By Garry Pierre-Pierre . Garry@haitiantimes.com
“No electricity. No running water. No telephone. Haiti, leave it or love it.”
This message was prominently displayed on bumper stickers on SUVs all over Haiti during the early 1990s. That was back when the Haitian bourgeoisie thought they were thumbing their noses at the international community that wanted exiled president Jean Bertrand Aristide to return to power.
That message has haunted me ever since because it foreshadowed what the country is going through right now, a few years after a United Nations military mission left Haiti in Haitian hands.
Every day we hear stories of kidnappings, shootings and assaults. When it all going to stop? No one knows.
Everyone is vulnerable. You’re a street vendor and poor, don’t worry you have a price. A secretary you say you are — so what? A businessman, we don’t care.
The kidnapper’s logic goes:
Each of you has a price and I can get it because there are families in the Diaspora who can find the money if you don’t have it. They don’t want the guilt of knowing that you’re dead because they didn’t do anything. So they give.
Who are the perpetrators, you may ask? Well, I can throw out names like “Barbecue” “Ti Je” “Ti Linet” — as some of the gangs and their leaders are known. The reality is that these gangs were working for a coterie of forces at war with each other. Now they’re freelancing and out of control.
You see the various Middle Eastern Haitian factions are at war with each other. The political class is at war with each other. Basically, Haiti is at war with itself. It is falling apart as we watch it live on Facebook. No one is safe.
Everyone was in a tizzy last week because U.S. officials downplayed the importance of a march, saying that the crowd was small. To prove them wrong, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to show that there is little support for president Jovenel Moise. There was a lot of feel good about last Sunday’s protest but little results. The U.S. and the international community writ large did not change their policy vis-à-vis Haiti.
Never mind that there is a pandemic affecting most of the world and various variants of the Covid-19 coronavirus spreading around. We got to show those ‘blans’ who we are. We are the descendants of Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Petion.
A lengthy conversation with a Haitian person will eventually harken back to 1804 when we gained our independence from France, becoming the first black republic having defeated the mighty Napoleon, once considered one of the greatest generals of his time.
We are stuck in 1804 and we’re still fighting. Shortly after Dessalines gave us our independence, we turned on him and hacked him to death. Let that sink in. We killed one of the founding fathers. And we continue to fight even if it’s not in our best interests.
Here is the contradiction. I believe deeply that the Haitian people are good, hardworking and smart people who are looking for a better life. A tiny elite has put its knees on the necks of the population and has been squeezing their necks relentlessly. Young people have no hope. Everyone who can is looking to leave the country to go anywhere even when they face withering discrimination and racism in places like Chile, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.
We are unwanted and persecuted because we are poor and black. Even at home. How else would leaders refuse to come together for the benefit of the country and its people. Haiti is a gorgeous country with gentle and rugged mountain chains and an indigo blue pristine coastline. Why would anyone want to leave such paradise?
To quote Bob Marley: “They made their world so hard every day people are dying… everywhere is war.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve shown what we can do when given a chance. For instance, Haitians outside of Haiti in Canada, the U.S. are making a decent living and are contributing to those societies’ advancement, all while their country descends deeper into chaos.
You find Haitians in high positions in government, private sector and non-profit organizations. We are the essential workers and first responders. We are strivers and trailblazers. Yet in Haiti we are still fighting the war of independence. People, we won.
Enough. It’s time for the diaspora to do something. We need to send a strong message to the government and its counterparts in the business sector to get their act together or we will stop sending remittances to relatives for a month, then assess its impact on the country.
Despite the lack of organization and cohesion, we need to put a calibrated embargo of our own on Haiti. I understand this is controversial and many would not follow suit. But think about it, we are part of Haiti’s problems. These remittances that we’re so proud of contributing are not appreciated by political leaders. Their argument is that the money doesn’t stay long in Haiti because Haiti doesn’t produce the food stuff that people buy with the money. Warped logic in my opinion.
But these brilliant minds don’t realize that if this money did not come into Haiti’s treasury, they would have a shortage of U.S. dollars and the government would be responsible for caring for those suffering. Such an attitude is in part because it is difficult for the government to syphon off this money. Former president Michel Martelly levied a $1.50 fee on all incoming money transfers ostensibly to build schools, you may recall. Four years after he left office, there has been no accounting on how many schools have been built.
The war is over. It’s time to rebuild.