By Ruolz Ariste
Haiti is well known for being the first black nation to acquire its independence since 1804. More importantly, it has done so by fighting the very powerful and internationally dreadful Napoleon Bonaparte French army. However, the successors could not measure up to their ancestors. Since the 1950s, the situation, fueled by corruption, is getting much worse. Desperate situations call for drastic remedies! Therefore, the suggestion is to extend the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and make substantial money theft and embezzlement an international financial crime that can be prosecuted in this tribunal at the same rank as genocides.
In a recent news article from Radio Canada, the pitiful and tragic story of Haiti has been depicted by the numbers since the 2010 earthquake. The table below presents key indicators for Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which shares the island, in recent years (after 2018).
|Life Expectancy (years)||64||74|
|Income per habitant (US $)||1,272||8,282|
|Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births)||51.8||24.7|
Sources: https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/topic-overview; including World Bank.
Regarding these indicators, Haiti is also consistently below the average compared to the other Caribbean countries. These contrasting and dismal numbers speak for themselves. They might lead some people to believe that Haitians are inherently deficient. However, looking at Haitians in another environment would quickly dismiss this belief. The Haitian diaspora has successfully contributed to build its welcoming land, namely in North America.
In the case of Quebec, Canada for example, Samuel Pierre’s book entitled Ces Québécois venus d’Haïti showcased the contribution of the Haitian community to the construction of the new Quebec society from the 1950s. This document presents some of the achievements of the Quebec Haitian community with an emphasis on some fifty personalities. The latter have made their mark in fields as diverse as education, health, university and science, culture, engineering, sports, social, economic and political affairs. More globally, Fequiere Vilsaint and Maude Heurtelou’s book “Who is Who in Haitian Diaspora” contains the biographies of outstanding men and women in a wide range of professions and geographic locations outside of Haiti. It fulfills the same objectives of showcasing success stories of Haitian personalities in helping the development or growth of their welcoming land around the world during the last five decades or so.
Yet, during that same time period, the situation in their home country keeps worsening. Some people blame the international community for this catastrophic situation, starting with the imposition of a heavy independence debt (90 million francs paid from 1825 to 1947; which would have been over 21 billion US$ today) to continue with meddling in Haiti’s political and economic affairs. Others have pointed fingers mostly at internal actors who are pawns of the external actors, practice predatory-style economic transactions and are corrupt. Whether the blame repartition is 60% external and 40% internal, or vice-versa, or 50-50, it is clear that the Haitian internal structure and culture needs to be changed.
More specifically, internal corruption is in fact the major problem for the economic development of Haiti. The point is, corruption exists in all countries. However, it is fought by a strong judicial system in all developed countries and in most emerging countries. This is not the case for Haiti. This country is ranked 170th out of 179 countries in the 2020 Transparency International Corruption Index (compared to 137th for the Dominican Republic). The Petro-Caribe scandal is the latest example of rampant corruption and impunity in Haiti. What is worse, corruption is a vicious cycle and like an epidemic. For example, there are competent and honest individuals in the political arena within Haïti. However, because of internal corruption and western country involvement, most of the time, the incompetent and corrupt happen to be politically in charge.
Substantial corruption is a cancer for any economy: it prevents private investment, hampers production of goods and services, triggers social unrest or insecurity, and generates poor countries. In fact, there is a direct correlation between level of corruption and country poverty. A case in point is Botswana, among the least corrupted (35th) and the most developed African countries! One of the world’s poorest countries at independence in 1966, it rapidly became one of the world’s development success stories.
Haiti’s judicial system would have a crucial role to play in fighting corruption, just in the historical and unique case of the Consolidation trial in 1903 under the leadership of President Nord Alexis. But, this institution itself typically faces multiple challenges, fed by the corrupt system. The murder of Mr. Dorval, President of the Bar of Lawyers of Port-au-Prince, is the last case in point. Extending the mandate of the ICC in Hague to include prosecution for substantial money theft and embezzlement (for example, a cumulative amount of $1 million and over) would be a major turning point.
This way, the vicious cycle of corruption in Haiti can be broken and the country can take off and starts its long-overdue development.