The murder of Jovenal Moise and the unfortunate history of Haiti
The murder of its president in his own home is another chapter in Haiti’s miserable history, says RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL, who spent three years living in this extraordinarily tragic nation.
Within minutes of announcing the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise last week, two things became clear about the murder: It was brutal, and the world would find it shocking but not surprising.
The grotesque violence of the incident – a head of state gunned down in his own home – would surely grab the world’s attention, though Haiti hardly ever does, after multiple coups, the earthquake disaster of 2010 and the worst cholera epidemic in recent history. But what does the assassination of a country that should, as the world’s first black republic, be an inspiration in the Black Lives Matter era really say?
By right, Haiti should be a shining model for change. It is the second country after the United States to shake off the colonial yoke, and the only state in history established by a successful slave revolt.
But the sad description permanently attached to Haiti is that of the poorest country in the Americas. The pandemic added another: the only country in the Western Hemisphere that has not vaccinated a single person against Covid-19. As Graham Greene said in The Comedians, his 1966 novel about Haiti and its tragic state of abject need and utter oppression: “Impossible to go into that night.
Haitians themselves sum up their hopes and fears in a dark Creole proverb: Ti Mari p ap monte, ti Mari p ap desann. It literally means little Mari won’t go up, little Mari won’t go down, but the subtext is deeper than the stubbornness of a little girl playing. What Haitians are really saying is that nothing will happen, nothing will change. Everything will always remain the same.
It is a fatalistic foreshadowing of everything that is happening in Haiti and in it, even the assassination of a president. Haiti has been here before. The last time he violently got rid of a head of state was in 1915, when Vilbrun Guillaume Sam’s brief four-month presidency ended ignominiously with his beating in the French Embassy in Port-au-Prince. The body was taken to the streets of the Haitian capital; weeks of chaos precipitated US military intervention and an unpopular occupation that lasted nearly 20 years.
Moise’s murder is unlikely to trigger a similar response from the United States, which ends another failed 20-year nation-building attempt in Afghanistan, thousands of miles from Haiti. . That said, the details that emerge about the assassination are almost as gruesome as they were in 1915.
Heavily armed men – 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans – shot the president at least a dozen times, according to the country’s police chief Charles Leon. He was found “lying on his back, with blue pants, a white shirt stained with blood, his mouth open, his left eye punctured”, declared Carl Henry Destin, magistrate of Pétion-Ville, the upscale district of the heights. . from Port-au-Prince, where Moise lived among the richest in Haiti in a well-kept villa.
Moise’s wife was also shot and airlifted to Miami hospital. She later described the attack as being so quick that her husband was unable to “say a single word”. One of Moses’ children survived by hiding in a bedroom.
Pétion-Ville has pretty French-style cafes, elegant old restaurants and shiny new ones, as well as well-stocked supermarkets and quirky boutiques.
The view from parts of Pétion-Ville is deceptively charming – rows of purple, pink, lime and cream houses climb up the mountains of Port-au-Prince.
But the colorful facades hide a slum, Jalousie, a district in which 45,000 people live without water, electricity or sewers.
Their brightly colored homes are the result of a $ 1.4 million civic project by Moise’s predecessor, President Michel Martelly, aimed at beautifying one of Haiti’s largest slums rather than bringing a real change.
This has always been the case in Haiti, where an estimated 80% of the population lives in extreme poverty while a wealthy elite of a few thousand families admire the painting’s approach to slum management and controls the levers of power. Moise, Martelly’s protégé and former banana exporter, allegedly tried to attack well-established interests, a reckless attempt without political capital.
The visceral nature and daring of the attack on its president has triggered deep political uncertainty in Haiti.
Although unloved and seemingly without mourning – it is notable that there was no massive outpouring of grief – Moise’s death leaves Haiti in a precarious situation. He currently has no head of state, no functioning legislature, an unelected interim prime minister who has declared a seat “which is essentially martial law, and a constitutional legal vacuum following the death of the coronavirus in June of the head of its supreme court.
To complicate matters further, there are two interim prime ministers. The incumbent, Claude Joseph, says he is responsible and refuses to step aside for Ariel Henry, the neurosurgeon appointed Prime Minister by Moise two days before his death.
Henry had to be sworn in, but as this did not happen, the United States and the United Nations supported Joseph. Even so, influential American voices on Haiti within Biden’s Democratic Party recognize the bizarre nature of the situation.
Congressman Andy Levin, co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was “completely unprecedented. You find yourself in a situation where there is no government administration considered legitimate ”.
The United States and the UN have their own reasons for supporting the outgoing interim prime minister. To prevent Haiti from sinking into anarchy, or as the Spanish daily El Pais puts it, from becoming “the Somalia of the Americas”. This would cause Haitians to flee en masse wherever they could, as they have done countless times before of natural disasters and political instability.
They could go to the Dominican Republic, (DR) which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti,
but would be repulsed by force. Haiti and the DR have a long and difficult relationship.
Or, as before, Haitians could cram into rickety boats bound for the United States, compounding the problems of Joe Biden’s administration as it tries to deter hundreds of thousands of migrants from America. central.
As has happened countless times during Haiti’s 217 years of independence, the whole world is trying to stay the course on a burning mess, hoping against hope that its volatility will be contained in the half-island.
After gaining independence in 1804 through an extraordinarily courageous slave revolution that spanned over a decade, the slave-owning United States isolated it and ignored it. The United States officially recognized Haiti as a sovereign nation in 1862.
There has been no international rush on the outrageous demand of the former French colonial master for monetary compensation for “lost” Haitian slaves as well as for Haiti’s profitable sugar and coffee plantations. Haiti accepted, in exchange for recognition of its independence by France.
Its gargantuan debt – the modern equivalent of $ 21 billion – was only paid off about 70 years ago, but the economic burden is believed to have severely depleted the ancient “Pearl of the West Indies”, leaving it without. resources and subjected to an endless cycle of bad governance, incompetence and the resulting hopelessness.
Biden himself, in a previous avatar as chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, admitted in a TV interview in 1994 that it is “a horrible thing to say (but) if Haiti sinks quietly. in the Caribbean or was 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter much in terms of our interest ”.
What matters is a power vacuum leading to political and societal unrest of the kind that triggers a mass migration crisis and affects the United States.
In the end, the tragedy of Haiti and God knows there are too many – the scourge of its politics, poverty, cholera, coronavirus – perhaps it is the fact that it is still considered a problem.
It is telling that even those who love Haiti lament it as an unlucky place. The title of the memoirs of Haiti by American writer Herbert Gold, his second home, says it all: “Best Nightmare on Earth”.
Rashmee Roshan Lall, PhD, writes on international affairs and has lived in Haiti for three years. She blogs at www.rashmee.com and is on Twitter @rashmeerl