By Garry Pierre-Pierre
For more than two decades, Haitian Americans have been grumbling rightly that they don’t wield any significant influence in the affairs of their beloved homeland, despite being the largest donor to the country’s coffers. Haitians living outside of Haiti send more than $1 billion a year to friends and relatives in the form of remittances.
While most candidates wooing Haitian Diaspora’s money or vote, often commit to changing voting laws that bar Haitians abroad from running for office or voting, they’ve done little to introduce these laws and the general attitude of Haitians in Haiti toward their brethren is: Send us your money, but stay away from our social and political affairs.
Naturally, such attitude have rankled Haitians overseas. But I think the fault lies with the Diaspora by focusing most of their effort to be a major player in Haiti. We argue that we have the manpower, the technical skills and the savvy to help Haiti– a country that has been bleeding brainpower for close to 50 years.
However, the Diaspora has not organized itself as a strong, savvy and sophisticated bunch, capable or worthy of the influence they so dearly crave. No serious PACT, business group and professional entity exists to capitalize on various opportunities that are consistently presented to us here in the United States.
To be sure, there are a myriad of organizations, but they are run by a force of personality, whose ostensible goal is the self-promotion of a small clique. The larger goal, if there is one in the first place, is often lost in the process.
So as Haiti finds itself in yet another crisis, many Haitians here are confounded about what to do, if anything, to restore some sense of order in a troubled country that is quickly descending into chaos. Most of the country has been hit hard by protests that are drawing thousands to the streets, questioning the electoral process and demanding that elections scheduled for this Sunday be postponed because of flawed processes and fraudulent results, according to the opposition political party leaders.
This problem was in the making for a long time and the Diaspora should have been in front of it. In 2011, contentious elections were held and political novice Michel Martelly, a musician and entertainer, was declared the winner.
A couple of years later, we learned from election officials that Martelly was the third place finisher, yet he wound up being one of the two candidates in a runoff election. Martelly soundly defeated a weak candidate in Myrlande Manigat, a political scientist by trade and former First Lady.
United States Department cables from Wikileaks confirmed that State officials negotiated those elections and Martelly’s ascent to the presidency was the work of Cheryl Mills, Hilary Clinton’s chief of staff, when the current Democratic party frontrunner was Secretary of State.
When I learned of this transaction, I was furious and thought for sure that Diaspora leaders would embark on a quest to get State Department officials at the highest level to answer some basic questions. Such meddling should not go unchallenged. Haitian-American leaders should have demanded to know why was the democratic process, such as it is in Haiti, be so blatantly discarded. The seminal question that we should have addressed was why was Martelly chosen and what kind of deals did American officials make with him.
But none of this was done and Martelly’s opposition remains of people hurling personal attacks on social media. So now, the U.S. Department’s “man in Haiti” has failed miserably and is responsible for this electoral mess that is deteriorating as I write this piece. Martelly reluctantly organized legislative and local elections and when he did, they were three years late. Such a tactic gave the president absolute power, ruling without the pesky and meddlesome parliament.
The solution to this problem resides in Washington where it was created in the first place. Haitian-American leaders should not let this opportunity pass without exerting some influence in the process. I believe it’s not too late for a serious meeting with State Department officials and to make sure that the rule of law and the democratic process is not violated by our adopted country that has been preaching the value of democracy to the world.
The Diaspora cannot continue to act like a bunch of role players. If it wants to be a power broker in Port-au-Prince, it would be wise for us to start in Washington.