Monday, July 4, 2011

Haiti and the issue of colour

By Jean H Charles

There has been recently continuous chatting on the Haitian cyber space regarding the issue of colour.

The chatting might have been caused by the pictures sent by those opposing the government of the inaugural ball, where most were of light skin colour, in a sea of black skinned Haitians in the country.

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.comIt might also have been caused by the rejection of the proposed prime minister, Gerard Rouzier, by the Haitian parliament. Gerard Rouzier is a mulatto; the Parliament is in majority black. Haiti for the past sixty years has been discriminating against the mulattos on the political side. They can succeed economically but they should not occupy high political positions in the government. This form of discrimination has been a secret code of modus operandi in the Haitian political panorama.

The debate started with an essay by one of the most talented Haitian economists cum agronomists, Jean Erich Rene, titled The Issue of Colour Is an Old Story in Haiti.

Daly Valet the director of one of the most important newspapers in the country, Le Matin, responded: the issue of colour is not dead!

I have entered into the fray to conclude and rule that the issue of colour is indeed alive and well in Haiti.

I have often commented in my column that Haiti and Guyana occupy the last wagon on the economic locomotive of the Caribbean. That situation is due chiefly because of the issue of colour. In Guyana, the PPP (People’s Progressive Party) with a majority of Indo Guyanese and white descendants of the Portuguese (52%) hold control of power with a clear disdain of the black minority (48%) who took refuge in the PNC (People’s National Congress). It is a country with two heads, one looking on the right and the other head looking on the left.

Thank God, Haiti does not have this radical political division, but on the political, social and economic side, Haiti, after the assassination of its founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines, is also a country with two heads; one looking at the right the other looking at the left.

Dessalines wanted to create a country where black and mulatto would live in peace and harmony in a hospitable Haiti. He failed lamentably in that dream. To immortalize the sentiment of hospitality, he offered his daughter Celimene to Alexander Petion. He was rejected. Dessalines believing that Petion had rejected Celimene because she was black never forgave him.

In fact, two hundred years later, Haiti has less inter marriage between black and mulatto than the United States, which started its experience of nation building only forty years ago, circa 1968. America in general, downtown Brooklyn in particular, has more marriages between white and black than Haiti between mulatto and black (of course, all proportion respected).

Henry Christophe, the second president of the country, was so vexed by that situation he took refuge in the northern part of Haiti when the parliament led by Alexander Petion in cohorts with the French took the decision to strip him of most the presidential powers.
On his way from Port au Prince to Cape Haitian he ordered to kill all the mulattos with the quip that “these citizens will never become true Haitians!”

The kingdom of Henry Christophe was destroyed seventeen years later with all the ethos of nation building sentiments. The republic of Alexander Petion survived for 150 years. It is a republic with disdain for the majority of the Haitian population that gravitated to the mountains to people rural Haiti. The only state presence in the rural village has been and is a decrepit school where the teachers arrive at 12.00 pm to leave at 2.00 pm.

During those 150 years there were two window opening opportunities. The first one occurred in 1902 when Antenor Firmin opposed Nord Alexis in the presidential election. The second took place in 1930 when Jean Price Mars was running against Louis Eugene Roy. Both Antenor Firmin and Jean Price Mars were advocating the concept that the Haitian elite should take in consideration the fate of the majority poor in bringing about fundamental change in the way the country treated its citizens.

On each of these occasions, the Haitian parliament supported by international hands has defeated these champions of human rights and of hospitality for all. They have forestalled all efforts towards nation building.

Jean Price Mars, an eminent anthropologist, crisscrossed the country with his lectures about the intrinsic beauty of the black race. He was indeed the forefather of the concept of black is beautiful. Yet his school was prostituted by the politicians such as Lorimer Denis, Francois Duvalier, Dumarsais Estime into a concept that now it is time for blacks to have their fair share to the detriment of all others.

That philosophy, called noirisme, is now the politics of the day. It started with Dumarsais Estime as president in 1946; it did have a hiatus under the presidency of Paul E Magloire, who ruled under the ostrich ideology that the issue of race is not important and it is over.

The noirisme concept came back with a vengeance under Francois and his son Jean Claude Duvalier. It has been muted into a clan politics in full force under Jean Bertrand Aristide and Rene Preval.

These successive governments have refused to look into the welfare of the majority of the population. The Duvalier clan, the Lavalas clan, and the Lespwa (Preval) have lived high and well while the people were vegetating in misery. It was one of the most elaborate political schemes of imposture that now is entrenched after sixty years on the Haitian firmament. They are pretending that their unlimited ambition, greed and avarice are in harmony with the fundamental interests of the nation.

The correct solution, pruned by Mars and Firmin, was Haiti should belong to all its children, black and mulattos -- rural Haiti as well as the Diaspora; they should all enjoy the abundant and the resilient resources of the country.

The year 2011 represents for Haiti a new beginning. Akin to 1902 with Antenor Firmin and 1930 with Jean Price Mars, Haiti is yearning for a country where the rule of law is in force where the peasants are seen like human beings with the right to health, education, spiritual and material prosperity.

Joseph Michel Martelly who won on the political platform of repons paysan (the peasant challenge) can play the ostrich game like Paul Eugene Magloire and pretend that the issue of colour is dead and over.

He can also extend the life of the predatory culture of Aristide and Preval that pays no attention to the distress of the population.

He can also, because he has been elected with a large mandate to bring about radical change into the Haitian ethos, challenge the retrograde mentality of exclusion so proper to Haiti and to the Haitians.

He should put an end to the political, economic and social discrimination against rural Haiti that comprises 85 percent of the population. He should also attack the social and the political discrimination against the Diaspora (4 percent of the population) and last but not least he should stop the political discrimination against the mulattos (1 percent of the population).

That culture of discrimination cannot end with pious wishes but must be confronted with laser beam targeted affirmative action of economic incubation for the rural and urban poor. The government should immediately take steps to facilitate the voting process of the Haitian residents in foreign lands in the Haitian consulates or any other facility provided by organizations such as Woman’s League of voters or its equivalent.

Last but not least, President Martelly should end the political discrimination against the mulattos. It may have been his intention in nominating Gerard Rouzier as his prime minister, but he must engage first into the leadership of education and training before making such a bold step. Machiavelli is still right. It is never easy to bring about a new form of political order.

The year 2012 will be the Guyanese year. Presidential elections will take place. The indo Guyanese and the black Guyanese will have to decide to create the rule of law in their own country where all the composites – black, indo and white -- will enjoy the bliss of hospitality for all.

When this is done, the Caribbean will enter into a new era where the concept of one market of good and human services is possible from The Bahamas to Belize. The two social gangrenes of the region, Haiti and Guyana, have put their house in order. Their citizens will travel to enjoy, buy and socialize in the sister nations. They will be no more, international nomads always seeking for a better sky to compensate for an unfriendly home, inhospitable to their human needs and aspirations.

July 4, 2011