Originally: Waiting for the Marines . . .
There seems to be a convergence of opinion among some editorial writers in the mainstream U.S. media and some Haitian and U.S. government officials on the need for deployment of the Marines to Haiti. It appears that this is the price that must be paid for security to be reestablished and elections to take place .
Haitians seem to have a preference for the Marines who, in their minds, are better equipped to stem the powerful tide of insecurity that has swept over Port-au-Prince. Some cherish the hope that their mere presence may help keep criminals off the streets. All acknowledge, however, that the transitional government , even with the presence of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the Haitian National Police (PNH), is unable to provide security, an assessment accepted by the transitional government itself.
So, to the extent that the primary function of any government is to ensure and guarantee the safety of its people and property , the transitional government, by admitting its incapacity, has led people to question its reason for being?a perverse effect of transparency!
But are things really that simple ? Why do some people think that the Marines can succeed more easily than the other forces on the ground ? And, if we accept the hypothesis that insecurity and violence are linked to poverty, how will the Marines go about this?
Those are basic questions that deserve to be addressed to avoid the risk of getting an outcome contrary to our expectations. We are all concerned by the security issue and we will not ensure our protection by finger-pointing at others.
On the other hand, poverty in Haiti is not uniform. Does that mean that poor Haitians are more violent than those who are less poor or relatively better off? Are there any data to substantiate that the poorer one is the greater the propensity for violence?
In the case of Haiti, the response to these questions is not entirely affirmative. Indeed, while our country has remained among the poorest countries in the hemisphere for nearly fifty years, our crime rates have always been the lowest in the region. At least until the late1980s. (We are talking about social violence, not political violence.) To link crime and poverty in this way, as some of Haiti?s friends do, does not stand up to serious scrutiny. Worse still, merging the boundaries between poverty and crime to justify failure in the fight against insecurity is a high-risk exercise, because as we all know the poor do not have a monopoly on violence and crime.
I have also noticed that complaints about security problems are always accompanied by appeals for the rapid disbursement of pledged funds. True, Haiti needs urgent assistance and our partners must make efforts to accelerate disbursements (actually, it seems that the situation on this front has improved somewhat in recent weeks), but we must not forget that poverty in our country is a structural problem that requires action on many fronts over a prolonged period, while the emergence of crime and insecurity is a relatively recent trend.
Waging war against poverty in much the same way we fight insecurity and violence is an extremely interesting idea. But the weapons to be used cannot be the same. Here the fight is against poverty and not against the poor, while we must fight crime by fighting criminals and criminality at the same time.
Not long ago, populist rhetoric in Haiti sang the praises of poverty and even illiteracy using slogans whose sole purpose was to pander to the lowest common denominator of the electorate. Much talk has been devoted to the political maturity of the Haitian people, to the illiterate person who is not a fool and to the need to move our country “from misery to poverty with dignity” . Now, the corollary of poverty seems to be insecurity, crime and violence. What happened?
Are we witnessing , as some have suggested , the blossoming of a sweetened version of the same old populist and superficial rhetoric which will end up killing our country by a thousand wounds? What about social inequity and exclusion?
I must acknowledge, however, that those who associated poverty with dignity have obtained that the poor attach more importance to the idea of dignity than to poverty. This was confirmed for me in 1997 , at a meeting with a grassroots organization, when I denounced the notion of moving from misery to poverty with dignity as pure demagogy. Going back over my notes from that time, I found the following reply from one of the group leaders: “You may be of good faith. But, from what you say, you know nothing about the marriage of poverty and dignity among the poor. You need to understand that although my poverty possesses me, I alone possess my dignity. It is difficult to understand, but in reality that?s the way it is.”
I am not ashamed to confess that I had no immediate response, except to admit that the problems facing our country require an analytical grid a bit more sophisticated than the traditional one.
I wanted to convey these reflections to my fellow countrymen and also to offer them, as background information, to MINUSTAH which, in spite of everything , will remain with us. The Marines have nothing to do with it. We can wait for them and the French soldiers if we wish, but they will not come. And maybe it?s better this way.
So, how are we going to deal with insecurity? I am sure every Haitian has something to contribute to the response. It is a question of putting all ideas together and drawing out proposals for specific and concrete actions against insecurity, with the government, the National Police and MINUSTAH.
Let us learn again to appreciate what we have. Let us make the necessary adjustments . But, let?s stop demanding others to take on leadership roles that we will not assume ourselves and that we are not even capable of defining by and for ourselves.
You may express all your doubts. You may also keep all your hopes. But, if despite all, you still expect a deployment , let us at least try to think together while waiting for the Marines . . .