By Daniella Bien-Aime
It makes sense now.
What makes sense, you might ask?
It makes sense, after reading both the Haitian Times and the New York Times, why former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would personally make a trip to Haiti in 2010 to demand that the Haitian people’s original vote for Jude Célestin be changed in favor of Michel Martelly.
Célestin was former President René Préval’s protégé (although there is a growing pushback amongst Haitians that this type of succession planning for the nation’s highest office is not effective). Both men seem to share a philosophy that in order for Haiti to move forward, the focus must be on building its infrastructure and developing its people. These convictions put both men at odds with the international community’s goals for Haiti. The international community would lose on cheap labor, among other things, if Haiti were to change.
According to Wikileaks in Haiti Liberté, “Even before the earthquake, President Préval had called on the United Nations to change its mission from costly, mostly pointless, and sometimes repressive military patrols to building desperately needed infrastructure. ‘Turn your tanks into bulldozers,’ Préval pleaded in his 2006 Inaugural Speech. U.N. and U.S. officials repeatedly and dismissively rebuffed the request.” To say Préval had a tense relationship with Washington because of its unyielding policies towards Haiti was an understatement.
Yet, when it came to military policy, the policies moved quickly. “The U.S. moved aggressively to beef up the Haitian police (PNH), giving police chief Mario Andrésol ‘command and control … advice and mentoring…’ trying to ensure that Haitian police officers were paid and well-equipped,” Wikileaks informs us.
Jude Célestin also poses a threat to the international community’s policies towards Haiti.
With all the information accessible to the world from Haiti’s intense political crisis in the last six years, the world is now discovering why Jude Célestin was not the best choice for the former Secretary—he would proceed with Préval’s commonsense approach. As Préval reiterated numerous times, “Rebuilding must take place in a way that benefits the entire country … health care, education and jobs for all men and women across this country would prevent migratory flows to surrounding countries.”
The fear in Washington was that the Swiss-educated engineer would not be easily manipulated or pressured to keep “business as usual” at the expense of the 9.5 million people who the West has kept in isolation to suffer and live in misery for decades as a result of embargo and aid tactics. Célestin, along with a group of eight former presidential candidates, have made history by not buckling under pressure, regardless of what was offered. And they have managed that while succeeding in capturing support throughout the world.
My sense is, and some may not agree with me, that having been educated in Switzerland, Célestin understood what democracy for all in a functioning society should look like, and why Haiti deserves the same. No one is painting Célestin as a saint, but he surprised most of us by going against what a traditional Haitian politician would do.
What makes this story interesting is how it took the international community by surprise. The international community just assumed everyone in Haiti could be bribed, manipulated and easily dismissed—and they discovered they were wrong. Another group that was also shocked was the western media. They were at a loss in terms of how to shape Célestin’s story to communicate it to the world.
It was engrossing to read the West’s narrative versus that of the African media on Haiti’s recent election crisis. One Africa News journalist wrote, “Haiti: Influential candidate quits presidential race.” However, when U.S. News & World Report writer David McFadden from the Associated Press wrote about the same situation, the headline read, “Boycotting candidate says Jan. 24 runoff will set Haiti back.” This was after Célestin told the world he would not participate in what he referred to as the “masquerade election.” This is the same man, but two different narratives depending on who is telling the story – so much for being on the progressive side.
Célestin may have set a precedent that will force the international community to ask some hard questions, such as what will they do if they find more politicians in Haiti like Préval and Célestin? Will other candidates follow Célestin’s stand to force the international community to change its approach towards Haiti?
The center for Strategic and Multicultural Studies put it aptly by asserting:
In this latest fight for political freedom, one has to give credit to the presidential candidates and their supporters, especially Jude Célestin who holds the key to Washington victory, but totally refuses to yield to pressure. Had he accepted to go along with the masquerade, it would have been far more difficult to stop the scheme against Haiti. Jude understands his position in history, and he rises to the moment. He could have done like many others before—betraying Haiti and playing by the rules set forth for conformist politicians. Instead, he has decided to hold firm. With his steadfast refusal, a wall is effectively built between the two sides—a wall only brute force could possibly break.
Even some members in the Haitian diaspora were amazed by Jude Célestin’s boldness. Many were debating on social media that it was only a matter of time before he gave in if the right bribery came forth. But we all know how the story ended: He and Haiti’s eight other election candidates (Group 8) have showed the world a different side of Haiti.
Some members of the international community must be nervous, because for the first time they are seeing that their control in Haiti is not guaranteed. One thing the international community has learned, and only time will tell if the lesson has registered, is that you can pay for an election, but it does not guarantee you will win.
Daniella Bien-Aime is the founder of the Bien-Aime Post, a digital platform that focuses on business, leadership, education, and social media, within the context of the Haitian diaspora and Haiti. Follow her on Twitter @dbienaime