What's happening in Haiti, six months into the Martelly government?
By Jean H Charles
The priest of my parish, St Louis King of France of Port au Prince, after a month-long travel to the United States, France, Italy and Belgium, on his return home told his parishioners he has been asked constantly abroad the same question: “Father! What’s happening in Haiti?” His answer: “I don’t know” was not comforting. I have been musing and perusing the proper answer. Six months into the Martelly government, it is proper and fit to look into what is happening in Haiti from one regime to another.
The short answer is there has not been enough fundamental change to make a difference. In its defence, the Martelly-Conille government took shape only fifteen days ago. After two failed starts, President Martelly finally obtained the sanction of the Parliament to form a new government. For the last six months he was using the caretaker ministers left by the Preval regime. His master plan of five Es: etat de droit, meaning rule of law; education; environment; employment and emergency (relocating the refugees of the earthquake from the fetid camps in the parks and the public spaces) was still in incubation, not able to take shape.
The concept of the rule of law took a hit with the Parliament just one week after the confirmation of the new Prime Minister Garry Conille. One of the legislators, with a long criminal rap sheet, including murder and prison escape, entered into an altercation with the president at the National Palace. There were dirty words uttered by both parties.
The president threatened to use the full force of law to deal with individuals who show no respect for the Office of the Presidency. How could the legislator Arnel Belizaire have obtained his legal document to run and become a representative of one of the most sophisticated counties of Haiti, Delmas-Tabarre? These are issues of the rule of law that the president promised to deal with.
The Haitian Constitution, on the other hand, provides that a sitting legislator enjoys prosecutorial immunity unless a waiver has been sought and obtained from Parliament beforehand. The district attorney arrested the legislator Arnel Belizaire on coming off the plane from an official trip from France. Did the executive branch break the rule of law in proceeding to the arrest of the legislator without awaiting the order from Parliament?
The young Haitian democracy is being put to the test. Parliament threatens to derail the government, which is not one month old, for affront and indignity to one of its own, even when the member has been on the list of fugitives subject to arrest by any good citizen.
I am reminded of the dictum of Chief Justice John Marshall Harlan of the United States, in a situation where there was a conflict of law between two branches of the government, said: “It is emphatically the province and duty of [the courts] to say what the law is.” Will Haiti use the court of law to settle that issue or will grandiose self promotion have the last word?
On another issue of the rule of law, the president promised to reestablish the Haitian army on November 18, the day commemorating the last battle of Vertieres against colonial France in Haiti two centuries ago. There were cold shoulders by the opposition, the United States and other western powers, major international press and the MINUSTHA. They are all opposed to the idea.
My position, as well as the position of the Haitian government, is stated in another essay: why Haiti needs its own army is clear and to the point. A nation is not yet one if it does not have its own army to protect its citizens, its resources and its territory. The army is the link that binds a country together in the glory of the past and the sense of appurtenance and self determination to continue to create together a common future.
As on January 1, 1804, in defying the world order of slavery, Haiti on November 18, 2011, will defy the world powers to rebuild its own army, a new army that will protect the nation against the natural calamities and the infringements against its sovereignty as a free and independent nation.
The second E stands for the issue of education for all; it took shape even before the installation of the new government. The president in a decree ordered the money transfer agencies to exact $1.50 from all the transfers to and from Haiti. In addition he has requested a tax of 10 cents on each international call to and from Haiti, hoping to raise $300 million to feed an education fund that would send all the boys and girls of Haiti to school free of charge to their parents.
The Diaspora that took the hit in shouldering the construction of the fund balked. The opposition that failed to take the leadership in making education a priority in the past is crying foul. The fine points of the program need more retooling to make it really effective, yet the Martelly-Conille government should be credited for fulfilling the vision of the founding fathers that those Haitians who do not have a lineage from France should also enjoy the full opportunities offered by the State.
In terms of the environment, Haiti represents in some parts the physical landscape of the moon, with only 2% of its land covered with trees. The capital city of Port au Prince is a nightmare for its inhabitants in general and the refugees from the earthquake in particular, each time major rains occur. Water pours out of the mountains into sewer systems that have not been cleaned for decades. The proper management of detritus, a staple for revenue and energy for the major metropolises of the world has been neglected by the previous regime.
In one week, Port au Prince has become lately a clean city; plans are under way to treat the detritus to exact energy, gas and organic manure. I take delight in involving myself into guerilla gardening, planting cutting of flowers from my home into the giant pot made of discarded tires set up by the government to replace the garbage bins, sites of squalor before.
I have approached the director of the service about distributing bags in the homes to produce seedlings from the seeds of fruits eaten in the homes so we could replenish the flora of Haiti on volunteer days of the year.
Talking about employment; I was recently at the Ministry of Works and Social Affairs; there was a raucous demonstration in front of the Ministry. There were people chanting: we just want work, we need our dignity. Will it be more of the same with no one paying attention to them until it is night time and they go home to an uncertain tomorrow?
The prime minister in a tete a tete that I have attended with some legislators has revealed the previous government, hoping that its candidate would be the winner of the election, has saved a piggy bank of US$700 million in the treasury. In addition, $600 million in the pipeline from international institutions dedicated to Haiti has not been released because of the poor absorption capacity of the previous regime. More than 300 projects will be soon on the scaffold, producing jobs by the thousand.
The last E was for emergency. The government, in a well-elaborated project nicknamed 16/6, shouldered by OIM (Organization for Migration); the CIRH and the MINUSTHA, organized the relocation of the refugees of the earthquake. The dynamic woman mayor of the bucolic village of Petionville, Lydie Parent, took advantage of the program to pioneer the relocation project in her town. The magnificent city park taken over by the refugees for the last two years has been finally recovered for the delight of the lovers who can now romance on the cleared benches and the soccer players who can practice their favourite sport.
It would be even better, in planning the cleaning of the other refugee camps, if the $100 million dedicated for the project would go into renovating the small rural villages, thereby furthering the reconstruction of the country, while the relocation of the refugees would take place in the renovated hamlets.
In conclusion, Haiti is at a crossroads. It can go back to its status quo of sixty years of illiberal regimes, sometimes predatory even criminal ones, which under the Duvalier era released millions of people from the rural sectors into the capital and in the cities without proper education and formation. They were told by the Aristide and the Preval regimes to look at the well off citizens as their enemies, breaking the social order to the bone, disrupting the process of creating the sense of appurtenance for nation building.
The Martelly-Conille government, surrounded by young lions that could be transformed into sea lions, can continue to be the predatory government of the past or it can transmute into the progressive government of the founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines that sees each Haitian citizen and each person living in the territory as potential value to be polished, cherished revered, and enriched for his own benefit and for the benefit of the nation.
I hope my good parish priest, Reverend Kennel, will read this essay and as such, provide a better answer to those who ask: “Father! What’s happening in Haiti?”
November 14, 2011