02/07/11-by L.S. Carbonell
While most of the world is encouraged by the success of anti-government protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and the reforms being instituted in Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan with just minor demonstrations, protests in Haiti are unnecessary and useless.
Several hundred protesters gathered in Port-au-Prince Monday to demand that President Rene Preval leave office immediately, before the run-off of the presidential vote. The site they chose for their protest was adjacent to a tent city which houses thousands of quake survivors. When the police, backed by United Nations peacekeepers, fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, canisters landed among the women and children in the tents, sending them fleeing the stinging, sickening smoke. The protesters were trying to reach the quake-ravaged Presidential Palace where Preval resides.
The first round in the presidential and legislative elections was marred by weeks of fraud allegations and protests. The second round of voting takes place on March 20. Preval’s term ended today and the protesters want an interim caretaker government appointed until the elections are resolves. The Haitian Parliament chose to ask Preval to remain until the new president is elected and a single transition can be made.
The United Nations has approved the plan to retain Preval, said their top official in Haiti, Edmond Mulet..Le Nouvelliste newspaper quoted Mulet as saying “Rene Preval can and should stay in office…” in part because he was prevented from being inaugurated on February 7, 2006, and was not actually installed in the office until May 14.
At this time, the two frontrunners in the presidential race are former First Lady Mirlande Manigat and popular musician Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly. The Organization of American States, reviewing the election results, certified these frontrunners after the original tally showed Preval protégé Jude Celestin in the runoff with Manigat. These results were almost overshadowed by reports that former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was planning to return from exile, just as former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier did in January.
Aristide was ousted in a coup in 2004, and is not under immediate threat of arrest as Duvalier was. However, his party has been outlawed and he stirs such strong passions that his presence could possibly make the situation in Haiti even more unstable than it already is.
Haiti’s recovery from last year’s earthquake, which leveled the capital and officially killed over 100,000 people, has been complicated by a grossly ineffective government which was incapable of directing the billions of dollars of donated aid where it was needed and by widespread corruption. Cholera took thousands of lives this summer, spreading from outlying regions into the heart of Port-au-Prince’s tent cities. There is still a critical shortage of hospitals and medical staff, food and clothing, proper shelter and functioning infrastructure. A new government may be as unable to rebuild as the existing one has been. Haiti has long been the world’s poorest country.
Other countries, in the same situation, might be willing to come under a short-term United Nations protectorate authority while they are stablized, but Haiti has a unique history. It was the second Western Hemisphere colony to declare its independence from a European country in 1804 and became the first modern black-led country in the world (all of Africa was considered colonies of various European countries at that time.) The people who founded Haiti were African slaves brought to the Caribbean by the French to work plantations on the island they shared with Spain.
The economic difference between Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the eastern side of Hispaniola is extreme. It has little in the way of natural resources, scattered mineral deposits with no large scale mining operations. The land was deforested decades ago and the elements have robbed the soil of its ability to produce exportable agriculture. Up to 40% of the nation’s budget comes from foreign aid. One percent of the population holds over 50% of its wealth and corruption has been rampant for generations. The manner in which Jean-Claude Duvalier was welcomed home indicates a nation so tired of its conditions that they would choose to forget the horrors of a repressive dictatorship for a little stability.
There will be no easy solutions for Haiti, but street protests and political battles will not serve to ease anyone’s suffering.