Saturday, April 9, 2011

Haiti, the big picture

By Jean H Charles

The Haitian people, after the birth of democracy some twenty-five years ago (the Haitian Constitution was adopted on March 29, 1987), have put their faith in three leaders to lead them on the road towards development. Michel Joseph Martelly is the last one.

There was first Gerard Gourgue, who never made it to the balloting box as the election was disrupted by gunfire on the sad day of November 28, 1987. The military regime in place then, allegedly under international directive (the Reagan government mistakenly attributed leftist leanings to Gerard Gourgue) opened fire on innocent people in line for voting, committing the crime of lese democracy. Dozens were killed, the proceedings were disrupted, and Gerard Gourgue, a fiery human rights lawyer, never made it onto the altar of the national frontispiece.

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: 
The convulsion brought in a slew of de facto governments until the election of 1991, when the Haitian people chose a fiery anti-American cum leftist leaning, former Catholic priest Jean Bertrand Aristide as their leader. The experience was cathartic. Aristide turned out to be a divisive personality bent on pulling apart the very fabric of the Haitian national ethos. Twice ejected out of the country, he is now back home, allegedly as a private citizen interested mainly in the area of education.

There was in between Rene Preval, a nemesis of Jean Bertrand Aristide, the beneficiary of choice of the international community. He was not, because of his persona and his lack of commitment to the welfare of the people, a popular choice.

Some twenty-five years later, after the departure of the dictator Jean Claude Duvalier, the Haitian people have chosen an iconoclast music band leader, Joseph Michel Martelly, to avenge the country and to create a nation that shall become hospitable to all.

The birthing of this dawn of democracy was not easy. As elaborated in my previous columns, the government as well as a large section of the international community tried to convince the electoral board that the popular voice should be ignored to the benefit at first of the candidate of the government in power (Jude Celestin). Later, in the second round, the call was to shake the numbers for the benefit of the wife (Mirlande Manigat) of a former president, elected twenty years ago under a cloud of illegitimacy.

The big picture is: Haiti and its people for the past five hundred years have been seeking its own place in the sun. During the first three hundred years, a bloated colonial class has been living off the land like princes and princesses from the slave labour of the masses who will become the citizens of the first black independent nation in the world.

During the last two hundred years, special interest groups, have succeeded as would have said Alan Beattie (False Economy) to halt and even send in reverse all economic progress in the country.

The literature on sustainable development is now interested in seeking out why some countries succeed and why others fail. I have been for a long time perusing the reasons why Haiti has been and has remained a constant basket case. Some of the reasons are deep and structural. Some are circumstantial.

Because of my long and personal relationship with Henry Namphy (the strong man General after the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier) and Gerard Gourgue, I have tried to reconcile both military and civilian leaders for the sake of the nation. I either did not try hard enough, or the animosity between the two men was too deep and to entrenched. The end result, Haiti missed twenty-five years of solace and good governance!

The structural impediments are many and varied. Using a page story from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I would say at the beginning: “Knowing the right thing to do to enrich your nation is hard enough; bringing people with you to get it done is even harder.” The founding fathers, Toussaint Louverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe knew how to transform the mass of slaves into productive and creative citizens.

They could not rally the team of the other generals to conceive and build a nation hospitable to all after winning the war of independence. As such Haiti lapsed during its first century into fratricidal struggles brought about by interest groups that captured the resources of the country and dragged the nation down.

Around 1911, came about Dr Jean Price Mars, Haiti’s own Dr Martin Luther King, who taught the nation it must love itself and engage in nation building. The politicians transformed his doctrine into a clan policy entrenched in the Haitian ethos today.

Haiti suffered also for a long time from the resource curse as depicted in Pirates of the Caribbean. It was first its majestic mountains filled with mahogany trees that attracted the French and the Spanish. Later gold and sugar cane made this island the pearl of the Antilles.

After independence, corruption and mismanagement exacerbated the resource curse whereby Haiti became the failed-state poster child of the Western Hemisphere. Through dictatorship, military government and illiberal democracy, the nation did not deliver any significant services to its citizen.

Joseph Michel Martelly has demystified the last bastion of literati and pundits who could not believe that the Haitian people would identify themselves with a commoner in politics, backed only by his passion for Haiti as his pedigree, on his way to the higher office.

I am predicting the Martelly government will be a success for Haiti and for the region. He will have enough Haitian people at home and in the Diaspora, as well as well intentioned members and nations of the international community who will lend a hand to build a nation that will at last create an aura of hospitability for all.

After five hundred years, it is about time!

April 9, 2011