Beyond governments: the Haitian people
Published by the Miami Herald on 4/28/2012 at
BY FRANDLEY JULIEN
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.
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