A Very Good Day for Haiti

By Robert Maguire, Focus On Haiti Initiative, 21 November 2016.

If ever a country and its people needed a good day, it was Haiti and the Haitian people.  Over the past two months, they have been battered by a monstrous hurricane and, more recently, by widespread flooding and mudslides.  Over the past year, they have been subject to fraudulent elections and, when the country’s political, social, civic and economic leaders sought to rectify them, resistance and pressure to accept the election results status quo from external forces who ironically often present themselves as Haiti’s ‘friends.’  And, in the five years prior to those denigrating elections, the country and its people were subject to a government more known for organizing carnivals, engaging enthusiastically in debt-inducing political patronage and shady dealings, and disrespecting democratic process and practice than for leading the country to a stronger, more prosperous future.

It is through this lens that Sunday, November 20, 2016 was a very good day for Haiti.  On that day, the bruised country held an election and determined citizens went to polling places around the country in what has been described by the head of the elections council as “a successful day… that unfolded in calm, serenity… and, in general… without violence.” Voters went to cast ballots for president, and in certain constituencies, for senators and lower chamber deputies engaged in a run-off election.  Should no single candidate for the presidency receive more than 50% of Sunday’s votes, a presidential run-off between the two top vote getters is scheduled for January 29, 2017.

In view of the tepid and rather late support of Sunday’s reformed balloting by international actors (including the U.S.), Haitians who have chaffed for years over the dominant role outsiders have played in their political process must have a sense of vindication over Sunday’s ‘calm, serene’ outcome.  Joining the interim government and its Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in relishing this absolution is the multitude of civil society, church, and business leaders who supported the push toward Haitian assertion of ‘ownership’ of its presidential election.  Without doubt, Haitian ownership contributed significantly in the positive outcome on November 20th. Haitians all along the country’s socio-economic spectrum now had something to prove with this election.  With determination and dignity they demonstrated that they can lead their own political process, and conduct – and pay for – their own elections.  They must now be accorded all due respect for this important step in strengthening Haiti’s democratic process.  After all, it must be asked, what truly democratic country does not ‘own’ its own elections?

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Building Haiti Back Better, V.2

By Robert Maguire, Focus On Haiti Initiative, 18 October 2016.

As the painfully slow process of cataloguing the destruction wrought in early October by Hurricane Matthew and assisting its survivors continues, my in-box fills with emails from various organizations soliciting donations for hurricane relief.  I am struck that the messages are usually from the same non-Haitian organizations I heard from following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

Immediately after the storm, however, an email of a different sort arrived: from the Embassy of Haiti in Washington, DC.  In it, Haiti’s Ambassador does not solicit funds.  Rather, he outlines the known impact of the storm and acknowledges that there will be an urgent feeling among Haiti’s friends “to mobilize and initiate [relief] efforts.”  The ambassador, however, cautions against that instinct, advising that it is more “beneficial” to engage in “a coordinated and strategic relief effort to avoid mistakes from the past.”

Implying that salient among those mistakes was ignoring Haitians and their institutions to support almost exclusively what a former World Bank President once referred to in Haiti as the cacophony of international NGO “flag-draped, feel-good projects,” the ambassador stated that he “strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organizations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities.”  He advised, in particular, that “(y)ou should know that local municipalities can also be good partners.” In closing his message, he underscored that “(i)t is imperative that we take caution when offering assistance not to contribute to the destruction of local institutions by bypassing or undermining them.”

Strong language, eh?  Those prior missteps must have left deep scars from the perspective of the government (and citizens) represented by Haiti’s Ambassador in Washington, DC.   The cacophony of 2010 post-quake efforts (and funds spent on them) brought little lasting change to ordinary Haitians whose lives had been turned upside down by the natural disaster.  And as seen in early October, Haiti and its people were just as vulnerable to a natural disaster from the sky as they were almost seven years earlier to one from under the ground. Continue reading

Let the voices of the Haitian people be heard

By Sir Ronald Sanders, originally posted by Caribbean News Now.

“International interests in Haiti, in addition to checking off an ‘elections done’ box, are largely defined by controlling emigration, maintaining stability, and managing poverty. The latter is approached either through the creation of low wage factory jobs or by channelling toward Haiti vast sums of international aid most of which are captured by national or international elites, with next to nothing ‘trickling down’ to those who really need it. As a result, the root causes of poverty are not being addressed, and inequality continues to plague Haiti’s citizens as lives once full of promise are wasted.”

That’s the observation of long-time analyst of Haitian affairs, Dr Robert Maguire, Professor of International Development Studies at George Washington University in the United States.

This statement by a respected and neutral US academic is important amid the dissonance that has emerged in the last few weeks from certain governments concerning the holding of presidential and other elections in Haiti. Of special significance is Professor Maguire’s remark about “checking off an ‘elections done’ box”.

Haiti’s elections process has always been deficient. Shortcomings and fraud have underlined the imperative of reforming the system so that it truly reflects the will of the electorate. Election observer missions, largely sent by countries that have meddled in Haitian affairs, more in their own interest than in Haiti’s, have repeatedly stamped approval on elections with the objective of merely “checking the box”. They have failed to look beyond lines of voters at voting stations on polling day.

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Liberated Haiti: Thirty Years After Duvalier

By Robert Maguire, originally posted by Latin America Goes Global.

February 7, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the ouster of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier as President of Haiti, ending the 29 year Duvalier family dictatorship. When Baby Doc fled the country in 1986 for exile in France, massive street celebrations burst out, calling his departure Haiti’s second independence.   In the weeks that followed, it seemed as if almost everyone wore a tee shirt proclaiming “Haiti Libérée.” Optimism reigned that the misgoverned country would transition in relatively short order from dictatorship to democracy and that life would improve for all, particularly the more than 75 percent of the country’s population surviving on an average of $2.00 a day or less. Continue reading