Monday, June 22, 2009

"Haiti Needs a Good Dictator Now"

I interviewed a Haitian man today who runs a small but thriving business in Port-au-Prince.

I will call this man Uncle Richard. He is polite, well spoken, and very hard working.

I believe many Haitians think the same way Uncle Richard thinks…not only in the upper class, but in the middle class and the diaspora.

Uncle Richard:

I migrated to Haiti 50 years ago and I am going to retire here. I followed my older brother here who came seven years earlier. We went into business together.

When I came to Haiti, the Duvaliers were here and I never had to leave while they ran the country. Under the Duvaliers, we had security. You could go anywhere and no one would look at you.

Today I have hired security for my store and my house. And when I come and go to and from work, three undercover Haitian National Police follow me in another vehicle. This costs me alot of money.

Haiti needs a good dictator now.

Delmas was just a big road in 1960 and we use to race our cars on the road. There were no people or houses in Delmas. Every now and then a cow would cross the road. That is all.

We went to the beach just west of Carrefour each Sunday. It was beautiful.

Carrefour and Cite Soleil did not exist. They were formed during the Duvalier years because people would come into Port-au-Prince from the province to vote and make manifestations for the Duvaliers. And then these people would never leave. This is where they settled.

And now women are having 5 kids apiece.

I didn’t see any people vote yesterday in the voting bureau near my house. Zero. Maybe they voted somewhere else.

Haiti is not ready for democracy…it will take a while.


When I asked Uncle Richard where he thought Haiti would be like in the next ten years, he replied, “There is no hope for Haiti”.

Uncle Richard has a daughter who is a “professional” in the US and "she will never return to Haiti".

When I asked him what Haiti’s number one problem is he replied, “Poverty”.

And when I asked Uncle Richard why there is so much poverty in Haiti compared to the other islands in the Caribbean, Uncle Richard responded, “Because of the government”.


Miami Herald article below regarding Senate Elections yesterday:

Posted on Sun, Jun. 21, 2009
Haitians mostly ignore Senate run-off elections

Associated Press Writer

Haitians fed up with chronic poverty and unresponsive leaders stayed away from Senate run-off elections Sunday, ignoring government efforts to improve on the paltry voter turnout that undercut the first round of voting in April.

Results are not expected for at least a week in contests for 11 vacant seats in the 30-member Senate. On the line is President Rene Preval's hope of overpowering uncooperative legislators and pushing through internationally backed economic reforms and constitutional amendments that would give his successors more power.

Voting was extremely light in the capital of Port-au-Prince, though it was too soon to gauge the turnout in the rest of the country.

Another round of mostly empty ballot boxes could embarrass the government and fuel opponents' claims that it has stumbled in developing Haiti as a democracy. The first round of voting April 19, held after more than a year and half of delays, saw only 11 percent of registered voters participate.

Electoral council president Frantz Gerard Verret took to the radio waves Sunday afternoon to plead with voters: "If you don't come out and vote, other people will vote for you."

But as polls closed at 4 p.m. (5 p.m. EDT, 2100 GMT) those pleas appeared to have gone unheeded. Voting centers in the capital stood nearly deserted, with transparent ballot boxes holding just the folded paper ballots of poll workers themselves.

Early reports from the countryside were similar, with Haitian radio highlighting stories such as ballots arriving late to centers where no voters waited.

Two polling places were reported shut down near the southern town of Jacmel. In at least one of those cases, supporters of a candidate ran in and tried to stuff the ballot box, Haitian police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said.

Three people were injured in the Jacmel area and at least one person was killed during a fight between rival supporters in the western town of Grand Anse. Political violence took at least two lives before election day.

Many Haitians said that more than anything, they were discouraged by years of votes cast for politicians who went on to do little to alleviate crushing poverty. Frustrations are running especially high with Preval after he refused last week to enact into law a bill passed by parliament that would raise the minimum wage from less than $2 to about $5.14 a day.

After consulting with business leaders, Preval proposed a compromise that would provide the full increase for some employees, but limit the minimum wage to $3.25 for factory workers who make clothing for export. Parliament will take up the issue next week.

Many people in the slums, who pushed Preval to victory in 2006, called his decision a betrayal.

"Preval put his head together with the elites to make the poor suffer. If he had voted for the ($5.14 a day) I could have voted today. But he didn't, so I won't either," said Marck Harris, 45, who sews Dickies-brand pants while raising eight children in the Cite Soleil slum.

Still, Preval's Lespwa movement could gain as many as eight Senate seats, and with them a potential 14-seat plurality among the chamber's 29 voting members. Only two other parties had multiple candidates advance to the second round, one with five and the other three.

The influential Lavalas party of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has boycotted the elections since its candidates were disqualified in April on a technicality. Many slum residents, who make up the party's base, said they would have been more likely to vote had a Lavalas candidate participated.

"This is one of the crises of the election: that Lavalas is excluded," said a party supporter, David Choudelor, 21.

In addition to disgruntlement with Haiti's leaders, many potential voters were leery of going to the polls after weeks of violent protests, fueled by political tensions over the run-offs as well as next year's planned presidential election.

Tensions also are high over the presence of 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers, who have been in Haiti since the 2004 rebellion that overthrew Aristide.

A young man was killed Thursday when mourners and U.N. peacekeepers clashed during a funeral procession for a popular priest closely linked with Aristide. The death is under investigation.

On Sunday, student protesters threw rocks at peacekeepers and police near Haiti's state university medical campus, and security force responded with tear gas. It was the first time students protested on a Sunday since beginning a strike a month ago to demand curriculum changes, an increase in Haiti's minimum wage and the departure of U.N. troops.

© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Lance Durban comments:

Following the Philippe Clerie's line of thought, I would submit that the respect (or non-respect) for the law is a very contagious cultural phenomena. The problem in Haiti is that the disease (ie. non respect for the law) is quite in-grained... going at least as far back as independance in 1804.

Prior to that, of course, it was the French plantation owners who made the law, and understandably, their law was "respected" under pain of death. Similarly, that's the kind of "law" that existed under much of the Duvaliers' reign. It was a law that was respected out of fear, not because you understood it to be in your (and society's) best interest. In fact, common folk are likely to cheer on those who deign to "break" this kind of imposed law.

When the authority disappears (or is removed), limits imposed by the "law" are also removed, leading to a free-for-all where it's every man for himself. This is why the legitimacy of the leadership is so critical, and why democracy, where citizens pick their leaders on a regularly scheduled basis, has so much to recommend itself.

In Haiti, the contagious lack of respect for "the law" is visible everywhere. Your friends are cheating so you might as well do likewise.
And the legal "establishment" in Haiti is totally complicit, recommending to their clients how to, in effect, avoid/evade taxes ("avoidance" is legal; "evasion" is illegal in the USA, but in Haiti there is simply no distinction, the "law" being so arbitrary).

A strong leadership could probably turn things around, and that is why we need to keep rooting for a saviour to somehow get himself/herself elected. That is most unlikely, however, for the simple reason that serious people in Haiti are not attracted to a profession (political leadership) that has such a terrible reputation. Haitian lawyers have learned to work the system and have no personal interest in changing it... It is a "What comes first, the chicken or the egg?" question.

As for the much-hyped Jean-Louis government? Fuhgeddaboutit! That it is incompetent is pretty apparent after 9 months of inaction. The most disappointing fact is that there appears to be no interest in cleaning up the mess that is the Haitian government. Take a look at ONA, the Haitian Social Security system, a running scandal which has been brought to the attention of both President Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Louis on numerous occasions. Workers, through their private sector employers, pay in 6% of their salaries, matched by another 6% paid by employers. That's many, many thousands of dollars paid to this government agency every month, to theoretically cover the workers retirement needs. Yet it is treated as a government piggy bank, frittered away when it is not paid out to key Senateurs and Deput├ęs in the form of sweetheart "loans".

With so little transparency in government, and so little services provided (witness roads, electricity, Teleco) is it really a surprise that most Haitians see paying taxes as a total waste. How to explain the poor turnout in the elections? The general feeling is, "Why bother?" The candidates are all a bunch of crooks anyway.

In such an environment, it is quite easy to see how the hope for a strong benevolent leader can arise. On this list first Poincy, and now Gilles have been willing to scrap democracy for just such a leader. The problem is threefold: (1) Any potential dictator can just as easily be a disaster as a saviour, and we probably won't know which until he is sitting on the throne, (2) the problem of succession is always... a problem, and (3) say what you will, these days dictatorships are kind of unpopular internationally. Our new dictator would probably face international pressure and a cut-off of foreign aid.

Lance Durban

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