Who’s minding Haiti’s fate?

The recent massive protests in our country of birth opened some personal wounds that just can’t seem to heal. A legitimate concern about squandering of public funds and lack of adequate response and acceptable accountability by public officials are ground for peaceful, massive protests to redress an anomalous situation. Burning of people’s properties, destruction of established businesses, looting, don’t advance the cause. Two wrongs don’t make a right, a straightforward principle, seems alien in the discourse and practice. Therein lies the fundamental issue. This scorched-earth paradigm on both sides of the divide has been present from the time we decided to take up arms to fight for our freedom.

Put simply, we subscribe to an all-or-nothing mentality and this begets our renowned tendency or even addiction to destruction and our allergy to infrastructure establishment and maintenance. The plethora of videos disseminated told a grim tale. They were alarming in the tone of the lewd and inflammatory language, the lurid scenes of violence and the glee at the sight of burning of private enterprises.

The wound that keeps festering is a resentment of the obvious display of stakeholders’ failure due to incompetence, neglect or both to attend to the basic premise of the state: minding the business of the nation by establishing policies that further the welfare, promote economic growth, provide access to education and health care to society’s citizens. The wound keeps festering at the obvious realization that under the veneer of democracy, what has been allowed to operate openly and without any bridles is a kleptocracy with changing chiefs but with constant thirst for personal enrichment in the shortest amount of time. This has existed from eons in one form or another but since the late fifties, it has accelerated and over the past 20 years, it has gone on steroids in its scope and scale.

The wound keeps festering because in our hyperpartisan mindset, with fever pitch fervor, we favor individuals over institutions, cosmetic changes over durable and appropriate reforms, retribution over compromise, expedience over principled process and yes brinkmanship over negotiated settlement. Historical gaffes, mistakes, missed opportunities over the same period can fill quite a few books. No better example is the failed Governor’s Island summit. At a time when Mandela in prison for close to thirty years was willing to meet his jailers to create a path for a political settlement that benefited all parties as glaring model, Aristide and Cédras came to end an impasse but never met and no real negotiation took place and no meaningful, historical pact was achieved. What could have been a seminal and historical accord between the then military, an institution of repression known for staging coups, handpicking candidates and the masses, usually left out of the equation but represented by its leader, didn’t materialize. The symbolism would have equaled a hypothetical peace treaty between Toussaint and Rigaud two fierce enemies.  It was not to be for it is not in our DNA to reach political compromise for the good of the nation. One side either wins it all or we all lose, the country be damned!!!

Concentrating on removing the head and leaving the corrupt system in place has turned out to be nothing less than a fool’s errand. Haiti always suffered. Lest it be forgotten, the vicious cycle of upheavals deepens the setbacks and is always followed by heightened overall poverty level. Jean-Claude was removed in 1986 to the clamor of mass euphoria and pent-up hopes of elimination of corruption, repression, failed governance and fiscal mismanagement. It didn’t quite turn out that way.  What was left intact was public officials’ access to public funds and lack of check and balance and no mechanism for accountability or if theoretically present, no enforceable means.  He left with millions in overseas accounts, a pattern that repeated itself for all subsequent governments since.

The name of the scheme may change but the system of graft keeps getting perfected. Today it’s called Petro Caribe, before it was cooperatives, or the auctioning of public construction equipment, fictitious contracts for road building that never took place and so on. Each time, like a broken record, money changed hands among a few well-connected people at the expense of the majority wallowing in abject poverty. No explanation about the trail of the money, no one is brought to justice. The chasm between the poor and the rich keeps getting wider, creating a potentially sulfurous situation.

Certainly this type of powder keg has always been waiting for an explosion and we are witnessing it now. The real question is: then what? Based on history, what will happen is more likely an economic downturn for sure.  The head of state may or may not end up staying but regardless, the beast known as systemic corruption will survive and will rear its sharp fangs to strangulate the economy. So long as public officials get incentivized into stealing public funds, the scenario will continue. The actors’ names will change but the play will go on. The personal wound will keep festering.

Reynald Altema, MD

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