Illusions: the only thing shared by Haiti’s “revolutionaries” and precarious elites | Opinion
The first time I went to CitÃ© Soleil, the infamous slum in Port-au-Prince, I had two thoughts. Un: I had to get out of harm’s way when some tough guys tried to approach me and the photographer who was with me. Two: How can people live in such abject poverty?
La CitÃ©, as it was called, was a metaphor for Haiti. It was the poorest area of ââone of the poorest countries in the world. I have seen children rummaging through the garbage, looking for a piece of edible food. They competed with stray dogs and pigs who also searched for food.
As we walked out of the poor area, I became gloomy, unable to believe what I had just seen in a country that I felt had lost its humanity. It was a part of Haiti that I had heard a lot about, but had never seen. The place was disturbing.
It was around 1990. At that time, Haiti was an optimistic place where a nascent democracy was flourishing, albeit imperfect.
When I arrived at the hotel, I shared my experience with a few colleagues. I told them what I saw was shocking, but even more disturbing was that the locals there seemed nonchalant and resigned themselves to this hell. While the place was indeed frightening, I came away convinced that the ability of the Haitian people to absorb abuse was unmatched. I told my colleagues that I did not know of any other place where there would not be more violence with people living in such circumstances.
I had come to believe that Haitians were too passive and accepted iniquity as if it was their birthright. But as the misery continued unabated, young Haitian men became radicalized, like their Arab counterparts in parts of the Middle East.
A country on the brink
This violent transformation has taken hold in the country since the early 2000s and the authorities have done little to stop it. They remained blind there, mistakenly thinking that they had the poor under their control even as violence slowly came out of the seaside slums and made its way up the hill, where the rich live.
As the gangs rose, political factions and members of the private sector cleverly used them as shock soldiers to wreak havoc whenever it suited their needs. These powerful people thought they would control them in perpetuity as they have with every other aspect of the country.
Now the gangs are calling the shots and the country is shaking. Gang leaders like Jimmy âBarbecueâ Cherizier, a former policeman turned bandit, proclaim himself a revolutionary fighting against the injustices I have witnessed in CitÃ© Soleil – which have become even more pervasive and insidious.
While I think Haiti has needed its Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements for years, Barbecue and his cronies aren’t freedom fighters. Rather, they are thugs who terrorize people whose fate is no better than theirs.
Every day we hear about an average Haitian kidnapped for ransom. No one is spared. You are in the wrong neighborhood, you are vulnerable to kidnappings. The lucky ones turn to relatives in the diaspora to find the money they need for their release. If you have no one to help you out, you have to believe in God and pray like your life depends on it, because it does.
Schools have been closed. Hospitals have closed their doors. Banks operate three days a week. Haiti has become a part-time operating country, taking time off and rationing everything from food to gasoline, as supplies are scarce as gangs control the lines of communication and canyons in and out of the country. outside of Port-au-Prince, the capital and the most important city of the country.
Where do we go from here? Nobody knows. Police lack the tools and intelligence to attack gang strongholds. Their attempts to regain control are easily rejected by the better armed gangs.
True speaking of the real ones
The fundamental question for Barbecue and its counterparts is, how can you call yourself revolutionary when you’re just trying to get over it? I have a better description of what you are: two-bit thugs.
Revolutionaries are not terrorists. They believe in an ideology to change the lives of their people for the better. Do you think that is what you are doing here? I doubt. The poor are getting poorer and poorer, and they live in constant fear that you will be wrought. Anyone with a visa, citizenship of another country, or money has left Haiti.
Those who remain are the ones you claim to want to help. So why does the violence continue? Again, it’s thug life. Let me tell you all something that is life-threatening: it inevitably ends in violence and bloodshed.
Over the past decade, I have seen many of the lives of your predecessors come to an end like this. They too had colorful names, like “Grenn sonnen”, or ringing balls. One of the most famous, Amiot Metayer, known as the Cuban, also fell by the sword. Ask some of your sidekicks about it. They will tell you how Cuban knew his destiny in GonaÃ¯ves.
I know your destiny with your maker is imminent. You have taken your violence to new heights. You’ve crossed the rubicon and now you’re cornered. You’ve gone where no one before you dared to go, and you’re about to find out soon enough. I don’t know when, but the cavalry is coming. These guys don’t play.
Wake up wisely and roll up your sleeves
When the coast is clear and the country can breathe, I beg the elite and the government not to resume their usual activities. It didn’t work and if you don’t change things it will be a matter of time before another of these thugs reappears to spread terror among the people.
You need a awareness and to realize that the inhabitants of CitÃ© Soleil and other wretchedly poor neighborhoods are not like that because of manifest fate. It’s by your design. You lied to yourself. No one wants to live that way.
I hope that at this moment you learn how life in exile is not easy, as Tabou Combo reminded us in his song, In Exile. In Miami, you realized you weren’t selling any alibi. Nobody cares about your last name and who you were in Haiti. There are no maids here, no drivers and no security guard on hand.
And, you can’t do without it. Here you are just an average person. Deep down, you are not sure of yourself because you know that if the situation continues you will lose not only your privileges but also your money. Monopolies are not granted to your kind in America. Capitalism reigns here, a matter of “may the best win”.
But I encourage you, the ruling class, to come home soon and make a difference. You have the power to do it. The poor cannot. The diaspora is fed up with having to bail you out, which leaves us few resources to invest here. Those of us who have money to invest face obstacles and a game rigged by the private sector and our corrupt government partners, who gleefully see us losing money.
Let me tell you what’s going on. Right now, the diaspora has found doors open in the Dominican Republic. We are no longer so nostalgic for doing business in Haiti. We’re on your cunt. Next door is a suitable alternative for many of us, and Dominicans know how to do business while you are.
In Haiti, we find ourselves playing chicken. But in this version of the game, the elite class has the most to lose. Gangs will wait no matter what and be the new ones werewolf, or croque-mitaine. The diaspora will invest their money elsewhere. So you better roll up your sleeves and get down to business building the nation. We’ll be there when you are truly ready for help.