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The Haitian Diaspora strength: myth or reality

It is unfortunately true that Haitians living in the Diaspora are more likely to be better educated and socially mobile than their compatriots living in Haiti, which leads many observers, commentators and foreign officials to advertize the Diaspora as the knight in shining armor that could take Haiti to a better future. But is it a realistic expectation of the Diaspora’s capabilities or a myth that fails to take into account its own shortcomings? The January 12th earthquake that practically destroyed Port-au-Prince, the nerve center of Haiti, and left the country needing all its sons and daughters more than ever, has provided the answer to the query.

Despite the fact that it is too early to pass judgment on the Diaspora’s ability to make a positive contribution in the development of Haiti, a preliminary assessment leaves open the possibility that realities may trump expectations. The idiosyncrasies considered partly responsible for the country’s present state of affairs, among them personality cult, divisions along social, political and economic lines, followed Haitians wherever they happen to be living. The most destructive of them all being Haitians’ love affair with intellectuals and the latter’s own unrealistic belief in their abilities. Not surprisingly any member of the Diaspora with a university degree, in any field, fancies himself as “that intellectual/savior” whose leadership is indispensable to the reconstruction of Haiti.

Appropriately dozens of civic-minded organizations dedicated to providing the leadership for the reconstruction have sprung up in the aftermath of the January 12 disaster, creating a replica of Haiti’s domestic-style politic in the Diaspora. Though many see these organizations as opportunistic, I am inclined to give their founders the benefit of the doubt because I cannot conceive that at this juncture any Haitian would engage in nefarious or self-centered activities that could worsen the suffering of their compatriots. Nevertheless the situation mirrors that of Haiti where the proliferation of Caudillo-type political parties is the norm and partnership an exception, in effect diluting the Diaspora’s supposed strength and hampering its relevancy.

Because Haiti’s problems cannot be solved with abstract concepts, the Diaspora’s frantic efforts at establishing the structure needed to bridge the gap between genuine intent and actual capability is an indication that it does not yet possess the magic wand. This sudden endeavor is analogous to that of a salesman advertizing an imaginary inventory to the public and ordering the product from the manufacturer upon receiving the customers’ orders. Simply put, the Diaspora is as dysfunctional and unprepared as the country it wishes to help, regardless of its good intentions. That unpreparedness could essentially doom the much expected harmonization of the Diaspora’s vaunted expertise and Haiti’s enormous needs.

Question: the rebuilding requires the expertise of engineering and managerial companies, how many Diaspora-owned businesses in these categories could be counted on to participate? Answer: the Diaspora’s engineering and managerial companies are too small to compete with the big multinationals that enjoy the backing of their respective governments which stand ready to turn off the financial spigot in the event their national firms are disqualified because of Haitianization or favoritism.

Question: Does the Diaspora possess an organization dedicated to lobbying and advising the Haitian government on the matter? Answer: As far as reality goes, such organization does not exist. Any efforts at injecting a Diasporic flavor in the yet to be devised plan to rebuilt the capital are individual-based, which may open the way to cronyism and other destructive behaviors. More to the point, besides the often-ignored causes of Haiti’s instability, it is obvious that for two centuries, we, Haitians, have failed to create an indigenous political system that neutralizes our divergences while maximizing our strength. Consequently, we not only lost faith in our inability to chart our destiny but been reflexively embracing anything emanating anywhere, no matter its unsuitability to our needs. The IMF-World Bank prescription that practically destroyed the Haitian peasantry, the soul of the nation, and caused the overpopulation of Port-au-Prince and widespread misery, is the most palpable example.

Incidentally the Diaspora, the constituency upon whose shoulders so much hope is being built, seems ready to embrace the very IMF-World Bank policies that precipitated Haiti’s descent into misery and instability beginning in the mid-1980. Is it because of a genuine affinity for economic and political systems that work (Canada, France and the U.S) or a cultural predisposition to embrace anything that is foreign or most importantly non-Haitian? It is understandable that many aspects of these above-mentioned countries’ political and economic systems are appealing to others, but must they or can be replicated lock, stock and barrels in Haiti? Unfortunately this is the prevailing attitude in the Diaspora, the result an extreme form of acculturation in which Haiti’s peculiarities (strength and shortcomings) are completely ignored or do not figure in the equation.

Culturally amorphous, the result of being insulated from the realities in Haiti, or acculturated by choice, the Diaspora may be the perfect vehicle to perpetuating the main cause of that country’s instability: alien ideas that do not value or consider the nation’s aspirations. As sons and daughters of Haiti, the Diaspora is obligated to play an important albeit supportive role in the development of the country. And, though the situation may be dire, it is nonetheless preposterous to think that the country could be saved under the leadership of its Diaspora, a clearly dysfunctional constituency needing to find its own bearing.

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Haitian Times

Haitian Times

The Haitian Times was founded in 1999 as a weekly English language newspaper based in Brooklyn, NY.The newspaper is widely regarded as the most authoritative voice for Haitian Diaspora.
Haitian Times
May. 05, 2012

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