What Haitians Want, a Plea for Responsible Leadership

“La patrie est aux lieux ou l’ame est enchainee.” ( Our country is that spot to which our heart is bound)  Voltaire

What do we want? Do we know? And if we know what we want, do we know how to transform those wants into attainable goals? And, if we have goals, how do we reach them?

Before I bore you with unanswered questions, let us backtrack a little and let us define the “who and what”.  The “who” mentioned here is none other than us, all of us, Haitians living in Haiti and abroad; that’s who. Those of us who have stayed home continue to exist in malfunction; I do not accuse, I simply observe.  I see overcrowded slums where the business of choice for many is the life of crime, millions of children with very little hope for a better tomorrow, a middle class in full flight investing all existing resources to get the hell  out of there.  I see piles of garbage adorning the streets of the capital that turn into a river at the first sight of rain.  I see despair in the faces that dare to laugh still.  I see hardworking  parents doing their best to guarantee a better future, they are an endangered species.  I see MINUSTAH soldiers lazing around, earning big bucks for very little accomplished.  I see the few rich hiding behind tall gates too afraid to react, to disconnected to care.

There is yet another “Us”, those who have left and who are abroad.  We are everywhere but mostly in North America, the Caribbean and France.  We work hard and most of us do the utmost to benefit fully from what we find elsewhere…opportunities; we hardly had any of those back home.  The truth is, most Haitians abroad have a tough life, not as tough as the one they left, but tough nonetheless.  Here in the US, the vast majority of Haitians are employed in custodial jobs in hotels, restaurants, airports and hospitals.  They break their backs (literally) to take care of their families both here and in the mother land.  Oh yes! Those precious remittances, without them many back home would have already perished.  It has been reported that the yearly amount sent home by Haitians living abroad is greater than all of the aid Haiti receives in a given year.

The “what”, is what we all hold dear, what we share and what defines us, sustains us and distinguishes us.  We are indeed proud of a glorious past, we hold on to our historical legacy and we do not hesitate to clamor, at the very first sight of provocation, that we are the First Free Black Republic in the World.  Indeed!  History…so far and sometimes so pointless.  We hold on to it because that is all we have; we refer back to it because within it lie our only reasons to be proud.  There is another “what”, what we have become…A broken nation and a devastated ecology, a dysfunctional state unable to perform the most routine of tasks, corrupt governments after corrupt governments all remain oblivious to the obvious chaos: we are a civilization in danger of extinction.  WHAT DO WE WANT?! 

Ask any Haitian, here or there, ask them and they will all tell you the same tale.  We want safe streets and electricity around the clock.  We want schools for our children and we want jobs.  We know what we want, that is easy, all we have to do is look at what we do not have.  People are endowed with unalienable rights no matter their color, creed or culture.  Human beings want pretty much the same thing; the possibility to develop and acquire wealth and the proper environment to grow and prosper.  When for centuries, the means of production and all their benefits have been monopolized by the same group, it ensues a distortion so profound that the very core of society is broken and bent, sometimes beyond repair.

If our goals are basic, how to attain them is quite complicated because it involves shaking and dismantling a system and a way of life.  How do we topple a system when those who benefit from it hold on to the reigns with all their power and might?  Is it an impossible task?  I have hope but we must begin somewhere and we must begin soon.  The earthquake of 2010 taught us one valuable lesson, in the face of tragedy we can come together regardless of social position or lack there of.  Those pieces of concrete did not discriminate on the basis of color, gender or wealth, they struck mercilessly and took hundreds of thousands of our precious lives.

Well, Haiti today is a tragedy, and it commands our unity for a common purpose.  The time to act is now in order for future generations to have better than what we have.  In the history of every people, there are times for struggle and chaos, there are times for building and there are times for prosperity.  We have done and redone struggle and chaos, we have perfected the art of destroying one another; perhaps it is time to think about nation building which is inextricably linked with establishing the rule of law and educating the youth.  Let us then begin with the arduous task of finding responsible leadership that will make space for competence, knowledge and integrity which will lead to effective and efficient policy-making.  I believe it is possible.

Cassandra Honorat

April 30, 2012