Haiti, the Greece of the Caribbean
By Jean H Charles
St Lucia dubbed herself the Helen of the Caribbean. Helen was that goddess of Greek mythology, daughter of the god Zeus and the goddess Leda. She was so beautiful that she had hundreds of suitors, including king and princes. Wedded to Menelaus, prince Paris of Sparta abducted Helena, causing the mythical Trojan War.
Because of the beauty of the land and the charm of its people, St Lucia was abducted by France and England successively some forty times, justifying the legendary surname of Helen.
Haiti’s connection with Greece has more to do with modern Greece than with Ancient Greece. I was inspired by two recent columns in the New York Times to draw the comparison between Haiti and the debacle happening these days in Greece.
Russell Shorto in a New York Times Magazine essay: The way the Greesk live now laid down the underpinnings of the economic setback that caused social disruption in Greek society.
It all started with the legacy of the culture adopted during the Ottoman Empire. Greece, abducted by the Arabs, tried to defend herself the way she knew best. To fight the distant ruling of the Caliphate against paying taxes, the Greeks adopted the concept of fakelaki (little envelopes) for bribery or looking the other way.
The culture of faking the sentiment of patriotism according to Aris Hadjigeorgiou (a Greek writer) is now ingrained in insidious ways where upper echelons of Greek media intertwined with the political structure prevented reporting of financial mismanagement that may cloud any hope for resolving the crisis.
In business as in politics, mismanagement leads to debacle. In such a situation, still citing Aris, the people who can, angle for escape routes abroad and the peasants flee to the cities.
National political leadership is at a low web. The Greeks keep talking about Sarkozy, Merkel and Obama as the guiding lights to get them out of their mess. Yet Greece was the mother of democracy where, before Christ the concept of collegiality, hospitality and patriotic instinct was the norm in the res-republica.
Patriotism or the lack thereof is not only the province of the Greek boundaries. An article in the New York Times 1 March edition described how some Russian immigrants who settled themselves in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn have organized themselves to bilk successively the health system, the housing industry and the insurance business. (Who says the communist system produce good citizens?)
According to a senior law officer prosecuting the case, “The Russian mind set is: if you are not scamming the government, you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing, you are looked upon as a patsy.” The Soviet system helped to groom a generation of post Soviet criminals in the United States with a culture that breeds disdain for the rules and a willingness to cheat to get around them.
Transporting ourselves into the Caribbean, we find the same scenario in Haiti, the motherland of nation-building.
There is a huge discrepancy between the concept of liberty, equality and fraternity enshrined in the Haitian flag and the reality on the ground.
Jean Pierre Boyer, the third president of Haiti, introduced a rural code in article 19 and 20th that prevented any store to operate wholesale or retail in any of the rural counties of the country, as such blocking national commerce in the hinterland.
While it is not the law of the land today, it is still the practice. The majority of the people who live in the rural areas are regarded as marginal citizens who can be exploited on a whim. Boyer, who agreed to pay to France the indemnity debt of 15 million francs, laid upon the peasants and the Dominican territory, then part of Haiti, the tax earmarked to pay the ransom. The Dominicans rebelled, leading to their independence on February 27 1844.
The Haitian peasants are still under the yoke of that political, economic and social discrimination, which explains why Haiti is so poor.
The rest of the population, akin to the Greeks, develops a fake patriotism culture that makes the country an easy prey for foreign meddling. Successively, the French, the Germans and the Americans, through usury loans to satisfy the debt, contributed to exacerbating the contradictions that nourish unpatriotic sentiments in Haiti. The Haitian governments were almost without exception predatory governments that used state resources to either remain in power or to terrorize their own population.
The promotion of common good, the very essence of government, is replaced by the naked search for individual interest and advantages. This practice vitiates even the altruistic motivation. The non-profit organizations, national and international, established in the country found it easy to engage in the fake service mode, compounding the misery of the population. The United Nations, with its gargantuan scheme, the MINUSTHA, is one of the biggest culprits. Haiti, under the guise of prime war assignment, is one of the most coveted foreign posts.
The perversion of the term of democracy is pervasive. From the former president Rene Preval, who prescribed the doctrine of each for thyself to the present legislature that puts roadblock at each step of the executive because entrenched interests have not been satisfied, we have a country that keeps failing to become a nation.
Greece in the Mediterranean, like Haiti in the Caribbean, needs to start creating a new generation of citizens who accept the concept that duty is the reverse side of privilege. The nation will move forward when each citizen does his part, in paying taxes, in volunteering for the common good, and forsaking the vain desire of spending what you do not have. It was Abraham Lincoln who promoted the notion that a nation is the aggregate sum of moral citizens working for the common good, providing individual satisfaction for each one.
To conclude, I would like to share this poem posted on the web by the prolific Haitian poet-attorney, Serge H Moise:
They always know what to do
And once at the helm of affairs
One never sees them hone
What they say they wanted to redo
They grow like leopards
Yet these are just the loudmouths
And once the situation is confused
They meet every empty handed
They can be heard on FM signal
Play to flaunt
They are also at Ramasse
Where the same hackneyed
As for those in the Diaspora
They do not care that they will
Praising exuberantly all skills
Unable to imitate their bosses
Militating in action and advance their holes
They are intoxicated with their megalomania
They are available as saviors
Always turn out cheaters
And when the situation is confused
They meet every empty handed
With their air of buffoons
Attitudes of cowards
Those who treat us to con
Seem to be right
Despite these claims
Devoid of convictions
The small republic back
Curling up on the ridiculous
March 6, 2012