Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Conversation

The original article appears here 

Please subscribe if you can as this paper has many journalist reporting from the ground in #Haiti where it is becoming more and more dangerous to be a journalist.

(I hope my friends there will forgive me for skirting under the paywall - I did pay for two subscriptions and believe that this article is essential for any foreigner to understand #Haiti)

July 16, 2021

 By Garry Pierre-Pierre | The Conversation

My mother’s side of the family came from Miragoâne, the coastal southern city whose economy was bauxite. We have a range of hues across the skin color spectrum — from my uncle Lionel Duval, who could pass for white, if he wanted, to my dark mocha.  We were close-knit, with Lionel being the patriarch and the family’s counselor. 

My mom always spoke reverently of my uncle because he pushed her to excel. He was very proud of me too. When I became a professional, he would swoon or call for a chat after seeing me on television or reading one of my stories. That’s just the way he was. He embraced his family’s diversity of skin color. 

Strangely, this is not common in Haiti, and I never realized truly how special he was until the events that unfolded in Haiti last week. Our family’s multi-color bond was the exception, not the rule in Haiti. 

The torture and assassination of president Jovenel Moïse by unknown assailants laid bare the reality in Haiti in ways that we can no longer hide. Contrary to popular belief, Haiti is not a Black country. It is a modern-day Apartheid state where a small minority of White people lord over the mass of the population who are Black. 

To try to explain this any other way is intellectual malfeasance. Haiti is presented either as an example of Black rule or, in White supremacist circles, of Black people’s inability to govern. I get asked the question in polite company: “Why is Haiti ungovernable?” 

The answer is that it is by design. It is set up that way. Haiti is ruled not by the Black faces who are elected. It is governed by a small cabal of oligarch families who migrated to Haiti. They are known as BAM BAM, phonetically in Creole “Gimme, Gimme.” The acronym stands for the Brandt, Acra, Madsen, Bigio, Apaid and Mevs families. 

A primer on Haiti’s wealthiest

These families control 90% of Haiti’s wealth and give a veneer that Haiti is a Black-run country when in fact they control virtually every business and entity in Haiti. They allow the political class to exist to protect their narrow personal interests. 

Except for the Arab Haitians, they are reclusive billionaires who hold honorary diplomatic titles to their country of origin. That means they pay no taxes because, after all, they are diplomats. In the rare cases when they have to pay their fair share, they bribe government officials to look the other way. 

They own private ports with little oversight from the government. We wonder how arms and ammunition are plentiful in a country whose arms and ammunition for its police force is stricltly limited.  These people have had their knees on the necks of the Haitian masses for more than a century. 

I’m not fomenting racial animus. These are facts. 

Below these oligarchs are the traditional light-skinned Haitians of French ancestry, whose role is to carry on the racial caste system in Haiti. The “mulaterie” are on a lower rung that controls the arts, entertainment, small businesses and everything else. A dark-skinned Haitian can own a bodega, but not a supermarket. 

Where does the diaspora fit?

The diaspora has no place in this system. I know of no one who has returned to Haiti and has been successful. These families, mulaterie and politicians take pleasure in squeezing investors dry and ripping every dollar out of our pocket. 

A good friend of mine returned to Haiti to open a small boutique hotel in his hometown of Jacmel. He told me how disappointed he was by that move. Nothing functions and his hotel has sat largely vacant. If he depended on the hotel for his livelihood, he would have gone hungry. Fortunately, he lives off his pension and the hotel has become a sort of hobby, not business. 

Then there is the case of Franck Ciné, a former executive at the now defunct communication giant MCI. Ciné returned to Haiti and then went on to launch Haitel, investing $85 million. When he launched the telecommunications company in 2000, it was the largest private investment in Haiti’s history.  

Soon enough, Ciné was arrested on dubious accusations and jailed. The government seized his assets and he returned to New York, an angry and bitter person, as anyone would be. The oligarchs would not accept this dark-skinned successful Haitian because it could set a bad precedent. He had to be eliminated. 

A brother’s plea: Take an honest look in the mirror

Over the years of reporting and writing about Haiti, I have skirted this issue because it can be seen as fomenting class or color divisions. But I can no longer avoid this topic because it is the cancer that’s staring at us, a life-threatening disease we want to avoid treating, thinking that it will cure itself. It won’t.

I know that Moïse was a deeply-flawed messenger and made a Faustian bargain to become president. I believe, however, that at some point he had this revelation and was willing to take on the oligarchs, knowing it would not end well for him. Moïse wanted to upend the system and make Haiti a more equitable place for the wretched masses, who have been desperately trying to leave Haiti, even if they must face withering prejudice and maltreatment abroad. 

I have no doubt that my writing will change these oligarchs’ hearts nor prompt them to spread their wealth anytime soon. They see themselves as one step below God and are immune to criticism. They are soulless. 

This plea is really to my light-skinned brothers and sisters. Haiti needs the same awakening that’s happening in the United States. This is your Black Lives Matter moment. You should question your privilege, the Haitian system that allows you social standing by the virtue of your skin tone. 

Are you smarter, better educated than everybody else? You certainly haven’t proven that outside of Haiti. In fact, you know that you’re not superior. That’s why most of you can’t succeed outside of Haiti, where competition is fierce. Look into the mirror, peer into your soul and ask yourself if this is the Haiti that you want. 

You know you’re not cut out for the New York, Miami or Montreal rat race. But you must admit this new version of Haiti doesn’t work for you, no matter your station in society. 

  • You can’t enjoy your beach house because the gangs have made going there unsafe. 
  • You must drive in the middle of the night to get to the airport because by dawn, the gangs rule the streets. 
  • You can’t drive to Jacmel because Martissant is a no-man’s land. 
  • You charter a plane,  It crashes killing 6 people on board because the planes are not safe. 
  • Even Doctors Without Borders, which works in the world’s dangerous places, has decamped from their Martissant headquarters.

To my middle-class dark-skinned compatriots, you focus too much on the international community being at the root cause of our problems. The International Monetary Fund and the host of alphabet-soup organizations do similar things in other countries and the results, though not necessarily good, are not as dire as they are in Haiti. 

Frame the argument differently. Peel the onion and you’ll get there. You’ve been asking incessantly about the provenance of the PetroCaribe money when it’s in front of you. If you look at the government’s contracts with Sogener, a generator reseller, they charged the government more than 30% higher than what Dominican companies charge the Dominican Republic. 

You’ve watched your quality of life deteriorate consistently over the last 3 decades. Your children have no opportunity, but you don’t have the money to send them to North America to study. Be smart and reach deep down in your empty well to find some water, it’s there.  

Our enlightenment is overdue

System Band, my favorite Konpa band, has a song that captures this situation so aptly. It’s called “Yon sel mwen menm” or “I’m alone.” It muses over a very optimistic Haiti, where a pitit soyet has found education and a better life overall despite the trials and tribulations of life in Haiti . It calls for Haitians to rasanble, or come together, with their conch shells and bamboo to liberate themselves. 

But perhaps the line that ties everything together is this: 

Zot toujou di: Si yo bay yo limyè, ya vin vole tèm.” In English, this means: “Others always say: If they get electricity, they’ll come steal my land.”

Moïse died fighting to get the country electricity 24/7

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Foreign Intervention Again in Haiti

Haiti is calling for international assistance. (Or rather the Acting Prime Minister with no legitimate authority who has been implicated in his predecessor's death is calling)Again. 

It is very true that the entire world has been against Haiti since her founding in 1804. True also that the US was the main force that executed the barricade and extracted the reparations to France via CitiBank. And again true that the UN troops brought cholera with them the last time they came. 

True also that the US still appears deathly afraid of #Cuba and all that it seems to  represent even though Cuba imports 80% of its food.  #Russian flags are flying in the protests in the streets of Port au Prince. The lefty keyboard warriors, safely tucked behind their desks in NYC, San Francisco, London, are happily tweeting and podcasting and filing stories for The Guardian. They could not, of course, do so from #Cuba or #Russia where internet access is denied. 

So we hear cries for "A Haitian Led Solution" - from all sorts of folks - mostly in English, though. 

And by that is meant the group  who organized what is called "The Montana Accord". They did this over a period of years - by going around the country side, listening to groups on the ground, getting their signatures... although... it is not actually known HOW many people were actually IN any group or whether or not ANY of the people in Any group actually understood what they were signing or agreeing to or anything whatsoever. 

Nevertheless - an effort to be applauded. An effort at Forming A Democracy. 

We seem to have fallen into a Very Old Trap. We are AFRAID of the Poor. Afraid of some sort of Slave Revolt. Afraid of the Shining Path.. Afraid of Liberation Theology. with its "preferential option for the poor" 

OMGoddess - spare us from the Jesuits, right?

And the United States was Terrified of Jean Bertrand Aristide. No Wonder they were. 

We are almost FORTY YEARS On from that. Things have changed. 

Is the United States Really STILL so terrified of "Communism?" 
Have we  yet discovered that Free Trade Zones that pay less than $5 a day may not be "Hope for Haiti?" For a good laugh - read this 

Bill Clinton repented on his plan to ship in US subsidized rice but we still ship it, right? 

Are We -- The United States - 
So Committed to Keeping the Developing World
 UN-Developed so that we can EXPLOIT their resources 
    (as is most certainly believed)

Such an Imperial Power?
    (Face it - Americans are not good at Imperialism. Our only real attempt has been Puerto Rico and no one can call that a success, right?) 

So Are We Gonna Just Invade and Install a New Bunch of NeoLiberal Puppets AGAIN??????

The World Bank has just closed its office in Port Au Prince.

The Peace Corps pulled out in 2005.

These things ought to tell us something, right?

But rather than actually sitting down and speaking with the one leader of the most organized gangs, the G9, BBQ, Jimmy Cherizier, the International Community appears to think that sanctions on him will work. 

As if he some bank account in the Cayman Islands?

Although, I am sure that plenty of the folks that have paid him probably do. There is a copy of a list sent to Jovenel #Moise before his death of suspected arms traffickers who most likely DO have foreign assets. 

The newly authorized and sorta-almost-formed Haitian "army" is being trained in groups of 30 in Mexico with the stand-by plan of just a few - say a battalion of 22,000 US troops - as a backup. The Bahamas has offered to send troops. Canada has already sent in tanks. 

Think that will be enough to subdue 8 or 9 million poor people? For how long? 

What is most likely to happen is that BBQ will be shot or extradited to serve out his life in a US prison. Those who actually paid for his protection will pay OTHER gangs, such as the 400 Wazo . There is no shortage of gangs in Haiti. 

The problem... as it always seems to be.... in Haiti as elsewhere -- is that one group does not want to sit down with another. The Montana Group does not want to sit down with the DeFacto PM Henry. 

No one wants to sit down with BBQ. Except there actually is one Canadian official who HAS offered.

And BBQ has a peace plan -  (original here ) one in which all the gangs lay down their arms. An interim government is formed.... elections... etc... 

MAKES  Sense

Just as it did in Northern Ireland
And Vietnam
And South Africa
And throughout Africa 

Sitting and Talking

Before Anyone Is Killed?

There are 10 Million People in Haiti

Almost all of them are Very Poor
None of What is happening now is their fault.

Sit Down with #BBQ and TALK PEACE 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

What should foreigners *Blans" Do to help #Haiti

For years Bob Corbett ran a list serve on #Haiti

This is a post with his wisdom back in 2009


On Thu, 6/18/09, Bob Corbett <> wrote:

From: Bob Corbett <>
Subject: 34584: Corbett (reply) 34583: Durban (reply): re. 34582 Roebling re. Clinton & Haiti (fwd)
To: "Bob Corbett's Haiti list" <>
Date: Thursday, June 18, 2009, 10:39 AM

From Bob Corbett

I think Lance Durban lays out a serious challenge.  Like Roebling and many others, and I would think Lance Durban would be among the group, most of us deplore the wages and life form lived by the bulk of the Haitian poor.

But, to bemoan conditions seems to me to do virtually nothing to improve them.

I'm quite a pessimist.  For more than 20 years I ran a small NGO and I tried to get various economic projects going in quite remote rural areas and in Cite Soleil -- well, it was Cite Simone in the early days.

I was using donated money and my organization had no paid employees at all, nor did we use donated money for our own expenses.  I had a policy to work solely with established community organizations, mainly called
"Ti Legliz" in those days.

Many of the people were willing and worked hard.  But moving from a start-up
project (again with donated money) to SUSTAINABLILTY proved to be next to impossible.  My primary aim was to try to get some business of some sort started, that within 3-5 years could become independent of my group's money and to become self-sustaining.

There were three major sorts of projects I ended up working with:

1.  Groups of market women.
2.  Farm projects.
3.  In the city, artisans.

I never had much success with groups # 2 and 3, and very little success with any whole group of the market women, but some individuals did manage to use the start-up money my group advanced and to move on to sustainability.

There were many reasons -- in farming, as Lance pointed out, there was the problems of land.  Some were the natural problems he point out and some were ownership of land issues.  As soon as a parcel of rented land (seemingly the bulk of land avaialble to peasants) began to produce something, then city land-owners demanded a cut and the projects would begin to wane.

Markets were always a problem and with farming so was transportation of goods.  Water was always an issue.

There were certainly some dishonest folks in the groups and we lost some groups and some money in that manner, but that was very insignificant and to be expected in any human community.  In general it wasn't will and effort that were lacking, rather it was

-- organization
-- know-how
-- natural resources
-- transportation
-- water
-- land ownership or use
-- markets

Now consider, I was coming to Haiti with money on which I was not expecting ANYTHING in return, wanting to use 100% of my money to help already organized groups.  And the success rate was extremely low.  Some benefits would accrue in the few years my organization was pumping money in, but as soon as we would say:  Time's up, this has to become self-sustaining, then they would collapse.

So, if one is talking about INVESTORS coming in to make a profit ......
well, again, it is easy to get angry with people who seem to be taking advantage of folks, but what are the POSITIVE and CONSTRUCTIVE advice to
people looking to invest in Haiti....  And, people who are looking in a competitive manner to invest money at a return that about matches what the market will provide in a world econmy?

I am very pessimistic that such investors would be much attracted to Haiti and attracted to pay living wages.

If that is at all so, then what does one suggest?

Is Haiti just to remain a begging nation forever?  It doesn't seem to be working very well.

Are there alternatives?  I haven't seen many.  I've met and visited with hundreds of folks who, like me, were trying to do things at the level of human service with either no profit or very little, or just trying to keep a few small projects going.  And I have seen a handful of successful ones, but a gigantic mass of those which fail.

The money runs out, a main leader dies or moves on, the group loses interest, the group is more interested in the religious outcomes that the material advancement of the communithy, the group goes to some other country and so on.  Lots of reasons.  And the projects die out and within a year or two there is no sign of their previous existence.

What are the POSITIVE possiblities?  Haiti is what it is governmentally and socially, economically, ecologically.  Those are relatively fixed.

Then what?

I would love to hear some discussion of these questions.

Bob Corbett