Saturday, June 26, 2010

Haiti, a transition from squalor to squalor; or from squalor to splendor

By Jean H Charles:

The story of Haiti is tragically the story of a wrong turn at each transition. Strangely this wrong turn has been micromanaged by a long hand with foreign gloves with good or bad intentions for the people of Haiti.

It all started in 1800 when Toussaint Louverture was at his apogee as the founding father of a possible nation that could be a model for a world where slavery was the order of the day.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comAccording to J Michael Dash in Culture and Customs of Haiti, Toussaint emerged in 1799 as “the absolute authority of the whole island of Espanola, where the violence and anarchy of earlier years ended and prosperity was restored.”

CLR James in the Black Jacobins completed the picture of Haiti at the beginning of the nineteenth century: “Personal industry, social morality, public education, religious toleration, free trade, civic pride, racial equality was the corner stone of the emerging nation. Success crowned his labors. Cultivation prospered and the new Santo/Domingo/ aka Haiti began to shape itself with astonishing quickness.”

One would have thought that this Haiti could have been left alone to grow into a flourishing nation for the benefit of the entire world. The long hand of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Emperor, with the support of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, had other plans. A fleet of the best European soldiers was dispatched to Haiti to stop the nation building process.

Toussaint was captured and send to jail in France, where he died of pneumonia, but the roots of liberty were already too strong to wither. Still quoting Dash, “By the end of 1803, Napoleon had abandoned his now catastrophic New World adventure, his general, Rochambeau, gave up this futile struggle, retreating to the Mole St Nicholas, the same point at which Columbus had landed 300 years earlier, inaugurating European domination of Hispaniola.”

The transition of Haiti into a free, independent and prosperous nation was to last only the span of a blooming rose. Charles X, king of France, exacted a massive indemnity of 150 million francs, the equivalent 23 billion in today’s money, to compensate the French planters after 300 years of free labor. It took Haiti more than a century to complete the payment, forestalling crucial investment in education, agriculture and infrastructure.

In addition, France’s intervention in Haiti’s national politics facilitated the division of the country into two governments, the kingdom of Henry Christophe in the north, well organized and prosperous, and the republic of the west, disorganized, dysfunctional and bankrupt, run by Alexander Petion. Haiti has adopted the Petion model of governance.

His successor, Jean Pierre Boyer, continued the culture of ill governance throughout the island. At the death of Henry Christophe, the massive treasure of the kingdom was put into a kitty outside of the national budget, starting the process of corruption in place now with the Preval government -- the Petro-Caribe account is outside of the purview of the Finance Minister.

According to Dash, “The seeds of national disaster were planted in this period as politics increasingly became a game of rivalry among urban elites and marked by insurrection, economic failures and parasitism.”

It did not take long for the Americans to intervene, as Haiti was descending into chronic disorder. It was occupied from 1915 to 1934 by the American government. In the end, using Dash’s language, “The United States simply exacerbated a phenomenon that had plagued the Haitian economy since 1843, the extraction of surplus from the peasantry by a non productive state. Perhaps the greatest single lasting effect of the occupation was the centralizing of state power in Port au Prince.”

Dash put it best: “The occupation left Haiti with very much the same destructive socioeconomic problems that it inherited from its colonial past. Beneath the veneer of political stability lay the same old problems of a militarized society; the ostracism of the peasantry and an elite divided by class and color rivalry.”

The decade of the 70s ushered in a wrong turn for Haiti after the rather peaceful governance of Paul Eugene Magloire. On his return from an adulated visit to the United States, where he was received by both branches of Congress, hubris or unfortunate advice settled in. He tried to remain in power beyond the constitutional mandate, throwing the country into a social, economic and political crisis that has now lasted fifty years.

The transition from Duvalier pere to Duvalier fils, causing thirty-five years of failed growth under the dictatorial regimes, was orchestrated by the very American Ambassador in Haiti. It took all the courage and the bravura of the Haitian people to root out the Duvalier government from the grip of power.

The populism concept of governance in place since the 90s has completed the final descent of Haiti into the abyss. Jean Bertrand Aristide was returned to power from exile under the principle of constitutional stability by a 20,000 American army troops under the leadership of Bill Clinton as commander in chief.

Rene Preval, who succeeded Aristide, was returned for a second term into power by the strategic maneuvers of Edmund Mulet, the United Nations chief representative in Haiti. After five years of poor, ineffective leadership, the same Mulet is orchestrating the concept of Preval after Preval. He has perfected, after the earthquake, the concept of disaster profiteering. Vast pieces of land that belong to the State of Haiti are being now subleased to well-connected affiliates of the government, to be resold at inflated price to the Reconstruction authority.

Will the people of Haiti succeed in stopping the political, economic, social and environmental abyss through this transition? Or will a sector of the international community continue to have the upper hand in preserving and incubating the status quo?

“Have no fear!” should be the mantra for those who forecast doom for Haiti without Preval!

The Haitian Constitution foresees that the Chief of the Supreme Court shall take command in case of presidential vacancy. To help him govern, Haiti has a range of qualified experts to facilitate the international community to come to the rescue of the refugees and rekindle the recovery.

They range from veterans in rural development expertise as Pierre D Sam, formerly a FAO expert with stints in Burundi, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Togo, Senegal, Lesotho, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Haiti. Or Haiti has young lions such as Dore Guichard or Jean Erich Rene, economists and agronomists, who drafted, with the support of luminaries from the Diaspora and the mainland, a twenty-five-year plan for Haiti’s recovery.

A select committee of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the United States Senate has recently made a finding that “Haiti has made little progress in rebuilding in the five months since its earthquake because of an absence of leadership, disagreements among donors and general disorganization… the rebuilding has stalled since the January 12, disaster. President Rene Preval and his Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive have not done an effective job of communicating to Haiti that it is in charge and ready to lead the rebuilding effort.”

Vent viré! The wind is turning in the right direction!

Marc Bazin, a Haitian political leader who has tried for the last thirty years, to change the culture of nihilism from inside, is an indication that the assault against the status quo from outside must regain strength until the dismantling of the squalor politics to usher in the politics of splendor.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should have been in the Preval camp. His newlywed wife is like my little niece. Our family is entangled with strong bond spanning more than a century of close relationships. Her great-grandmother was the companion of my grandmother in business, social and family links, her late grandmother and my mother of ninety years old have continued these bonds, her mother is like an elder sister. Hopefully, the children will continue the tradition of friendship and support. as such this is not a personal vendetta.

Yet the cries and the anguish of 9 million people, including 1.5 refugees under tents at the eve of a pregnant hurricane season, demand a break from the past to usher in a government hospitable to the majority.

June 26, 2010