Sunday, November 28, 2021

Mon "Ave Maria"

Je vous salue, Seigneur Jésus,

Fils Immolé pour nos péchés. 

Vous êtes béni dans l’univers

pour meurtrissures jusqu'au calvaire.

Seigneur Jésus, Agneau de Dieu,

Priez pour nous, pauvres pécheurs,

dès maintenant jusqu’à la mort.

Friday, August 27, 2021

We would be we, $28 billion et al.

A friend shared the video of a young woman explaining how the world got it all wrong: Europe and the United States are actually poor; it is Africa that is rich. She spoke deliberately, with the self-assurance of an intellectual who had conducted research and collected evidence. She argued the West spent years destabilizing the continent, the more easily to plunder its wealth. 

My reaction was as lightning. In an élan of Afro-loyalty, I rejected that narrative, reasoning it portrayed Africans as acted upon, wholly incapable of acting in their best interests. That cannot be true. After all, the speaker’s analysis has become commonplace. Africans now know they have been and continue to be played. Where are the leaders? Where is the counter offensive?

In truth, Africa is too broad and too far for me to address. I will speak instead of a place I know. Haiti.

After winning our independence, we had to pay the French to leave us alone. Our very good newspaper Le Nouvelliste has estimated that sum at $28 billion by today's equivalent. It took us 67 years to pay it.  

It's become trendy in academic circles to morph that absurdity into "a debt" and link it to our under-development. The average Haitian, however, does not believe the country’s poverty is due to a lack of money. We had $4 billion from Venezuela in a program called Petrocaribe. Two guesses as to where those billions did not go.

Our southern region has just taken twin blows: an earthquake and a hurricane-like storm. Unlike the earthquake, hurricanes are for us a quasi-annual ritual. Yet, the Civil Protection office, tabbed with disaster preparedness, had nothing in storage: no tents, no water bottles, no aspirin packets, no toothpaste, no boxes of spaghetti and bottles of oil. No baby blankets. 

The French debt was not the cause.

I have not spoken with the Civil Protection director, but I imagine he could say, “you know, we drafted a disaster plan. Indeed we have local, departmental, and national plans. I submitted them three months ago to my minister de tutelle and was awaiting his approval.” He did his job.  

If I were to go to that minister, he would likely explain, “yes, yes. I did receive the disaster plan but Civil Protection had failed to update the statistics from last year. So I asked my technical director to revise it. We were supposed to have a meeting about it this week. As you may know, I am new to this position.”

Or he might answer, “yes, I did receive the plan. And my ministry validated it. Then I sent it to the Prime Minister's Office. They have the authority to send it to the executive secretary of the National Palace. That's the person who prepares the agenda for ministers' meetings, where we would vote to adopt it."


What could have been done? 

The Civil Protection director could have, in fact, prepared the hurricane season. Besides the Executive, he could have gone to the locals. Les Cayes, for one, is Haiti’s third or fourth largest city. It is not without resources! The mayor’s office, businesses, churches, universities, NGOs, they all could have pitched in. But that would have required initiative and personal industry. That would have demanded an urgent sense of results and responsibility. Leadership.

None of which is prevented by international debt, real or imagined. 

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Post Jovenel

Jovenel Moise was shot dead in his bedroom around 2:00 a.m. one month ago today, leaving Haiti with no president and two prime ministers. 

We have a constitution and a bevy of administrative laws, but none addresses the current scenario. So a  predictable fight for power ensued, as three men rose to the fore: an acting prime minister, a designated prime minister, and the president of the Senate. A fourth person who surely would have been considered, the president of the country’s Supreme Court, had died two weeks earlier.

All three pretenders offered plausible but tortured claims. (**See below.)

After a few days, the designated prime minister Ariel Henry, a neuro-surgeon, won the position with international support. Almost everyone expected him to govern through a “political accord.” Of course, there are other ways to provide for novel issues, such as legislative intent. But Haiti has no such traditions. Here, we use “political accords”-- code language for a cake sharing exercise, whereby politicians and other actors divide ministries and other cash-handling government offices. Some are more valuable than others. Finance. Public Works. Foreign Affairs. Health (in the age of Covid-19). The social security office. The vehicle insurance bureau. The tax authorities. For lesser players, there is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Defying expectations, the new Prime Minister formed a government all by himself, in the mold of the late President. As it was dryly noted, “Jovenel Moise is dead; long live Jovenel Moise.” And he did so after reaching an accord with numerous established opposition parties. Once in office, he reneged on the agreement. He would not or could not deliver key promises. The political parties shrieked in disbelief and indignation.

The issue of post-Jovenel governance remains, therefore, unsettled. Many actors demand the appointment of a president but Prime Minister Henry disagrees: "Haiti's next President will be an elected president." 

Two visions collide. The first is to do only the minimum required to organize elections. The second is to use this unexpected void as an opportunity to reshape Haitian politics, if not the whole society, before elections. This second group wants a "national dialogue," the recall of numerous decrees published by the late President, the promulgation of a new constitution, etc. Democratic principles notwithstanding, most organized groups bend towards the second option.

The conundrum is more solvable than imagined. 

There are roughly 40 deciding actors: the Prime Minister, the ten remaining senators, about a dozen successful political parties, and a handful of established civil society organizations. Even if we admit twice the number, that's not many people. Let them all go on a weekend retreat and return with a plan. There would be no one left to protest. 

Alternatively, we should conduct a national survey -- Plan A: with only a prime minister, the government organizes elections within six months. Plan B: with a president and a prime minister, the government is granted 12 months to propose a new constitution and organize elections. 

Both options would involve a cabinet reshuffle to be more "inclusive," a new electoral council, and better public safety as well as food security measures.

And then peace. At least until the next elections. 

**N.B.: The acting prime minister was still in office when the killing happened. (He was “acting” because he was “filling in” the position after the previous prime minister resigned two months earlier. His “real” position was minister of foreign affairs.) He had submitted a letter of resignation and congratulated the designated prime minister, though he apparently had not vacated the official residence.

The designated prime minister too was wobbly. While Jovenel Moise had named him as the nation’s second in command and published his name in Le Moniteur, the governmental register, there had been no installation ceremony. Haitian law may technically not require such a ceremony for prime ministers, but tradition demands it. At any rate, that prime minister had yet to enter his new office. After the assassination, he went into hiding for a few days.

Haiti’s Senate joined the fray, though having only ten members out of the 30 constitutionally required. Despite the lack of quorum, they voted their leader Haiti’s president. According to the Constitution, the National Assembly chooses the country’s president in case of a presidential vacancy in years four and five of a term. But the National Assembly consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, so ten senators cannot that body make.

Other forces are relevant: the established political class and civil society. The former has proven so incapable as to be irrelevant if not contemptable. The latter is struggling to establish legitimacy or demonstrate force. And the international community remains powerful.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Interview

I am sad for team Sussex.

I did not watch the interview but heard the "bombshells." Two key ones are from the Duke himself: his father had turned his back on him when he sought assistance to protect his young family and even stopped taking his calls. There were also tragic revelations from the Duchess: she had contemplated suicide and an unidentified member of the Royal family had expressed concern about how dark their son would be.

The conversation made clear Meghan caused "Megxit." Before her, Harry had been oblivious to being "trapped." It is she who enlightened him as to his true condition. He then had no choice but to strike out for freedom. Fair enough. But then he took it upon himself to express pity for his father and brother because they have yet to realize their imprisonment.

How does one clamoring for 'his own truth' not grant the same favor to family members: "I cannot speak for them."

That of course is the issue: Prince Harry's apparent utter disregard for his family's feelings and reputation.

After all, it was not Meghan's family that was cut open and left bleeding in Oprah's reels: it was his! His father. His brother. His sister-in-law. His relationships. His traditions. His home. She had already walked away from her family, her mother excepted. This was no skin off her back.

Moreover, he was coy. He indicated Buckingham palace was a hostile, racist place, but then insisted the Queen was a saint. Are we to believe she is clueless about the institution she leads, the home she has created?

I would love to know what he hoped to achieve through this interview, which amounted to a frontal attack on his family. None of them had said anything unkind about him in public. He could have simply said, "Meghan and I are incredibly fortunate, blessed with love, resources, and a healthy, beautiful baby boy and a girl on the way. We would like to thank the Queen for her support. However, we think it best for our family to step away from active royal duties for a season, even as we look forward to continuing a life of service. It goes without saying we remain loyal to Her Majesty and the Commonwealth." Those words would have said to the world, 'good, bad or indifferent, my family matters to me.' They would have been worthy of a prince.

Instead, the narrative now is that of a tale of a young couple undone by racism. And certainly, that cannot be dismissed, for on this much at least, Meghan is right: racism and sexism are likely to make her the real villain in this sordid affair. Most unfortunate, really, for Harry's sins are greater.

In time, his conscience will murmur, and the Sussexes will regret their decision. And because I continue to "pull" for them, I am sad.