Thursday, October 17, 2019

Eyes on the Government only

Haitian entities continue to blame the government for the country's current disruption. They "note and deplore" its numerous failures, its incapacity to establish order, to assure the safety of persons and goods, to allow schools and commerce to function. Haiti, they say, is reaching a point of explosion. 

Indeed. Intermittently over the last 18 months, people have placed locks on churches while services were on-going, have burned tires to prevent circulation, have looted businesses and attacked hospitals, have threatened to murder students if they go to school on days of protests. 

But the perpetrators have not been police officers or government agents. Most have been hired hands or political activists, allies of the opposition, whose members have called for oil to be poured on roads, for barricades to be built higher, for people to arm themselves with "all available weapons" to confront the police and to "go get" the President in his home. A member of the opposition said recently "we cannot let children go to school because the President is still here."

To such an extraordinary admission of guilt, no one said, "but that kind of egoism is immoral." The silence has been deafening. To read the press releases, almost all of them, the government is the sole actor, and a bad one at that, in this tragedy. 

Where are the independent thinkers in Haiti?

Lawyers say the Haitian constitution grants broad freedom of expression, but do they not know about competing interests? Why does one group's ambition for regime or system change override the rights of all others to send their children to school, to drive their car to work, to get their produce to market, to go on a date in a neighborhood restaurant?

As the disruption lingers, and the President continues to confound with a long list of missteps and illegalities, more and more Haitians want him to leave office. But even now, they do not want the opposition as replacement. To the contrary, they dislike them strongly and blame the President's passivity.

Take for example the recent press conference. Within hours, the usual suspects took to the airways to attack a  "provocation" and "arrogance." Not the population. Almost to the person, they said the President was cowardly. He did not go far enough. He should have named names. If Haitians ever push Jovenel Moise out of power, it will have been because of his perceived weakness--the unforgivable sin in a leader.  

Meanwhile the opposition is well financed and not above using violence, so best not to question the "he must go" mantra.

Perhaps those insisting on an early departure could explain what irreparable harm would come to the Republic if the President was to complete his term.

But no one has asked them to do that. Not publicly. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Haiti's Political Madness and its Method

There’s a method to Haiti’s modern political madness: call it the 3-year itch. 

That phenomenon begins late in year two of any presidential term, grows shrill in year three and four, leading to the overthrow of a president or the formation of a “national unity” government, where the President shares power with parties that had lost at the ballot box.

Arguably, it first happened with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Returning to power in February 2001 after admittedly dubious elections, he was forced to leave in March 2004, amid the infamous “GNB” movement. The late Rene Preval came to power May 2006 after a two-year transition. In spite of the scandal that involved a UN truck carrying unopened bulletins, the consensus was that those elections were fair. Even while president, Mr. Preval enjoyed broad acceptance if not affection: folks saw him as a decent leader, reasonable and consensual. And yet, in April 2008, a series of “hunger riots” rocked the country, forcing him to create a new government. He installed Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis in August amid cries of unconstitutionality, after the first two choices failed to pass their Parliamentary auditions. Parliament censured her in October 2009, and replaced her one week later by Jean-Max Bellerive. Joseph Martelly came to power in May 2011, and Laurent Lamothe became his prime minister one year later. For many, this was ideal: the two men seemed to be genuine friends, with the support of the UN stabilization force and access to untold treasures from the Venezuelan PetroCaribe funds. All of that was insufficient—or perhaps too much. Under pressure, the President named a new prime minister in December 2014, to lead an “inclusive government.” He chose Evens Paul.

Haiti’s current President, Jovenel Moise, has not escaped the pattern of mid-term political revolt. He installed his first prime minister in March 2017, but was forced to accept his resignation in July 2018, after Port-au-Prince was brought to a standstill, supposedly because of the increase in the price of gasoline. He then engineered the departure of his second prime minister, whom he disliked, in March 2019, barely six months after he was sworn-in. All attempts to have a new one have failed. And now, the President faces deafening and aggressive calls for his departure.

Such a situation was predictable.

Haiti's recent presidents have had different personalities, skills, allies, priorities, morals. Yet, they have all met the same demands at the hand of a political class that insists on change.

I believe there are two explanations. The first lies in the Haitian reality of politics-as-only-livelihood model. Frederick Douglas said it with exquisite poignancy in 1893: “Too proud to work, and not disposed to go into commerce, [politicians] make politics a business . . . No president, however virtuous, wise and patriotic, ever suits them when they themselves happen to be out of power.”  

To be out of power is to be out of funds and benefits, so all current office holders are persons to be eliminated: “you’ve had your turn; now it’s mine.” Or at least that of someone close to me.

Secondly, and more venial given our history, candidates do not trust the Executive to conduct fair elections. They believe the party in power will necessarily determine the outcome, making them designated losers. A government of transition or “inclusion” blunts that reality, because the power is either less partisan or more evenly distributed.

Jovenel Moise is almost in year three of his presidency. He has fewer assets, both personal and material, than his predecessors. The calls for his departure should surprise no one, all merits or falsehoods aside.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

I Pray for the Impossible

I pray for the impossible
for Haiti and her people,
that 7-year-old boys would have fathers
and 14-year-old girls would not be mothers;
that we would know hunger for only righteousness
and be thirsty only for goodness;
that our politicians would be true leaders
and make of our land a common treasure;
that like snow in foreign countries,
our hurricanes would be no calamities;
that street odors would be as perfume
and all litter banished 
to bins made of plaster.

I pray for the impossible—
except it’s not really,
not to You, at least.
And it is to You alone that I pray.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

When fears and sorrows kiss

When fears and sorrows kiss
and our crafty enemy
slides and twists,
faith to undo:
“all is void, all is lost,”
turn to the garden, alone,
where peace awaits.
Let the tears flow,
like The blood,
layer upon layer,
but do not dread
or despair.