By Garry Pierre-Pierre
The protests that are gripping Haiti seem eerily familiar.
In late 2003, shortly before Haiti was to celebrate its 200 years of independence, the opposition at the time declared war on President Jean Bertrand Aristide. They took to the streets almost daily and vowed to remain vigilant until Aristide left power.
By late February 2004, Aristide was indeed ousted and was whisked out of the country by American officials, first to Central African Republic and then to South Africa, where he remained in exile for almost eight years until his unexpected returned to his homeland two years ago.
Aristide’s forced departure left a deeply divided nation and paved the way for the United States Marines and the United Nations’ (UN) forces to occupy the nation. All of it brought to an ignominious end to the bicentennial of Haiti’s independence, which was supposed to be a proud moment for the world’s first black republic.
The country plunged into chaos. Haiti was once again the laughing stock of the world and we unwittingly helped unite the French and the Americans, whose relationship had been chilled because of disagreement on the war in Iraq.
One of the leaders of the protests that ushered Aristide’s ouster was none other than Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. He led the faction called GNB in Creole, a choice acronym loosely translated as “Tough Guys.”
Now Martelly is president and the opposition has vowed to protest his rule until he too, cedes power. Two weeks ago, Martelly succumbed to popular pressure by sacking his prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, and swiftly named Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume as interim PM before naming veteran politician Evans Paul as the new PM.
Martelly thought he had overcome a major hurdle when he fed Lamothe to the wolves. But sensing weakness, the barbarians are at the gate and they’re going for broke. They want Martelly’s head on a silver platter. Their goal is to have Martelly leave power or they will paralyze the country just as he did a decade ago.
So what would Martelly’s resignation solve? Frankly, nothing much and perhaps few steps backward. We’re also making a strong case for the UN presence in perpetuity. Despite Martelly’s shortcomings, why should he resign and what has the opposition done to help move the country forward?
Tea Party zealots in the U.S. have nothing on the Haitian opposition, right wing or left wing notwithstanding. Zero sum politics doesn’t go far and are outdated in civilized societies. I simply don’t see the point of these marches. It is clear we achieved precious little from Aristide’s removal, unless you think Haiti’s losing its sovereignty is worthwhile. One of the consequences of Aristide’s departure was the occupation of Haiti by a UN force known as MINUSTAH, ostensibly in the country to stabilize the situation. Haiti has the distinction of being the only country with a UN force not involved in a civil war.
I opposed the anti-Aristide’s protests of a decade ago and I oppose these protests. I’m not protest averse. There are times when people have to take to the streets, just like the thousands of people across the U.S. that have been marching against police brutality. Protests in Haiti tend to lack social or economic coherence. We tend to march to overthrow a government, not to do away with social injustices. They tend to be organized by political parties for narrow political aims. When I covered Haiti for the New York Times back in the early 1990s I would see some of the same people at pro and anti Aristide rallies, screaming with the same vigor at each manifestation. I was told later some of the protestors are hired hand in the same way we go to Home Depot to find some workers to help out with household chores.
Of course, Martelly is deeply flawed. Questions of nepotism and corruption have cast a shadow over his administration and he has played the same political games as his predecessors, such as delaying parliamentarian elections.
But whatever one may think of Martelly, he has brought a can-do attitude to Haiti and after stumbling early on in his administration with a few unfortunate moves and comments, he settled down and let his ministers do their jobs. Is the country in a right course, many would say yes, although it still has a long way to go.
In two years, Martelly will constitutionally leave power and move into the sunset, having defied all odds by winning the presidency. The political class is still reeling from that shock and they are determined to have the last word, even at Haiti’s expenses.
Martelly’s predecessor, Rene Preval, said that it would take 25 years of steady progress to get Haiti out of its morass. The opposition, right or left, needs to learn that its role is to provide an alternative to the status quo and work hard to gain the people’s trust and field credible candidates. You cannot put up weak candidates and expect to make up by protesting the government.
That playbook may have worked in the past, but it is grossly outdated and needs to be discarded.