Once again, Haitians are facing the spectre of yet another occupation by a foreign entity as political tensions mount, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. It’s up to the Haitian diaspora to squash this dangerous idea before it takes root in order for Haiti to live up to its legacy of freedom and desired sovereignty. To rise to the occasion, we must organize swiftly and put aside the petty alliances and class divisions that have been complicit in Haiti’s deterioration.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph’s request to the U.N. and U.S. for security assistance and support for fall elections, including in the form of troops, is not only bold, it is misguided. The request also confirms one thing: That Haitian leaders and the international community are sifting through the same playbook used after the last assassination of a Haitian president 106 years ago. Back in 1915, they chose the play that resulted in the U.S. taking $500,000 from the Bank of Haiti to New York for “safekeeping” and the armed occupation of Haiti for nearly two decades.
Now, we’re seeing our alphabet soup friends — the U.N., U.S., and OAS — have sidebar conversations with a coterie of Haiti-based politicians and wanna-be presidents to decide what happens next. The Haitian Diaspora must insert itself into these conversations in and at every turn. We must “dit un mot/di yon mo” to make sure Haiti doesn’t fall into the same traps it’s been getting caught in since birth.
We can make a real difference
Even before this latest blow, we’ve said that Haiti’s long-term solutions lie with Haitians. This assassination puts us at a critical juncture that demands swift action from the diaspora, not just talk, because we have much to lose too if the latest play goes sideways.
In the U.S. alone, Haitian-Americans are 1.2 million strong population-wise, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As an economic bloc, we sent $3.8 billion back home in remittances in 2020 alone, about one third of Haiti’s GDP. We also have the brain power and voting power to make an impact in both the U.S. and Haiti.
When foreigners pack up and fly out at the end of their missions, when Haitian politicians hightail it abroad to buy million-dollar seaside villas, and when our own racism rears its ugly head in the form of class-based power struggles, it’s us Haitians abroad who carry Haiti. We’re the ones who send money for meals and schools. In short, we’re the ones who forego investments in the U.S. to give Haiti a constant, consistent lifeline.
So yes, this time around, we must force the international community and Haitian politicians to write a new page into the playbook, one that features the Haitian diaspora prominently. Only together can we create new, sustainable solutions that require transparency and accountability.
Time to turn ideas into plans
Haitian-Americans may not have the perfect answer just yet, but we’re actively working on it and trying to take a measured approach that could set up Haiti for success. Already, we see encouraging signs of Haitians abroad taking action. Signs like academics rejecting calls for military troops or vague intervention requests on various platforms. Signs like a small group gathered in Queens Saturday for a prayer vigil that turned into discussions of leadership reflective of the majority of Haitians. Signs like the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) working to articulate a position and provide support to constituents.
By the way, to those Haitian-American elected officials who’ve released empty statements about standing with the Haitian people and such, let’s not pretend you’re not of the Haitian people or beyond needing your Haitian constituents. That type of language translates to “there’s nothing I can do.” Frankly, that’s a cop-out so potential opponents won’t use it against you to say you care about Haitians more.
We say to you: You’re still an elected official who should be savvy enough to prioritize activities like NHAEON’s efforts or to offer comfort to your Haitian-American constituents. Take a page from Jewish elected officials at the most local levels who advocate for Israel.
A 10-point plan or its equivalent — such as the Haitian community priorities developed during the 2020 U.S. presidential elections — would be a meaningful outcome of the diaspora activities emerging. As a start, here are a few basic ideas that, once fully developed and implemented, can make a real difference in the long term for our people:
- Include Haitian-Americans with relevant experience on the ground in Haiti as a part of the special envoys or missions to broker political deals or provide humanitarian relief.
- Advocate strongly for the new constitution to remove exclusionary residency. requirements so that Haitian-Americans may be eligible to run for office in Haiti.
- Allocate a special position in Haiti’s Parliament to be filled by a member of the diaspora.
- Secure a cabinet-level ombudsman or oversight office to be led by diaspora members.
Again: A hard “No” on interventions
Unsurprisingly, some will say the diaspora is looking to replace the U.S., U.N., et al. in the Big Brother role for Haiti. Understandably, some might even say the diaspora can’t be trusted, given the alleged role of Haitian-Americans in the plot to assassinate the president.
We understand both those objections and welcome new solutions — as long as they’re organized and treated with the urgency the situation requires. Let’s hear the alternative proposals that come with such critiques.
What matters about the diaspora still applies. Knowing what we know as children of Haiti about both our motherland and the world stage as well as understanding how things are in Haiti versus how they should be on a technical level, we are indeed in a better position to formulate solutions for a functioning Haiti. A Haiti with real infrastructure, jobs and security for our loved ones.
Reactionary interventions resulting in anything less would be another catastrophic failure that leaves us worse off. But if we fumble this time, we just might be sounding the death knell for Haiti. That’s why we say: Ayisyen tou patou, leve kanpe pou nou leve tet peyi nou. We have to take a stand to make sure this blow to Moïse doesn’t become a fatal one for Haiti.