Jovenel Moise, Andre Apaid, Group 184, haiti turmoil, minustah and Aristide
President Jovenel Moïse (left) shaking hands with Haitian businessman Andre Apaid (right), who has been contracted to grow stevia for Coca-Cola. Undated photo via haitiliberte.com

In 2004, as Haiti was set to celebrate its 200th year of independence from France, the business community and the political opposition thought it was a grand idea to remove Jean Bertrand Aristide from power. 

Leading the chorus was an ad hoc organization of civil society and politicians, called Group 184. It drafted a plan and vowed that once Aristide was out of office, they would restore Haiti to its former glory in less than three months. Haiti’s problems, as they saw it, rested with Aristide.

Unfortunately, we continue to hear the same tired narrative at every crossroads, which we had heard many times before and since 2004. Today’s boogeyman is the gangs. I have spoken to many people who truly believe that once Barbecue, Ti Je – the colorful names of the current crop of gang leaders – are out of the picture, Haiti will be a better place. 

But, will it be? It was not better in the last decade or so. It was stuck. We’ve been kicking the can down the road and now we’re at a dead end with nowhere to go. Let’s take a look at the recent assassination of president Jovenel Moise. That July 7 murder shocked the world and put Haiti in a tailspin from which it is still reeling. 

You would think that as jarring as the assassination of a sitting president is these days, it would bring the nation together and that we’d be more reflective and assess where we are as a society. Instead, the political parties writ large have been silent and have offered few ideas to restore some political stability.

Then again, prior to the assassination, there were daily calls for Moise’s departure where, you guessed it, we were told once again that Haiti’s problems could be solved if Moise were no longer in power. 

These days, the conversation about the state of affairs rests on the international community’s nefarious actions in Haiti and the negative impact they have had on Haiti and its impoverished people. Some of them border on conspiracy theories that are not worth repeating. 

I’m not discounting the role of the international community here. I have written about failed policies of the United States, the United Nations and the Organization of American States. But laying the blame solely at their feet is intellectual dishonesty at best. Delusional, at worst. 

Andy Apaid, the garment factory owner who was the vocal leader of Group 184, did get his wish. Aristide was whisked away and the U.S sent in Marines to stabilize the country before passing the baton to the UN, which called that mission MINUSTAH and stayed in the country for 17 years. 

The garment industry got its wishes with the HOPE Act, which lowered or eliminated tariffs on garment exports from Haiti to the U.S.  I’m sure Apaid made plenty of money. But the country got nothing in return. Under the UN stewardship, Rene Preval was elected for a second time, Michel Martelly was elected and eventually Moise was as well. He ruled until he was killed. There were no coups or this level of prolonged unrest to speak of. 

However, the elections, except for Preval’s, were deeply flawed and the country was not governed well. The U.N. presence masked a lot of problems that were percolating below the surface. The current situation with the gangs existed long before the U.N. presence in Haiti. 

One question that few, if any, in Haiti bothered to ask themselves is why the U.N. was in Haiti in the first place. The U.N. usually sends troops to places ravaged by civil wars, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kosovo, to name a few. But Haiti wasn’t facing a civil war, it was mired in a political stalemate that had descended into chaos. 

Our inability to solve our problems among ourselves have had more negative impact on the country than whatever harms the international community has done. The U.N. was responsible for a cholera epidemic and some soldiers were accused of rape and assault. 

Imagine what would have happened if Aristide could have been trusted to carry out his terms, with the opposition offering a better alternative and marshaling support among the population? Is that asking too much? By the look of things now, we’re repeating the same mistakes. 

Gangs throw a curveball

The second ouster of Aristide had generated quite a bit of news and the New York Daily News, which doesn’t cover Haiti much, decided to send one of its staff writers, Leslie Casimir, to cover the events.

Leslie and I met for dinner a couple of days before she to Haiti. I had put her in touch with a few trusted sources and my brother as her driver. She seemed worried about the situation and I assured her that she was in good hands. 

I was sure that Sergo could navigate his way across Port-au-Prince. The Pierre-Pierres were one of the first settlers of that neighborhood and Sergo had lived in Bel Air all of his life and knew everything and everyone. He had gotten me out of some hairy situations in the city and across the country. 

A few days later, the Daily News front page story was of Leslie being accosted and her driver assaulted. I’d been wrong. I underestimated the new reality on the ground. There was an anger and resentment that had been building up among the city’s dwellers. The assault on Aristide, in their mind, was a personal affront and they would deal with the perpetrators by any means necessary. 

That caught me by surprise.  

Under Aristide’s watch, the gang situation had worsened and once his tenure appeared tenuous, these young men unleashed a reign of terror, which lasted until the U.N. arrived. But once the nightlife returned and people could drive without much worry, most Haitians didn’t think or care about what was happening in these neighborhoods where the majority of the poor lived under conditions that are unfit for human beings. 

The leadership mirage

The country’s leaders never worried about the gangs falsely thinking that the situation had been taken care of. Martelly was promising a country of milk and honey and promoting Haiti as a tourist destination. He unleashed a public relations campaign befitting the superstar musician that he was. It was all a mirage. 

He did what he knows best: he organized two carnivals per year during his five-year term. One of Martelly’s prime ministers told me that once they were in a meeting and the conversation was turning technical and beyond the president’s comprehension and grasp, he would start to utter banalities, disrupting the meeting with no meaningful understanding and no decision taken. 

As we try to reset the button once again in Haiti, let’s bear in mind that we’ve met the enemy and the enemy is us. 

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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4 Comments

  1. Dear Garry,
    In supplement to your realistic portrayal of a proposed Haitian led solutions, a few questions came to mind. How do Haitians assume responsibily and leadership when most elite, business, political, and major organization leaders are Americans or foreign citizens? Serge Villard died fighting to include dual citizenship in the 1987 Constitution.
    It is ubiquitous knowledge that the US embassy controls what goes on in the Haitian territory. The US turned a blind eye and put enormous negative pressures on the already weak Haitian institutions. Remember when the current US envoy, then Ambassador to Haiti used to parade on television and radio telling who would listen that candidate Martelly was Haitian? Remember when asking if Mr. Martelly ever held a US passport became a classified report? This was the beginning of forced unconstitutionalities. How do Haitians have essential dialogue facing the barrel of a gun? How do you have unity when abduction and kidnapping in Haiti is a dominant, properous, and recognized business? Let’s face it, Haiti is above its head in its capacity to halt or overcome these obstacles alone without big actions.
    The Biden-Harris administration need to take a closer look at the State Department Haiti team and start there. The old foreign policy should not become the new. When the message becomes clear, the several thousand operatives in Haiti under the US embassy could fulfill their honorable duties.
    Without a guided and well intentioned Haitian government to restore faith and hope, conditions which will allow free and fair elections, new democratic institutions looks dim. A start is for the US to do the right thing, and the right thing is to use American influence positively. I refuse to blame the victim.

  2. That situation can only be resolved by force and the takeover by a nationalist group of Haitians. US style democracy is not the answer. Only a one party strong nationalist government can bring the right change.

  3. Haitians would need a culture revolution to dig themselves out of the hole they were placed in. It is evident that this so called Democratic life style isn’t working for them. Remove all the past countries and their beliefs who came in and failed. That include the United States , France and the United Nations. Create a commission where-in, if they don’t produce or can’t produce they’re white balled. The Chinese are a great example. Try something new for a change. Chak fwa ou fe yon bagay, sa kite tankou yon tras nan sevo w. Le ou fe menm bagay la plizye fwa, tras la vin pi fon. Se pou tet sa tout bagay ou abitye fe, ou fe l pi fasil, paske bagay la ge chemen tou trase nan lespre w.

  4. For myself, it becomes encouraging when the founder of this journal indicates that he, and others, have come to a consensus of opinion and understanding that I have proffered since the 1970’s. Please, many others were keenly aware of Haiti’s future long before my awakening. Indeed the social challenges have accentuated their urgency via groups of citizens entering into informal structures that are described as “gangs” rather than rebels. Any “Gang” movement usually sets up a territorial contest for the participants resulting in violence, death and abusive treatment of women. It goes with the history of human conflict.
    Without being specific, the plurality of Haitians do want their Nation to prosper in a general sense, sharing the fruits of collectivity for common advancement of All.
    But that hasn’t been in the game for almost a century. Maybe longer.
    To maintain such a greedy level of self indulgence that we witness throughout Haiti, there certainly was planned neglect for the nation’s structure, including in part: education, sanitation, health care, housing, communications, and importantly governmental responsibility.
    If this was a conjured effect through the influence of a few, or just a popular ignorance, the effect of the lingering fault is now made apparent by these social power groups that we label as malfaiteurs and gangs.
    Certainly they, the men, the women, their participating families, their connected politicians and members of society are all equally as guilty as those seen on the streets with their instruments of death held high for the sake of their momentary status.
    But what happens next week, next month, next year?
    Is there enough tafia or other stupefiants to maintain today’s sense of destructivity and laisse-alle?
    Those who understand, are they capable to negotiating any condition of security and order?
    Just where do we think this Nation will end-up. Occupied? Really, who in their sanity would ever think that an “occupation” might “save” Haiti?
    Very shortly, if not already, the behaviour in Haiti renders the National Bank unable to respect financial treaties that were set into place in the past as levers for the up-lifting of Haitians. In other words, non-payment of working financial tools that maintain the fluidity of Haiti’s economy.
    Yes, Haiti might continue as is, but expect endless consequences both socially and economically.
    Yes, the engineers of society are decades overdue for the building of Haiti’s democratic road to internal stability and popular well-being.
    The Gangs will not disappear. There are internal and external forces that created these gangs, and will want to see them remain.
    So who is the boogeyman?
    As I said years ago, look in the mirror.
    Words are cheap, massive cooperation is the work of many.
    Haitians must forcefully decided their destiny. Every resident or citizen would do well to become a working participant for National Order and respect of Law.
    Without Law, there is nothing for anyone.

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