapable of offering a credible alternative solution that the Haitian people could peruse and compare in order to enable them to make an informed choice. To me, that is the most incomprehensible aspect of the whole situation, particularly if you take into account that they have all lived abroad in exile, preparing for the moment when they would go back to Haiti. They have seen good governance in action; they have worked in such structures; they are supposed to have enough experience. An outsider looking at the situation has the impression that the Opposition is more interested in blocking rather than in finding a solution. What a tragedy! Meanwhile, a country and more than 7 million people are going down under!

Here are some bones of contention I have with this Opposition.

It lacks integrity, conviction and flair. I realize that sometimes, politics makes strange bedfellows, but there is a limit to everything. The reality of the Haitian political context requires some opportunistic alliances, nevertheless, if a Haitian politician is to maintain some kind or credibility, he does not have any other alternative but to make some hard choices if we are to break with past corrupt political practices. This is what has been sorely lacking in Haiti. Thus, It has become a normal occurrence to see such a renown leader and intellectual personality like Gérard Pierre-Charles cozying up to someone like Hubert de Ronceray, former ally of Roger Lafontant, chief Macoute of the Duvalier regime and staunch enemy of Mr. Charles. Mr. De Ronceray is one of the chief spokesperson for the Democratic Opposition. Mr. Reynold Georges, who fled American Justice in New York to avoid arrest is one of the leaders of this Opposition. Evans Paul (K-Plim) and Serge Gilles actively defend Prosper Avril who almost had them killed, only on the ground that he is against Aristide. This is opportunism at its best. If you want to mount a credible opposition, if you want to project a perception of change for the future, this cannot bode well. The most recent example of this lack of conviction and integrity on the part of the Opposition must be its handling of the “transformation” of “Contested” Senator Danny Toussaint, the alleged mastermind behind Jean Dominique's murder, and of “Contested” Senator Prince Sonson Pierre, one of the active participants in the events of December 17, when the residences of many members of the Opposition were burned down. Both having denounced Aristide, they are embraced by the Opposition, the former giving interviews to Radio Kiskeya, one of the staunchest critics of Government's inaction in the case of Jean Dominique; and the latter marching in opposition demonstrations against Aristide. Suddenly, they are not “contested” any more. Say what you want, but in the eyes of the people, there must be a problem of credibility. It is therefore no accident that it took this Opposition more than two years to be able to gather 10,000 people in the streets and when you do the math, it does not seem to me to be impressive. More than 22 political parties, the Civil Society, the Group of 184 etc. If you divide this number among all of them, in a country of more than 7 million inhabitants, this is not impressive at all.

In watching this Opposition, one gets the uneasy feeling that the only “passing test” to be admitted in its ranks is a common hatred of Aristide. The late Hervé Denis, a former member of Aristide's Cabinet (version I) and member of the Opposition, did complain that the Opposition spent 90% of its time hating Aristide and barely 10% planning and setting up a plan. Isn't that sad ?


The failure of the Opposition to propose so far a coherent plan which would provide an alternative to the Haitian people speaks volume about its real intention in my view. I really have come to believe that this Opposition is disingenuous in wanting to alleviate the dire living conditions of the Haitian people. Apart from the gaffes, the stupidity and at times the bad faith exhibited by the Aristide Government in dealing with these problems, the Opposition has been unable to capitalize on that situation and until it shows the contrary, I will have to conclude that the only strategy it has is to grab power from Aristide; in other words, “Ôte-toi que je m'y mette”. If it were a serious document, the so-called “Social Contract” proposed by the Group of 184 should have had a much wider audience and it should have been easily available both inside Haiti and within the Haitian diaspora. I may be out of the loop, but I have yet to see it. On the other hand, why it took so long for the Group of 184 to go to Cité Soleil, for example, remains a mystery. It may be a good document, but at this stage, one can make any speculation as to its content.

So where are we and where are we going? In general in any country, when a government falters, it is a normal occurrence that one looks at those who have knowledge, competence and experience for guidance as to where the country should be going. In this particularly case, precisely when this is needed, there is a painful realization that there is no one to look up to. A dangerous vacuum exist on the political stage. The Opposition is so busy hating Aristide that it does not much time for anything else. Aristide is so busy trying to protect his mandate that he can barely govern and do what needs to be done to regain respectability. Some sectors and governments in the international community are so busy trying to undermine the Aristide Government that it has almost become a case of David vs. Goliath. The Haitian Press, relayed very often by the international Press, is so busy in spreading disinformation or telling outright lies that you do not know what to believe anymore, unless you make a conscious effort to seek out the truth.

This is Haiti in 2004. Why is it that these guys could not sit down with Aristide and, with the powerful backing they have from the international community, both financial and political, force the Government to walk straight? This has happened in Liberia, in Ivory Coast, in Sudan, Kosovo and other places. Why not in Haiti, where the situation is not nearly as serious? Such an approach would certainly result in a victory for the
country and its population. The latest news indicate that far from boycotting the Bicentennial, Haitians in the diaspora are going in flocks to Haiti, seemingly sending the message that nothing will prevent Haitians from celebrating this event. How will the Opposition save face if indeed things go on peacefully and that the deadline it had given Aristide comes and passes? Will it resort to more violence to the point of becoming completely discredited? Haitians have a way of concluding that if they cannot win, they will make sure that everyone loses. That seems to be the main objective of the Opposition. I sure hope that I am mistaken and that in a sudden burst of national conscience, it will see the light and act more constructively than it has and provide an alternative that everyone can consider a valid and legitimate one. Wishful thinking, naivete, you will tell me! Maybe, but I choose to see that the glass is half full, instead of half empty. Meanwhile, international observers remain flabbergasted that Haitians themselves would work to sabotage the celebration of such an important event as the Bicentennial, something that transcends Aristide and his Government.

All these considerations lead one to conclude so far that the members of this Opposition are essentially working for themselves and are eager to just take power by any means, except through elections. Indeed, certain declarations from some of them already point out to the simmering discord among themselves. It is absolutely tragic! Even more tragic and totally disconcerting is the fact that the Opposition receives funds from European countries, including France of all countries, to block ceremonies marking the Bicentennial. I do not understand how these intellectuals would accept to receive funds from countries that sought to maintain Haiti in slavery, to prevent the commemoration of the only successful slave revolution in the world. There are no words to describe this.

Should Aristide be forced to leave before his term ends (which would probably mark the death of the 1987 Constitution), what the Opposition would do is the best kept secret. Indeed, I find it very ominous that these guys and women collectively could act so lightly and ask the ouster of an elected president, when the main concern should be to preserve the constitutional process.

It is clear to me that one of the objectives set by certain powerful actors in the international community has been partially reached: Aristide has been considerably weakened and there are more people willing to rise against him. However, it is safe to say that the situation has reached that point, not because of any smart or systematic strategy on the part of the Opposition, but rather because of the ineptness and tactlessness of the Aristide Government.

This a great tragedy that such an event like the Bicentennial celebration should take place in these conditions. There is no justification in my mind that could be valid. History will be extraordinarily harsh on one hand, toward those whose acute class selfishness, narrow-mindedness and, why not, anti-nationalism, failed to put aside their differences, if only for a certain amount of time, to allow proper tribute to our ancestors for their heroic act, and on the other, toward those whose lack of vision, of governance and incompetence, allowed the country to go down this path of unrest and uncertainty. That is our tragedy!


Manno Michel – December 2003

RJeanty

Post by RJeanty » Mon Jan 05, 2004 12:39 pm

Dear Manno Michel,

I read your text on the Haitian crisis and wish to commend you for being so well-balanced in your analysis. The latest proposal by the 184 coalition for a solution to the current crisis is another illustration of your criticisms. It is unrealistic as it relies on the eventual massive military intervention of foreign countries to neutralize the Lavalas party. Neither that party, nor the 184 coalition has grasped the fundamentals of Haiti's problems: The lack of a clearly defined and consensual development program based on a realistic assessment of the country's true economic potentials. The whole relying on a strategy that would be non-partisan and binding to any party or individual in power. The modernization of our judicial and legal systems, the reform (modernization/adaptation) of our public administration, the elimination/privatization of public enterprises (the source of so much corruption). The integration of all classes into our society beginning with the establishment of a uniform, fool-proof and universal national registry and ID system for all Haitians. A system that would do away with the eternal renewal of birth certificate extracts (a source of corruption and rip-off of poor Haitian citizens). A condition for the creation of a true citizenry and citizenship, and a stepping stone toward nation-building. The strengthening of unions, workers and peasants associations, a policy of job creation not limited to investments into those subcontracting factories and free-zone areas. None of these appear to be of concern to our leaders and aspiring leaders, and this worries all who really want to see this country move forward as the pioneer it should have been. Regards and keep up the good work.

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