CIA World Fact Book Haiti,
A view of Port-au-Prince, the capital and most populous city of Haiti. Photo from CIA World Fact Book Credit: CIA World Fact Book / Central Intelligence Agency

Shortly after Haiti was granted membership into CARICOM about 20 years ago, French became an official language of the Caribbean body, whose mission is to coordinate economic policies and handle trade disputes. 

But while Haiti is by far the largest CARICOM country, the group has not been kind to the troubled nation. Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, is CARICOM’s largest city with a population of roughly 2 million people, bigger than many of the member states. Yet, CARICOM does not allow Haitians free movement, as is stated under its charter. 

Now, as Haiti careens towards another political and social upheaval, CARICOM has been asked to help – a job that superpowers like the United States and Canada, and international bodies such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations, have avoided. All of them have kept their distance, like a running back stiff-arming a defensive back preventing him from scoring.

So far, CARICOM’s foray into this diplomatic beehive is as gauche as expected of nations that are mere playgrounds for rich Americans and Europeans looking for a beach laden place to play during the cold, dreary months up north. 

Last week, Philip “Brave” Davis, the body’s chairman sent an invitation letter to Haitian officials to attend a Stakeholder Consultation in Kingston, Jamaica on July 11 to 13 to discuss “a way forward.”

The letter was written in English, not French, one of Haiti’s official languages. Where and how CARICOM will find this path forward is beyond me or anyone else mildly knowledgeable about the region. Nothing will come out of this meeting, which at least one Haitian transition leader has declined to attend. It’s yet another dilatory tactic kicking the can down the road, while hoping to find a solution that has been so far elusive. 

Haitian Diaspora needs to step up

I’m often asked about what can be done in Haiti. My response invariably turns to the Haitian Diaspora and our ability to unite and get things done here and to partner with the biggest stakeholders in Haiti: The people. 

I saw a glimmer of hope that we may finally be embracing our motto of L’union fait la force recently, as I watched Haitians across the United States come together in May to celebrate Haitian Heritage Month in ways big and small. These convenings were not organized in the large and traditional enclaves of New York, Florida, and Massachusetts. They were held in places like Raleigh, North Carolina, Dallas, Texas, and beyond. 

Myself, I spent May in New York attending many events. While there remains a bit of bickering among some community groups, there was an air of cooperation I haven’t seen in the past. I was deeply touched at how organizations rallied around our Banboch Kreyol festival at Coney Island on May 28. We had a short window to pull it all together and the promotion was admittedly not up to our standards. What saved the day were the businesses and organizations buying tickets in bulk and gifting them to friends and family members. Some donated money with no expectation. 

We returned the largesse by introducing Richard Urbain, an entrepreneur and music promoter to Live Nation, our event partner, so he could hold his Labor Fest at the Coney Island venue as well. In the past, I would’ve probably reveled in his misery because Eisenhower Park, the Long Island venue that held his event for more than a decade, kicked his show to the curb. 

But Richard’s success is my success. The shows don’t compete and if we promote them well, we can give the community the kind of show that they want. I will be offering his festival to some of my sponsors looking for deeper engagement in the Haitian market. 

I would be a hypocrite penning columns decrying why Haitians don’t want to collaborate, while doing the same thing by saying no when presented with a situation to help. Is it all altruism on my part? No. I took a risk by opening a new venue. Richard will bring out a crowd on Labor Day weekend at the Coney Island Amphitheater, making it easier to sell our festival next year to skeptics reluctant to come to an unfamiliar venue.  

It’s a win-win. 

An empowered diaspora is Haiti’s only real chance

This comity can be extended beyond the entertainment world to the business and community groups. We must stop duplicating efforts and instead build institutions to empower ourselves in the United States. For the first time since the 1980s, when we began immigrating to this country in large numbers, few, if any, Haitian is undocumented. You’re either a citizen, a green card holder, have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or under the Biden parole program. 

We’re no longer living under the shadows as Haitians and are poised to get good paying jobs in our pursuit of the American dream. 

I believe that in a decade or so, we’ll be ready to be serious partners in a Haiti-led solution no matter what the problem of the day might be in the land of the mountains. Last week, Dr. William Pape, the prominent infectious diseases physician wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times. He said rightly that Haitians have overcome other crises but cannot go it alone  this time. Dr. Pape essentially called for a sort of foreign intervention, which everyone thought would have come by now, whether you agree with it.

I thought by now that something would be done. But Haiti has become a game of ‘you take it, no you take it’ as people find it difficult to go about their daily chores without fearing for their lives. Frankly, I thought the country was in better shape in 1991 and 2004 when the international community intervened to restore “democracy.” But this time, it’s clear we are alone because in CARICOM, we have a fourth division team trying to do the job of the topflight squad in its attempt to broker a deal with Haitian politicos.

Next month will mark the second anniversary of the Jovenel Moïse assassination. Two years since the interim government and the opposition have remained deadlocked, with negotiations leading nowhere. I’m not saying that a savvy, sophisticated diaspora is the only answer, but it sure is a good start. 

Editor’s Note: This column has been updated from the original to include information about Haitian leaders declining the CARICOM invitation.

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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