Robert Benodin: We have with us on Radio Classique Inter the senator of the Nord-Est, Rudolph Boulos, on the situation in Haiti. Rudolph Boulos, we welcome you once again. From February 7, 2006 to February 7, 2008. Only two years and the country finds itself in a situation of general dissatisfaction. Can you help us understand the basis of this? Senator Boulos: It is fairly complex. I can say that it is evident that there is no political will to find solutions to the problems. There is also a lack of vision of the goals to be sought. There is also a lack of competence to find solutions and take action. There is above all a huge economic problem. Up to last October, we had reached a certain political stability. But now, hunger is overtaking a good part of the population. Insecurity was aggravated by Operation Baghdad, which was total chaos. There has in fact been improvement since that period of total chaos. But the improvement goes no further. It does not continue. On the economic plane, we need a national production which should be protected by taxation at the customs against imported competing products. There is also a lack of development which is linked to the lack of vision, to the lack of competence which is a consequence of the lack of action. This is far from an exhaustive list of what unfortunately lies at the root of this general atmosphere of dissatisfaction. Robert Benodin: That is also supported by the demonstrations of discontent, on the campuses and among the masses, the small merchants especially. Why are the parties of the masses indifferent to the cries and lamentations of the people? Senator Boulos: These are parties which say they are parties of the masses, but are exclusively at the service of their own clan. They practice clientism serving the interests of small groups of individuals. Tese parties do not truly take to heart the interests of the masses. They behave like boutiques, managed by the boutique owners. They are not truly parties of the masses defending and articulating the interests of the masses. If they really were parties of the masses, they would make an evaluation, an analysis of the situation of the masses, to learn what is needed for solutions. They would propose solutions and try them out. They would pressure parliament and the executive to take these interests into consideration, to bring about favorable actions. Nothing like this exists! The answer is that there are elite parties, parties of small boutiques. These parties of the masses are presidential machines. They are created to allow the boutique owners to accede to the presidency. In fact, I see no parties of the masses. They do not really communicate with the masses to find out what they are experiencing. They are not listening to the cries and lamentations that are coming from their guts. They can neither express their interests nor find solutions to their problems. Robert Benodin: The press such as AP, AFP, and Reuters are reporting and showing photos of Haitians eating mud pies. Are these the precursors of famine or disease? Senator Boulos: In Haiti, for the majority of the Haitians, the notion of daily bread does not exist. In other words, a Haitian family does not necessarily have food on the table every day. A child leaves the house and goes to school without eating. She will not eat unless the school feeds her from its own canteen or a public one. Perhaps a canteen supported by the state or a nongovernmental organization. Leaving school and coming home, this child will not find anything more to eat. The reality of hunger is irrefutable. A child can spend one, two or three days in this condition. A small container of rice now costs twenty-two gourdes (fifty cents, U.S.) The smallest common denominator that allowed all the families to buy rice, even only white rice, is now too expensive for the large majority. Once this basic nutrition becomes inaccessible to the majority, you automatically have the signal of economic difficulties. You have the problems of food security, which is deteriorating. You approach quickly the first signs of famine. This is why the senators of the Nord-Ouest Department, EvalliPre Beauplan and Hyppolite Milius have given the cry of alarm when they passed through Bombardopolis. Almost ten people died of hunger. They buried two or three at a time. Bombardopolis and Mole St. Nicolas are always the first places where the indices of famine show themselves in Haiti. I am not surprised by the fact that they are eating mud pies. I prefer to emphasize that there are signs of famine in the Northwest. It is always the Northwest that gives the first signs of famine. There are signs of famine in the Nord-est, which I represent. I saw them in October. I reconfirmed them in November. I saw the same thing in December. And in January, when I attended the opening of a public school, the population told me, “Good, bravo. But senator, a can of rice costs twenty-two gourdes, how can I send my child to school with an empty stomach? We will die of hunger.” There is no provision or action against famine. There was a flood in March, the harvest was destroyed. In May, wind and rain, another flood, the harvests were destroyed again. Then Olga and Noel destroyed the harvest. All in less than twelve months. After seeing the loss of the first two harvests, I said on Radio Vision 2000, “If we don’t support the peasants to guarantee food for the population, we will have serious problems.” When Olga and Noel came through, the damage was not only to our own territory, but also to the Dominican Republic. Half of our food supply comes from there, bananas, other fruits, vegetables, eggs, and chickens. They had problems with their harvests. A banana went from three to ten to fifteen pesos. Their population had trouble finding enough to eat. Forced to ensure access to their own population they were obliged to keep their products at home. It also happens to be an electoral year there. These coincidences coming together, we are in an exceptional situation where it is difficult to find a way to eat. Food security is gone. The first signs of famine are there. Robert Benodin: With a number of professional agronomists in the government, a disease has ravaged the banana plantations in the plains of Arcahaie and Leogane for four years. In the meantime, we are importing bananas from the Dominican Republic. Why doesn’t the government intervene to resolve the problem? Senator Boulos: We have agronomists as president, prime minister, minister of agriculture and secretary of state. We have many agronomists. We also have young agronomists who are impatiently waiting for an opportunity to intervene with the means to accomplish something. An agronomist is a technician. An agronomist is not a specialist in production. An agronomist is not an entrepreneur. He does not make an analysis to find a more effective solution, to put it into practice, to resolve the problem. They don’t reflect on the cost, means, speed, and resources to get it done as effectively as possible. Practicality, speed, and efficiency which are essential to the entrepreneur are not part of the culture of those who are pure technicians. The entrepreneurial method, the pragmatic mentality, is not theirs. Robert Benodin: With unemployment at 75 percent, one can’t see any effort on the part of the government to reduce it. What are this government’s priorities? Instead of keeping the funds bottled up in the public treasury to maintain stability, why don’t Preval and Alexis create projects of high intensity? Senator Boulos: Again, this is a question of mentality. The politician has an Epicurean approach to power and utilization of public resources. They enjoy it. They do not govern at the service of the nation or state. We can just look at the last twenty years. When a politician gets in power, he has only one obsession. How to keep power as long as possible. So he acts to keep power. He does not carry on the conquest of power with a clear and detailed vision of what he will do when he gets it. He knows what to do to keep power before he gets it. The main thing is that the notion of acting and accomplishing things for the good of the nation and state does not enter into the vision of power-keeping. This is a question of the political culture. Robert Benodin: There is an evident recrudescence of insecurity, kidnapping, murder, burglary, violence, etc. A six-month-old baby was just kidnapped and murdered. It is not by accident that this coincides with the situation of crisis. This return of insecurity, is it politically-motivated? Senator Boulos: There are many answers to this question. We must note that there is an economic deterioration. There is a showing of consistency on the part of the U.N. mission, MINUSTAH. It has done a lot. It has reduced the no-go zones. It eliminated Operation Baghdad. And now, it is resting on its laurels. There’s no real willingness on the part of MINUSTAH, and the police as well, to keep up a constant pressure as during the time of Edmond Mulet, so that the bandits and gangs have to lie low.
Now I am responding directly to the question. There is a political manipulation in freeing criminals jailed for cimes which had been brought before judges, as they had been caught in the act, but had not been brought to trial. Under the pretext of limiting or combating prolonged preventative incarceration, they were freed. This is a political manipulation and an exploitation of the issue of prolonged preventative incarceration. There is a clear willingness to create a dangerous situation, especially during an electoral period. One can observe and compare different periods. At this moment one must ask where are they, MINUSTAH, the police, the government, and the prosecutors.
Robert Benodin: To what do you attibute the fact that Haiti remains to the present, since the Duvalier regime, the poorest country in the hemisphere and today under the Lavalas regime th most corrupt in the world? Is there a correlation between poverty and corruption?
Senator Boulos: The answer is yes! There is a precariousness at all levels. Everyone is suffering, those who have something as well as those who don’t. No matter what your social and economic level, you can see your rights violated for whatever reason.
The economic precariousness means survival tactics. Tradition says, for example, to steal from the state is not really stealing. To escape this vicious circle, we need a structural change. We must pass from the plantation mentality inherited from the colony onto the structure of a nation. We need a change of mentality. We must become citizens with equal rights. There needs to be an economic improvement to given citizens the hope of a better tomorrow.
Robert Benodin: The reports of the DEA continue to classify Haiti as one of the principal arenas of the drug traffic. The government has announced simultaneously a struggle against corruption and against drugs. Where are we?
Senator Boulos: We have a big problem with our geographic position. We are geographically between the producers and the consumers. The drugs go from Colombia to Venezuela, pass through Haiti, go to the Dominican Republic. They cross the Mona channel to arrive in the United States. We are a transit point. The chronic political instability and the economic precariousness make our country an attractive place for the big drug producers and consumers. We have eight to nine thousand foreigners in the country. It is difficult to distinguish who does what.
The war against corruption instead of being serious has deteriorated into a masquerade. It is a means used by the government to settle scores with a small group.
We have a problem because of our geographical position. But we do not take the bull by the horns.
Robert Benodin: There is a clear malaise in the new provisional electoral commission, after adoption of the new rules which forced Jacque Bernard’s resignation. The commissioners promise to propose a new electoral law soon.
Will this law be passed that quickly by parliament?
Senator Boulos: This is a perplexing question. I hesitate. Parliament has the greatest need. The senate needs to renew a third of its members, who already should have been renewed. This is an urgent matter. When one changes the rules to make the president of the electoral commission all-powerful, this is one part of the question. The other is, who formulated these changes? It is at the national palace that these changes were formulated and directed. There is clearly a desire to grab power. The greatest achievement in 2006 was that the central government did not contrl the last provisional CEP. The fact is that there were a number of parties and political movements that were represented at the local level, municipal and legislative. After eighteen months, we have a working electoral machine with modern structures and which is a total break from the past. First of all, the individual identification card.