By Garry Pierre-Pierre
A few months after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted as president of Haiti following a bloody coup d’etat on September 30, 1991, something amazing happened. A seemingly spontaneous right-wing opposition movement sprung out of nowhere. The name of the group was Revolutionary Front Armed for the Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). Its leader was Emmanuel Constant.
At the time, I was covering Haiti for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. I had spent weeks on the ground covering the aftermath of the coup, and the devastating impact it was having on the population. I returned home for a little rest and relaxation before going back to cover the developments of the coup.
When I returned to Port-au-Prince, the atmosphere had drastically changed. The resistance of the coup was eclipsed by a right-wing movement. A new organization had emerged and it was unusually efficient. The organization was known by its French acronym, FRAPH, phonetically means hit. It was a classic Haitian double entendre.
FRAPH graffiti were scrawled all over the walls in the capital city and the provinces. FRAPH appeared well organized replete with a hierarchy and a headquarters. Constant summoned the gaggle of foreign journalists for a news conference at his headquarters, which was also his private residence.
After the conference, which generated little real news, I told the local journalist who was working with me that something didn’t seem right to me. I told her that I didn’t know that Haitians were so efficient to pull something this complex so fast. We laughed it off and I didn’t take FRAPH too seriously and wrote little about the organization. The human toll and the tragedy of the coup was of most interest to my editors at the Sun-Sentinel.
A few years later, Constant would go on “60 Minutes” and confessed that he was a CIA operative and that FRAPH had been a CIA concoction. Constant would move to New York and continue his dastardly activities and was eventually convicted of real estate fraud and spent years in prison in the United States.
I’m sharing this FRAPH anecdote because I see historical trends at work here with the PetroCaribe Challenge movement that is sweeping the country and has garnered a momentum unseen since the FRAPH movement.
To be sure, I’m not insinuating that there are parallels between FRAPH and the PetroCaribe Challenge. The point is that there are similarities to be pointed out. I also do not know that the current movement has the imprimatur of the CIA or any other foreign intelligence agencies. But the sophistication of this challenge once again raises some questions for me.
The narrative of the PetroCaribe Challenge is that it happened spontaneously on social media, primarily Twitter. The main difference this time is that no one has emerged as a leader and entreaties by political parties and political actors have been rebuffed. This is akin to the Occupy Wall Street movement that swept through the U.S. a few years ago until it fizzled out of existence.
The PetroCaribe Challenge is brilliant strategy. Have a grass-roots movement with no discernable leadership asking those in power to account for the missing billions of dollars in low-interests loan from the Venezuelan government. Haiti also receives oil at a low price and in turn the government is able to subsidize the price of oil at an artificially low rate, affordable to the average Haitian. Many other countries in the region enjoy the same benefits dating back from the days when Hugo Chavez was the Venezuelan president.
Chavez wanted to use his country’s vast oil output and wealth to garner influence and power in the region as a stab in the eyes of George W. Bush, who he loathed.
Many countries, including neighboring Dominican Republic has made good use of the funds by shoring up or building roads, transportation hubs and universities. But in Haiti, the government has been unable to tell the population what happened to the money, a loan that has to be repaid.
So presumably, a movement to demand accountability has sprung to huge success. President Jovenel Moise so far appears to be in a difficult situation to provide a sound and credible explanation of where the money went.
I, and other commentators, have asked that the government hires an international audit firm to do a financial autopsy and submit a detailed report. Last week, I went to Haiti to attend the Gout and Saveur Lakay food festival and took the opportunity to talk to some insiders about the PetroCaribeChallenge.
Not surprisingly I found that many people are skeptical that anything will come out of the movement. They tell me that even if Moise is able to hire the firm to do the financial autopsy, the report will be whitewashed or politicized.
A friend who is an insider tells me bluntly that while people are focusing their ire on the government, the private sector is as complicit in this muck and any credible report will expose their duplicity in the pillage of the state coffers.
“obviously there are contracts that were doled out,” the friend said. “There are many incomplete projects that are out there. The government officials got their kickbacks but the private sector got the money and didn’t finish the job.”
I don’t care who is responsible for this daylight robbery of the country’s coffers. Whether it is public or private sectors the inquiry should be conducted and those who are guilty must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But I know enough in my 27 years as a Haiti watcher that the scenario will not end this way. The entire mess will be blamed on one or a handful of low level people, some people who are dead and business as usual will continue.
Somehow am not sure that’s the end game that the “architect” of this movement had in mind when the PetroCaribe Challenge was sketched out.