By Garry Pierre-Pierre
Last month a delegation of Haitian professionals living outside of Haiti met with Interim-President Jocelerne Privert, and high on the agenda was ways that the Haitian Diaspora could help pay for the upcoming national elections.
I wish I were a fly on the wall for that meeting of warped minds. The meeting is a classic Haitian poker gam,e where both sides are bluffing and they know it. But the farce continues as both sides are holding 2s and 3s cards, while pretending to have a handful of Aces and Kings.
Before I discuss the meeting, it’s important for me to put the situation in its proper context. The previous government of Michel Martelly had failed to hold elections during the early part of the administration when it was mandated to do so. As a result, Martelly ruled by decree and created a constitutional crisis, leaving the country without a parliament.
In the twilight of his term, Martelly decided elections had to be held after all, so the people could elect his successor and almost the entire parliament and local representatives.
This is no small task for the most organized nations, let alone our beloved homeland, which is perpetually embroiled in political mess after another.
Needless to say the elections, held last October, were a hot mess and had to be redone. Martelly left office last February, leaving an interim president in his wake, after spending millions of dollars of aid money on the botched elections. The international community, which was willing to live with the results, grew irate and said they will not fund any more elections. The Haitian government was on its own in this one.
Privert, whose sole mandate is to organize free and fair elections, finds himself in a quandary. The Haitian treasury has said it has found nearly half of the estimated $50 million price tag for a makeover.
Enter the Diaspora leadership. This group likes to boast about how Haitians living overseas send nearly a billion dollars a year to relatives to help them survive the country’s severely limited economic opportunities. But remittance money is used for consumption and most of it returns to the United States where goods are purchased and resold to Haitians.
In short, the money does not do much for Haiti’s economy, whose manufacturing output is minimal. The money only insures that relatives living in Haiti can at least buy food and other basic necessities.
The Diaspora with all of its individual achievements remains poor as a group. Too much of its disposable income is sent back to Haiti, making it difficult to amass any significant wealth needed to build strong and sustainable communities in the United States or Canada.
Furthermore, Haitians don’t feel any obligations to give money to causes in Haiti beyond helping relatives. Even if we had the luxury to give, we doubt that money raised here ostensibly for Haiti will go to the right cause and not be used to line up the pockets of corrupt officials.
I take this argument another step. Let’s say the elite among us wanted to donate to this election process out of a sense of pride and belief that as a sovereign state, Haiti has to fund and organize its own elections.
Haitians living outside of Haiti cannot vote and they are not given many rights under the Constitution even if they were born in Haiti, but hold permanent residency in another country. Double citizenship is a pipedream. The ironic thing about this situation is that almost every elected official or candidate that I’ve met has made rectifying this unjust situation his or her top priority. After more than 30 years, Haitians living outside are just that, outsiders, whose money is needed and encouraged, but nothing else. Efforts to bring the Haitian Diaspora into the mix in Haiti have gone nowhere. We’re still waiting.
Last month, I had a fascinating conversation with a former high level official from the Provisional Electoral Council, known by its French acronym, CEP. He said he was all for giving Haitian overseas the right to vote through parliamentarian decree. But what stumped him was the logistics. He peppered me with questions. Where would they vote and how would we ensure that only Haitians vote.
I explained to him that other countries with dual citizenship laws have their citizens vote at their consular and embassies and in some cases community centers monitored by government officials. I told him that voter registration would be the same process used to provide passports and other vital documents. He was convinced that this process was vulnerable to abuse. I laughed and asked him how many foreigners wanted to be Haitians or vote in a Haitian election illegally. As expected I did not get an answer and the conversation ended there.
So why would any Diaspora donate any significant amount of money to Haiti? They don’t. They know the system and the game is rigged. The self-appointed Diaspora leaders can continue to provide false hope to their Haitian counterparts as they get false promise in return.
With elections less than a month away, let’s hope Privert can find the money necessary to carry out his mandate and let another player bluff his or her way to the presidency.