Seventeen years after the Lavalas movement?s arrival to power and two years after the arrival of l?Espoir of René Préval, the inheritor of this movement, one still dares to hope that Haiti can find a way out of its vicious circle. The year 2007, however, ended liked its predecessors with a train of kidnappings, assassinations, and murder attempts, accompanied by impunity and extreme poverty. The results of the elections of 2006, imposed by the international community, have brought nothing positive and the incapacity of the government coalition is arousing more and more discontent which, if not addressed, can shortly metamorphosize into mass anger. All the editorials summing up the year point to the failure of the group in power and that of Haitian society as a whole.
On the governmental side, there is no clear vision of governance pointing the way ahead. On the societal side, the same thing. As for the international community, it is preoccupied with the fate of Haiti, judging by the number of visits of high-ranking foreigners this year, ending with the visit by the French secretary of state for foreign aid and Francophonie. Without wishing to offend this community or those eternal optimists with their ostrich-like philosophy, the reality is pathetic but incontestable: Haiti proves today the adage that people get the governments they deserve.
There is no use hiding the truth. On the contrary, we must dare to say it again so that the youth, 60 percent of the population, have some other fate than that to which their predecessors, without exception, have been sacrificed. How can we succeed in 2008? What can make the authorities and society at last turn toward modernity? Must we forever be confined to this circle or dare we with one final leap forge a future beyond mediocrity? These are the questions we seek to answer.
Absence of a governing vision
Our revolution of 1804 has been called the Haitian exception. The revolution was incomplete and did not bring about a true nation. Haitian society reproduced the colonial model. Haiti was governed by men incapable of uniting the citizens around a common project. Our governments are characterized by greed for power, blood, and a total absence of vision for the country. To say that we have the government we deserve may sound unpatriotic. However, the question is not as simple as that, because it concerns the very nature of government. It concerns our future.
Certainly, a people who is made to submit by force, as was the case under Francois Duvalier, does not merit repression. Even under this bloody regime the citizens revolted and at the cost of their lives resisted the tyranny. Rather, the concept of the government one deserves refers to a moral principle linking the government to the governed by a social contract. The government is chosen by the people to exercise their will. Thus in democratic countries the citizenry has the responsibility to force the elected government to respect the social contract and cannot simply abandon its rights to those elected. According to Engels, “The government is the simple reflection of the people from which it emanates. If the government is of poor quality, the quality of the people is equally poor. So if they have this government, it is the one they are worthy of.”
What did the Haitian people do in the elections that allowed René Préval to win a second term? “The Haitian people elected a president who resembles them,” says the historian Michel Soukar. Certainly, all the political commentators sounded the alarm and warned that it would be extremely risky, after the obvious failure of the Aristide regime, to elect a man who was the political twin of the ex-dictator. He had admitted the failure of his first term. He presented himself as candidate for president without any program and without ever facing the Haitian press. So today it is hard to fix the blame for the absence of vision and inertia of Préval and the coalition government because as candidate he never promised anything different.
The people being sovereign, they chose another leader out of the Lavalas political movement, which itself expressed the moral vices inherited from the regime of Duvalier and the macoutes. These two regimes have made Haiti a failed state, a gangsterized state. However, these are all two forms of expression, since 1957, of the Haitian racial populism.
What is the responsibility of the international community?
One must acknowledge a simple principle which renders international norms inapplicable, for the moment, to Haiti. Before the participation of the whole population in such concepts, there must be education and preparation. More than 60 percent of the Haitians are illiterate, uneducated, and lacking the preparation for the exercise of their citizenship. This citizenship is used exclusively during the elections, following which nothing is done with it.
The citizenry are the engine of a society. They create its values. “It is the ordinary people, the generality, who make the country good or bad. Individually, they think they don?t count, but they become important in groups.” The absence of vision of the Haitian leaders reflects the same absence among the citizens. The majority of them, consumed by misery and hunger, have neither the intellectual capacity nor the time to spend on public affairs. Others, manipulated by one political camp or the other, staged the sad spectacle of the “occupation” of the Montana
Hotel by the partisans of Préval following the possibility of a second round of elections in 2006. These citizens had nothing to do with civic values, only with those that are bought by governments or parties. After the international community accepted and imposed the verdict of the streets, what was that half of the population who didn?t vote for Préval supposed to do? After the dissemination of a message by Aristide every year is accompanied by a rise in kidnappings and criminal acts, and nothing is done to stop such dissemination?neither by the Haitian authorities nor MINUSTAH?is it any surprise that the victims run into the hundreds?
In 2007 the U.N. counted about 200 kidnappings, principally in the capital. How many others were there that were negotiated without the police or MINUSTAH? The Haitian authorities and MINUSTAH console themselves by comparing it to the previous year and noting a decrease. But every kidnapping is one too many! A young lady was kidnapped, badly wounded and raped for many days by her kidnappers, even after payment of the ransom by her parents. The chief kidnapper is a deportee known for his crimes while abroad. She escaped by the skin of her teeth but what life awaits her? The prime minister expressed satisfaction with the year?s record. If it had been his daughter or wife, what would he say? President Préval promised to end kidnapping in 2008 and acknowledged that he had been deceived by the kidnappers. But what will he do concretely to end these horrors, especially the kidnapping of children? What have the authorities done to control and observe the criminal deportees and ask for the cessation of their systematic transfer to Haiti by the “Friends of Haiti,” a policy which engenders criminals?
Why does Préval appeal to the kidnappers to stop their horrible acts rather than imposing on them the authority of the state? Why do human-rights organizations protest prolonged preventive detention and then, after massive releases are made, only see the link with the rise in criminality when it is too late? Why don?t such organizations call for quicker trials rather than opt, with Judge Claudy Gassant, for freeing notorious criminals, known assassins, thieves and kidnappers? All this is done to appease an international community that has placed Haiti in economic dependency although nothing has been done by the Haitian authorities to change the situation of impunity in Haiti.
“Every society to survive and live has an absolute need to respect someone and something.” In Haiti, nothing is any longer respected.
2008: The bell tolls
“Citizenship flourishes in a democracy and not otherwise. A democratic government is nothing less than the highest expression of what is anchored in the spirit of the people. It is a voluntary association for the common good.” What is our common good today? Our land, Haiti. A land that is disappearing bit by bit into the sea as each season?s hurricanes create a new kind of refugee: the environmental refugee, who now join the political and economic refugees in taking overseas 83 percent of our brainpower. According to UNESCO, since the 1990s the number of formal democracies in the world has increased from 76 (46.1 percent) to 117 (61.3 percent). How much of this democracy do we have? Only a certain freedom of expression. The international community says it is concerned about Haiti but this is the same community that watched with folded arms when Rwanda descended into genocide in 1994. This is also the same community that kept us in 2004 from finding our way to a new social contract as it intervened in Haiti, cutting the ground from under a mobilized civil society and also, even more unfortunately, transporting Aristide to other bases from which he still poisons our existence. The Group of 184 has retired and put its social contract in the closet, abandoning the common good of a society which it had rallied in almost all its components. Once again, our responsibility is greater than that of an international community that never stops repeating that the fate of the Haitians depends on the Haitians themselves. Once again, do we not deserve what we have got? Where are the leaders of the Group of 184 today? Where are the intellectuals who have the duty to swim against the current? Dany LaferriPre recently denounced the silence of intellectuals who he says are the products of their society. “It is not only against the government that one must take care to create an opposition, one must also create the same within civil society. The first quality of an intellectual is courage. And that is what is most lacking in our time.”
Again Dany LaferriPre in Québec: “What do we see today as we face the problems of society? Our intellectuals are notable by their absence. No one wants to risk their social or economic gains. They don?t dare to oppose demogoguery and fascist ideas. They prefer to take refuge in issues like the environment. The fight for a greener and more breathable world is important. But can one breathe clean air when it is polluted by injustice, racism and exclusion?”
This leads us to question the model of a Western democracy, particularly the American variety, which is proferred to us and which, we recognize, we have always wished to imitate. What has it given? Proliferation of drugs and gangs, children attacking their own schools and killing their own comrades before committing suicide, a dangerous conflict between the West and the Muslims, etc. The capitalist model is about to self-destruct as indicated by Time magazine?s choice of Vladimir Putin as man of the year. Who could have believed? A chief of state who in the very words of this renowned weekly is no democrat according to the Western definition nor any paragon of liberty of expression. Yet he has received this distinction because he has chosen order ahead of freedom and has succeeded in putting Russia back among the world powers. Time magazine anticipates that Putin will make “Mother Russia” into a new type of state, answering the norms of neither the West nor the East.
Préval certainly has neither the breadth nor the determination of a Putin and must concentrate on urgent issues. We need results, and fast. If we have the habit of saying that everything is of priority in Haiti, then we must give priority to certain priorities: The first, restoration of order and security. The second, restoring national production and feeding the population. Third, creation of real jobs. There is nothing magic about it and nothing that we cannot do in our own way and by our own criteria. The bell has tolled and a national leap-forward is necessary if we are not to wallow in mediocrity and a new national crisis.
Finally, it is essential to include the diaspora in national affairs and effect the transfer of knowledge of technical people to a country in which a majority are illiterate and where the corruptionists, the cowards and the ignoramuses are thick on the ground.
If we dare to dream and work sincerely, actively and in common towards achievement of a democracy adapted to Haitian problems and culture, we can stand up against the world neoliberal bandwagon. To do this we must avoid being duped and even more we must develop alternative strategies of resistance. A state not working merely for the private sector, not for some but for the collective, is our goal. Only then can we say that we have escaped the vicious circle in which we have been trapped since 1990.