On Haitian Rights and Priorities for Development
Posted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 11:48 pm
I have revisited my comments in the thread named Human rights, not politics, should be priority for Haiti . I wrote much, in a spontaneous, non-structured manner. I have extracted my comments to restate them here in a more structured format.
- On Haiti's international debt
One member of this forum has insistently argued that the government of Haiti should ask Venezuela to refinance Haiti's international debt. I do not believe that Haiti should formulate such a request. Above all, President Preval should not appear like begging for help. Haiti has traded her dignity enough.
We can enter into bilateral agreements with Venezuela, but the purchase of our international debt should not be on the block, at the very least not directly. Besides, Haiti's international debt is not so extraordinary that it has become a stranglehold on her economy. There are many other factors, like tariffs on trade (or lack of) and incentives for local and foreign investments that should be given higher priority before we put our debt in the balance, hoping for someone else's mercy.
In fact, we should be careful not to legitimize some highly questionable elements of our international debt. It should be thoroughly reviewed, and this requires guts. Do we have it?
Why should we ask Venezuela to refinance the expenses of bloody dictators that were put in place and sustained by American foreign policy? What would that mean?
Essentially, Venezuela would extend a loan to Haiti with the stipulation that the money be used to repay the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international creditors. The new loan would then be repaid to Venezuela under more favorable terms, I suppose. What would this accomplish, other than sticking it to the man with someone else's stick? I would rather see Haiti challenge in world courts and the court of public opinion the legality and morality of having to pay arrears and finance charges on loans not received, loans that were not disbursed for the purpose of strangling the national economy for petty political aims. I'd rather see Haiti challenge debts that were signed on her back without her consent by unelected despots at the pay of the United States of America. I would rather see Haiti challenge the grand extortion applied by the International Finance Institutions which often behave like an International Mafia in that they implement policies specifically designed to impoverish the already desperate in favor of the already opulent.
If Venezuela were to extend a loan of that magnitude to Haiti, I would want to see it put to work immediately (and directly) in the public sector: development of roads, educational centers, hospitals, food crops (including fisheries), and a general clean up of our environment. What would be the terms of repayment of such loan to Venezuela? I can well imagine that they would be more favorable than the sick terms of our current debt repayments (and that's why I do not think that we should legitimize that debt with a wide brush stroke!) If Haiti must honor her debt, then why is the notion of a debt to Haiti so ridiculed in diplomatic circles? Why is international debt repayment a one-way street? Everything must be put on the table.
One would argue that if Venezuela purchased Haiti's debt, that would free some resources for Haiti (the amount generated by least favorable repayment terms minus most favorable repayment terms). We would then bank on that differential in terms of planning our national development (food sources, roads, health care, environment, etc). That is perhaps what worked for Argentina, but it is always dangerous to look at a supposedly successful model elsewhere, borrow it without much examination, and then attempt to apply that model locally and find out later that it does not fit, for one reason or another. I would not urge the government of President Preval to do anything at all, except perhaps to place the matter under its radar screen. It should be considered for what it is worth. I sense, though, that there are more urgent national priorities.
Furthermore, the field of international politics and diplomacy in general has never been Preval's forte. Switching masters of international debt may be tantamount to putting a tutu on Preval and asking him to dance ballet. Let's focus on his area of strength: give him the resources (not just financial but more importantly, human) to fight local corruption and create roads, schools, and agricultural reforms.
What I would like to see from the government of Haiti is a clear blueprint and rationale for those roads, schools, and food development projects.
- Roads to where and for what purposes? [/*:m]
- Schools to teach what? (Would it be the same old concept: more brick and mortar places to teach basic arithmetic and principles of a western-centric but Haiti-phobic miseducation OR a most decidedly haiticentric and haitianophile re-education?) [/*:m]
- Agricultural solutions leading somewhere other than the historic class struggle and the destabilization of governments in Haiti since 1804? [/*:m]
- A plan of national development that addresses Haiti's basic needs, but does not neglect to address its entrenched counter-development foes, namely ignorance, corruption and insatiable greed.[/*:m]
What the world owes Haiti in reparations dwarfs our international debt, which is largely illegitimate in the first place. We need to deal with that inequality. We need to formulate it in more precise terms. We need to educate ourselves to the ways of the world and reach for a decent equilibrium. We need partners, not masters. We need to believe that we are not the pariahs of the western world as they have led us to believe.
- On France's restitution of extorted funds
Let's not forget France's obligations to return the loot extorted from Haiti. Credit must be given to Aristide for having made an issue of it in the first place, though in my opinion he should have framed the message better. Perhaps as a result of Aristide's audacity, France insured that he paid the ultimate price, but that should never have been a reason for his demise.
The campaign for restitution was unfortunately conducted in a very populist way, without a peer-reviewed analysis of its historical and financial basis and the dissemination of the results to the general public via the press, television, radio, and internet media, in at least four languages. Recalling the exhortations of President Aristide, I believe that he poorly handled the matter. By rushing to popularize it, it trivialized it. No one I know, not even the fiercest advocates of reparations, has ever explained the numbers to me on the basis of economic theory and the mathematics of finance.
A commission of first-class economists and legal experts, Haitian and other, with obvious competence and a record of great integrity should look into the matter, so it does not continue to be trivialized.
This does not alleviate France's sins nor does it invalidate Haiti's claim. However, we need to proceed on a rational basis, not simply by shouting political slogans.
In fact, France could well owe us much more than has been stated so far. And France is not alone.
- On Haiti and her international friends
Haiti has been fucked over, repeatedly, by the Western powers of Europe and also by the United States of America, through outright thievery or through all sorts of shady deals which have benefited a few pockets in Haiti and enhanced first-class economies. In the end, only the corruption of the local whores is delivered in Technicolor (or today via High Definition Media Input) for the world's consumption. This way, Haitians themselves end up believing that they are the most corrupt people on Earth, while corruption is practiced even more openly across our borders, in the more highly respected Dominican Republic, and billions of dollars (some even say trillions) disappear without a trace from Iraq's economy.
In the same vein, European rulers have raped Africa over and over, and over again, depriving her from her gold, silver, diamonds and other precious stones, to the point that the discovery of vast oil reserves in Africa portend a specter of death through genocides and civil wars financed from abroad, rather than optimism for the possibilities that could be afforded by new found wealth. The vultures that are circling just above, namely Big Oil and other giant multinationals, manage to block the sunlight, that is, the hope that Africa will one day be able to suffice to itself. So now, increasingly Africa is turning to China, the rushing global economic superpower of the twenty-first century. Will China treat Africa more like a partner than the restavek that has been so thoroughly abused by the West?
Black African countries and Haiti conjure up images of despotic rulers and corrupt leaders, and those images have been marketed so insidiously that we end up believing that somehow we are less human and we deserve to pay the price of our savagery. Dessalines, they have told me, was burning in hell for his "koupe tèt, boule kay" (cut off the heads, burn the houses) strategy of overcoming slavery, whereas his alleged admonition of "plimen poul la, men pa kite-l rele" (pluck the chicken, but don't let it squawk) was presented more like a nugget of wisdom, a general principle of managing a country's treasury (Michelle Bennett let the chicken squawk, because she believed it did not matter, so Baby Doc was sent packing with crates of money, courtesy of the U.S. government, but mostly it is Michelle's greed that is remembered, not the Duvalier dynasty's). Still others have emerged to fill in the insatiable imagination of the purveyors of darkness.
Generally we can contemplate only one half of the moon and speculate about the other half, where vultures are bred and nurtured by invisible hands. We should strive to understand the economics of underdevelopment which fuel the wealth of developed countries of the chosen peoples. In as much as the chosen peoples strive to understand the neglected peoples on earth, so too the neglected peoples should understand the chosen peoples on earth. With full understanding may emerge either revolutions or at least a decent equilibrium?
We should never ignore Our Story. Those who ignore History are bound to repeat it, it is said. The story of our economic exploitation is too painful to be repeated. We should begin by demanding to be treated like a respected partner. We exist, therefore we have leverage. We have leverage, which is why we still exist. The hell with "beggars cannot be choosers". Let's break down the walls of international diplomacy, but not in getting new masters. Let's broker our own terms of development. Let's discover exactly what our leverage is, because it's there. Let us not believe that our salvation lies in the charity of others. In international politics, let us just assume that charity does not exist.
We need leverage. Not charity. But leverage is found and exercised only by those who believe it exists, seen or unseen, in the first place.
- On revolutions and our revolution
That is where we keep coming back to, in our thirst for significance and replenishment. The Cuban revolution was designed to benefit the Cubans most of all, but is currently benefiting Haiti also. The Bolivarian revolution is designed to benefit the Venezuelans and other Latino countries most of all, but could in the end benefit Haiti also. Long live Chavez, because he represents an alternative for Latin America (or for the Americas) that seems attractive, compared to the crushing alternative of the U.S. and International Finance Institutions. However, for all of his bravado, Chavez is in great danger. But whether or not the Bolivarian revolution succeeds and even expands beyond the limits previously attained by the Cuban revolution, Haitians still have to grapple their own demons.
Before the Cuban revolution, before the Bolivarian revolution, and concurrently with the French and American revolutions, there was the Haitian revolution which seems to have benefited all others before its own people. It is high time that we reconnect with the central purpose of the Haitian revolution which was to create (and develop) a new nation led by Haitians for Haitians. Yes, the Haitian revolution has been a beacon of freedom, liberty, and human rights for students of History all across the globe but how long can we, could we, sustain that shining light if we do not focus on providing first for ourselves?
It is in a way similar to the notion of the U.S. being a nation of immigrants. Historically true. But how long will they be able to sustain that notion, when they turn decisively anti-immigrant and try to outdo themselves in a display of nationalism that is a disguised front for greed and racism? The U.S. militarily conquered vast areas of land that formerly belonged to Mexicans, and now U.S. citizens feel entitled to say with a straight face: "This is our land (which God mysteriously and unequivocally bequeathed to us) and it is entirely immoral of you to try and break our laws (because we, on the other hand, are a nation of law-abiding citizens who have historically and presently respected the property rights of other peoples)." How long can the U.S. present itself with pride as a nation of "¿supposedly legal?" immigrants without becoming the subject of international ridicule?
In this way, Haitians too had better pick up where the dreams of Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines left them. It's not enough to glorify our ancestors. The only way to truly honor them is to do for ourselves.
I will conclude by offering again the words I wrote on January 1, 2004:
"Countless freedom fighters and nationalist leaders have acknowledged that they were inspired by the Haitian Revolution, from the liberation wars of Latin America, to civil rights advocacy in the United States, and the anti-colonialist and anti-apartheid struggles on the African continent. So in many lands, the Haitian Revolution became synonymous with freedom of the oppressed. Indeed many of those struggles were successful in their execution, as many new nations emerged, following the examples of Haiti and one should add, the United States. That the United States was a white nation that prospered and that Haiti was a black nation on the road to total impoverishment is also a fact that has not been lost on the world. The aftermath of the Revolution can be murky to the indiscriminating eye. What's the big deal, might one say. Hence the struggle continues to have the Haitian Revolution come true for every single Haitian. It is associated today to the struggle for economic rights and political freedom, literacy and health, education and democracy. Any ordinary citizen or government leader, who would exalt the virtues of the Haitian Revolution and not dedicate himself or herself to the concretization of its revolutionary ideals in today's Haiti and for the Haitian poor, is simply mouthing words without a good appreciation of their meaning. For the Haitian Revolution to be completely successful, it has to live in every Haitian heart. It has to guide all Haitians in positive actions for a better future.
I think that there are greater forces aligned today against the political freedom and economic rights of the Haitian people than there were even at the time of Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Those forces yesterday were naked in their exercise of strength and oppressive ideology. True, at that time, they were also married to a program of Christianization of slaves imported from Africa. But, all in all, it was easy for a slave to tell his friends from his enemies. Today, all internal and external enemies of the Haitian people like to present themselves as its great friends. They act in the name of Haitians, but not for their benefit. They create economic initiatives to rob the people further of their last possessions, while pontificating about the fiscal benefits of one set of economic policies as opposed to another. They sow discord and hate to keep the people divided. They promise everything to those who do not have, while in practice they only deliver more to those who have already. They champion democracy in words, while they marginalize the masses and deprive them of their right to vote and participate in decisions that will greatly affect their future...
Today's political leaders should simply read their history and understand that their time is necessarily limited. Limited in securing material benefits for themselves or limited in extending the gains of Haiti's revolution to the disenfranchised masses. No one is immortal. However, their name and reputation will outlive them and they will be judged by their survivors and by the people for whom they have chosen to serve or not to serve. Far from the passions of the moment, History will record their deeds and judge them quite apart from empty speeches and promises.
Long live the Haitian Revolution. The people of Haiti have just begun to fight for their place in the sun."
- On Drug Trafficking and Haiti's role
Haitians have to combat internal corruption, not because others snicker about it in total or near total obliviousness of their own corrupting practices, but simply because it is for our own good. In combating that internal corruption, we must bear in mind the sources of that corruption and deal with them accordingly.
Everyone knows that the drug trade has, in a large way, sustained the cash flow in Haiti for the last 30 years or so. Haiti has even reached a fair amount of publicity in that regard, being the (nth?) trans-shipment port for drugs originating from places in South America) to places in North America. The government of Haiti has been ridiculed for tolerating drug traffickers, and obligingly so. But where the hell are the drugs cultivated? Where the hell are they being consumed? In the balance sheet, who the hell are making and paying for the billions of dollars of the drug trade? Why is Haiti left holding the bag, as though we were the ones to go and pick up the damn drugs and deliver them directly to unsuspecting church-going dwellers in the U.S.?
Why is Haiti so infamous for drug trafficking? Damn if I know! Why do they not take significant measures to stop the drug traffic in the first place? Why is the consumption of drugs so recreational in American culture? Why do they demonize Haitians for a product that satisfies their addictions, a product that Haiti does not grow, a product that Haiti hardly consumes (for most who are intelligent enough to stay away from it), a product that has appeal only for the huge sums of money they are willing to spend for it? And who or what people does not love money? Who will ever ignore the source of easy money when other resources are scarce, due to politically motivated economic embargoes and other means of international isolation? Why is Haiti the poster child for the white powder that the U.S. consumes to oblivion?
Point in fact: the drug has to flow from here to there. Haiti will not increase the flow of drugs nor will it decrease it. When it is not delivered through Haiti, it is being delivered through another point. Once again, instead of demonizing Haitians, and instead of making open war against Colombian peasants, why do they not focus on reducing the demand for drugs, whether by way of legalizing them or else? Is the problem that there is just so much money involved in the illicit drug trade that the U.S. cannot come to grips with bleeding off such a rich flow of economic activity? Why the phony wars?
Doctor, heal thyself! The doctor in this instance is the Drug Enforcement Administration acting as an extension of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and other countries in Central and South America. I am not requesting mercy for drug dealers, as they are in fact purveyors of death and they are largely responsible for the erosion of safeguards in our culture, which explains at least in part the proliferation of kidnappings and other vile acts which have become so common to urban life in Haiti. On one hand, the Haitian government (including the Justice Ministry) must be given the latitude and the means to seriously crack down on the drug traffickers. Zero tolerance. On the other hand, one has to recognize that the drug traffic problem in Haiti exists primarily to satisfy the U.S. incredible appetite for cocaine and other stuff.
So, when we say "Doctor, heal thyself", we mean that the U.S. should stop parading a few heads in Haiti and elsewhere as the bad guys, as though they were the ones truly responsible for drug consumption and all the crack heads in the U.S.A. Their priority should be to find ways to drastically reduce the demand for illicit drugs from U.S. citizens in the first place. If they are serious about doing that, they should not scapegoat their failures on impoverished ghettos of the U.S. and Haiti.
Most important questions to answer: Who is consuming the illicit drugs? What are the classes and magnitudes of consumption? Who is making the most profit from the drug trade? Who are profiting and to what extent? Start there. Treat the problem. It is enormous, but supporting a war against the peasants in Colombia and demonizing political leaderships anywhere south of the U.S. border does not solve the problem and may in fact exacerbate it.
That is just one instance of the demonization of Haitians, among others.
- On coups against the government of Haiti
In the entire history of the United States, there has never been one coup d'etat, not a single one, zero, zilch. But how many coups have the U.S. promoted or got directly involved in, militarily and financially?
In a democracy, there should be avenues, such as a referendum or an impeachment process, to dispose of a government gone mad. But a coup d'etat (there have been more than 40 in Haiti's History) is totally unacceptable.
The U.S. has NEVER tolerated the idea of a coup against its government. NEVER! Why do they get so actively involved in coups against other governments?
They know why... but WE should be intelligent enough to know why, too…. and swear to never let it happen again… unless we want to be designated "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere" forever more.
We need to get across a point to those who create the conditions of our impoverishment only to blame us when we go and search for a better life elsewhere!!! Stop messing with us already, so that we have a chance to stay home! Haitians must have an alternative to crossing the borders and slave away in the Dominican Republic. Haitians must have an alternative to crossing the shark infested waters that separate them from the Bahamas and the unwelcome-to-Haitian Florida beaches. Haitians cannot be expected to stay put otherwise. Like every group of people that has migrated to the United States since the Pilgrims, they do so for the same reasons. Repression, poverty and migration go hand in hand.[/*:m]