When I returned home after a three-week stint covering the fallout of the coup d’état against Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1991 for the Sun-Sentinel, I went to the barber shop for a much-needed haircut. The place was buzzing with excitement as people discussed passionately what had transpired in Haiti. A young man vowed that they would continue the daily protests in Fort Lauderdale that were taking place, until Aristide was restored to power.
I said in passing, “You’ll be out marching for a long time.”
He looked at me with disdain and called me a Makout. I descended the barber chair, stared at him with equal scorn and told him that he was a Makout because as far as I’m concerned, Lavalas — the movement that had propelled Aristide to the presidency, and Makoutism — were different sides of the same coin.
I knew then that Aristide’s return, if ever, would be protracted because the military Junta that toppled him was in no mood to have him back in Haiti, and they had the guns. The other reason is that the eventual solution to this problem was unthinkable to me: A foreign military invasion.
I never imagined that scenario because the Dessalinesian blood that courses through my veins would not allow me to entertain such thoughts. And, the last time it was tried in 1915 to 1934, it was disastrous, by some accounts.
But I did predict the military intervention in 2004 and I’ve seen the one coming eventually after Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7, 2021. The conditions that led to the looming invasion are eerily similar to the 1915 occupation.
A blind eye to the root problem
Furthermore, after the U.S. handed over the reins to the United Nations, the international body never addressed the root cause of the problem to its allies in Haiti: the corrupt political class and the monopoly-loving business elites. Both the U.S. and U.N. should have insisted they find a way to create jobs and to tackle the social inequities and marginalization of the poor that had been responsible for the blue helmets’ presence in the first place.
I know they would argue that their mission was to stabilize the country’s judicial and police institutions, but they lied to themselves then. Now, whoever comes in next will have to tackle this from day one. Otherwise, some sort of force will be back in another 10 years or so.
You can’t try the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome, it’s called insanity.
As the UN mission approached its end in 2017, I felt deeply sure the country was not stable enough. But what was to be done? The UN could not stay there forever. That’s why I penned this column saying Haitians we’re not ready. It was widely criticized at the time, but seems so prescient now.
Last week, the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry formally asked the international community for military troops to help fight off the warlords known as “gangs” that have put the country on the brink of complete failure.
Henry and the 18 cabinet ministers, who signed the document, have been excoriated quickly and have been called a few choice words, the nicest one, a traitor. The reality is that we’ve long crossed the Rubicon and whether we want the boots on our soil or not, they will come. The details are probably being outlined as I write this column. It’s a fait accompli.
Despite President Joe Biden’s reticence to getting American soldiers involved in foreign interventions, Haiti has left him no choice. I was talking to a colleague the other day and we concluded that had Lula de Silva won the Brazil presidency outright and that the U.S. midterm elections weren’t around the corner, an international force would have already swooped down in Port-au-Prince, guns blazing.
Brother against brother means we all lose
It is not what I want. It is what we will receive. Brothers just couldn’t work it out. Brothers don’t want to work it out.
In the short term, there will be a respite, we would be able to visit our country that we so unconditionally love only as a mother can. It will be nice to step foot in Haiti, although it will be sad to see the deterioration that has taken place. But in the mid- to long-term, nothing much will be different.
Our inability to solve our problems has been on full display since the Moïse assassination. The various accords have splintered. For example, Fritz Jean, the proposed president out of the Montana Accord, was encouraged to negotiate with Henry to reach some common ground with the Prime Minister. He was derided as soon as he found a point of entente with Henry and some members left the group and are now promoting their own flawed plan.
Last month, I had the temerity to suggest on MSNBC that military intervention is an option to get us out of this morass. As expected, I was widely excoriated for uttering such words. But unlike at that barber shop, I didn’t and won’t respond to anyone who attacks me.
Many of them are like that young man. They’re watching and reading, but don’t understand what’s going on and they don’t want to listen to people who know these Haitian political and business actors as intimately as I do.
Besides, being called a Makout is not as bad today as it was back then. Furthermore, I’m so much wiser than that now, to quote Bob Dylan. I now realize that my Brooklyn move was inappropriate and unprofessional.