Author Archives: Frandley Julien

Aristide, L’Intouchable!

Par Frandley Denis Julien

frandleyjulien@gmail.com

Dans une déclaration conjointe faite dans la presse en début de semaine, l’Initiative de la Société Civile et le Conseil Haïtien des Acteurs non-Etatiques jugent les poursuites judiciaires engagées contre l’ex-président Aristide par le Juge Lamarre Bélizaire inopportunes, eu égard à la conjoncture actuelle qui fait déjà miroiter le spectre d’une crise pré-électorale. Je n’en reviens pas.

Cette déclaration est mal inspirée à bien des égards. D’abord, il faut que les acteurs de la société civile réalisent que la justice doit être indépendante non seulement des deux autres pouvoirs, mais aussi de toute interférence externe, d’où qu’elle vienne. En tant qu’éléments de la société civile, notre vigilance, dans ce cas précis, se borne à nous assurer que les poursuites enclenchées contre Aristide ne sont pas commanditées par le gouvernement Martelly/Lamothe, ce qui serait une triste façon de rater une opportunité unique de faire avancer la démocratie dans le pays. Aristide, contrairement à ses pratiques, a droit à un procès juste et équitable, si le juge Belizaire ou son successeur décide qu’il y a lieu de le juger. Cependant, nous savons tous que toute l’intervention gouvernementale qu’il fallait pour qu’Aristide aille en prison, il s’en était occupé lui-même, du temps de son règne.

Cela dit, il ne revient pas à des organisations de la société civile de décider de l’opportunité du timing des poursuites. C’est une décision qui revient, en toute indépendance, au pouvoir judiciaire. Si nous commençons à donner des prétextes aux juges quant à l’opportunité de faire avancer la justice, ils en trouveront à longueur d’année. Il ne sera pas opportun de poursuivre les ‘’grands’’ de Novembre à Avril à cause des fêtes de fin d’année, des festivités carnavalesques, de Pâques et du Rara ; à partir de Mai jusqu’à Octobre, c’est le carnaval des fleurs, les fêtes champêtres et la réouverture des classes. Donc, il sera difficile de trouver un moment opportun pour qu’Aristide réponde de ses actes devant la justice.

En plus, il nous faut admettre  que si nous revenons à la normalité —et il faudra tôt ou tard y revenir— nous devrons réaliser des élections tous les deux ans. Sachant qu’il peut falloir plus d’un an pour achever l’affaire Aristide, de l’instruction au verdict, il y aura toujours un chevauchement entre cette affaire et la réalisation d’élections dans le pays.

Mais, attendez : il y a une kyrielle d’autres raisons, encore plus fondamentales, pour lesquelles la déclaration de ces deux organisations est malvenue. D’abord, si nous suivons leur logique, le petit voleur de banane doit répondre de ses actes devant la justice à tout moment, mais les délinquants en col blanc qui, de surcroît, sont tellement irrespectueux des institutions nationales qu’ils paient des casseurs pour mettre le pays à feu et à sang au lieu de faire face à la justice, il faut attendre le clair de lune pour les convoquer ? N’est-ce pas là une justice à deux vitesses que ces organisations sont en train de promouvoir ? Ne sont-elles pas en train d’appeler la justice à récompenser la délinquance, le banditisme et l’irrespect des lois de ce pays ?

Ensuite, si les organisations de la société civile ayant pignon sur rue peuvent donner leur opinion, à leur façon, sur l’opportunité ou non des poursuites contre Aristide, pourquoi les soi-disant supporters de ce dernier ne peuvent pas eux-aussi, donner la leur, à leur façon, en bloquant l’entrée de sa résidence ? Tout cela nous fait réaliser que dans la lutte pour l’émergence de la démocratie en Haïti, nous sommes moins matures que nous nous amusons à le croire, et qu’au plus haut niveau, nous avons des réflexes antidémocratiques.

Cela dit, aujourd’hui, certaines conclusions s’imposent. Premièrement, Aristide n’a plus aucune force politique. Les deux ou trois dizaines de casseurs qui s’activent devant sa maison sont des journaliers qui n’ignorent pas qu’en environ 20 ans de pouvoir, Aristide et Lavalas n’ont rien fait ni pour Cité Soleil, ni pour le Bel-Air. Si Aristide était populaire, dans toutes les autres villes du pays, des citoyens se seraient précipités aux barricades. Si ces individus s’opposent à l’action de la justice, ils doivent le faire à leur dépens ; deuxièmement, le gouvernement Martelly doit se garder d’intervenir dans ce dossier car c’est à ce prix que le pays fera un saut qualitatif vers l’avant ; mais le gouvernement doit aussi agir avec rigueur contre les casseurs ; troisièmement, si Aristide est si puissant que son arrestation éventuelle peut plonger le pays dans le chaos, il peut aussi lâcher ses chiens et commanditer des fraudes massives aux prochaines élections, en toute impunité. Si c’en est le cas, il nous faut reconnaitre que ce pays a un ‘’problème Aristide’’ qu’il faut d’autant plus résoudre avant les élections.

Somme toute, la démocratie ne se construit pas sans casse. Tant qu’il y aura des citoyens que la justice ne pourra entendre qu’en temps ‘’opportun,’’ nous ne serons pas sur la bonne voie. Une justice qui attend le moment opportun pour fonctionner est, par définition, une justice opportuniste. Ce n’est pas ce dont nous rêvons pour notre pays.

Frandley Denis Julien est doctorant en Droit. Pour continuer à recevoir ses publications, cliquez ici pour aimer sa page d’auteur sur Facebook.

 

Ce qu’il faut prendre le temps d’expliquer au Sénateur Steven Benoit et à ses collègues

 

Par Frandley Julien

frandleyjulien@gmail.com

 

Le Sénateur Steven Benoit se trouve, depuis quelques jours, au centre d’une controverse dont il espère s’extirper en creusant davantage le trou dans lequel il s’est foutu, au lieu d’essayer de comprendre pourquoi tant de gens sont déçus de lui. Tout a commencé après que Benoit, qui répond comme un aimant au magnétisme d’un microphone, s’est félicité dans la presse du fait que la loi électorale a rendu plus difficile la participation de la diaspora dans la politique haïtienne. Ce mécanisme qui fait la fierté du sénateur, exige que ceux qui briguent un poste électif aient, pendant le temps de résidence requis par la constitution, payé leurs impôts à l’heure, et non en gros et rétroactivement, comme l’ont fait Lamothe et Conille. Et l’intrépide sénateur, qui ne semble pas avoir compris les conséquences réelles de ses actes au parlement, pense, par cette loi, avoir rendu service au pays. LOL.

Le problème ici va au-delà de Benoit. Le hic est que nous avons confié l’importante tâche de légiférer pour nous à des gens qui n’ont pas lu les Anciens, et qui ne comprennent rien à la philosophie politique. Ces gens-là se sont mis à emprunter paresseusement des lois de l’extérieur sans comprendre les motivations philosophiques derrière ces lois, et sans consentir aucun effort pour les adapter aux besoins d’Haïti. En plus, il n’est un secret pour personne que ceux qui ont vécu dans la diaspora, une fois rentrés au pays, sont parmi les plus farouches promoteurs de l’exclusion des Haïtiens de l’extérieur de la vie politique nationale. Ils ont inauguré cette pratique en 1986, et n’en ont pas démordu depuis. Ces gens pensent que tout le monde essaie d’accéder au pouvoir pour se servir, et non pour servir, et essaient de fermer le p’tit cercle de copains autant que possible.

Ce qu’il faut expliquer au sénateur Benoit, c’est que rien n’empêche aux membres de la diaspora qui ont la folie du pouvoir de se rendre au pays annuellement et de payer régulièrement des impôts qu’ils ne doivent pas à Haïti, jusqu’à ce qu’arrive le moment de se présenter aux élections. Ce que Benoit et ses acolytes ne comprennent pas, c’est  que cette disposition légale qu’ils ont adoptée, en plus d’être inefficace parce que facilement contournable,  envoie un mauvais signal à la diaspora qui se sent de plus en plus exclue d’accès aux sphères de décision.

Ceux qui veulent vraiment servir Haïti ne sont pas obligés de le faire en occupant un poste politique. Cependant, au constat de cette politique systématique à double-verrouillage visant à l’exclusion de la diaspora de la chose publique, beaucoup de compatriotes de l’extérieur qui auraient pu prêter leurs services au pays dans le secteur privé ou l’humanitaire, sont tellement dégoutés par le sentiment d’exclusion qui les tenaille,  qu’ils tendent à tout laisse tomber. La diaspora a le sentiment d’être persona non grata dans son propre pays.

Quelqu’un doit prendre le temps d’expliquer au Sénateur Benoit et à ses collègues, avec les mots les plus simples possible, que 80% de nos compatriotes détenant un diplôme universitaire vivent à l’étranger, et qu’à l’heure actuelle, Haïti a besoin de la participation active de tous ses enfants. Cela ne veut pas dire que les diplômés de la diaspora sont mieux formés que ceux de l’intérieur. Ce que je veux dire c’est que nous avons quatre fois plus de compétences à l’extérieur qu’à l’intérieur du pays, et que vouloir fonctionner seulement avec les 20% de l’intérieur est une démarche digne de notre proverbial  Bouki national.

L’exigence de résidence que ceux qui briguent un poste électif doivent satisfaire dans la majorité des pays, répond à la nécessité qu’un élu connaisse assez l’histoire et la réalité de l’espace qu’il aspire à diriger pour pouvoir remplir la fonction avec compétence. Par exemple, aux Etats-Unis, un candidat à la présidence doit avoir vécu dans le pays pendant 14 ans. Bien que les tribunaux n’aient jamais eu à interpréter cette exigence, certains des plus éminents experts en droit constitutionnel arguent que ces 14 années de résidence n’ont pas à être consécutives, et que si l’individu a vécu dans le pays pendant 14 ans à n’importe quel moment, même par intermittence, il doit en connaitre l’histoire et la réalité assez  pour pouvoir le diriger avec compétence. Mais en Haïti, on a toujours interprété l’exigence de résidence pour obliger les candidats à avoir vécu dans le pays pendant les cinq années précédant leur dépôt de candidature. Donc, si quelqu’un qui a passé 50 ans à vivre dans le pays passe deux ans à poursuivre des études à l’étranger 3 ans avant les élections, cet individu est inéligible aux yeux de ces puristes de l’exclusion. Demandez-leur une bonne raison pour justifier cette réalité qu’ils ont créée, ils ne l’ont pas.

Considérons la question du cumul de nationalités, pendant qu’on y est. Aujourd’hui, un Haïtien qui a acquis la nationalité américaine ne peut être président, sénateur ou député en Haïti. La semaine dernière, un ami qui a acquis la nationalité américaine m’a confié son intention de se présenter au sénat pour l’Artibonite. Je l’en ai dissuadé, parce que ce serait une violation de la constitution. La loi est ridicule, contreproductive et ringarde, mais c’est la loi. Quelqu’un qui veut servir Haïti ne peut pas inaugurer son service par une violation flagrante de la constitution. Cependant, si nous avions plus de bon sens au parlement, il y a longtemps que nous nous serions débarrassés de cette entrave au développement du pays. Acquérir un passeport étranger pour avoir de meilleures opportunités dans un pays d’accueil n’enlève  rien à l’Haïtianité d’un individu. La preuve, nous avons tout à coup oublié que Dany Laferrière était Canadien. Nous sommes tous fiers de lui. Mais s’il s’avisait à vouloir devenir député de son Port-au-Prince natal, halte-là Dany ! Tu n’es pas assez Haïtien pour occuper ce poste. Ridicule. Si le Canada traitait ses citoyens comme nous traitons les nôtres, Michaëlle Jean n’y serait jamais devenue gouverneure.

En somme, il faut que les Haïtiens de l’intérieur comme de l’extérieur commencent à élever la voix contre l’exclusion systématique de la diaspora de la gestion du pays. Haïti a tout à gagner d’une participation massive de la diaspora dans tous les domaines. On devrait être en train de desserrer la vis empêchant cette participation, non la serrer davantage. Et il faut que quelqu’un prenne le temps de le faire comprendre à Benoit et à ses collègues.

Frandley  Julien

Doctorant en Droit.

Pour être  au courant de mes publications dans le futur, je vous invite à “aimer” ma page Facebook en cliquant ici.

Haitian Descendants in Dominican Republic Face Tragedy.

My piece in today’s Miami Herald co-written with Professor Ediberto Roman.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/10/22/3705305/haitian-descendants-in-dominican.html

Haiti: Different faces, Same Corruption

BY FRANDLEY JULIEN

FRANDLEYJULIEN@GMAIL.COM

If the ouster of President Morsi in Egypt teaches anything to the international community, it is that the mere organization of elections is not a panacea in countries with a long tradition of corruption and dictatorship.

Those who try to understand why not much has changed in Haiti 27 years after the fall of the Duvalier regime are quick to point exclusively at our corrupt, ruthless and incompetent leaders. However, a closer look at the country’s perpetual crisis will show that corruption, incompetence and irresponsibility have always been supported by an important portion of the Haitian population. Why?

 

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The High Cost of Staying Out of Politics in Haiti

Published by the Miami Herald on Novermber 2, 2012

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/02/v-fullstory/3079790/the-high-cost-of-staying-out-of.html

By Frandley Denis Julien

Haiti has never been a better illustration than now of Edmund Burke’s quote that “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Traditionally, a huge portion of the country’s population has always prided itself in belonging to the “silent majority,” leaving the political scene to vagabonds and the bravest of serious souls. An understandable — albeit, not excusable — reason is the fact that Haiti’s successive dictatorial regimes, particularly the Duvaliers, have raised the killing of political opponents to the level of a national sport. Being in the silent majority was a manifestation of our survival instinct at its best.
However, well-educated citizens of good will should have known that their choice to generally refrain from participating in the political process would lead the country exactly where it is now, with successive incompetent governments and the exponential deterioration of the population’s living conditions. Moreover, the premise that abstention from politics would guarantee longevity could not be farther from the truth today. Quiet, law-abiding citizens are killed, kidnapped, raped on a daily basis in today’s Port-au-Prince; everybody is at the mercy of the all-powerful gangs.
During the past couple of months, there have been more and more protests against President Martelly’s stewardship of the country. Instead of listening to the population’s grievances expressed through numerous street demonstrations, the president, upon returning from the United Nations, countered with a march of his own, leading a crowd of his partisans and state employees through the nine miles separating the international airport from the National Palace.
That says a lot about a man who is used to winning on decibels, not on substance. His government has taken nepotism to a new level, with both his wife and young son heading powerful commissions generously funded at the expense of, and undertaking tasks that already fall in the purview of, existing cabinet ministries, with no accountability whatsoever.
On the other hand, the group that has taken the lead of the popular discontent has no credibility, and cannot offer a viable alternative to the Martelly debacle. It sits at the same table as a senator who has been cited by the Organization of American States (OAS) as a diligent human rights violator during Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s regime and a former congressman who, until recently, was accusing that senator of killing his brother. Furthermore, the latest opposition march held in Cap-Haitien was initiated by Initiative Citoyenne — a civic organization of which several followers were victimized by the Lavalas regime — in collaboration with representatives of that same regime, without any thought of justice for the souls of those who fell, or reparation for those who are still carrying the stigma of their injuries.
Therefore, this type of opposition to Martelly, because it is an amalgam of former human-rights violators and leaders displaying a total lack of political values who are willing to associate themselves with yesterday’s devil to get rid of today’s fiend at the expense of justice and the rule of law, harbingers nothing positive for the country. However, because these opposition leaders have a deficit of credibility does not mean they cannot overthrow the government.
The Haitian people, just like they voted Martelly into office to get rid of the traditional political class — knowing all along that they could not expect much from him aside from an end to the rampant corruption that has been plaguing the country — is very likely to use these same actors to topple Martelly out of buyer’s remorse. The only one who would benefit from Martelly’s premature ouster is former President Aristide — human-rights violator in chief — who, crouched in the shadows, is pulling strings while waiting for the spoils. His longtime allies from the Congressional Black Caucus in the United States have already reported to duty, with two press releases denouncing the Martelly administration in less than two months, ending a long hiatus from Haitian politics.
It is about time that the silent majority both within Haiti and in the diaspora realizes that its abstention strategy is as unpatriotic as it is suicidal. Today, no one is more secure in Haiti because he or she keeps away from politics. The all-powerful gangs are equal-opportunity killers, rapists and thieves. The Haitian people deserve to stop being asked to choose between bad and worse. Haiti is in dire need of a qualitative renewal of its political personnel, and that is only feasible if qualified people start running to become mayors, parliamentarians and president, and if equally qualified people are willing to support and vote for them. That good people remain passive, and silence is all evil needs to triumph.
Frandley Julien studies law at Florida International University. He was coordinator of the Initiative Citoyenne, a civic group in Cap-Haitien, Haiti in 2001-04.

If you want to receive future publications, please click here to  like my authorial page on Facebook.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/02/v-fullstory/3079790/the-high-cost-of-staying-out-of.html#storylink=cpy

Haitian Leaders Avoid Root Problems

Published by The Sun Sentinel on September 30, 2012 @: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/fl-haiti-oped0930-20120930,0,7872001.story

 

 

By Frandley JulienSeptember 30, 2012

Those who follow Haitian politics closely have noticed that, for the last 25 years, no government has matched the current team’s ability to come up with innovative ideas, or their eagerness to achieve quick results. However, one’s enthusiasm is quickly dampened upon the realization that no other government has had so little institutional knowledge either.

Therefore, the current government’s entrepreneurial spirit, uplifting at first, may mean more trouble for the country if its innovative drive is unleashed with little respect for the institutions, and without a clear understanding of what it would take to achieve irreversible democratic, economic and social progress.

The current government approaches Haiti’s challenges as if it were a new country, with no history or antecedents. Everybody agrees Haiti has a great potential for tourism, that its hard-working people could constitute the ideal workforce for scores of local and foreign businesses.

But what the government fails to realize is that until Duvalier’s departure, thousands of tourists were visiting Haiti on a weekly basis, that all the jobs we are trying to attract, we had them until then. Why did these enterprises leave? Why did the tourists stop visiting us? The answer is a no-brainer: political instability and insecurity.

How can we expect to attract tourists and jobs again if nothing is being done to tackle the root causes of the problem, and introduce the rule of law in the national lexicon? It would hurt the country more to start attracting foreign investments while it is not ready, and see them leave precipitously in a cloud of negative publicity, than to take the time to put one foot ahead of the other, and establish a clear plan to welcome foreign capital and visitors according to a well-planned timetable.

In a country like Haiti, with a long history of social injustice, the government needs to realize that an equitable distribution of the national wealth cannot be left to happenstance, and that strict guidelines and policies need to be implemented to achieve just that.

So far, the reconstruction has only benefitted the traditional movers and shakers, with major international donors attributing sizable sums of money to already well-established private actors, at the expense of much needed public infrastructures and budding young entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, the government’s business mentality is driven by the urge to quickly “break-even,” consisting in scoring a few quick political points aiming at proving that things are moving in the right direction. However, for Haiti to get out of its abyss, it needs a government that subscribes to the need to implement structural policies, irrespective of their initial unpopularity or the time it takes to achieve results, as long as social programs are implemented to address the punctual needs of the weakest and neediest citizens.

If the current government really embodies the kind of change on which promise it was elected, it should refrain from the traditional tendency to adopt populist decisions that take advantage of the people’s weaknesses while aggravating their living conditions.

After its second carnival in less than 6 months, with the second one — the Carnival of Flowers, a resurrection of the Duvalier era — costing $1.5 million to a country that had to postpone the start of the new school year due to a shortage of funds, it is obvious which path the government has decided to take. Innovation in government is often a positive trait, but when combined with hubris, social amnesia and institutional ignorance, it is nothing short of a formula for disaster.

Frandley Julien studies law at Florida International University.

If you want to be kept in the loop for future publications, please click here and like my authorial page on facebook.

Beyond governments: the Haitian people

Published by the Miami Herald on 4/28/2012 at

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/27/v-fullstory/2771747/beyond-governments-the-haitian.html

 

BY FRANDLEY JULIEN

FRANDLEYJULIEN@GMAIL.COM

After the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, a new layer of emergencies — a devastating cholera outbreak, several hundred thousand families living in makeshift tent cities after having lost their children and/or breadwinners, and the destruction of the country’s already scarce, inadequate and overly centralized infrastructures — grafted onto Haiti’s already thick strata of predicaments.

Instead of stepping up to lead the country in the search and rescue, then recovery efforts after a challenge of such a magnitude, then-President René Préval initially went AWOL. (If there was a Nobel Prize for carelessness he would have earned it 10 years in a row, although, to his credit, he was the only one of the recent presidents to have guaranteed free speech.) Then, in complete disregard for those who were really affected by the quake, Préval complained on international TV that “his” palace had been destroyed.

In such a climate of helplessness, one can easily understand that, shaken by the enormity of the earthquake’s death toll — primarily attributable to the chronic failure of a long line of incompetent and negligent governments to implement and enforce a strong construction code — and by the ineptness manifested by Préval and his government, who could not even provide a landing pad and a berthing place to the humanitarian support coming from abroad in a timely manner, the people decided to make the subsequent presidential election a referendum on the performance of the political class. What is less fathomable, though, is the fact that, to take the helm of a country whose main problems hinge around the weakness of the institutions and the inability to institute and maintain the rule of law, we decided to elect a gentleman who prides himself in being a nihilist, one who, had the institutions been a tad stronger, would have repeatedly faced the wrath of the law at least for indecent exposure and lewd and lascivious behavior.

Today, almost a year after President Martelly’s inauguration, and despite his campaign pledge of a personality overhaul, he has left Sweet Micky — his mercurial musical persona— overshadow his presidency.

Martelly has become hostile to the independent media. He publicly insulted a reporter who dared to ask him a legitimate question, and displayed a behavioral pattern unbecoming of a president in his interaction with parliament, which foreshadows a term marked by recurrent political crises, given that in Haiti’s parliamentary system, he is accountable to that body. If the claims made by Dominican investigative journalist Nuria Piera that both President Martelly and his former rival, Myrlande Manigat, have received substantial amounts of money — $2.5 million for Martelly before and after he was elected, $250,000 for Manigat during the campaign — from Dominican senator and entrepreneur Felix Bautista to protect construction contracts irregularly obtained by the latter’s companies from former Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive are true, Martelly’s credibility and ability to govern will be seriously damaged.

His business diplomacy doctrine, at first an innovative and commendable approach, would automatically lose its appeal as it would be perceived as a mere smokescreen for the team’s shady dealings.

Unfortunately, for the last quarter century, possible investors and international institutions have focused too much attention on our governments, losing sight of Haiti’s hard-working population, youthful workforce and the innate entrepreneurial spirit of its inhabitants. Because of this oversight, Haiti has missed several golden opportunities over the years.

Today, it is important that the international community realize that just like some American presidents have not been a perfect reflection of the United States’ true soul, Haiti cannot be summed up by the unfitness of its decision makers chosen through a young and nascent democratic experience. Those who want to build lasting business ventures in Haiti have to go beyond the ephemeral faces of Haitian statesmen to consider the country’s hidden opportunities, avoid being babysat by covetous government officials, and develop an understanding of what the country has to offer that is deeper than the hasty sketches etched by the media. As one of the world’s major cruise lines can testify, Haitians are very respectful, grateful and protective of foreign investments.

On the other hand, the international financial institutions need to start bankrolling less governmental initiatives, and commit more funds to the tens of thousands of young entrepreneurs who do not lack innovative ideas, but cannot get access to credit because of their modest origin. What Haiti needs today is not another generation of politicians creating an oligarchy by keeping for themselves all the opportunities by either becoming partners in, or receiving kickbacks from, every significant business venture in the country, but, rather, a revival of its impoverished middle class and the humanization and progressive improvement of the conditions of its poorest citizens.

Frandley Julien studied English at Florida International University. From 2001 to 2004, he served as coordinator and spokesperson for Initiative Citoyenne (Citizens’ Initiative) in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.

If you would like to be informed of future articles, please go to my facebook authorial pagge and click on “like”.

 

The Handicap of Definition

The Handicap of Definition

William Raspberry

Washington Post: 6 January 1982

 

I know all about bad schools, mean politicians, economic deprivation and racism.  Still, it occurs to me that one of the heaviest burdens black Americans—and black children in particular—have to bear is the handicap of definition: the question of what it means to be black.

 

Let me explain quickly what I mean.  If a basketball fan says that the Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird (3-time NBA MVP and 12-time NBA all star) plays “black,” the fan intends it—and Bird probably accepts it—as a compliment.  Tell pop singer Tom Jones (still a fixture in Las Vegas) he moves “black” and he might grin in appreciation.  Say to a Teena Marie (for over two decades she recorded to Motown) or the Average White Band that they sound “black” and they’ll thank you.

 

But name one pursuit, aside from athletics, entertainment, or sexual performance in which a white practitioner will feel complimented to be told he does it “black.”  Tell a white broadcaster he talks black and he’ll sign up for diction lessons.  Tell a white reporter that he writes “black” and he’ll take a writing course.  Tell a white lawyer that he reasons “black” and he might sue you for slander.

 

What we have here is a tragically limited definition of blackness, and it isn’t only white people who buy it.

 

Think of all the ways black children can put one another down with charges of “whiteness.”  For many of these children, hard study and hard work are “white.”  Trying to please a teacher might be criticized as acting “white.”  Speaking correct English is “white.”  Scrimping today in the interest of tomorrow’s goal is “white.”  Educational toys and games are “white.”

 

An incredible array of habits and attitudes that are conducive to success in business, in academia, in the nonentertainment professions are likely thought of as somehow “white.”  Even economic success, unless it involves such “black” undertakings as numbers banking, is defined as “white.”

 

And the results are devastating.  I wouldn’t deny that blacks often are better entertainers and athletes.  My point is the harm that comes from too narrow a definition of what is black.

 

One reason black youngsters tend to do better at basketball, for instance is that they assume they can learn to do it well, and so they practice constantly to prove themselves right.

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could infect black children with the notion that excellence in math is “black” rather than white, or possibly Chinese?  Wouldn’t it be of enormous value if we could create the myth that morality, strong families, determination, courage and love of learning are traits brought by slaves from Mother Africa and therefore quintessentially black?

 

There is no doubt in my mind that most black youngsters could develop their mathematical reasoning, their elocution and their attitudes the way they develop their jump shots and their dance steps: by the combination of sustained, enthusiastic practice and the unquestioned belief that they can do it.

 

In one sense, what I am talking about is the importance of developing positive ethnic traditions.  Maybe Jews have an innate talent for communication; maybe the Chinese are born with a gift from mathematical reasoning, maybe blacks are naturally blessed with athletic grace, I doubt it.  What is at work, I suspect, is assumption, inculcated early in their lives, that this is a thing our people do well.

 

Unfortunately, many of the things about which blacks make this assumption are things that do not contribute to their career success—except for that handful of the truly gifted who can make it as entertainers and athletes.  And many of the things we concede to whites are things that are essential to economic security.

 

So it is with a number of assumptions black youngsters make about what it is to be a “man”: physical aggressiveness, sexual prowess, the refusal to submit to authority.  The prisons are full of people who, by this perverted definition, are unmistakably men.

 

But the real problem is not so much that the things defined as “black” are negative.  The problem is that the definition is much too narrow.

 

Somehow, we have to make our children understand that they are intelligent, competent people, capable of doing whatever they put their minds to and making it in the American mainstream, not just in a black subculture.

 

What we seem to be doing instead, is raising up yet another generation of young blacks who will be failures—by definition.

How we Haitians Can turn the January 12th Earthquake into an Opportunity

Image

The outpouring of support bestowed on Haiti by the international community is as comforting in its compassion as the Earthquake was unforgiving in its destructive rage. This disaster has created such an awareness of Haiti’s subhuman misery, that some foreign journalists have reached unprecedented levels of compassionate reporting, while private citizens from all over the world are setting records in donations, at a time of global economic uncertainty, to say the least.

          It is, however, important we all realize that what happened in Haiti on January 12th was not just an earthquake, but rather the foretold encounter between a natural disaster and decades of poor human decisions. Therefore, if the international aid is not matched by a drastic paradigm shift from us Haitians in all aspects pertaining to our social contract, there is no rationale behind rebuilding Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Leogane and Les Cayes. Unfortunately, we have done nothing so far to distill the part of human causation in the catastrophe, thus creating the conditions for similar tragedies to be recurrent. A comparative analysis with the situation in Chile — hit a few days later by an earthquake 500 times stronger than the one that destroyed Port-au-Prince— should be edifying enough in determining the role played by human decisions, or lack thereof, in maximizing the impact of the disaster in Haiti.

The earthquake took all us Haitians by surprise, from our president whose deficit of common sense—among other critical shortages—was displayed on global TV, to our failed elites who had to wake up and smell the coffee for a change, to the masses that have been freely and enthusiastically making poor choices at the ballot for the last two decades, to the diaspora that is unable to find a way back toward total integration in its own country without violating the law of the land, despite being the main source of revenue to the impoverished nation.
Today, Haiti is at a crossroads where we have to make some drastic decisions as to what—from a very heteroclite historical baggage—to jettison and what to bring along with us in the new post January 12th era. While the entire world has been mesmerized by our resilience, we must realize that if this energy is not properly channeled toward a redefinition of the rules of the game, the predicament at hand will get the best of us. The greatness of a nation has more to do with recognizing the defining moments and rising up to them, than with constantly referring to a glorious past when the expectations of the present are not met.

Today, we have to make a decisive choice between a government with not even an evacuation plan for the president, and one that can lead us with confidence through an era of development and prosperity, between a backward-looking mentality and a forward-looking mindset, between individual survival and a collective vista on the future, between corruption and accountability, between self-serving leaders and true public servants, between dependency and self-sustainability.

Neither a well-written plan, nor all the money in the world can solve Haiti’s problems. For a country to achieve sustained development and irreversible democracy, its institutions must rely on a strong conceptual framework, defined by the social contract. The United-States with the “Federalist Papers’, France with the “5th Republic”, Canada with the “Quiet Revolution”, the first quite early, and the two others rather late in their History, have taken the time to shape their institutions in accordance with their values and aspirations. As for us Haitians, soon after our independence, we woke up with a de facto social contract consecrating the survival of the fittest, and a broken social ladder; throughout our History, public corruption, tax evasion, illicit enrichment and drug trafficking have been the factors through which upward mobility is achieved. It is essential that we fix the social ladder by democratizing and improving our educational system, and by starting to enforce our laws. A better educated people will shift from the cult of personality to the valorization of ideas in its political choices.

As Port-au-Prince has been turned into Ground Zero, the government would be well-inspired to show some humility and belated leadership by calling for a political truce, and devoting the remainder of the president’s term to the organization of a National Conference. This event would gather representatives from all sectors and regions of the country along with the diaspora, in an effort to:
– Define a consensual vision for the next 50 years.
– Revise the constitution.
– Perform our autocriticism and identify the cultural and institutional barriers that prevent Haitian citizens from succeeding at home, while they thrive abroad.
– Fix the social ladder that has been broken for some 200 years.
The National Conference would have to produce clear answers to three fundamental questions:
1- How to contain the natural penchant of all governments to strip the citizenry of the exercise of national sovereignty. Addressing this question will allow us to redesign our institutions in a way that prevents authoritative deviances, by establishing an effective system of checks and balances.
2- How, through the definition of a consensual vision, to integrate the interests of all in the determination of the collective interest. It is time that everyone be invited to the table for the long overdue upfront sharing of the national little pie. Once the national vision defined, everyone will be able to envision their own upward mobility and that of their progeny over time, within the bigger picture of a vibrant and developing country.
3- How to instill in each Haitian the sense of belonging without which there is no social link. Once it is determined that everyone had been given a level playing field, all of us will be eager to build the new Haiti, knowing that the fruits of the prosperity to come will be distributed according to the principles of justice and equity.
The National Conference will also provide us with an opportunity to perform the psychoanalysis of ourselves. Our current mentality eloquently expressed through our “popular wisdom” is incompatible with progress and development. Sayings like “pito nou led nou la” (we’d better be ugly than dead) “lower our expectations, whereas those like “depi nan ginen ne gap trayi neg” (Since Africa Negroes have been betraying Negroes) are divisive. We need to boost our national self-esteem and start believing in the likelihood of the Haitian dream. Until we reach this level of collective consciousness, we will not be able to achieve prosperity, irrespective of the amount of money the International Community injects into our economy.

At this defining moment of Haiti’s tumultuous History, those who have experienced the earthquake firsthand are rightly afraid of what the future has in store for the country. By striking us blindly and indistinctly, the earthquake has reminded us that we are sharing the same boat, and that none of us can make it to shore while others are sinking. If we can outgrow our differences and commit to creating a normal country with only normal problems, we can turn January 12th into the long overdue wake up call. If not, the next tragedy will surprise us in our sleep.

Frandley Denis Julien

January 15th, 2010
Fjuli001@fiu.edu

 

I invite you to go to my Facebook  authorial page and click on “like” to be informed of future publications.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.