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Sunday, February 25, 2024

In blanche longing, Haiti waits for a new Dessalines

haiti mobilize aArdain Isma

CSMS Magazine

They cry, they scream, they bleed, they die, but the echo of their suffering seems lost in a fog of disinterest and coldness blatantly demonstrated by those who took an oath to protect them. No country in contemporary history of the Caribbean has experienced this level of violence and misery. In Haiti today, lawlessness reigns supreme, and every day, the mountain death toll continues to go higher. Yet, despite waves of kidnappings and extrajudicial killings orchestrated by a corrupt government, the people of Haiti seem resolute to fight on.

May 18th or 18 Mai, Haiti’s Flag Day, from coast to coast, the country rose in blue and red, the color of the flag, to celebrate with unmeasured pride another anniversary their country’s flag. One wonders, where do they find this courage to go on? I guess hope is the only sanctuary for those who live in the shadow of death. This nationwide display of patriotism shown on Tuesday confirmed once more that in using violence, the enemies of Haiti have only succeeded in stalling the drive toward democratic governance and the rule of law. It is only a stall because if there is one lesson one must learn from the mass protests that have wrecked the country for almost a decade is the lesson of faith. Haitians are determined to see light at the end of the tunnel. Eleven million people refuse to be held hostage by fear.

Nou bouke! We’re tired! This is their new slogan, but that catch phrase in Creole carries dubious meanings. Here, it has been contextualized. We are tired of living in this vicious cycle to despair. The latest wave of violence was triggered by Jovenel Moise who, in early February, refused to step down as his 5-year term in office ended. Moise now claims his mandate ends next year, and only then he will step aside. The Biden administration has thrown its full support behind Jovenel Moise. That support has emboldened Moise and his supporters who have orchestrated a bloody campaign to silence a population longing for a true political independence and socioeconomic prosperity. Haitians are humans, not beasts that need to be tamed. Like all human beings, they are fighting to preserve their humanity.

Haiti cries alone

WFP operations in HaitiIndifference is what slowly kills, as the old saying goes, and when it comes to Haiti and its people, nothing can be truer. A small Caribbean island about 700 miles from our Florida shores, Haiti has been locked in a struggle for democracy for more than 30 years. Yet, winning that heavenly prize appears as elusive as ever. Standing in the way is a small elite backed by the state apparatus determined as ever to keep at bay the socioeconomic prosperity sought by the rest of the population. Haitians are fighting for their constitutional rights of which only a government that works for every one of its citizens can provide.

Five years ago, at the start of his presidency, Jovenel Moise made some lofty promises. He promised electricity 24-hours a day in two years. In every of his earlier speeches, one thing dominated: a pledge to make sure every Haitian eats three meals a day and a decent education for every child. For a country where electricity is so scare—only six hours a day—where a decent education has long been reserved for a privileged few, it was not surprising that many Haitians, although skeptical, were willing to give him a chance despite the fact less than 10 percent of eligible voters voted for him, about 600, 000, according to the electoral commission, for a country of 11 million people.

Here we are, 5 years later, none of the promises has been kept. Electricity is still scant; a decent education remains a luxury as well as eating three meals a day. Jovenel Moise was elected under a cloud of suspicions of vote-rigging which was heavily contested by the leaders of the opposition. Moreover, even before swearing in, Moise was the subject of an investigation after being accused of money laundering by Unité Centrale de Renseignement Financier (UCREF) or Haiti’s Central Financial Intelligent Unit. Suspicions grew when Moise, few months after taking office, fired the head of UCREF and replaced him by a new director who then cleared him of all charges, although Moise had always maintained he was innocent.

Originally from northern Haiti, Jovenel Moise is a member of PHTK (Pati Haitien Tèt Kale) or The Skin Head Party named after his founder and former Haitian president Michel Martelly. Martelly himself was elected president in 2011 under fraudulent circumstances. He handpicked Jovenel Moise to succeed him, and because Moise was virtually unknown to most Haitians, he had to be advertised the same way the Haitian elite promoted Jean Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) in 1971 when he succeeded his father François Duvalier infamously known as Papa Doc. The only difference was that Baby Doc was advertised as the best hope for Haiti’s youth, for he was only 18 years old, whereas Jovenel Moise was promoted as the Nèg Bannann (Banana Man), a successful farmer who became a millionaire from the agrobusiness because he looks much like ordinary Haitians who live in the popular neighborhoods, far different from those who live in the uptown suburbs.

Unbeknown to the vast majority of Haitians was that the Nèg Banann etiquette was just a front to camouflage a money laundering scheme. Two reports published three years ago by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes confirmed this assertion. The reports meticulous detailed how the Martelly government and Moise used state money to fund fake projects, including a construction project for which he was paid one million dollars.

Realizing that president Jovenel Moise was no different from his predecessors, the people of Haiti have taken to the streets to demand justice. Adding fuel to the fire was the so-called the Petro Caribe scheme. In 2006, Haiti joined the Venezuela’s Petrocaribe oil program. It was an agreement which allowed the Haitian government to purchase oil from Venezuela. Haiti had to pay 6% of the purchase price in three months. The rest was postponed at a just 1% interest rate to be paid in 25 years. The government of Haiti was supposed to use sale revenues for development projects like education, health care, building roads etc. After more than 14 years, that debt has ballooned to about 2 billion dollars. No one knew what happened to that money, a lofty sum that could very well accomplish great deeds in one of the poorest countries on earth.

Life, which was already an endeavor of precariousness, now became an untenable undertaking. Haitians, a resilient people who always take pride of their resilience, felt their long, cherished confidence had been threatened. Consequently, they felt compelled to take to the streets to defend their dignity. By the summer of 2018, Haitians across the country rose in mass protests to demand the resignation of president Jovenel Moise. In response, the government orchestrated a brutal crackdown, targeting mostly the popular neighborhoods where life was and still is truly hellish and, understandably, where the resistance to his increasingly autocratic regime—to these days—continues to be the fiercest.

The grizzliest day was on November 18, 2018 when government hit men entered La Saline, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. They went on a killing rampage. According to  Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (Organization for the Defense of Human Rights) seventy-three men, women and children were hacked to death. Their bodies were set on fire. This has come to be known as the La Saline Massacre. No one was never prosecuted despite the fact eyewitnesses had accused two government officials: Fedel Monchéry, an official from the Interior Ministry, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, the government’s top representative for the La Saline neighborhood. Jovenel Moise never ordered an official investigation, and the two men remained at their respective positions years later. As the crisis deepened, Moise was forced to let them go.

Still, mass protests continued rather sporadically. At the start of 2019, the street protests have grown in scope and in duration. On September 27, 2019, Haiti awoke in total defiance. To the cry of Libète ou Lanmò (Liberty or Death), millions of people across the country took to the streets to demand that Jovenel Moise be stepped down. They wanted him to resign to face justice for hyper-inflation, high unemployment, embezzlement, rise in gang violence and extrajudicial killings. Every sector of society took part of the protest: The Church, the school system, country folks (poor peasants), voodoo worshipers, young and old etc. Instead of addressing the problem or even speaking to the nation, Moise remained silent.

When Moise refused to heed the call to resign, the people moved to put the country in total lockdown, introducing what they called peyi lòk (operation lockdown). The lòk had exacerbated an already precarious life. Until now, the government was betting on two things: a largely disorganized opposition and time. They knew street protests alone is NOT an effective strategy in a drive to dislodge an entrenched government. It is ONLY a tactic, a show of force in a political struggle. The history of street protests in Latin America and other places around the world over the last 50 years is a testament to this fact.

In early November of 2019, the different factions of the opposition leadership reached an agreement to form a three-year transitional government to be headed by a judge from the highest court with a mandate to address the basic, pressing needs of the population, rewriting the constitution, getting rid of the current corrupt state bureaucracy, and rebuilding a new one where honesty in public affairs will be the norm instead of a mere exception.

Now facing a serious challenge, Jovenel Moise intensified the repression. According to an Amnesty International report, the Haitian National Police was increasingly becoming a private militia, accusing the Haitian government of using “excessive use of force against protesters.” In a detailed document supported with graphic video footages, Amnesty International describes how police opened fire against men at close range, how a police officer beat a protester running away from water cannons, how live ammunitions were used against defenseless protesters, and how security unit of the presidential palace used military weapons during protests.

According to André Michel, a prominent human rights lawyer who works for the Organisation pour la Défense des Prisioniers Politiques (Organization for the Defense of the Political Prisoners), hundreds of young men and women have disappeared. The lucky ones were found inside the Pénitencier National, a notorious state prison near downtown Port-au-Prince, and it is an uphill battle to secure their release due to a broken judicial system.

Haiti, tragic victim of historical injustices, bleeds—ALONE—as the world looks the other way. The United States, France, and Canada—the three countries with historical influences over successive Haitian governments—have only given lips service to Haiti’s high-pitched cry for freedom and democracy. Haitians are fighting for their human rights—the right to an education, to a decent job and to affordable health care. These are rights that are recognized in the Geneva convention.

There are many street protests going on around the world, and they have been given a lot of coverage in the corporate media. There are protests in Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil—to name a few. These protests are no different from the ones in Haiti, for their grievances are just the same. As for Haitians, their 30-year struggle for democracy has been largely ignored and their heavenly prize for freedom still seems as tenuous as ever.

Is this to say the people of Haiti are fighting for a lost cause? The answer is NO, for the cause is noble and their patriotism is the highest it has ever been. The masses in Haiti are clear in their demand: A complete break with this current system of government—parasitic and violently brutal. The missing piece of this complicated puzzle is the absence of an effective leadership, daring and uncompromising enough to guide 11 million Haitians along the path to victory. The opposition leaders can no longer lead. They have all been submerged by the current turn of events. They only have one strategy: Using street protests to convince US officials that Moise is ineffective and, in doing so, they are implicitly asking for the United States to intervene and remove Moise and, of course, to replace HIM by one of THEM. Why doing so when Moise is so slavishly submissive?

Haiti was ever forgiven for her Great Crime

“Haiti was never forgiven for her Great Crime.” This is a quote from professor Asselin Charles who translated Antenor Firmin’s famous book The Equality of the Human Races. Indeed, since Haiti’s inception, the colonial powers have been holding hands in a holy alliance to make sure the Haitian story will never be a successful one. In defeating the world’s mightiest army in 1803 and declared the country free and independent of French rule, Haitians had shown the world that it was possible to deracinate slavery—the most hideous form of human interactions.  It was a major blow to the European agenda in the Americas. More than two centuries later, the hatred and the punishment persist, thanks to a tiny group of unpatriotic Haitians who have traded their dignity and that of their country in exchange for affluence and privilege. The only solution to this seemingly everlasting suffering is the reemergence of a new leadership or a national figure—holistic and revolutionary. To put it bluntly: Haiti needs a new Dessalines. Until then, we wait.

Note: Ardain Isma is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine.

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