By Francois Pierre-Louis
In the last month, Haitian-Americans have experienced two presidential elections that will fundamentally affect their future. On November 8, 2016, the United States of America held its presidential election. Although the major polling institutions projected Hillary Clinton to win over Donald Trump, the result was far different than most people had expected.
Trump defied all sort of orthodoxies and even managed to win the fundamentalist Christian votes despite the fact that he has married three times, with a reputation of being a playboy with no religious bent.
November 9 was a day of mourning for Hillary’s supporters who had hoped that she would be the first woman to shatter the glass ceiling. They woke up numb and dazed. They were confused and embarrassed. How could this happen? What went wrong? They were in disbelief and could not even accept the truth that she lost to Trump. It took them many days to realize that their dreams and aspirations had vanished in an instant with this election.
Although it was not a secret that Hillary had many flaws such as the use of a private server to manage her emails while she was the Secretary of State in the Obama administration and taking advantage of her network to deliver speeches to Wall Street companies for thousands of dollars, many people thought that her liberal political views on many social issues and her history of fighting for the poor and working class would be enough to overcome these obstacles. Moreover, by managing her campaign so well, Hillary left few cracks for the Republicans to exploit against her. But, despite all these efforts, the result has shown that Hillary’s past became a weapon against her instead of an asset.
By winning the election over Hillary, Donald Trump who is unapologetic for lashing out against immigrants, minorities, Muslims and for embracing White Supremacist groups, has shown that the American public is more afraid of a woman who may continue Obama’s agenda than a man who is willing to bring the country back to its ugly past.
It should be noted that the Haitian community was no fond of Hillary. Although she was a Senator from New York, which has a large Haitian immigrant population and her husband Bill Clinton was the official UN envoy for Haiti. It was difficult to find consensus in the community to support her candidacy. The community went as far as inviting Donald Trump to Little Haiti in Miami to meet with them where he denounced Hillary and her husband for mismanaging the funds that were raised to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. It was after Trump’s surprise visit to Little Haiti that Hillary decided to meet with her supporters there too. By that time, it was already too late to change people’s opinion of her. Haitian-Americans believed that her camp took Haitian voters for granted since they expected them to vote democratic anyway.
For many Haitians who were disappointed with how Bill and Hillary managed Haiti, Trump victory was a relief. They believe that a Trump presidency would be more supportive of Haiti by allowing the Haitian people to choose what is best for them instead of receiving orders from the State Department bureaucrats who think they know what is best for Haiti than the people themselves. Are Haitians being delusional or is there some truth to this thinking?
The idea that a new American President would be kinder and gentler toward Haiti has always been the hope of Haitians since the days of the Duvalier regime. In the 1970s and 80s, opposition leaders to the Duvalier dictatorship always harbored the feeling that a new American administration would help them get rid of the Duvalier dynasty. Many supported President Jimmy Carter who advocated the principle of Human Rights, which played a major role in the transformation of Eastern Europe. Although the Carter administration through Andrew Young who was his UN ambassador pressured Baby Doc Duvalier to loosen his grip on the opposition in Haiti, Carter did not go as far as advocating regime change. Ronald Reagan who succeeded Carter decided to end his support for the Duvalier dynasty, but managed to install a fiercely anti-communist and reactionary government after Baby Doc Duvalier fled in 1986. The idea that Trump would even support a Haitian government whose program and policy are in favor of the poor and middle class is exaggerated. Haitian politicians seem to forget that the United States despite differences that may come up between their presidential candidates never wavered from the fact that it only has permanent interest, not permanent friends. Although Trump will bring a conservative approach to social issues that will disenfranchise the Haitian community, his foreign policy toward Haiti may not change that much. It is well known that it does not matter which Political Party is in the White House because the President will always support the permanent interest of the United States over anything else. Therefore, Haitians should not expect Trump to pay much attention to Haiti. After all, Obama whom Haitians expected to care more about Haiti than previous Presidents did not visit the country during his presidency and handed over the task of rebuilding it after the earthquake to the Clintons. It was also under Obama’s watch that the misogynist and kleptocratic Michel Martelly became President. Therefore, I would urge Haitians to “curb their enthusiasm” about Donald Trump.
Contrary to the US election on November 8 where Trump was declared President the same day of the balloting, Haitians had to wait for more than a week to find out who their next president will be. On November 28, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) released the preliminary result of the election. Jovenel Moise, who enjoyed the backing of former President Michel Martelly, the US State Department and the local business elite, was declared the winner in the first round of balloting with 56% of the vote. In the aborted 2015 presidential election, Martelly failed to impose Moise as President. It looks like the current interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert will succeed to do so even though his political party is in opposition to that of the president-elect’s.
Moise’s victory is nothing more than the beginning of a new round of violence in Haiti. It is obvious that most of the losing presidential candidates will contest the result and this issue will only be settled in the streets. The choice of Moise by the US and the private sector means that they are resolute on moving forward with their plan to exploit the country’s natural resources to the detriment of the population. The opposition rejected him in 2015 because it believed that he would be Martelly’s puppet. Like Trump, Moise has no political experience and never been in public administration. The difference between a Trump presidency and that of a Moise will be their approach to the office. While Trump has a list of tested politicians and experts who are willing to join his administration to continue defending the permanent interest of the United States at home and abroad, Moise will probably rely on the shady people that the Haitian media reported funded his campaign to survive the next five years. Many of these people are businessmen who don’t want to pay taxes, alleged drug dealers that are looking for state protection, the international community that is supposed to be friends of Haiti and technocrats whose main objective is to remain in power at any cost.
This is the first time in years since Haitians in Haiti and the Diaspora will have to deal with such dilemma. While it is expected that leaders of the Democratic Party in the US will oppose most of Trump’s reactionary policies and his intent to roll back the progressive achievements of the Obama administration, in Haiti the prospects are different. The country does not have any well-organized political party that can defend the core issues that the people care about. The majority of the presidential candidates are one-man political organization. It is expected that they will negotiate with Moise for cabinet positions since this was primarily the reason they entered the race. Issues such as economic development, education, housing, environmental degradation and state authority will continue to linger on as he manages to complete his 5-year term with the support of the international community and the “repugnant elite” that funded his campaign. While the Democratic Party in the US will assess the reasons that it lost the Presidency to Donald Trump, in Haiti there will not be such a process among the 25 presidential candidates. Without a serious effort to unite leaders that come from the same political family, Haiti will continue to drift toward chaos and false promises by neophyte politicians such as Martelly and Moise whose sole ambition is to become president for personal gain.
Francois Pierre-Louis PhD is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Queens College