Thursday, December 22, 2011

Notes on Red and Black in Haiti

Notes on Red and Black in Haiti

By Michael Deibert

Small Axe 36 • November 2011 • Michael Deibert | 157

Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934–1957

Matthew J. Smith

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,

304 pages



One of my earliest memories of visiting Haiti in the mid-1990s was a trip I took along with a street-hailed cab down to the area near Port-au-Prince’s waterfront where Haiti’s parliament and the old American embassy were located. Being new to the city, I had nowhere in particular in mind that I wanted to see, save for a general idea of arriving at some point at the Episcopal Cathédrale Sainte Trinité to survey the stunning indigenous Biblical murals painted there by artists such as Wilson Bigaud and Philome Obin decades before.

Strolling away from Haiti’s parliament, the Palais Législatif, under a blazing Caribbean sun, I walked through a wide plaza fluttering with the flags of the member countries of the United Nations, a holdover from the time when Haiti hosted a lavish bicentennial exposition from December 1949 until April 1950 to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Port-au-Prince.

Beyond the plaza, I came eventually to a grassy bluff facing the Bay of Port-au-Prince. There, its walls and foundations broken, graffitied, and chipped away, its grass trampled, and homeless legions sprawling passed out or lounging all around its circumference, I found the tomb of Dumarsais Estimé, the president who governed Haiti during the time of the exposition.

The derelict, melancholy appearance of the tomb—Estimé’s second resting place since being reinterred here by the dictator François Duvalier in 1968—said much about Haiti’s supposed ongoing state of revolution in the years since Estimé served as Haiti’s president from August 1946 until May 1950. Though we did not know it at the time, after the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide by a US-led multinational military force in 1994 and the inauguration of René Préval as his successor a year and a half later, Haiti was setting up for another one of the violent, chaotic showdowns that have defined its intense political culture for two centuries, this time one that would result in Aristide’s overthrow and exile in 2004.

At that moment in downtown Port-au-Prince, as since, looking at the crypt that held the mortal remains of one of Haiti’s great leaders I was reminded, as I often am when observing politicians, of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 sonnet Ozymandias, in which the poet tells of observing the ruined statue of a king in the desert, bearing the inscription “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!,” as “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”


Among outsiders unschooled in Haiti’s byzantine political and social legacies, the history of the Caribbean nation often appears to be little more than a handful of moments of hope-tinged tumult punctuated by long stretches of disappointment and ruin.

Haiti’s historic 1804 defeat of Napoleon’s forces and the country’s 1915–1934 US military occupation have been reasonably well covered, as has been the twenty-nine-year family dictatorship of François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier. The 1990 election of priest-turned-politician Aristide, the coup against him the following year, the military operation to reinstate him, and his subsequent overthrow and exile ten years later are eras that have all fallen under the gaze of foreign observers, who have commented on them with varying degrees of interest and expertise. Aside from these moments, foreign commentators on Haiti rouse themselves only in brief, strobe-light flashes of concentration, with each moment of focus treated as if it was a unique and singular event in what has in fact been a tortuously entwined history.

To those who travel the length and breadth of Haiti, chatting with its people in Kreyol in the back of sweltering tap-taps and in its hardscrabble peasant fields, one quickly realizes that the events that occurred during the long interims between these dramatic moments have also played a key role in determining the country’s history, perhaps even more so that the more-familiar moments. It was during these interims, we find, that the seeds of later events were first planted. Haitian historians such as the late Roger Gaillard have long known this, but it is a salient fact of Haiti’s political history that seems to have escaped many foreign commentators on the country.

This is why, with Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934–1957, the young Jamaican historian Matthew J. Smith brings a welcome new aspect to much of the recent writing on Haiti: genuine scholarship. [1] Covering a pivotal and heretofore largely ignored two decade period in the nation’s development with a wealth of primary sources, Smith’s book shows us, with great import, that the struggle throughout Haitian history to form something resembling a responsive and decent government for its citizens was not just something debated in the realm of a series maximum leaders, but the heritage of a collective struggle made up of actors from different strata of Haitian society, the complex intermingling of which Smith does an admirable job of trying to disentangle.

In a small, poor country where few people can speak or write English proficiently, foreign observers of both the left and the right seem to feel that they have found the perfect canvas on which to outline their own theories and agendas, no matter how little time they have spent in Haiti or how irrelevant their theories may be to the struggles of Haitians as a whole. Academics with political agendas as diverse as Lawrence Harrison and Peter Hallward, callow commentators such as the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Mark Weisbrot and author Naomi Klein, and fulminating media demagogues such as Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson have all been guilty over the years of expounding upon Haiti from a position of ideologically motivated ignorance, and their often dilettantish and disrespectful approach is what makes Smith’s book so valuable: it approaches Haiti as a nation like any other, with a deep and rich history worthy of rigorous analysis as opposed to simple, shrill sloganeering. [2]

Though the 1915–1934 US occupation of Haiti happened for a number of reasons, it is hard to overstate just what a dismal, sanguinary level Haitian politics had sunk to preceding it. In the four years before the invasion, no less than five Haitian presidents had been forced from office either by assassination or by coup d’état. While the occupation succeeded (at the dear price of Haiti’s sovereignty) in somewhat bringing the country’s political violence to heel, it did little to address the long-standing tensions and enmities in Haitian society, which briefly receded in the anti-occupation activities of such groups as the Union Patriotique, only to quickly resurfaced once the foreigners had gone away. Smith nevertheless characterizes the post-occupation era then at hand as “Haiti’s greatest moment of political promise. . . . At its outset, black consciousness and an intense cross-class nationalism produced a rare opportunity for lasting political change”.

It was an intellectual and cultural hothouse over which former Port-au-Prince mayor Sténio Vincent, a nationalist who cut his political teeth with the Union Patriotique, presided. Years later, witheringly alluded to by the writer Jacques Stephen Alexis as “an aging Casanova preserved in alcohol,” despite his anti-occupation credentials, Vincent, upon elevation to the presidency, quickly became one of Americans’ closest allies in the region, even as he dissolved Haiti’s legislature in 1935 and ran virtually unopposed in corrupted presidential
elections in May 1935.

Using increasingly thuggish methods in his quest to cling to power, Vincent pushed the political discourse that had been reinvigorated by the occupation to find its outlet in other areas. In exploring the links between Haiti’s cultural development and its political struggles, Smith wisely gives due to a nation that has given the Caribbean arguably its richest intellectual tradition, examining in detail the connections between intellectual and activist discourse in a political landscape that is often reduced by outsiders to mere populism. In one of the many ironies found in Haiti’s history, in the Haiti of the 1930s the appeal of Communism was chiefly to the country’s foreign-educated elite, who returned home determined to try and change what the Haitian writer and diplomat Frédéric Marcelin had in 1904 called the country’s tradition of “civil strife, fratricidal slaughters, social miseries, economic ignorance and idolatrous militarism.”

Jacques Roumain, whose 1943 novel Gouverneurs de la Rosée remains one of the most moving portraits constructed of Haitian peasant life, despite his own bourgeois background became a committed Communist during this time, founding, along with Georges Petit, the Parti communiste haitien (PCH) in 1934 under the slogan “Color is nothing, class is everything.”

Cutting through facile appeals to nationalism characteristic of Haiti’s political class, the PCH’s first national program, L’analyse schematique, dismissed such discourse by concluding that “the arrival to power of the Nationalists [i.e., Vincent] began the process of decomposition of nationalism,” going on to witheringly characterize Haiti’s bourgeois politicians as “valets of imperialism and cruel exploiters of the workers and peasants."

Among the other important historical figures of the Haitian left that Smith rescues from obscurity is Max Hudicourt, a gifted orator and the scion of a well-regarded family from the southern city of Jérémie who could nevertheless move easily among Haiti’s impoverished majority. Jailed with Roumain for his political activity though not a communist himself, Hudicourt would die prematurely under mysterious circumstances from a gunshot wound in 1947. However, in post-occupation Haiti, as the opposition of the largely bourgeois radical left attempted to apply the tenets of global Communism to Haiti’s reality, a handful of black intellectuals were drinking at an altogether different well for inspiration.

Looking to the writer and ethnologist Jean-Price Mars, whose 1928 book Ainsi parla l’oncle was a landmark in the négritude movement in the French-speaking Caribbean, the group referred to themselves as the Griots, after the traditional storytellers of West Africa. Rather than looking to European social-political models to address Haiti’s myriad problems, they instead “demanded a greater incorporation of folk practices, especially vodou, in national life . . . [arguing] that the country’s most basic problem since independence [was] the constant exploitation of the majority of the black inhabitants by a small privileged [mulatto] elite."

Among the Griots' number was a young doctor whom Price-Mars had taught as a student years before named François Duvalier. Arguing that “cultural authenticity defined all other aspects of social life” (ibid.), the Griots concluded that the Europhile outlook made it impossible for mulatto elites such as the Communists to understand the needs of a black country, hence Haiti’s chronic underdevelopment.

In these early years after the occupation, that “greatest moment of political promise” provided outlines of what will become the template of Haiti’s future political dynamic: a ruler with authoritarian tendencies trying to simultaneously bully, corrupt, and seduce opponents into supporting him as he faces a fractured political class made up of left-wing social democrat, right-wing, and populist parties with often negligible levels of public support, while an often avaricious and irresponsible upper class looks on and influences events as best they can when it suits them. Complimenting this situation, then as now, is Haiti’s complicated relationship with the neighboring Dominican Republic, for three decades under the explicitly fascist rule of Rafael Trujillo, and the shifting foreign policies of the United States, which gradually transformed from a Cold War–era doctrine of Communist containment to a neoliberal doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism that did little to stem Haiti’s economic free-fall.

When Vincent was succeeded by Elie Lescot, a consummate political survivor and opportunist, the elite’s grip on the nation’s political and economic mechanisms was thrown into the starkest relief since the end of the occupation. Lescot had served under the occupation-era government of Louis Borno as well as that of Vincent, often in politically sensitive posts such as Minster of the Interior, Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and Ambassador to the United States, but nevertheless he appears have placed too much faith in the ability of his powerful friends to save what soon became an explicitly colorist dictatorship. In a precursor of other half-baked schemes decades later, the United States sponsored the Société haitiano-américaine de dévelopment agricole (SHADA) in an ill-fated attempted to cultivate rubber in Haiti in an effort that ended up alienating the very peasants it was designed to help.

The overthrow of Lescot—the Revolution of 1946—was an extraordinarily significant moment for Haiti which has thus far received scant attention from foreign scholars writing on the country. Here, Smith presents the time in its full complexity, with important roles played by the Communist left, student groups, and, memorably, French surrealist André Breton in helping to topple a regime. Though Roumain—who had died two years before, at the age of thirty seven—had accepted a minor diplomatic post from Lescot, his writing was nevertheless hugely influential with the young revolutionaries, at the forefront of whom was another one of Haiti’s greatest writers, fifteen years younger that Roumain himself. Jacques Stephen Alexis, who would go on to pen such pivotal Haitian works as Compère Général Soleil and L’espace d’un cillement, made his first appearance in Haiti’s politician conscience during this time, a political commitment which would result in his murder by Duvalierist henchmen after an ill-fated attempt to invade Haiti with some like-minded compatriots in 1961. [4]

Duvalier himself flits in and out of the story of the years before his ascendancy, helping to gradually hone the idea of négritude into noirisme, which the Communists and Marxists, many of them of more comfortable backgrounds than those of the noiristes themselves, viewed as little more than a cover by which the black middle class could seize power. After the fall of Lescot, the two sides stood with daggers drawn, the noiristes depicting Haiti’s radical left as bourgeois usurpers and the left depicting the noiristes as reactionary demagogues with fascist tendencies. And watching all, the Haitian military, personified by the slippery soldier-politician Paul Magloire, serving many Haitian presidents but beholden to none of them.

In my own book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti, I argued that much of modern Haitian political history began with Dumarsais Estimé, who stepped into the political maelstrom described above and served as Haiti’s president from August 1946 until May 1950.5 Estimé has indeed been, as Smith writes, “one of the most misunderstood heads of state in Haitian history” (110), despite featuring quite prominently in Island Possessed, the autobiography of the American dancer Katherine Dunham, who lived in Haiti and was Estimé’s lover for a time, and being touched on, glancingly, in a number other histories of Haiti.

Born in Verettes in the Artibonite Valley, Estimé was a former schoolteacher who had risen up the ladder of Haiti’s political establishment to serve in the Chamber of Deputies and, eventually, in the Vincent government. When voted by Haiti’s parliament to become the country’s new president, he was the first black president of post-occupation Haiti. Though not exactly a noiriste himself, Estimé drew his political base from the country’s disenfranchised black majority and sought to ameliorate the suffering by raising Haiti’s minimum wage, by expanding schools and social services, and by creating a series of public-works projects for the chronically unemployed Haitian labor force. Existing as he did outside of Haiti’s traditional political structures, though—representing the black underclass without being a noiriste, speaking for the disenfranchised while shunning the radical left, at odds with the military and the country’s economic elite—Estimé could never have expected an easy ride while in office and indeed did not get one.

“Progressive Haitians expected a revolution with Estimé,” Smith writes. “What they got was a period of unsustainable hope rife with color resentment, ideological polarization and a bitter, occasionally violent struggle for political power among forces inside and outside the government."

With members of the black intelligentsia filling virtually every cabinet post in his government, and with his deep understanding of the struggles of the country’s long-disenfranchised peasant majority, Estimé provided a brief tenure that in retrospect represents a far more genuine attempt by Haiti’s often-cannibalistic political system to come to terms with the needs of its citizens than the far-more-heralded, corrupted, violent, and compromised dual truncated terms of Jean-Bertrand Aristide decades later.

Indeed, the chief flaw of Smith’s book is perhaps that it too intensely focuses on the political machinations in Haiti’s capital, largely ignoring its vast countryside, where armed opposition to the US occupation in the forms of rebellions led by Charlemagne Peralte and Benoit Batraville was strongest, and where the independence of peasants remains a thorn in the side of the capital’s political class to this day. The great untold story of the last decades in Haiti is of the country’s peasantry and the way their lives have continued in recent decades—despite the political battles raging in the capital, despite the failed SHADA program, despite a disastrous program in the early 1980s, funded by the United States and Canada, that succeeded in destroying the 1.2 million Kreyol pigs, and despite the Aristide government’s duplicitous 1995 decision to cut tariffs on rice imports to the country from 35 percent to 3 percent. Largely abandoned by all but a handful of grassroots peasant organizations such as the Mouvman Peyizan Nasyonal Kongrè Papay and Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan, the Haitian peasantry have somehow, against all odds, managed to survive.

Estimé’s attempts to reassert Haiti’s control over its own economy in the face of US economic interests met with a predictably vitriolic response at a time when Washington seemed unable to differentiate any labor or social movement from one that was Communist or Communist-inspired, a particular irony in Haiti, since Estimé would go so far as to outlaw the PCH in 1948.

Representative though it was, Estimé’s government also proved short-sighted on some key matters. Gestures such as the nationalization of Haiti’s banana industry in 1947, while appealing on an emotional level, were so badly managed that United Fruit, the company that had dominated Haiti’s banana industry prior to that time, was back at the helm by 1949, with Haitian banana shipments being used to pay off the massive debt accrued over the two years of state control. Estimé also had the questionable claim to fame of bringing to the center of political power for the first time the particular political skills of François Duvalier, then a young official from Port-au-Prince politician Daniel Fignolé’s Mouvement des ouvriers et paysans (MOP). Duvalier served as Estimé’s director of public health, and continued on in the government after Fignolé, his ostensible boss, resigned.

We see under Estimé, as under Duvalier and Aristide years later, the emergence and gradual expansion of a nouveau riche black political and economic class that benefited from what had often been the prerogative of the traditional elite: political nepotism and corruption. It was a slow transformation and opening of what continues to be a broken political system, but it nevertheless allowed the country’s black majority, in very rare instances, to take a few steps toward access to greater political and economic influence in Haiti, even though those left outside, that is, the majority of Haitians who remained both black and poor, continued to be as disenfranchised as ever. These complex intersections of class and race and political and economic power are among the areas that most often trip up novice commentators on Haiti and it is refreshing to see Smith spend some time examining them.

We now know that the political fortunes of Estimé, like those of his chief rival Fignolé, were doomed amid the splintering of the diverse coalition that helped oust Lescot in 1946, a disintegration in which we find precursors of the violent fraying the occurred after the toppling of the Duvalier dictatorship four decades later. As relations between Estimé and Fignolé turned poisonous, the radical Left, never taken in by appeals to race-based politics, remained deeply hostile to the Estimé government.

As was their wont, the Americans mistook Fignolé’s fiery oratory for that of a communist and were fearful of the MOP’s considerable organizational capacity. Hand in hand with oppressing the MOP, Estimé in turn outlawed the PCH in 1948 and attempted to institute constitutional revisions that would allow him to succeed himself as president in the summer of 1949, provoking a violent student and labor strike the likes of which had helped topple Lescot and would help topple the second Aristide government in 2003/2004. Following Estimé’s ouster by the army the following year, Paul Magloire, the more-or-less unchallenged head of Haiti’s military, ruled from December 1950 until December 1956. This ushered in a period that observers sometimes nostalgically reminisce as a “golden age” for Haiti, a characterization that overlooks the deep sense of bitterness and betrayal that Estimé’s supporters nursed as the country was ruled by a military dictatorship viewed by many as little more than a tool of the elite. Magloire was quite willing to use violence to crush dissidents, particularly among the left and the press and, far from creating a sense of détente between Haiti’s competing political factions, tensions between them continued to fester, culminating, after Magloire’s ouster, with the assumption of the presidency by François Duvalier in October 1957 after a violence-wracked ballot. Smith’s book leaves us on the cusp of the advent of one of the most brutal dictatorships the Americas have ever seen, but, as Smith demonstrates, François Duvalier did not arise out of a vacuum; he was indeed molded and shaped by the political jockeying the occurred after the United States departed in 1934.


I write these lines almost two months to the day after an massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and its environs and left untold tens of thousands dead in its wake. Haiti’s Palais National, which so many successive leaders have struggled to control, lies in ruins, as does the Cathédrale Sainte Trinité, while the Palais Législatif is badly damaged. It is an event that may ultimately prove nearly as pivotal, in its own way, as the overthrow of the French in 1804 in that it has laid bare many of the brutal inequalities and contradictions in Haitian society as never before (as well as the international community’s relationship with the country) and completely reordered the balance of power in what is now a truly stricken land. Haiti’s political class, whose previous battles Smith has detailed so masterfully in his book, has never appeared more unable to meet the needs of its people, even the most basic need of personal physical security. As I traveled throughout the stricken capital and to the countryside in the days after the earthquake, the call I heard again and again from people in markets, in tap- taps, and in tent camps was for a US military coordination of relief efforts in the country, a call that would doubtless stun and sadden the nationalists, were they still alive, that Smith writes about in a book. It is a melancholy statement on how far the Haitian people’s faith in their political class has fallen.

The dysfunctional nature of Haiti’s politics cannot be blamed on a single source; it is rather the product of decades of political and economic miscalculation and ill intention on the part of both Haiti’s leaders and the international community. Because far too much commentary on Haiti at present emanates from the voices of poorly informed ideologues, with little back- ground in Haiti’s tortured political history and even less understanding of and respect for its often politically-charged cultural and artistic traditions, books such as Smith’s Red and Black in Haiti will provide an invaluable sense of historical perspective as foreigners with an interest in helping Haitians on their road to building a responsive, human state wonder how best to aid the country. It is time to disregard forever the ahistorical, irresponsible approach with which foreigners so often approach Haiti, and time for them to try to solemnly educate themselves about its history before presuming to lecture the Haitians themselves on what they should do. Red and Black in Haiti is an invaluable contribution to that end.

Miami, March 2010

1 Matthew J. Smith, Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934–1957 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009). Hereafter cited in the text.

2 For further thoughts on this phenomenon, see Michael Deibert, “Thoughts on Recent Haiti Commentaries,” Michael Deibert’s Blog, 9 February 2010, http://

3 Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492–1995 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1996), 313.

4 Despite not focusing exclusively on the topic, Alexis’s 1955 novel, Compère Général Soleil (Paris: Gallimard, 1955) translated into English by Carrol F. Coates as General Sun, My Brother (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999), still contains what is perhaps the most scathing and accurate depiction of Haiti’s political class that has been written to date.

5 Michael Deibert, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (New York: Seven Stories, 2005).

Michael Deibert is a journalist, author, and visiting fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the Miami Herald, Le Monde diplomatique, and Folha de São Paulo, among other publications. In his role at Coventry University, he aids the center in its mission to increase and sustain dialogue on international peacebuliding and development issues, with a particular focus on Africa and Latin America. He is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (2005).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sonia Pierre 1963-2011

Sonia Pierre, you were the greatest patriot that the Dominican Republic could ask for, one of the greatest advocates for human rights in the Americas and a hero to us all. Your work and your example live on. Domi byen, fanm vanyan.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lyonel Trouillot, écrivain de la colère


Lyonel Trouillot, écrivain de la colère

04/11/2011 à 19h:54

Par Tshitenge Lubabu M.K.

Jeune Afrique

(Read the original article here)

Les lecteurs de l’écrivain haïtien Lyonel Trouillot ont cru jusqu’au bout que le Goncourt 2011 allait lui être décerné. Tel n’a pas été le cas. Mais sa sélection a permis d’attirer l’attention sur son œuvre dont l’engagement est le credo inaliénable.

« On fait tous de la surenchère. Quel que soit le pays, il y a toujours un écart entre le jour de la fête nationale et le reste de l’année, entre les discours officiels et le parler tremblé de la vie quotidienne, entre les cartes postales et les vies de chien du commun des mortels. Ne viens pas me raconter que chez toi tout est beau. Que tous y sont heureux ». Cette citation tirée de La Belle amour humaine, le dernier roman de Lyonel Trouillot qui lui a valu d’être, jusqu’au 2 novembre, sur la liste des quatre finalistes du prix Goncourt, semble à elle seule résumer la fougue de son auteur qui s'y trouve tout entier. Homme en colère, qui n’accepte ni l’indifférence des siens face à la paupérisation du plus grand nombre, ni l’arrogance de ceux qui, parce que nantis ou se croyant tels, s'autoproclament conscience du monde, prompts à juger sans apporter de solution à l’égoïsme humain, à l’exploitation de l’homme par son semblable et à la déliquescence du monde qui les entoure.

Le 31 décembre, Lyonel Trouillot aura 55 ans. Sa carrière littéraire, dont la première œuvre a été publiée en 1979, compte à ce jour dix-sept titres, allant de la poésie au roman. Sa particularité : il écrit aussi bien en français qu’en créole haïtien. Dès le départ, il a choisi sa voie sans la moindre équivoque : l’engagement, c’est-à-dire la dénonciation des laideurs de son île, de son peuple, dont l’histoire est à la fois grandiose et triste. C’est à Haïti, nul ne peut l'oublier, que, pour la première fois dans l’Histoire de l’humanité, un peuple d’esclaves a vaincu l’armée du maître et arraché son indépendance. Mais la geste grandiose de Toussaint Louverture se transformera, pendant deux siècles, en tragédie-comédie.

"Écrire avec Haïti"

Balloté entre oppression interne, occupation et ingérence extérieures, Haïti n’a cessé de souffrir dans sa chair. Pour Trouillot, point n’est besoin de réécrire l’Histoire. Il faut l’assumer. Combattre, surtout, pour l’avènement d’un pays plus juste, plus fraternel, plus humain, plus solidaire. Il n’est point question, affirme-t-il, « d’écrire sur Haïti, mais avec Haïti, un pays qui se débat pour produire une belle histoire alors qu’il est du côté le plus sombre de l’Histoire ».

Pourtant, Trouillot n’est pas ce qu’on peut appeler un fils du peuple. Un père professeur de droit et bâtonnier à Port-au-Prince, plutôt bien vu du régime de François Duvalier. Une mère infirmière. En 1970, un an avant la mort de Duvalier, Trouillot se retrouve aux États-Unis, principale terre d’exil de milliers de ses compatriotes. Il revient néanmoins sur son île cinq ans plus tard. Objectif : jouer un rôle actif afin de contribuer à la chute du régime de Duvalier fils, alias Bébé Doc.

S’il étudie le droit, tradition familiale oblige, il se plonge dans la littérature. Il lit, certes, mais il écrit surtout des poèmes dans lequel il distille toute la subversion qui l’anime. Il le jure : « Il n’y a d’écriture que politique ». En 1980-1982, Trouillot se retrouve à Miami. Mais il ne tarde pas à regagner Haïti. Pour lui, être sur le terrain est fondamental. Et depuis, il ne cesse de se battre - en s'engageant par exemple dans le Collectif NON, qui réclame le départ de Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Dans sa quête d'homme et d'écrivain, maniant une écriture dense et poétique, il se révèle comme un véritable maître de la parole dont l’ambition, la seule, est de rendre la complexité de son île. Une île qui doit tendre les bras à l’espoir.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Le Député Arnel Bélizaire sur une liste d’évadés de prison recherchés

Le Député Arnel Bélizaire sur une liste d’évadés de prison recherchés

Le chef a.i du parquet de Port-au-Prince, Félix Léger, ordonne à la police judiciaire d’arrêter n’importe où et de conduire en prison le parlementaire et huit autres individus recherchés pour meurtre, kidnapping, viol et vol ; en voyage en France, le représentant de la circonscription de Delmas/Tabarre rejette en bloc les accusations du parquet qui seraient fondées, selon le Réseau national de défense des droits humains (RNDDH)

Publié le mardi 25 octobre 2011

(Read the original article here)

Le commissaire du gouvernement a.i de Port-au-Prince, Me Félix Léger, a transmis à la direction centrale de la police judiciaire (DCPJ), avec ordre de les arrêter immédiatement, une liste très sélective de neuf individus identifiés comme des « évadés de prison » parmi eux, le Député Arnel Bélizaire dont le parquet réclame parallèlement la levée de l’immunité parlementaire.

Clairement identifié par ses anciens numéros d’écrou PN 04-10-100 et PN 05-07-020, Arnel Bélizaire est accusé de meurtre et détention illégale d’armes à feu, selon une correspondance adressée en date du 21 octobre au chef de la DCPJ, Godson Aurélus.

Me Léger, qui affirme que l’offensive lancée vise à capturer tous ceux qui se sont évadés du Pénitencier National, la prison civile de la capitale, les 29 février 2004, 19 février 2005 et 12 janvier 2010, en relation avec la « perpétration de nouveaux crimes » et la « réévaluation des dossiers des condamnés, inculpés et prévenus » en cavale, exige de la police judiciaire qu’ils soient « recherchés, appréhendés et déposés en prison ».

Outre M. Bélizaire, on retrouve sur la première liste du parquet de Port-au-Prince -qui devrait être suivie d’une seconde ce jeudi- huit autres individus accusés ou déjà reconnus coupables de meurtres, viol, séquestration et enlèvement et vol à mains armées et association de malfaiteurs. Les autres noms mentionnés sont ceux de Yves Jean Charles, Michel Jean, Sergot Charléus, Jean Pierre Rilien Jules, Robenson Mervil, Edzaire Bellabe, Bourjo Jordany, Dubuisson Bien-Aimé et de Valdo Jean.

Ce dernier avait été condamné en août 2008 aux travaux forcés à perpétuité pour l’assassinat de la jeune présentatrice de télévision et actrice de cinéma, Ginoue Mondésir, massacrée en 2006 par le forcené qui n’était autre que son petit ami fou de jalousie.

En conflit ouvert avec le Président Michel Martelly, le Député Bélizaire, qui séjourne actuellement en France, a catégoriquement rejeté lundi sur les ondes de Radio Kiskeya les accusations portées contre lui et soutenues par une organisation haïtienne des droits humains, le Réseau national de défense des droits humains (RNDDH).

Le président de la Chambre basse, Sorel Jacinthe, et plusieurs autres Députés ont dénoncé une tentative de mainmise du pouvoir sur l’appareil judiciaire dans cette affaire et écarté l’idée de donner suite à la procédure engagée en vue de faire lever l’immunité de leur collègue.

Au lendemain d’une réunion orageuse avec des parlementaires et qui avait dégénéré en invectives contre Arnel Bélizaire, Michel Martelly avait menacé de devenir cynique et annoncé son intention de traquer les repris de justice et évadés de prison qui, dit-il, se sont réfugiés au Parlement. spp/Radio Kiskeya

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sean Penn Responds to Rolling Stone’s Haiti Story

Sean Penn Responds to Rolling Stone’s Haiti Story

(Read the original article here)

Editor’s note: In RS 1137, we published “Beyond Relief,” a report that examined the failure of international efforts to rebuild Haiti following last year’s devastating earthquake. Sean Penn, a leader in the reconstruction effort, sent us a lengthy and passionate critique of the story. His full letter is presented here. To read our response, click here.

Shame on me. It is not narcissism that leads me to this statement, for I have no shame in recognizing the well-populated club in which I now see I can count myself as having been a member for most of my adult American life. As a person invested in, and having benefited from, the film industry since about 1980, of course, I’d had some peripheral awareness years ago that filmmaker Jonathan Demme was a voice in our own wilderness screaming, “There is a country of people down here in total poverty (call that: no emergency rooms when their children are sick with fever) only a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Miami Beach!” “Come on, Johnny!” I thought, “don’t gimme no cause célèbre!” It took a fluke of timing and a major fucking earthquake, some 30 years later, to rattle my cage, while some 230,000 Haitian men, women and children were rattled to a sudden and horrible death for no reason but poverty and neglect. “Come on, Seany, give it up for Johnny’s cause célèbre!” So while the most accessible way for me to approach what follows is largely to personalize it, it is by no means personal. This is simply shame . . . shared. And pragmatic hope . . . encouraged.

When the United States military pulled up stakes after their 22,000-strong peak deployment of approximately three months of assistance following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, it would be the first time in generations that the Haitian population would say their goodbyes to U.S. troops with a “five-fingered” wave. Under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, their humanitarian mission was not only performed with great humanism, but left behind the map to a logistical and decisive approach for emergency-relief success – a map that may well have been advisory in the building of sustainable development. Among those who shared in, or inherited, that position of leadership were the government of Haiti (GOH) and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). There was also an assortment of international non-governmental organizations (NGO), all depending on the support and faith of nation donors and private investment. Many of these organizations had a presence prior to and during the earthquake, and many lives of their heroic colleagues were tragically lost to the quake itself.

Within the two most politically significant organizations that suffered such losses, the GOH and MINUSTAH, both lost not only close friends and loved ones, but also many in primary positions of leadership. Despite that, most in Haiti with whom I have worked, initially as founder/country director and later as CEO of J/P Haitian Relief Organization, continued to offer extraordinary skills, experience and passionate commitment. As with any disaster, organizations large and small will always find themselves traveling a virtual mine field of bureaucracy and unforeseeable challenge. Note that reconstruction at Ground Zero did not even begin until five years following the 9/11 disaster, and only in recent months has there been any visual progress made. Also, with the exception of schools built under the leadership of Paul Vallas, now a J/P HRO board member, not a single public building has been rebuilt in hurricane-damaged Louisiana. Sadly, in many cases, the greatest challenges come from within, and in such a mine field are patience, decisiveness, coordination and collaboration – the four balls of a juggler, not mutually independent, but each necessarily and singularly fierce.

Haiti’s most recent earthquake measured 1 million on the magazine-sale scale. That’s fierce too. The August 18th issue of Rolling Stone magazine had hit the stands, its cover boasting a photo of four bearded men, the death of Amy Winehouse and the Rupert Murdoch scandal feature – a story that by rights should have called upon all self-respecting journalists at News Corp. to instantly resign in protest as their bosses reign over the destruction of journalistic ethics, quality and law. But it is not the four beards, the untimely death of a talented young singer or the gangsterism of Rupert Murdoch where Rolling Stone is shaking the most fragile ground, or risking its own journalistic ethics. It is in its special report, “Beyond Relief,” by contributing editor Janet Reitman. The piece is an intended indictment of post-2010 earthquake relief, reconstruction and development efforts in Haiti, describing them as a “disaster of good intentions.”

I picked up a copy of the magazine off the rack during a layover at Miami International Airport. I had taken a red-eye flight from Los Angeles for my return to Port-au-Prince. At that point, our own predominantly Haitian-staffed NGO, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, was continuing to sweat and sacrifice, as the staff had apparently not yet received the Rolling Stone cover verdict that their work side by side with so many others and so many international organizations and those of their fellow Haitians had “failed.” They were also to be a bit shaken that such a message had been sent by Rolling Stone to donors at such a critical turning point in Haiti’s potential future.

For our own part, J/P HRO’s engineering crew had re-established entire neighborhoods, removing over 120,000 cubic meters of rubble and demolishing hundreds of irreparable buildings, much of that rubble recycled and trucked into the slum of Cité Soleil to be used as fill beneath three new schools in assistance to the Digicel school project (mentioned in the Rolling Stone article). Our medical teams and clinics had treated over 115,000 patients, and pushed by truck and helicopter over 100 metric tons of cholera meds throughout the country, including mountainous regions so remote that inhabitants had never seen a white face before. Our school of 260 children was advancing, and we had ultimately helped to relocate over 30,000 people from camps to homes while coordinating camp services as management in that same period. We have trained and employed 250 Haitians on staff, as well as many hundreds of additional jobs our programs created, both through cash-for-work and cash-for-production programs. All of this principally funded by private donors.

As I sat in the terminal, pulling the foil from a packet of mints before retrieving the magazine from the vendor-stamped plastic bag, I did not know that none of our progress, nor those extraordinary accomplishments of other top organizations, including the GOH and the Clinton Foundation (maligned in Reitman’s piece by an unnamed source), would be acknowledged. I boarded my flight to Haiti, clipped on my safety belt and began turning the pages of Rolling Stone.

I am a reader of Rolling Stone. Full disclosure: I once published a short piece in the magazine and have been featured on its cover a few times. My experience in general is that the reporting in Rolling Stone tends to be at least reasonably accurate, quite often stellar, and, more consistently than most, can claim to having broken major stories with a quality of writing that would challenge any magazine of its kind. Janet Reitman is herself a polished writer, a bright woman and, I believe, a well-intended one. But Ms. Reitman has stepped into the wrong wheelhouse here. I myself, by quirk of fate, have been one of the most active (and often critical) voices of relief efforts in Haiti, and in my view, subject as it is to the reader’s judgment, it is her article that is a “disaster of good (journalistic) intentions.”

Reitman had the right idea in her instinct that the complexities of the situation had bred great dysfunction in the relief and redevelopment effort. But what might have been an important and revelatory piece on bottlenecks and accountability shortfalls, accomplishments, failure, crimes, misdemeanors and transparency, Haitian needs and the insight into paths forward inadvertently becomes a damaging orgy of presupposed bias, along with unbalanced and consciously woven attributions for effect, but at the high cost of fact. This distillation of snowballed half-truths perilously threatens to dissuade donorship while bolstering reluctance and excusability on the parts of governments and NGOs alike to release already appropriated funds at this, Haiti’s most hopeful hour for progress since the earth shook. Now, an August 24th blog by Felix Salmon has lifted verbatim from Ms. Reitman’s flawed text to independently claim and regurgitate her erroneous assertions. My finger is in the dike.

So here’s the thing: There are two primary themes in the world of international relief dynamics: one is emergency relief, the other sustainable development. The disaster of Ms. Reitman’s journalism here is that, though seemingly with the best intentions, and certainly peppered with legitimate critique, she came to Haiti for a brief one week, nine months before her article was released. Indeed, just as cholera had begun to spike, and where those she spoke to were likely on edge, and in an environment where scapegoating was at a premium. In her predisposition to indict the frustrating and seemingly static nature of relief efforts, she stepped into a cesspool of “experts,” some representing emergency relief, others entrenched in theoretical development, and a very few who actually sought, or practically applied themselves to, the notion of bridging the two.

In the first two groups she would find relief careerists all too willing to offer themselves as the poles for her polarizing story that borders on fiction. Typically, those both in government or representatives of NGOs who actively work in the field were willing to speak to Ms. Reitman on the record. Sadly, it is they who would be punished most for their honesty, as their comments were re-contextualized to support a story built principally on the complaint-culture predisposition of an uninformed public. I was among those (though least at risk of going undefended, here proven) who gave on-the-record accounts. I spent hours, both in person in Haiti and on the telephone with Ms. Reitman, followed by a 20-minute session with her Rolling Stone-assigned “fact checker.”

To give some examples of the way in which my own words were spun, I will begin with this: Indeed, as Reitman asserted, I was closely involved and advocated strongly for what became the first, and ultimately a very controversial, relocation. This relocation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in a vulnerable tent camp on the Delmas-Bourdon border, which our organization managed in coordination with the International Organization of Migration (IOM). By “managed,” we mean the lead NGO coordinator and international project advocate on behalf of the families living there. This relocation involved moving 5,000 persons (or 1,200 families) off the side of a hill that the United Nations had declared the most vulnerable IDP camp to threat of death by flood or mudslide in the country. That assessment was shared by engineers of the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Navy Seabees, and virtually every engineer of every partner NGO with whom we work. A drainage mitigation plan was drawn up, and we set out to accomplish it. Among the 60,000 internally displaced persons in the camp at the time, if 5,000 were not relocated, 32,000 people would have been left in harm’s way. That is a fact.

What made the relocation ultimately controversial was the location and habitat condition of the alternate camp that was planned, surveyed and managed by other organizations after that location had been selected by the GOH on land they had claimed by eminent domain. The area was not selected, as misreported in Ms. Reitman’s piece, “after Penn and Keen met with U.S. and Haitian officials.” In fact, the only part that Lt. Gen. Keen or I played in that was in our mutual and staunch advocacy that safe alternate areas of relocation, with services and material support, be provided. Furthermore, her contention that the lieutenant general and I would have been meeting with “U.S.” officials to designate a location seems written with the intention of bolstering the myth that the U.S. relief mission was, in some way, an intrusion on Haiti’s sovereignty. The officials we and the GOH did meet with, whether independently or collaboratively, were U.N. officials, not “U.S.” officials.

As framed in Ms. Reitman’s piece, this alternate camp became a disaster of its own. The camp is called Corail-Celesse. And indeed, as Ms. Reitman reported, a few months following the relocation, a storm had hit Corail. Approximately 150 of the 1,200 tents erected would be collapsed by that storm. A single death was reported, by lightning strike. It was also wrongly reported at the time that the surveying organization, a U.N. designate with a grand reputation and working through the Haitian Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, had been somehow derelict in its duty by determining that Corail was not seated in a flood zone. I went personally to Corail in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The harsh rain had proven one thing for certain: the surveying organization was correct. And for those in the know, their grand reputation remained intact. The tents had fallen simply from harsh rainfall, sky to ground, not, as widely reported by the media, due to flooding. What those not in the field do not know is that 100 or more tents go down in EVERY camp with EVERY harsh rain. But rains in Haiti tend to fall at night, when fearful journalists dare not tread into “spooky” IDP camps, and too many U.N. bureaucrats have never seen the inside of a camp to begin with.

When I visited Corail that morning, none of the former residents of the camp I managed wanted to return to the hillside of Bourdon (a.k.a. Pétionville camp). I spoke personally to hundreds of them. They preferred to stay in Corail. They salvaged their belongings, 150 new tents were distributed to them, and life, shitty as it was post-disaster, went on. It needs to be said that this was a voluntary relocation and that all formal communications with those who opted to relocate was done with a factual sharing of all information available, which shamefully included the false assurances, given by habitation organizations of the U.N., that all tents would be expediently transitioned into the hurricane-resistant shelters that were to be placed on a separate sector of the Corail land, development of which would happen in expedient follow-up to the initial relocation. What was never proposed to those opting for Corail, however, was, as Reitman erroneously reported, “that they would be first in line for jobs in the Korean-owned garment factories that the Haitian government pledged would soon be built in the area.” (Though we all had high hopes for that to be the case.) In the construction of the article, she folds that false information (based on a widely known rumor of Haitian political campaign-speak origin) into my confirmation of the list of incentives and assistance that were in the offing immediately in her piece, connecting the rumored promise of jobs to my quote, “That’s the plan. . . .” WRONG!

An additional distortion in the Rolling Stone article is Reitman’s recounting of a meeting between myself and community leaders within an IDP camp tent. In Ms. Reitman’s article I am quoted saying to a group of Haitian community leaders, during the buildup to relocation, that “I don’t give a fuck about the rich guys who own this club.” This was a reference to the owners of the land upon which these IDPs had established their ad hoc encampment with tents made originally from salvaged bed sheets in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, not, as reported in Rolling Stone, from plastic sheeting (the rain-resistant sheeting she observed was only later distributed by NGOs and U.N. organizations). In the context of the article I had said it, and meant it just as stated. In context of reality and of the broader explanation I gave Ms. Reitman and her fact checker, I explained that I had indeed said those words knowing I was speaking to a group of pro-Aristide, anti-foreign “community leaders” whom, I had been informed in advance, believed that any whites operating in the camp within which they lived were doing so on behalf of the “rich white people who own the club,” which in Haiti has a resonating history of class division, forced evictions and brutality. I used those words about the landowners only in knowing I would need to court open minds, and had to make the separation clear between their assumptions about these landowners (which, had they been justified, indeed my words would have expressed exactly the position I and J/P HRO would have taken) and our own position as a humanitarian operation, presenting them with an opportunity to make a sacrifice for the greater good of the community. I will say here on behalf of those community leaders that they did ultimately make the choice to relocate and they did so with a proud and touching sense of social contribution. But it also has to be said that I am personally unaware of any other earthquake infringed upon landowners, whether white, black, rich or poor, who have been as consistently supportive of an IDP population and their NGO partners. William Evans, Coty Reinbold and the rest of the board of the Pétionville Club have been extraordinarily supportive. So, to have left my statement as “I don’t give a fuck about the rich guys who own this club” and to do it on page one of her article without further explanation, was an indication of the pages to come and the damaging distortion whereby ongoing relationships and vital collaborations are compromised.

On that same first page of Ms. Reitman’s article, a “U.N. official” who asked not to be identified made the scurrilous speculation that the relocation to the camp at Corail, which had most certainly prevented disastrous consequences at the Pétionville Camp, was to this unnamed coward “the most grotesque act of cynicism that I’ve seen in some time.” I believe it lacks journalistic grace to include, within the writer’s own agenda, such words as these, without identifying the interviewee, and seems to have been the result of the absent-minded slip of the interviewee to have properly introduced himself to Reitman. So, in an effort to indemnify both parties, I will risk here, though with a confidence of nearly empirical certainty, that that cowardly unnamed U.N. official was a fellow by the name of Jean-Christophe Adrian. And . . . if not, he, having spoken along these lines publicly before, will serve just fine to exemplify the problem.

Adrian is a notorious charlatan and head of programs for U.N. Habitat in Haiti. He has hypnotized a crew of development-set minions with an arrogance that translates into his followers’ fulfillment and to the great detriment of the Haitian people. I was first introduced to Mr. Adrian through comments he made to Jacqueline Charles in The Miami Herald. Following the storm in Corail, Mr. Adrian, a “shelter and development expert,” seized the opportunity to raise his profile in a glibly calculated statement. Piggybacking on a hot but childishly misinformed “gotcha moment” of the media’s own creation, following that storm, he stated to the Herald, “This is what happens when Hollywood and the U.S. military get together.”

My next notice of Adrian was later, when we had initiated one of the first and most aggressive rubble-removal campaigns by an NGO in an area of Port-au-Prince identified with those displaced who live in the camp J/P HRO manages. It is the highly visible market area of Delmas 32, where multilevel residences collapsed en masse, leaving behind miles of double-head-high rubble, strewn with human remains, blocking nearly every roadway. On the day that the World Bank had declared this specific area of operations of primary importance for rubble removal, intending to identify an organization to do the engineering work beginning two weeks hence, and noting Mr. Adrian’s U.N. Habitat as a principal resource, J/P HRO had already completed the area in question. We had cleared virtually all rubble from its central division with private funding from Richard Hotes, a gentleman who later, in full disclosure (and why not?), became a member of the J/P HRO board of directors.

Personal though my judgments may appear, the larger point in any further discussion related to Mr. Adrian is that, like too many in the development community, he stays out of the field, out of touch with the Haitian people, myopically theoretical and pathologically anti-humanitarian, preferring the conference rooms of secured and air-conditioned buildings, where he and his sort entrap captive audiences into masturbatory verbosity and theoretical strategy talks. On this single issue do I fully agree with Reitman. It’s enough talk and political pandering. It is time to act in support of, and on behalf of, the Haitian people and their government. In particular, the remaining emergency concern for those 595,000 living the highly vulnerable circumstances of camps.

By the third page of Reitman’s piece comes the proposal: “Perhaps the very idea of fixing Haiti at all is a flawed concept, revealing not only the limits of Western humanitarianism but also the folly of believing that any country and its problems are ours to set right.” In another context, this might have been a boldly provocative question. But here it exposes one of the great flaws not only in the journalism, but also of the organizations and agencies, and individuals most reckless. Indeed, it is the Haitians themselves who, in so many cases, ARE “setting it right.” And that there are some international organizations that truly do work in support of their Haitian counterparts with these collaborations is why enormous successes can also be touted. THAT is the THING. The THING missed by Reitman and Adrian to the detriment of a population, and potentially at the cost of millions of dollars.

Given the short window of Ms. Reitman’s week in Haiti, she would weave what are the legitimate criticisms toward most NGOs into an overbearing generalization. Hence, the ludicrous, and ironic, targeting of one of the most productive NGOs in Haiti, Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF). I have worked closely with CHF and its now-acting country director, Ann Lee. Ms. Lee earns her reputation as one of the most solid individuals in the NGO community. She had been in Haiti working with CHF for three years prior to the earthquake, and lost many friends and loved ones on that terrible day, including some who lost their lives doing the work they did through CHF. Ms. Lee is, at one point in Reitman’s story, quoted addressing this brand-new set of complexities born of an earthquake of such a scale, in a densely urban and impoverished environment: “It’s a complete learning experience for all of us.”

What I should highlight here is that Ms. Reitman had shaped her own argument by positioning the following quote John Simon, by former undersecretary of USAID under the Bush administration: “Unfortunately, what you seem to have with Haiti is a lot of new people who were not in the business of doing disaster relief and who took this as an opportunity to learn.” Secretary of State Clinton’s counselor and chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, would also be in the crosshairs of this particular spin. (Somehow I didn’t make the cut on that one, though as the only truly new one to emergencies/development, I would certainly hope for ongoing learning, and do appreciate some of the positive framing that our organization received, though too isolated, in Reitman’s piece.) Meanwhile, Simon himself (interesting to view his picture on the Internet) published a piece for the Center for Global Development titled “Six Lessons for Disaster Relief in Haiti.” Well, I’m glad he too recognizes the importance of lessons and his own learning. Ms. Lee said it right: “It’s a complete learning experience for ALL of us.” Ms. Lee’s granting of the interview is an affirmation that no good deed, nor honest words, would go unpunished. It is worth noting, perhaps, that all experienced disaster relief agencies, such as the WFP and IFRC, described Haiti’s earthquake as one of the most complicated disasters in recent history. Of course everyone has to learn. Yet Mills is even criticized for having read the lessons from other disasters, as though it’s not sensible to read the kind of papers that Simon himself writes.

The CHF program in Ravine Pintade is new to Haiti, and new to the world of disaster relief, but is based on their years of experience of operating in urban environments from Colombia to Ghana and India. It will very likely prove itself to be at the core of reconstruction following future natural disasters in urban areas. What Ms. Reitman has done in referring to CHF, and attributing to them the generic criticisms of NGOs, is really criminal. Having been in Haiti since January 2010, I can share with you here that CHF is most certainly not, as Ms. Reitman contends, “generally considered one of the most ostentatious NGOs in Haiti.” On the contrary, the “two spacious mansions” and the “fleet of brand-new vehicles” claimed derogatorily of the organization’s presence in Haiti, are, in fact, an office building (which suffered serious earthquake damage and which they rent at an extraordinarily low cost), and a hut, if you will, in Ravine Pintade with no air conditioning, where Haitian and international staff alike sweat relentlessly throughout the day to meet needs, and a small collection of well-maintained and necessary vehicles; the “newest” of them has been traversing, scraping and banging about the rugged terrain of Haiti for six years.

Furthermore, Reitman contends that CHF is “one of the largest USAID contractors in Haiti and enjoys a cozy relationship with Washington.” The were-it-not-so-sad-it-would-be-laughable distortion of this is that were it not for such reckless media, were it not for the absence of diligent media coverage in Haiti, such “cozy relationships” might be productively had. But instead, the virtual blanket of negativity has served to do nothing but inflame suspicion between donors and NGOs, and to allow those NGOs most destructive and least ideologically integrated – least knowledgeable of either the GOH plans or of the needs of the community at large – to seize the day. And it is they, in their cozy relationship with the media, who do more harm than good, in the sense that anthropologist Tim Schwartz was, I’m sure in a literal sense, accurately identifying. Schwartz, who is quoted throughout the piece and is used to support many of Reitman’s propositions, is a very knowledgeable person. But for Rolling Stone to not recognize the hyperbole and provocateurism of his language displays a short memory for its own Gonzo, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Though Schwartz has recently become a lightning rod for criticism based on a leaked and highly questionable USAID report, where he asserted that the death toll from the immediate effects of the earthquake had been exaggerated (exaggeration is common to disaster, though often immeasurable or subjective), he is still rightly considered a brilliant and vital voice. But again, it takes appreciating Schwartz’s idiosyncrasies, as it would Dr. Thompson’s himself, to recognize that when Schwartz uses a word or sentence descriptively, as Dr. Thompson might, the word “swine,” he would more likely be applying it to one such as Jean-Chrisophe Adrian than he would to describe the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. His pre-quake book, Travesty in Haiti, remains, for me, the single most important sanity-sustaining volumes for any international who cares about Haiti, and in what its healing may come to represent about all of us, from countries outside, with blessed comforts and informed compassion.

Still, the greatest obscenity of Ms. Reitman’s reporting comes when she intermingles Schwartz’s primary accusatory swine call upon NGOs as “ignoring what the Haitians are telling us” in their request for “repair” over “replacement” of their homes with Ms. Lee’s notion to “raze” homes and offer temporary shelter to those whose homes would be replaced. The homes Ms. Lee is referring to have been paint-stenciled the letters MTPTC in the color red (not the red “X” Ms. Reitman’s piece reported, presumably as a shorthand to readers more acquainted with relief protocols following Hurricane Katrina). The MTPTC is the government of Haiti’s own ministry, which with the support of UNOPS (an excellent U.N. organization, earlier referenced as the “correct” surveyor at Corail) inspected post-earthquake structures. Those stamped in red letters are homes that have been determined by engineers, trained by UNOPS, to be, for any practical and equitable spend, beyond repair, and Ms. Lee, in genuine service to these residents, properly intends to dissuade them from the dangerously misguided belief that basic repairs will suffice. Recently, J/P HRO’s engineering team pulled 13 bodies, including some babies, out of a home that had been reoccupied following the earthquake, despite the red-stamped warning of the MTPTC. It collapsed, as more will, following a rainfall that seeped the fissures of its earthquake damage. For dissuading highly dangerous residency, Ms. Lee and her organization were slighted. I’m quite sure this misleading integration with Schwartz’s quote was neither the intention nor context of Schwartz’s words, but rather, a well-intentioned journalist’s investment in poetry versus the prose that would demand more than a week of in-country observation.

As of July 31st, 2011, 894 camps remain, representing 594,811 individuals (according to the most recent IOM report). The pace of spontaneous returns that have been facilitated by numerous strategies, and assistance programs, has slowed considerably. These remaining are the poorest of the poor, and truly have no place better to go than to stay in the dense, unsafe and unsanitary displacement sites. They are choosing to stay in the absence of the alternative, facing, in tents and improvised shelters, the ongoing hurricane season, and living in constant risk. Some 121,000 are under immediate threat of eviction, with a newly introduced strain of cholera consistently threatening to re-spike as the rains and subsequent floods increase during the season.

Reitman’s article accuses the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population of having lied about initial infection and mortality rates, when in fact what they had done was to restrict the reporting of either strictly to confirmed cases. This follows international protocol. There is no centralized medical data bank, and few trained or equipped to report from more remote departmental regions. Compounding this handicap, the Haitian National Lab was swamped beyond capacity. For this, Haitian health care officials were defamed. I had spoken personally to both Health Minister Alex Larsen and to the health ministry’s general director, Gabriel Thimotée, and both were adamantly and openly calculating the outbreak as a major emergency for untold numbers. Reitman claims that no cases of cholera have occurred since the 1960s, but her statement is incorrect – no cases of cholera have been reported in Haiti prior to the ’60s. Reporting began at the beginning of the epidemic, and a journalist had stated that there had been no cases since the ’60s or earlier. That’s been misrepresented since that time. There are no documented cases of cholera in Haiti before October 2010.

Of the 894 remaining camps, only around 10 are “planned camps” with Sphere Standard humanitarian aspirations. All the other camps are spontaneous settlements that formed without structure in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Many have no management assistance at all; some are covered minimally by mobile teams. No lighting or sanitation. No drainage, security or clean water. Nothing but raggedy, rape-ridden plots of toxic dirt, in a patchwork quilt of tarps, tents and sticks. Few NGOs are still delivering assistance in camps, and, unfortunately, those few are progressively suspending operations as their funds for humanitarian assistance dry up, despite the strong advocacy efforts of Giovanni Cassani, IOM’s CCCM cluster coordinator for IDP affairs, and a few willing camp managers and service providers. Those who will pay the price are the people left in camps, stuck in the middle of this transition from emergency response to development: They will cease to receive assistance where they are, but they have not yet been offered a better place to go/return to.

Otherwise, highly functioning NGOs like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors without Borders, abandoned many camps, heading for areas that would court media praise and donor dollars. Sophisticated donor money rarely comes without restriction (unrestricted funds). And Reitman touches on this issue in quoting both Dr. Louise Ivers (senior health and policy adviser for Paul Farmer’s exceptional Partners in Health organization), and Schwartz, in relation to “accountability to those we serve” and getting things done (not just showing that the money is spent). But she does not follow up or investigate the point further. Patrons can’t be expected to have the street sense of those in the field. So the overwhelming tendency for those contributing is to identify pet projects to which their emotional embrace is charged by familiarity, rather than real-time needs. And it is a vicious cycle, upon which many in the development set prey. Two notable donor exceptions in Haiti have been Voila and Digicel, both socially responsible companies, but also with the advantage of having in-country presences. Had Reitman focused more on the bureaucracy and systemic dysfunction, and less on sensationalized complaint, a productive balance may have been struck between journalism and advocacy.

Education is a priority for all. Educating donors is a worthy place to begin a new collaboration between NGOs. Not long ago, a major donor came to assess J/P HRO’s camp-based education program. After months of back and forth, and mountains of mandatory paperwork, J/P HRO’s education program scored highest of all grant candidates on the donor’s organizational review. Excited, and on the brink of expanding our school, we were cut off at the last minute, due to a newly discovered wrinkle by the donor’s administrators. We were not eligible for their grant because we had not been an NGO for three years. These types of intractable restrictions have created enormous limitations on many good programs. But there are newly positive signs. The government of Haiti, through a grant by IDA (the World Bank’s financing facility for poor countries), has taken an unusually bold step in actuating a significant relocation and development grant with our organization. I invite this to be scrutinized by media and donors alike. I have great faith in our team, and expect success.

For those of us who have been steadily involved on the ground since January 2010, each day feels like an eternity. And to be sure, the challenges ahead are enormous. But no one being honest can say that an extraordinary recovery is not visible. There is still much rubble to be removed, and truly a gargantuan emergency of needs: housing, jobs, education, medical and psychosocial health options yet to be discovered. Roads and power grids to be established or repaired. But cities hit hardest – Port-au-Prince, Léogâne, Carrefour, Jacmel – both in terms of material devastation and the human spirit, bear absolutely no resemblance to post-quake January 12th, 2010. And if there is an immoral message in Reitman’s piece, it is anything that will discourage the hope and practical expectation of recovery.

The government of Haiti poses a challenging paradigm. Haiti is a country with a constitution that bears reactionary principles, drafted in the devastating wake of the Papa Doc and Baby Doc dictatorships. The distribution of power left future presidents with almost total deference to parliament and private interest. In the aftermath of the earthquake, President René Préval and I often worked shoulder to shoulder. I grew to have a great respect and affection for the man. His ability to negotiate the chessboard of Haitian politics was as extraordinary as was his genuine concern for the Haitian people. In fact, had it not been for the earthquake, he would likely have left office not only as the first two-time democratically elected president, nor as one of only five presidents of Haiti since 1804 to have left office alive, but with the most successful legacy of development and economic growth of any president in Haiti’s history. Instead, this very human and internal man – with little formal power, facing his own suspicions, and those of him, and subject to the whims of money flows not under his control – found himself unable to connect with the Haitian people or re-instill confidence of any measure.

By January 2011, anti-climactic though it was, the return of Baby Doc Duvalier to Haiti would inspire interlopers to circle wagons and attempt to set the stage for a, perhaps, more significant distraction. As elections, flawed though they were, moved forward, the self-celebratory wing of the American “left” – think tanks – along with notable expatriate journalists and intellectuals supported by celebrities who endorse their academic mentor’s every call energetically and militantly, all grouped to proactively support the inflammatory return of deposed former president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Note: In Ms. Reitman’s article, passing her own inspection and that of her meticulous fact checker, this central figure of Haiti’s recent past, and current history, was misnamed Jean-Paul Aristide. [Page 70, third column.] WTF??? Really!? WTF???

Meanwhile, Haitians themselves would come to choose a new president: Michel Joseph Martelly. The cumulative cynicism of Reitman’s article dismisses Martelly as a right-wing militarist in the pocket of the private sector and the United States government. It is an assertion entrenched in the lust for endless struggle and the imposition of American norms with no practical regard for a Haitian context. One of Martelly’s first acts as president was to assure a five-cent tax on any calls made to Haiti from outside the country – the entirety of its benefit targeted to place all school-age children in free schooling within two years. Though the economics of this policy may be fairly debated, in that callers may newly self-restrict putting a potential impact on local telecoms, it can hardly be viewed as the act of a “right-winger.” And his call for a new Haitian military should be understood in the balance of a country currently under effective security occupation by the foreign faces, helmets, weapons and APCs of United Nations peacekeepers. (Despite the exceptional work by many of these peacekeepers and their leadership, there are always those who exploit power.)

This dismissal is a slap in the face to Haitians who brought Martelly to the presidency, numbering far more than just those who had access to the polls. But it was also a slap in the face to the United States government’s efforts and successes. When the secretary of state’s counselor and chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, is marginalized as having no “development experience” while playing such an integral role in the legitimacy of Haitian enfranchisement, one must ask: Is the beginning of “development” not in the enablement of a government by the people? Is this their democracy? Or does it belong to its non-Haitian critics? Across Haiti a great thing had happened: The people got the president they wanted. This was in no small way without the exceptional support of Mills, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten, and then-MINUSTAH Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of Mission Edmond Mulet, and his deputies Nigel Fisher and Kevin Kennedy.

So here we are, in September 2011, standing by as the democratically elected president of Haiti and his people suffer the sabotage techniques of members of a parliament that have blocked from them, the installment of two prime ministers in succession (a third, Garry Conille, awaits Senate confirmation), thereby stalling the selection and rebuilding of the very ministers and ministries through which all redevelopment projects should rightly be administrated. Many of these rogue members of parliament (principally representatives of the former president’s Inite party) with corruption scandals knocking on their own doors are glued together by the threat tactics of a former Fanmi Lavalas party president, whose untimely return was principally facilitated and encouraged by forces outside of Haiti. They are demagogues, whose ideological aims indulge romantic reparations over tangible repair, and so vilify the families of the bourgeoisie that the human construct of progress has been reduced to a protectionist pissing contest, where fair-minded and inventive people, open to truth and reconciliation, may otherwise be coming to compromise for the greater good – distribution of land, manufacturing, import, export, agriculture and a potential boon for green technologies, from which all could share the benefit of the prize. Haiti.

Where to begin? In the areas of operation where J/P HRO have ongoing programs, I am known to the population not as a film actor, not as a warm and fuzzy humanitarian, but as a blan (that foreign guy who’s the boss of the organization working with them in their camps and their neighborhoods). I am also known, to those I am known, as a potential employer. As many as 100 people in the course of any given day will approach or call out to me, “Hey, blan!” What follows is almost never a request for money, for a handout, as would be otherwise typical in a developing country. In Haiti, what is wanted is a job.

When Reitman concludes arbitrarily that the plans of development funneled through co-chair President Clinton and the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) and former and sitting prime minister and IHRC co-chair Jean Max Bellerive’s Action Plan for National Recovery and Development are doomed, “Haitians . . . know from bitter experience that the business-friendly model of development, currently being touted as their salvation, has repeatedly failed them.” My question is, which Haitians is she referring to? Those I encounter each day are part of the population that averaged one or two dollars a day in wages before the earthquake swallowed even that. There is an initial focus on hotels and the apparel industry (see the impact of the apparel industry in Indonesia, where percentages of those below the poverty line dropped from 60 percent to 20 percent, and in Vietnam, from 64 percent to 13 percent in a single decade), and a minimum wage now set at $5 per day, the development of a northern industrial park (not to be confused with the earlier mentioned industrial park plans hoped for at Corail) projecting 20,000 jobs, training and upward mobility as the baby steps of investment, into a more holistic plan encouraging decentralization, robust agricultural expansion and new oversights on labor regulation, and freedom of labor organization.

I ask Ms. Reitman: Which Haitians are, to date, so invested in the “bitter” experience of the past? When Ms. Reitman focuses through a lens of luxury leftism, through quotations discrediting current strategies and staffs of President Clinton, or the development experience of Cheryl Mills (two of the most proactive forces in Haiti’s, perhaps, best chance), what becomes obscured is that the billions of dollars currently stuck in bottleneck would likely have never existed without their most significant advocacy. (The same can be said for the emergency relief donations made to the American Red Cross, a monolithic but still very necessary institution.) Recently, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, Haiti country director for Oxfam, Great Britain, “voluntarily” stepped down from his post, following allegations not of his own misconduct but of staff misconduct under his charge. It is unclear whether he had knowledge of the misconduct in this situation, but from the outside Hauwermeiren was a rare beast indeed. Rare, in that few country directors in Haiti brought as much ethically philosophical leadership skill sets and experience to the table of relief, despite working for a large bureaucratic organization. It is a loss, I’m quite sure, due largely to Oxfam’s recognition of the current state of intolerant scrutiny by a biased and uninformed media covering, and largely NOT covering, Haiti. And, fairly, to Oxfam’s generally high standards of internal investigation and scrutiny. Clinton and Mills are two of the sharpest knives in Haiti’s kitchen drawer of international support, and the only thing more “bitter” than the “past” for Haitians would be to be beckoned for the cooking of this feast of reconstruction, only to find those two essential knives stolen or dulled by a reckless media, as I’m sure was the case for one of the best country directors in Haiti, Roland Hauwermeiren.

Suspicion and cynicism toward U.S. policy in Haiti have shameful historic validity, but it is a new day. It is time for the Haitian people and their new president to have their voices heard and their needs met. So much white noise of corruption, both real and imagined, so much suspicion, and conspiracy. One of the best and most passionate minds on the American assistance to Haiti, President Clinton, who is also the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, is, due to all this white noise, an asset to the new Haitian president, and yet, for them to walk together is to walk on eggshells simply to avoid the stigma of American interventionism. Clinton was right. Haiti can recover, and more quickly than one would ever imagine. But this will take an intrepid juggling of patience and decisiveness, coordination and collaboration. There will, in the best of circumstances, be stumbles and bumbles. The fucking situation’s a mess. But as long as we understand that some additional fish must be provided if we are to assist in improving fishing skills, and if we continue to have faith in human beings to make incredible things happen, and that Haitians themselves, as I and so many others in the field assert, are on the highest rung of that potential, acting now can be the difference between going the distance and further disaster.

But in all of this, I am reminded of Philip Roth’s description of the Clinton White House while under the partisan attack during a personal scandal gone public. Roth imagined the artist Cristo wrapping the White House in fabric, a scrawl of graffiti across it stating, “A HUMAN BEING LIVES HERE.” Well, 9 million human beings live in Haiti. They need our support. Rolling Stone readers and Rolling Stone magazine, they need your support and dollars. Donations to underfunded organizations that I can unflinchingly recommend can be made to: J/P HRO, PIH, CHF, UNOPS, IsraAID, Architecture for Humanity, IOM, IMC, PRODEV and Project Medishare. But even more importantly, governance is the key. For all the children of Haiti, we must call upon maverick and socially responsible businesses to walk hand in hand with the people’s chosen president, Michel Martelly, now. And as for Jean PAUL Aristide? Who is that?

The editors reply:

We greatly respect the work Sean Penn is doing in Haiti, and the daunting scale of the task facing all those engaged in the effort to rebuild the country. His accusations of distortions and inaccuracies in our article, however, are misplaced. The writer, Janet Reitman, first reported from Haiti in 1994. Her story on the shortcomings of the current reconstruction efforts were based on nine months of intensive reporting and research, including on-the-ground visits to Haiti, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C. Penn’s own experiences, as reported in the piece, accurately reflect what he told both Reitman and our factchecker.

It is a well-established journalistic practice to grant anonymity to informed sources who are in a position to suffer retribution for speaking out against those in positions of power. Penn’s “near empirical certainty” about the identity of one of our sources is completely unfounded. In addition, every anonymous quote used in the story was echoed by multiple sources with first-hand knowledge of the effort to rebuild Haiti.

Penn is correct in noting that we got Jean Bertrand Aristide’s middle name wrong in the third of three references we made to him in the piece. We regret the error, and have corrected it in the online version of the story.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Le RNDDH se prononce contre la mise à l’écart de la PNH dans la sécurité rapprochée des hauts dignitaires de l’Etat au profit d’individus de provenanc

Le RNDDH se prononce contre la mise à l’écart de la PNH dans la sécurité rapprochée des hauts dignitaires de l’Etat au profit d’individus de provenance et d’appartenance inconnues

L’organisme des droits humains met également en garde contre des réintégrations au sein de la PNH en dehors des normes en vigueur

Publié le jeudi 15 septembre 2011

(Read the original article here)

Le directeur exécutif du Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), M. Pierre Espérance, dénonce la présence d’individus lourdement armés assurant la sécurité rapprochée de hauts dignitaires de l’Etat et qui ne font pas partie de l’unique force publique reconnue, en l’occurrence la Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH).

Dans une interview accordée mercredi à Radio Kiskeya, le responsable de l’organisme des droits humains se dit préoccupé par une telle anomalie. Il rappelle la situation qui avait prévalu sous Aristide (2001-2004) quand la police avait été politisée et des corps paramilitaires constitués. Il relève que le comble avait alors été atteint quand le Président Aristide avait fait appel à une firme internationale de sécurité, au mépris de la force publique nationale devant remplir une telle fonction.

« C’est à l’intérieur de la PNH que doit être constituée une unité chargée de la sécurité rapprochée des hauts dignitaires », insiste M. Espérance. Il justifie sa position par le fait que, tout en créant des frustrations au sein de la PNH, la présence d’individus armés plonge dans l’embarras l’Inspection générale de la police qui ne peut en aucune manière sanctionner les éventuelles infractions commises par ces derniers.

En ce qui concerne la sécurité présidentielle, le responsable du RNDDH déclare ne voir aucun inconvénient au fait que puissent s’en occuper les trois unités spécialisées USGPN, USP et CAT Team du Palais National (siège de la Présidence).

« Tout devrait être entrepris afin de ne pas affaiblir la principale force publique nationale », insiste M. Espérance. Il met l’accent sur la nécessité de renforcer les efforts déployés depuis 2006 en vue de la professionnalisation de l’institution policière.

Le directeur exécutif du RNDDH a enfin souhaité que les lois régissant le processus de réintégration au sein de la PNH soient strictement respectées, en référence à des informations selon lesquelles des démarches en ce sens seraient en cours en faveur de plusieurs ex-policiers proches des autorités issues des dernières élections. [jmd/Radio Kiskeya]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

CBC's The Current on the UN in Haiti

My interview this morning about the United Nations presence in Haiti on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti can be heard here. MINUSTAH's Nigel Fisher speaks directly following.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Garry Conille, nouveau Premier ministre désigné d’Haïti

Garry Conille, nouveau Premier ministre désigné d’Haïti

Après plusieurs jours de valse-hésitation, le Président Michel Martelly a finalement choisi lundi soir, comme éventuel successeur de Jean-Max Bellerive, le jeune médecin et fonctionnaire des Nations Unies dont le dossier de candidature sera bientôt soumis aux deux Chambres du Parlement

Publié le lundi 5 septembre 2011

(Read the original article here)

Le Président Michel Martelly a officiellement désigné lundi soir le Dr Garry Conille, un fonctionnaire onusien de 45 ans, pour briguer le poste de Premier ministre, en vue de combler le vide gouvernemental auquel est confronté le pays depuis près de quatre mois.

"Par application de l’article 137 de la constitution, je vous informe que j’ai fait choix du docteur Garry Conille comme Premier ministre", écrit le chef de l’Etat dans la lettre de nomination envoyée aux présidents du Sénat, Rodolphe Joazile, et de la Chambre des Députés, Sorel Jacinthe.

Pour avoir le droit d’accéder à la Primature et de former son gouvernement, le nouveau prétendant devra passer avec succès, au Sénat et à la Chambre basse, l’examen de sa désignation. De même, sa déclaration de politique générale sera soumise à ratification en Chambre séparée.

Fils du Dr Serge Conille, un ancien ministre de Jean-Claude Duvalier, le successeur potentiel du Premier ministre démissionnaire, Jean-Max Bellerive, a été notamment, ces derniers mois, chef de cabinet de l’ancien numéro un américain, Bill Clinton, envoyé spécial du secrétaire général de l’ONU pour Haïti et co-président de la Commission intérimaire pour la reconstruction (CIRH).

Considéré comme proche de la communauté internationale, Garry Conille se trouvait depuis quelques jours à l’étranger afin de régler les formalités administratives liées à son départ du poste de représentant résident du Programme de l’ONU pour le Développement (PNUD) au Niger. Il occupait cette fonction depuis juillet dernier.

M. Conille a été diplômé en médecine à l’université d’Etat d’Haïti avant d’émigrer aux Etats-Unis où il a fait des études en administration.

Depuis sa prise de pouvoir au mois de mai, le Président Martelly en est à son troisième Premier ministre désigné.

Ses deux premiers choix avaient porté sans succès sur l’homme d’affaires Daniel-Gérard Rouzier et le juriste Bernard Gousse, tous deux rejetés, l’ un par les Députés, en juin, et l’autre par les Sénateurs, début août.

Au Parlement où l’ancienne plateforme présidentielle INITE et ses alliés détiennent une majorité relative, la position des principales forces politiques sur la candidature de Garry Conille n’était pas encore connue. spp/Radio Kiskeya

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The U.N. in Haiti: Time to Adapt or Time to Go

The U.N. in Haiti: Time to Adapt or Time to Go

Sep 1 , 2011

By Michael Deibert


(Read the original article here)

In the summer of 2009, visiting Haiti for the first time after an absence of three years, I found the country in better shape than at any time since I started visiting there in 1997.

Three years after the inauguration of René Préval as Haiti’s president (after the two-year tenure of an unelected interim government), the population of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, again felt safe enough to patronize downtown bars and kerosene-lit roadside stands late into the evening, where once armed gangs controlled entire neighborhoods. Billboards that once praised the infallibility of a succession of maximum leaders instead carried messages about the importance of respect between the population and the police, or decrying discrimination against the disabled.

A police-reform program was in its third year, providing the country with a level of professional law enforcement not often seen in a place where political patronage, not expertise, swelled the ranks of security forces with party loyalists. Investment was beginning to pick up and, by the end of the year, Haiti’s delicious signature rum, Barbancourt, had even won the bronze and silver medals at the International Wine and Spirit Competition.

Presiding over all this was the (at the time) 9,000-member United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH. When I sat that summer in the office of the head of the mission, veteran Tunisian diplomat Hédi Annabi, he seemed to be justified in his pride at the country’s progress, telling me that “the level of respect for basic freedoms, such as freedom of the press, is at a historically remarkable level.”

Of course, all of this changed at 4:53 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010, when the country was struck by an apocalyptic earthquake that leveled much of the capital and surrounding towns and killed an estimated 200,000 people. Annabi, his deputy and nearly 100 other MINUSTAH personnel died as the structures they were in collapsed on them, and the peacekeeping mission itself became one of the many strata of Haitian society that needed rescuing.

A year and a half after the quake, with a new president (popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly) and a contentious parliament locked in a bitter struggle for power, MINUSTAH, having picked itself up and dusted itself off, remains in Haiti, its force now increased to 12,000 under the leadership of Chile’s former minister of foreign affairs, Mariano Fernández.

Though an estimated 634,000 survivors of the quake still live in makeshift settlements in and around the capital, and Haiti remains without a government (two of Martelly’s nominees for prime minister have been rejected), it is my conclusion after a visit to Haiti last month that it is now time, after seven years in the country, for MINUSTAH to either significantly refocus its mission or close its operation in Haiti and leave the business of governing and reconstruction to the Haitians themselves.

* * *

Haitians have a keen sense of their own history as the site of the world’s first successful slave revolt (in 1804) and the second independent republic in the Americas (after the United States), a nation that has produced guerrilla leaders of the magnitude of Charlemagne Péralte and Benoît Batravill when faced with a two-decade U.S. occupation of the country in the early 20th century.

If you ask the average Haitian on the street what the purpose of MINUSTAH in Haiti is now, as I did in a vast tent encampment of displaced earthquake survivors in front of Haiti’s still-collapsed National Palace, they will answer you succinctly: MINUSTAH is in Haiti to protect the interests of the foreigners.

True or not, such a perspective has become conventional wisdom in Haiti, and it was a refrain that I heard time and again as I traveled this country that, though still stricken, is by no means beaten or defeated.

At this point, for the first time since I have been observing the mission, the sentiment on the street among a majority of Haitians appears to be a desire to see MINUSTAH in its current incarnation gone from Haiti.

For several reasons, MINUSTAH’s reputation with the Haitian people has reached its lowest level since it arrived in 2004.

A cholera epidemic that has killed more than 5,800 people since October has been linked convincingly to the mission. A June report by a group of epidemiologists and physicians in the journal of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that evidence “strongly suggests” that the cholera strain had been brought to Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers and spread through a faulty waste disposal system along the Artibonite River, a conclusion supported by other studies.

Rightly or wrongly, the perception of MINUSTAH’s response to the crisis within Haiti itself has been of the mission stonewalling and obfuscating. This perception was reinforced in August when some residents of the country’s Plateau Central region accused the mission of dumping raw sewage near the Guayamouc River there, something MINUSTAH has denied.

In a far cry from the largely congenial relations I saw between U.N. peacekeepers and the local population in 2009, something of a bunker mentality has also appeared to have developed. On several instances—particularly at the intersection of the busy Route de Delmas and the road that eventually leads to the country’s international airport—I witnessed peacekeepers patrolling with their mounted machine guns pointed down at crowds of people who appeared to pose no threat at all and were merely going about the business of trying to secure the basic necessities of survival on any given day.

Staying in a hotel only feet away from a tent encampment where thousands of Haitians sat in darkness throughout long evenings of pounding rain, an American filmmaker and I watched as a group of rather surly, well-fed men identifying themselves as police advisers with MINUSTAH literally drank themselves into oblivion over the course of two days. This took place under the gaze of local Haitian staff and other guests. Speaking to others in the capital, I discovered that such behavior is evidently not an uncommon occurrence, and it creates the unfortunate perception of a fraternity party amid an apocalypse, and makes the mission appear very removed from the daily struggles of the Haitians it is ostensibly there to protect.

* * *

By any estimation, MINUSTAH has done many things for Haiti during its years in the country. During a 2004-06 campaign of violence in the capital by various armed groups dubbed Operation Baghdad, a ghastly wave of kidnapping, arson and murder affected all levels of society, and at one point an average of one police officer was being killed every five days. The security forces of the interim government then in power often responded to this by broadly targeting the impoverished male population of the capital’s slums with extrajudicial executions. In tandem with Haiti’s police after Préval’s 2006 inauguration, MINUSTAH largely brought this period to an end, something for which Haitians should be grateful to it.

Likewise, when elements linked to political actors used the population’s legitimate anger over the rise of food prices as a cover for violent attacks against government installations and figures in 2008, it was likely only the presence of MINUSTAH that saved Préval from being toppled by a coup organized by these same elements.

MINUSTAH has built roads and worked hard to create a space where nonviolent political debate can take place. Haiti, however, ultimately needs to be governed and administered by Haitians, not as some eternal international protectorate. Having stood with Haitians through some of their worst days, the United Nations is now being seen more and more as an occupying force despite the fact that it has been in Haiti at the invitation of two democratically elected heads of state for five of its seven years there.

If Haiti is ever to change, it is Haitians who are going to have to change it, and MINUSTAH must now give them the space in which to do so. Haiti’s security force—the Police Nationale d’Haiti—has grown by leaps and bounds in terms of professionalism and accountability under the leadership of Mario Andresol, and now must be entrusted with more responsibility in terms of safeguarding the country’s fragile democratic gains.

Simultaneously, with so much hostility building up toward the mission in the country’s agricultural areas and elsewhere due to the cholera epidemic, the mission might do well to engage with Haitian peasant organizations in an effort to help revitalize the country’s ailing rural economy. Though peasant groups such as Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan and the 200,000-member Mouvman Peyizan Nasyonal Kongre Papay (the latter led by veteran peasant leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, winner of the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmentalists) have been largely hostile to MINUSTAH’s presence, a détente between the groups could help foster the transition from strict peacekeeping to development, which is needed if the mission is to succeed.

Neither the United Nations, the United States nor any other foreign body can fix all of Haiti’s ills. Ultimately, the Haitians have to do it for themselves. Among Haiti’s political class, Haitians have to stop killing one another, Haitians have to stop being corrupt, Haitians have to stop paying and accepting bribes, and politics must no longer be viewed as a blood sport of winner take all where one side celebrates total victory and one side weeps in abject defeat and marginalization.

This has been the tradition of Haitian politics for more than 200 years, but it has not been the tradition of the majority of Haitians who have historically been excluded from the political process, and whose generosity, industry and fundamental decency impress all those who meet them.

The Haitian people understand this better than anyone else. In its current incarnation in Haiti, the United Nations mission has become an obstacle, rather than an asset, to the country taking ownership of the issues that confront it.

It is time for the mission to refocus on new tasks, or to leave while the Haitians can still see it off as a friend.