By Vania Andre
When the first tremble hit, no one was sure where the force came from. People looked to the sky, the ground and around for some type of understanding about what was going on. With each rumble and roll of the ground, buildings collapsed in waves onto each other, taking people with them along their destructive path. The sky was grey with dust and nearly every road was impassable as pounds of debris blocked the roads.
Despite the sheer terror of those moments, the days and weeks that followed still left something to be dismayed by. The dead and living cluttered the streets, as bodies piled up along sidewalk and dismay hit, when survivors realized that for the moment, they were alone in this, without a government to turn to.
“I remember four-story buildings collapsed into a stack of concrete pancakes,” Kent Annan, co-director of Haiti Partners, an education-based nonprofit operating out of Haiti. “I remember bodies being pulled from rubble. I remember it seemed to take so long for rebuilding to start.”
“If you were here right after the quake, you would know the difference between the city then and as it is now,” Harry Adam, executive director of Unite de Construction de Logements et de Batiments Publics (UCLBP). “The change is incredible.”
Now, five years later, long after the trembles have gone, Haiti stands a country divided, still plagued by political rumblings that seem always on the heel of the country’s success. A look at Haiti from the international community and media’s perspective, and the consensus appears clear: Haitians want Martelly out. But, conversations with everyday people living amidst the chaos reveal surprising sentiments, wrought with complete confusion on the state of affairs.
“In all my life I’ve never seen a president do the work Martelly has done,” said Jean Michel*, 28, who owns a car dealership in Petionville. “It’s not the people that want him gone, it’s those senators. Since he’s taken office they’ve tried to block him in every way.”
Discussions with the people who make up a slow, but, growing middle class population in Haiti reveal a mixture of confusion, disgust, and disappointment; sprinkled with a touch of hopelessness, when discussing the political chaos unraveling in their backyards.
Those rioting, do so with no political ideology behind their actions, Michel said. They have money thrown at them to take to the streets, to advance whatever self-serving motives their financiers have.
There’ve been several; theories thrown around as to the real reason behind the protests. Some believe Senators from the opposition, who were used to a “magouy” (scheming) way of running things, didn’t care for former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe’s straight and “no holds barred” approach to governance. Others believe former President Jean Bertrand Aristide is instigating the riots through key senators, to take focus away from his pending legal troubles.
Regardless of which theory they subscribe to, the common culprit is the opposition Senators, who many believe will sacrifice the country to advance their own political motives.
Deadline fast approaching
Martelly avoided a political standoff that could have led to the dissolution of the government, late Sunday evening when he made a last-minute agreement with leaders from four opposition parties.
“Through this agreement, we are sure to achieve normalization of the political situation in the country,” Martelly said after the agreement was reached.
Although a last-minute decision was made Sunday to keep the government functioning, lawmakers must still pass an emergency electoral law to end the political standoff, which they have yet to do. The deadline, which was midnight Monday, has passed and leaves the door open for Martelly to rule by decree – a method of rule that allows for unchallenged creation of law by a single person or entity. Ruling by decree, a style of governance used mainly by dictators and absolute monarchs, is troubling at best for a country that has a history of dictatorships and political unrest.
Following the ousting of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the Haitian people put in place a new constitution, whose main focus was to prevent another dictator from taking hold of the country.
Under this new constitution, a series of “severe checks and balances were put into place that would allow parliament to dismiss the prime minister with a simple majority in either chamber,” Jonathan Katz, who covered Haiti after the earthquake for the Associated Press.
“Recognizing the extreme power that the legislature has over its branch, the executive—and this includes all presidents from all parties—has consistently exploited a loophole to prevent elections from being held, to keep parliament weak and allow presidents to rule by decree.”
During his election, Martelly received strong backing from the U.S.
The U.S. supported Martelly because he saw reconstruction the same way George Washington did, “based on foreign investment,” Katz said. Jude Celestin appeared to be a “continuation” of former President Rene Preval, who the U.S. had a contentious relationship with at times.
“The Organization of the American States (OAS)—and really the United States—came in and all but decided the results of the election,” he said. “The effect was to have the president that the United States wanted, but also to allow what became the opposition to remain in power in parliament.”
Critics of Martelly argue this is the culmination of Martelly’s plan to delay elections until he can rule unchallenged. However in November 2014 the president, vowed to call elections should he be forced to rule by decree because of the political impasse.
“It’s up to institutions to do their job,” he said in an interview with a French radio station. “One power that I don’t have is to force parliament to vote… Once we will get to a dysfunction, my first decision will be to convene elections.”
The delayed elections is a blame game with each side pointing the finger to the other. On one hand, people on the street rioting cite Martelly as the reason for the failed elections. Martelly’s administration on the other hand, allege the Senators, who are inciting these riots, are the ones who are indeed delaying the elections, because of their unwillingness to vote on the current electoral law.
Saturday hundreds took to Port-au-Prince’s streets to call for Martelly’s departure. Violence erupted as police fired tear gas and sprayed water to disperse the crowd, who had convened close to where the National Palace had once stood before the earthquake. A sad symbol that appeared lost to those on the streets causing chaos.
“If Martelly is forced out, the country is finished,” Michel said.
People don’t understand the elections don’t depend on Martelly, Sabina Michaud, 27, a receptionist said. Now they want him gone.
“It’s the rule of law, if they ask for bread, they will ask for cheese,” she said. “First they wanted Lamothe, not they want him. The pep ( are uneducated and don’t know why they are fighting. When asked all they can say is Martelly is stealing.”
5 years later – transitioning to a period of long-term development
“After the tremors stopped, Haitians worked tirelessly to rebuild their nation,” Secretary of State John Kerry, said in a statement regarding the 5 year anniversary of the earthquake. “Their progress is remarkable.”
Although accusations of Martelly’s ineptitude run rampant in the media and select political circles, the physical evidence tells quite the contrary.
“Rubble no longer impedes reconstruction,” Kerry said. “The number of displaced persons in tent camps is down more than 90 percent. More children are attending primary schools…and Haiti has achieved positive economic growth for each of the past four years.”
Martelly’s biggest accomplishments are paving, once virtually impassable roads, and instilling a general sense of security that Haiti hasn’t had for a long time, Michel said. He’s modernizing the country and cleaning up the streets.
During his time in office, Martelly introduced a series of social welfare programs under “Ede Pep,” a national social assistance program created by the Martelly / Lamothe administration. They include “Ti Manman Cheri,” a program where poor families receive supplement income from the government and “Lekol Gratis,” that provides free education for students to name a few. Other programs include recycling and housing initiatives.
Political compromises need to be made so that the story on the 12th isn’t about Haiti’s political instability, but more about its progress, said Thomas Adams, special coordinator for Haiti with the U.S. State Department.
“Before, there was an absence of government,” said Michel. “Now there’s some, but there’s still a lot to do. There will never be enough time to repair damage from the past. If he’s stealing, I don’t know, and I can’t say I care. All I know is that for the first time I see real visible progress in my country.”