The Martelly dilemma
By Jean H Charles
This month of September brings back the specter of 55 years of a life of horror endured by the Haitian people. It started with the Duvalier regime that haunted Haiti for 29 years (September 22, 1957, to February 7, 1986). It continues with the bad memory of 20 years of pseudo Marxist regime of the Lavalas and Lespwa governments, Jean Bertrand Aristide and his nemesis Rene Preval (February 7, 1991 – May 14, 2011) with in between militarism disguised as a democratic carnival (1986-1991).
I thought that at least and at last we have a hoof with a good government that would ease the pain and the suffering of the Haitian people.
The President’s enemies
Joseph Michel Martelly, who followed the Preval regime, is facing, after one year in power, stiff opposition from several segments of the population. I would divide this opposition into three groups.
There is first the factions of the old regimes, as well the majority of the defeated political class that is frustrated that this government with no political foundation and no political acumen could succeed where they have all failed miserably. They intend to leave no room for action for the Martelly government to govern in peace. They are like the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus time, picking up faults in everything and everywhere.
Each action or non action of the regime is studied with a fine microscope lens for alleged infractions of the Constitution. The president’s push, to establish a Permanent Electoral Board mandated by the Constitution some twenty five years ago, is facing stiff resistance by the political class, which is crying foul that he may be packing the Board with only his cronies.
They have found their hero in Senator Moise Jean Charles, a former mayor from Milot near the Citadel Henry, who became a senator due to President Preval’s good graces.
He has been pounding the Martelly government with big and small punches, one after the other. It was first the issue of double nationality of the president, which was a mountain made out of a molehill; then a story of corruption with the then candidate, now President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic. It ended as well as a storm in a teacup.
Senator Moise Jean Charles was recently at the Black Caucus of the American Congress in Washington DC drumming up support to seek the destitution of the Martelly/Lamothe government.
President Martelly has also amongst his enemies his best friends. They have been his companions on the road for long time. Their sense of entitlement to privileges and bounties of the republic seems without limit. The life of luxuries of the friends of the regime is in stark contrast with the privation of the majority of the population.
President Martelly is also facing an opposition factor in the mass of Haitians to whom he has made the promise of lifting them from their sordid and miserable life in which they have been living for the past two hundred years. It is the first time such a promise has been made to the Haitian people since the days of the founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines, who in 1804 exclaimed: “What about the former slaves? Don’t they have also the right to enjoy the patrimony of the labour of their ancestors who toiled for three hundred years to build this nation!”
The Haitian people, with a zombie-like patience that accepted a de facto status that lasted for generations, are now awakening. As a child not accustomed to the discipline of delayed gratification, as if two hundred years of ill governance must be corrected within one year; it is demanding results now. Several demonstrations took place in the major cities, mainly Cape Haitian and Les Cayes.
But with unemployment hovering around 85% in the population, any demonstration can be bought on the cheap by Martelly detractors.
President Martelly has, to his credit, the confidence of the populace that he is filled with goodwill and he is definitely committed to changing the living conditions of the most desperate of the population.
His dilemma is how to go about moving mountains of structural problems that are not even on the agenda of policy solutions. Haiti described by the Wall Street Journal as the poorest nation on the planet (it used to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere) is facing the same problems of non nation status as Central African Republic, its nemesis on the ranks of failed nations.
The Haitian dilemma
Its mass of poor and uneducated peasants, who lived in the mountains that are now depleted from its trees to prepare charcoal, the readymade cash crop, are invading the outskirts of the cities, creating insurmountable environmental problems of urbanization.
Will this problem be dealt with sentimental and cosmetic solutions or will the government, surrounded by competent and forward looking ministers, tackle the problem at its source, creating a nation out of the Republic of Haiti, one where its people will be no more nomads in their own country? Travelling from hamlet to cities, and from there negotiating an illegal trip abroad in search of a friendlier sky!
The government is seeking new investment to provide jobs to the populace. The issue of unemployment is a global one, whether in Europe, where Spain has 50% unemployment, or the United States, where young graduates cannot find a job and unemployment is at 15%.
Europe and the United States have the infrastructure, the security and the education level to produce jobs. Haiti has none of these assets; it only has a large, resilient and non educated population with no infrastructure and limited security. The factory jobs friendly to Haiti are in the garment industry, the Caracol experiment; it will produce in the long run, only frustration or a dream deferred.
The Haitian solution
Haiti should rely instead on its natural and organic assets to produce jobs in organic or nostalgic agriculture for export (to its own Diaspora), husbandry with a human touch, with chicken so tender that they are in the delicatessen sections of all the supermarkets of the world (as the Haitian mangoes) and arts and crafts so peculiar to the creative talent of a critical mass of the population.
Later it will capitalize on its fascinating scenic beauty to create a niche market for tourists not afraid of strong memories and emotions drawn from the year long religious and cultural festivals. They can also hibernate in a setting where land, labour and material is still cheap compared to the rest of the Caribbean.
I have made the point often in this column that education is the key to future development. The government has embarked on a project of reaching out to all youngsters who have been out of school for years. It is not enough. An literacy program spurred by the Cuban brigade is receiving scant support from the government. Yet all the studies have point to the direction that there can be no development if the majority of the population is not highly educated.
Last but not least the government must accelerate its project of re-dotting the country with the Haitian army. Haiti is suffering of a deficit in the perception of security coverage. The new Haitian army will provide that insurance. Haiti is no less safe than most of the islands of the Caribbean yet perception (as location in real estate) is all that matters!
In the end, the Martelly/Lamothe government will have to harness all its muscle to discard the feelings of those who fail in the past to be compassionate to the fate of the majority. It must understand that the problems of Haiti are first structural -- cosmetic solutions will only compound the problem. It needs the best collaborators to define and bring about corrective remedies. It must rein in the gluttonous thirst of its best friends who, like some of the Haitian generals after the Haitian Revolution, took the position that the return from Haiti’s independence was only for themselves and for their families.
It should not be afraid of educating the Haitian people about the concept of deferred gratification for a better good later. Bringing solace to the Haitian people must start with hospitality in the smallest territorial collective, building development from the ground up.
Creating a nation is a hard concept at home and abroad, it demands strong leadership. Go and ask Dr Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore. He was the laughing stock of the Western world twenty years ago when he enforced the punishment of a young American to a flagellum for throwing chewing gum on the street. Yet he has now one of the most developed and richest nations on the globe!
Haiti as a forward looking nation at its creation can again become a lightning rod for itself and for the world if its government takes steps to unleash the creativity of each one of its citizens. The Martelly government has the whereabouts to accomplish that feat if only it can head into the lessons of this essay and start demonstrating it has the will to create a modern, hospitable, Haitian society out of this medieval inhospitable Haiti that we are living into today in the year of the Lord 2012!
September 29, 2012