It has become an article of faith that for Haiti to get back on track, its diaspora, the nation’s de facto middle class, has to play a critical role — if not the lead role. So when a group calling itself the Haitian Diaspora Political Action Committee (HDPAC) emerged as a central body, it was met with a mixture of both excitement and skepticism.
People were excited about the idea, but leery about some of the folks leading the organization. This fear was actualized when HDPAC emerged from its four-day summit, organized ostensibly to provide a framework for a solution to the country’s political impasse. Instead of a framework, HDPAC borrowed from an old playbook of Haitian politics by selecting a president and prime minister at the event.
Under whose authority and legitimacy does this move set? No one knows.
I was surprised to learn that Fritz Alphonse Jean, former president of Haiti Central Bank, was chosen as a provisional president.
Under the HDPAC’s plan, Jean would lead a caretaker government tasked with stabilizing the country and organizing elections so a new president can be inaugurated on Feb. 7, 2022.
While I applaud the efforts to bring a solution to Haiti’s latest political stalemate, the Louisiana proposal is as baffling as it is myopic. Baffling considering the well-respected Gen Russell Honore had lent his name and prestige to this effort, giving the group a patina of legitimacy. Myopic because it focused on who would occupy the National Palace.
I believe the idea of a diaspora-led solution to Haiti’s crisis has merits and I have encouraged and urged everyone to do their part, big and small, in this crucial moment in our country’s troubled political history. But there are some mistakes, like the summit’s outcome, that we could and should avoid.
A leader’s track record is critical
Generally, people invest in people, not ideas, when it comes to starting a movement. The idea can be brilliant, but the people in charge are the ones who have to convince and reassure followers of their capacity. As the summit was being organized, I received many phone calls asking for my opinion of the group and their stated goal.
I said that I shared their mission, but have reservations about one of the leaders, Emmanuel Roy. Roy, a former Brooklyn District Attorney, was convicted of and disbarred from practicing law after being found guilty of five counts of wire fraud or conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Roy has acknowledged his mistakes but has not shown true contrition in my mind. I agree that everyone deserves a second chance in life. We’ve all made mistakes, some graver than others. As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness.
A leader’s role is to bring people out of their comfort zone and even take them to danger zones, if needed. To be effective, the leader must be above reproach. Otherwise, people will not follow.
Leadership is something that we’ve struggled with as Haitians. Our education system is rigid and doesn’t allow students the room to ask questions and experiment. The teacher reigns supreme and any question that is interpreted to be posed in a temerarious manner, is dealt with harshly. The student is sent in a corner for hours or may face corporal punishment. In this system, you keep your mouth shut because the consequences can be humiliating.
In the last decade or so, the educational system in Haiti has been changing with some private schools adapting a more student participatory education method that may bode well for the future of leadership in Haiti.
In contrast, I remember when my children were in the 1st and 2nd grade, every month or so, parents would be invited into the classroom to observe. The children would sit in a circle and work on an exercise designed for all of them to play a role in order to successfully complete the task. They were encouraged to raise their hands and, if they didn’t, were called on to ensure participation.
We can use some of that approach in Haitian groups.
But already with HDPAC, there have been some fallouts within the ranks. Some were blindsided by the decision to suggest a specific person for president and prime minister. The original goal was to provide a framework and adopt into one coherent plan of action, cull from the various proposals that Haiti’s civil society groups have put forward.
Fritz Clairvil, a Brooklyn entrepreneur and an early enthusiastic supporter of HDPAC resigned as the chair of the group’ international committee.
In a resignation letter addressed to the board, Clairvil reaffirmed his support for the group but said he was troubled that the organization was deviating from its stated mission.
“I have decided to TERMINATE my involvement in the Louisiana Summit Accord… ,” wrote Clairvil. “I have been a central figure and ardent supporter of the Summit. This unequivocal support was fueled by none other than my zeal to see a better and improved Haiti. The strong belief that we, as members of the diaspora, must be instrumental in helping to turn the tide in such difficult times has been my guiding light and moral beacon in defining the parameters of integrity and ethics that I have chosen to abide by. Today I find myself unable to reconcile my beliefs and the opacity of the back door maneuvering leading the summit and following the Louisiana Accord.”Excerpt from the resignation letter of Fritz Clairvil from HDPAC.
The corporate world is full of founders ousted from their companies because they are not good leaders, despite their brilliance. This practice should be adopted community organizations and roup. I believe for HDPAC to forge ahead, it has to find another role for Roy. Otherwise, resignation letters like Clairvil’s will continue to pour in.