haitian drive-by motorcyclists, gun violence in haiti, haitian machetes
In this Feb. 24, 2020 file photo, men on a motorcycle brandish machetes as off-duty police officers protest over pay and working conditions, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery, File)

By Garry Pierre-Pierre | The Conversation

In February of 1986, I watched with a mixture of excitement and dejection the coverage of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fleeing Haiti to exile with his wife and infant son, Nicolas, clutched in his mother’s arms. 

The iconic video features Baby Doc behind a metallic gray BMW as they make their way to the airport in the middle of the night to an awaiting plane that would take them to their gilded exile in Paris. 

I was a junior at Florida A&M University and thought for sure that there would be no bigger story than that in my lifetime. My dreams of being a foreign correspondent covering Haiti were dashed. 

Five years later, I would be parachuted to Port-au-Prince, to cover another big story, the first failed coup d’etat against the populist newly elected, Jean Bertrand Aristide. That putsch was organized by Roger Lafontant, a sinister, powerful henchman and the ideological architect of  the Duvalier regime.

Lafontant, jailed in Les Cayes for his failed coup attempt, would later be killed when Aristide was deposed months after being sworn into office on September 30, 1991.

As most of you know, I pretty much made my journalism career focusing on Haiti and its diaspora. The story hasn’t abated much, although the international press has shown little appetite in covering Haiti because the narrative repeats itself every decade. With the media ecosystem trying to figure out its business model, unless another earthquake or another natural disaster strikes, don’t expect a throng of journalists to rush to Haiti to chronicle the political and social upheavals currently brewing out of control. 

Only the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles and The Haitian Times pay copious attention to the story. We are the only foreign-based outlets covering the ongoing gang warfare and kidnappings that have been spiraling out of control since 2018 and are now the norm.

Don’t expect the Organization of American States (OAS) to fix our problems either. They can’t. They’ve been at it in the past, and nothing has changed. In the aftermath of Aristide’s first coup, an OAS mission was met with derision by the bourgeois and political elite. They even had a ditty they sang during their SUV protest marches. 

“OEA, OEA, when I’m hungry I don’t play,” the song went, referring to OAS by its French acronym. 

The United Nations can’t do anything because it just left Haiti under a cloud of suspicion and accusations of bringing cholera to the country. Many of its members were also accused of sexually exploiting and abusing girls and women. 

Even the United States is limited on what actions it can take. If President Joe Biden were to send in soldiers to stabilize the country, the Republicans would pounce and use that intervention to attack Democrats during the next year’s midterm elections. Unlike Bill Clinton, Biden doesn’t want to put his administration in play for Haiti. He is well-versed in foreign affairs and doesn’t need to gamble in an untenable situation. 

“OEA, OEA, when I’m hungry I don’t play,” the song went, referring to OAS by its French acronym. 

Another macabre week goes by

This week, we’ve seen a slew of killings and massacres in Haiti, including the one in Delmas that killed 15 people. What makes this time most astonishing is that some of the victims were prominent people. One was a journalist who was shot dead, another is in critical condition after being shot three times. A prominent political activist was gunned down as well. The brother of pop singer Rutshelle Guillaume is also a victim of this gun violence.

The situation is tense, and people are being displaced. Some with relatives or property in the Dominican Republic are crossing the border.  Many others are fleeing to the United States to escape the mayhem — and to get their Covid-19 vaccines while they’re here. 

No matter how many people leave though, they will return at some point because they’re in no position to start life anew in a different country. They’re not able to get a job in corporate America and can’t fathom themselves driving an Uber or working in the service industry. 

Unfinished business

Part of what’s going on here is unfinished business. The inequality and lack of opportunity has radicalized a large swath of the population who see gangs as their only way out. So, they pillage, kill and terrorize the country with impunity.

With no OAS, U.N. or U.S. coming to the rescue anytime soon, the challenge is for Haitians to solve our own problems. We need to look in the mirror and admit that we are the problem. We can’t blame anyone. That dog won’t hunt no more. 

We are like that decrepit house with an old car parked in the front, with no tires and only a brick for support. The grass is overgrown, the shingles are missing and the paint peeled off long ago. Neighbors’ pleas to clean up the place fall on deaf ears. The neighborhood association even raised funds to get them to fix up the place, but to no avail.

At some point, these neighbors just give up and ride it out, hoping that one day the residents of that eyesore will just leave. That’s us right now, with other Caribbean nations putting visa requirements for us to travel to their countries. The irony is that Haiti is a member of CARICOM, and under CARICOM laws, citizens of member countries can travel freely among themselves.

A tragic, embarrassing malady  

In the 30 years that I’ve been at this, I’ve seen many windows of opportunity quickly shut because of our mendacity and inability to put the concerns of the country above those of the individual. This bloodshed is not new. It is a searing part of our history. 

The situation is not only tragic, but embarrassing because this malady cannot be translated nor transmitted to others. Our inability to make this country work is only making matters worse. The political opposition’s silence has been deafening. They are nowhere to be seen or heard. They have provided no alternative except that President Jovenel Moise must go. Some even put the entire situation on his back. 

This bloodshed is not new. It is a searing part of our history. 

Moise is an accidental president who was put in place by his predecessor Michel Martelly until the next election comes around for Martelly to reassume his righteous place inside the National Palace.  When Martelly was taking credit inaugurating projects that were underway way before he was president, people fell for the trap. They lauded Martelly’s non-achievements. I argued incessantly that we will know the fruit of Martelly’s presidency during his successor’s administration. So Moise was left an empty hand and he’s leaving even emptier coffers to whomever replaces him next year.   

The poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron sang that “the revolution will not be televised.” In Haiti, the revolution is being televised and it’s streaming live on Facebook.  

Garry Pierre-Pierre

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

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5 Comments

  1. Great article. A very well written piece, revealing the dagger in the heart of the Haitian plague. It will take the will of all of us, haitian diaspora in the forefront, to remedy the situation.

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