Gina Athena Ulysse, author of Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, writes (for Tikkun) about the traumatic, historical context in which Haiti’s present political woes have unfolded.
The unfolding events in Haiti are a despairing call for social and economic justice in the absence of rule of law. The folks in the streets who kept Haiti on lockdown since February 7th are clear about their demands. As Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles has reported, they want the 58th president, Jovenel Moïse, to vacate his post because they have no confidence in his leadership. Since he took office in 2017, Moise, an outsider to the political machine but with the support of the United States and the CORE Group, has failed to deliver on promises to alleviate the suffering of the nation and his administration is accused of perpetuating the kleptocratic practices of predecessor Michel Martelly, founder of PHTK (Bald Head Party). Both were brought to power by elections contested by Haitian institutions, including an election observer commission, but ultimately validated by the international community.
What is seemingly uniting the protesters is staunch determination to completely uproot the corruption infesting public administration. They seek to put an end to the impunity that continues to protect those who are culpable, and eradicate a state system beholden to the oligarchy and an international community that habitually interferes in Haitian affairs. In that sense, the call to oust this president is a yearning for systemic change with the hopes of addressing an on-going structural crisis that dates back to the Haitian Revolution. This ultimatum, which has been brewing for some time began to erupt volcanically in July 2018. Its most recent spark was the Petro Caribe corruption scandal, involving the disappearance of nearly $4 billion from Venezuela intended for public works and social service projects, which prompted the where did the money go? campaign.
[. . .] As I have written elsewhere, anything you have read about Haiti thus far will remind you of an all too common and limited narrative; the first Black Republic is “the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.” What almost none of them will mention is that Haiti also has one of the highest numbers of millionaires per capita in the region. Ninety percent of the country’s wealth is held by only 2% of its population. Rapper K-Lib Mapou lyrically mediates on this acute inequality in “PetwoPozisyon (Non).” With a sample of a crooning Edith Piaf, K-Lib remarks; “Ten million people with less than two dollars and just a few hundred holding 3 billion… Doctors and nurses without a salary while their wives and mistresses are giving birth overseas.”
The Haitian business elite, once dubbed “morally repugnant,” remains an indifferent class that pays no taxes, and lives in luxury. Many participate in a patronage system that supports local gangs, which are predisposed to use their poorest compatriots especially during times of unrest in their on-going wrestling match for power amongst themselves. Along with the state machinery, the elite has historically engaged in what is called a “politique de doublure” the exchange and reinforcement of economic and political power for their own benefit at the expense of the masses. Historically, both have had to contend with persistent foreign intervention (U.S. Occupation and MINUSTAH) and relations with international monetary institutions that undermine the republic’s sovereignty.
The disenfranchised majority population remains perpetually caught between this socio-economic extreme with its anti-blackness practices and this predatory state with disdain for restavèk or servant leadership. The state not only refuses a social contract with the nation—government provided-services remain non-existent throughout the country—but abdicated its responsibility to its people, relegating them to Christian and other NGOs. Moreover, in the Haitian diaspora, we know and feel this. Our remittances, which according to a World Bank is one-third of the economy functions as the only social welfare net. This reality is obscured by a façade of calmness that is assumed whenever Haiti is not in the news. [. . .]
[. . .] What we are seeing is the absolute failure of what late Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot called “The longest neocolonial experiment in the history of the West.” This tumultuous class struggle is a remnant of the unfinished business of the only successful slave revolution in the world. The first Black republic remains at the crossroads.
President Moïse’s response after eight days of silence did little to quell the protesters. Travel advisories are on highest alert as the international community is fleeing. Local journalists are standing firm, denouncing the government’s turn to even more repressive tactics, outright killing protesters who are seeking a hopeful and sustainable life to realize the elusive revolutionary ideals of liberté, fraternité, egalité.
It is difficult to tell what is next for my beloved homeland. It is clear that no concrete change will come unless the path ahead confronts the persistent unequal distribution that characterizes Haitian life. Nou rete nap gade. We wait and we watch.
[Gina Athena Ulysse is a feminist artist-anthropologist. She is the author of Why Haiti Needs New Narratives (2015), and Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, me & THE WORLD (2017). She is a Professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University in CT.]
For full article, see https://www.tikkun.org/newsite/haitis-unfinished-revolution-is-still-in-effect