By Garry Pierre-Pierre
Haitians for the most part, explain their troubles, challenges and miseries as the will of God. You were in an accident; it was God’s will for you. You lost your job, you got it; God had a plan for you.
That is why we’re often described as resilient. After all, God is greater than man and his power omniscient. You cannot argue with God. Such fatalism does allow us to live under conditions that would create swift and immediate revolution just about in any other country.
But for an eternity, Haitians have been dying and by the thousands, not because God wills it, but because successive Haitian governments have done precious little and have left people vulnerable to face untimely death.
The latest example is Hurricane Matthew, which swept through the Caribbean with force and fury, dumping an avalanche of water in Jamaica, Cuba and other smaller islands before barreling through Haiti’s southern coast. The human death tolls and property damage were relatively small in other places. But in Haiti we have yet again another catastrophe, leaving nearly 1,000 dead, thousands homeless and millions to fend for themselves.
Colleagues and friends have been showing signs of empathy and sympathy for Haiti and its people, who have endured so much tragedy and hardship. While I appreciate these sentiments, I hold successive Haitian governments responsible for the deaths and destruction that have marred this politically troubled Caribbean nation.
While I can go back to the beginning of the republic to explain why Haiti remains so precarious a nation and susceptible to natural disaster, I will start with the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier, who was forced out of his president for life in 1986, following a popular uprising.
After the despot’s departure, successive governments mistook anarchy for democracy. So people want to build flimsy houses perched on denuded mountains, go for it. You want to open a nightclub in a residential neighborhood? No problem. I started following Haiti in 1990 as a young reporter. I’ve seen lush mountains become a ghetto in the span of a few years. I’ve seen entire communities sprout out of ravines.
The attitude of these governments has been to let it go because after all, these poor people need a roof and we can’t provide it to them. So if they can carve out a niche for themselves, so be it.
No leader has thought to enforce laws to address the environmental degradation that has systematically made Haiti vulnerable to a light rain, let alone a category 4 storm.
In any other country, there will be hell to pay for such dereliction of duty. Then again, Haiti is unlike any other country. There will be periods of mourning and by next month, just about everyone would have forgotten about the dead, just like few people remember the thousands who died in January 2010 after the earthquake.
As expected, the international community once again is rushing in Haiti to give much needed, but not appreciated help from the Haitian government, who is now arrogantly saying that they need to control the funds unlike the last time when the international aid agencies squandered the money earmarked for earthquake relief.
The Diaspora has joined the fray and has been in full crisis mode, raising money, collecting clothing most of which will linger at the country’s port never reaching those in needs. This happened in 2005 when Gonaives, the country’s fourth largest city was submerged in the wake of a tropical storm. To this day, those goods remain at the port, rotting.
So what should we do? This time, we must show some tough love and not let our emotions get the best of us. If the Haitian government needs help, it must ask it publicly and give a clear plan of how they plan on using the resources. Anything short of a detailed short term, mid-term and long term goal should be rejected.
The Haitian political and economic elite thinks of their troubled territory as a sovereign nation, but it is under a United Nations protectorate and has not shown any serious interest in truly leading the country out of its morass.
The parlor game among that class is to engage in conspiracy theory about the international community’s nefarious motive in their land. After all, why would they care about Haiti unless they want something from us to repeat a logic often mentioned?
This is not to absolve or minimize the role of the international community in Haiti’s affairs. The U.S. has been a destabilizing force. The U.N. brought cholera to Haiti and denied that they did despite irrefutable scientific evidence. But the elite should have some control of our destiny and lead the country where people can live with basic rights and dignity.
The political and economic classes have failed and has lost its credibility that it had in the 1980s when people thought that a brighter future looms behind the rugged mountain chains that are ubiquitous in Haiti.
It is no wonder that people ignored the government’s last minute plea to evacuate. They don’t trust the government then and they don’t trust them now. I’m pretty sure they won’t trust it in the future as well. Neither do I.