michel martelly haiti
Haiti President Michel Martelly. Photo credit: Georges H. Rouzier

At first glance, the idea of charging $1.50 on each money transfer or phone call made to Haiti to build and maintain schools seemed honorable and brilliant. For once, it seemed, the Haitian government was acting to improve the living conditions of its citizenry. 

As it were, many of us either help fund schools as charity or have friends and family whose tuition we pay until they graduate at the terminal level. And yeah, immediately upon hearing the news, many Haitians voiced skepticism. They wondered whether the money would be used for its intended purpose. 

The skeptics were right. The $1.50 tax, according to a lawsuit revived last week, turned out to be yet another scheme designed to line the pockets of corrupt Haitian leaders.

More than a decade after Michel Martelly — the former President — instituted the tax, the Haitian government has not shown proof that it built one school — not one — from the money. Those funds, by the way, total in the tens of millions, considering that Haitians in the diaspora collectively sent about $3.8 billion in money transfers to our relatives, in 2020 alone. 

Martelly and his successors profited personally from this money, according to the suit filed, which has meandered in the U.S. Federal Court system since 2018. In 2021, a lower court challenged the suit’s jurisdiction, but last week, a 3-judge panel ruled that the lawsuit could continue.

Shady dealings long in the making 

I’m more than thrilled that the U.S. court has allowed this case to proceed. Of all the financial harms Haitian leaders have perpetrated against the people of Haiti, this one is the most outrageous. It is a scam that most people saw coming, yet could do nothing to stop.

The lawsuit named Martelly, his immediate successor interim President Jocelerme Privet and Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated last July. The most damning allegation was that Martelly used part of the money to build a lavish seaside home

The only surprise to me is that Privert was ensnared in this scandal. He led a caretaker government tasked with organizing the elections that ultimately ushered Moïse to power. But I don’t share that sentiment regarding Martelly and his handpicked successor Moïse — the self-proclaimed “Bandi Legal” or Legal Bandit.

During his musical career, Martelly surrounded himself with a cast of shady characters resembling the miscreants that flanked Donald Trump during his one-term, twice-impeached presidency. 

I actually filed a successful lawsuit against Martelly back in 2001 after he failed to show up to perform at Kreyolfest, then The Haitian Times’ signature event. I did that to send a message to the other thugs in that odious industry. I wanted to let them know that even though we were the new kids on the block, we were not going to be intimidated by wanna-be gangsters. 

Years later, I was dumbfounded that a man of such low character would be elected president of anything, let alone a country. But given that, in Haiti, anything can happen, we had four years of Trumpian-like rule under Martelly. We Haitians do tend to be trendsetters.

Imagine a never-ending string of Trumps 

I often tell friends and colleagues who ask me why Haiti is the way it is that it’s very simple: Imagine the U.S. being ruled by the likes of Trump for centuries. They then can relate. If it wasn’t for bad governance, Haiti would not have any at all. 

At times, it is disheartening to watch such a proud and industrious people as my Haitian people be mistreated at the hands of their leaders. Some conspiracy theorists think it’s by design. I’m beginning to believe that because I too am stumped. 

Why do crimes against the Haitian people go unpunished?

The answer is an open secret, and everyone knows it. Former ambassador Daniel Foote, who resigned as President Joe Biden’s special envoy to Haiti, made an astonishing revelation during a town hall forum with The Haitian Times in February. During the conversation, Foote said every Haitian politician has a dossier at the U.S. Embassy and that the State Department knows they are corrupt. Yet, these officials continue to look the other way — as though things are normal. They are not.  

Time for Diaspora to fight back with the purse

I don’t know where this lawsuit will go or whether justice will be meted out to the accused if found guilty. What I do know is that the diaspora needs to address this thievery head on. If we remain silent, it means we’re complicit. It’s that simple. 

First, we need to hold protests in front of every Haitian embassy and consular office around the world to demand transparency and what happened to the money. We need to see an accounting of the schools that have been built. 

Obviously, such documents don’t exist. So, we need to quickly escalate the situation by insisting that the government rescinds the fee on the transfers. There is also a fee for phone calls, but these days almost everyone uses WhatsApp to call Haiti so there is not much revenue there going into government coffers. 

Again, we know that they’re not going to do such things. And that’s where we must take a bold move: Stop sending remittances to Haiti. 

Yes, our second move is to cut the purse strings. We can start by choosing a day, then a week and then a month. And we must keep the pressure on until government officials come clean.

I know this would add to our people’s misery. But who would have ever thought that the West would have imposed such draconian sanctions against Russia for Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine? When dealing with thugs, you can’t act like choir boys.

It is time that Haitian officials stop abusing Haiti’s people. They’ve made it impossible for the Haitians to live with any modicum of dignity. They have debased Haitian society, where people have resorted to survival tactics, even if it means losing their moral compass. A once proud people have been reduced to a nation of mendicants and are unable to control their destiny. 

This has got to change. 

Again, I challenge my fellow diaspora to rise to the occasion. Which brings me to the third action we can take. We have the power to vote in elections in Haiti. Let’s exercise this right and vote for competent and honest governance in our beloved, albeit deeply-troubled homeland. 

If we don’t act, we will find ourselves continuing to be played like a spinning top. We cannot afford to stay idle. Our brothers and sisters need more than our remittances at this point. They need the chance to live with dignity and to carve out a better existence than what they have now. 

I do hope that the American legal system can be the spark that we need. It’s not like the Haitian justice will do it. That system is a contradiction in terms.

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. Great job Garry! Unless we do something and vote against corrupt politicians here (those who are behind sweet Miki and the likes), and in Haiti, we will lose our homeland. I am not for the 2nd sanction though, as we might increase the suffering of our brothers and sisters. I know that it may work, but wouldn’t the cure be worse than the disease?

  2. Thank you for this article. Haiti deserves a chance the people deserve better enough is enough with the corruption.

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