Friday, July 20, 2018

What Lies Behind the Unrest in Haiti?

What Lies Behind the Unrest in Haiti?

By Michael Deibert

As soon as Brazil went down in defeat to Belgium in the World Cup earlier this month, the barricades began to appear. In Haiti, a football-loving country whose fans are divided between passionate supporters of Brazil and Argentina, the government of President Jovenel Moïse had just announced an end to subsidies in the price of fuel. Part of the terms of a deal hammered out with the International Monetary Fund earlier this year, the move set prices to skyrocket overnight, with the price of petrol set to increase by 38%. In a country where World Bank figures put more than more than 6 million of Haiti’s nearly 11 million people living on less than US$2.41 per day, the news was too much to bear.

Along with the de rigueur forms of protest - burning tires and barricades made of tree branches, cement blocks and other cast off material - there was very targeted violence, as well. The Delimart, a grocery store along the busy Route de Delmas thoroughfare, was looted and burned. In Pétionville, a once-tony enclave in the hills above the city now ringed with bidonvilles (slums), a mob marched to the glittering Best Western, a favored locale for international diplomats and businesspeople, and shattered its windows and glass facade with hurled stone before moving on to another target. Scores of cars were not stolen, but were set aflame instead, as a kind of smoldering, stygian warning. By Saturday night, the government had reversed itself, indefinitely suspending the fuel hike, and there were calls for Moïse’s Prime Minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, to resign. This past weekend, he did just that.

Less than a year after the end of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known by its acronym MINUSTAH,  after a 13 year presence in the country (which saw, among other distinctions, the unintentional bringing of a cholera epidemic to Haiti by UN troops) and a little over a year since Jovenel Moïse assumed office, Haiti’s political demons, somewhat dormant in recent months, appear animated again. The question is, why now?

Moïse became president as the candidate of the Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK), the political current founded by the man who preceded him in that office, Michel Martelly, a famous crooner of Haiti’s konpa music and better known by his nickname, Sweet Micky (Tèt Kale means “bald head” in Haiti’s poetic Creole language and refers to Martelly’s gleaming pate). Like a number of political currents before them including the Lespwa (Hope) coalition of the late René Préval (whose second term as president spanned 2006 to 2011) and the Fanmi Lavalas party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide (whose 2004 overthrow precipitated MINUSTAH’s deployment), PHTK is a juggernaut of opportunistic political operators less focused on a rigid ideology than on ambition, personal and political. Though both Martelly and Moïse worked mightily to bring foreign investment to Haiti, they have done so in a political atmosphere of rampant cronyism and corruption (a value judgment that includes the country’s bi-cameral parliament and opposition as well as the executive) and lingering questions about how $2 billion of money linked to the Venezuelan Petrocaribe fuel program - overseen by Préval and then Martelly - was spent.

Despite the ostensible return to Haiti of democracy more than a decade ago, life for the average Haitian continues to be a series of grinding endeavors to stay just out of the jaws of destitution. Though it is often loathe to issue a mea culpa, the policies of the international community have often contributed to this despair.

In the early 1980s, a U.S.-Canadian funded program killed most of the country’s pigs due to worries they might be infected with African swine fever, and only haphazardly replaced them. A draconian World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment program of austerity and privatization in the mid 1990s lowered the tariff on imported rice from 50 percent to 3 percent, effectively destroying the ability of Haiti’s domestic rice producers to be competitive. For years, assistance to Haiti’s beleaguered agricultural sector has often been only a fraction of its total foreign aid, leading to an influx of internal migrants to cities around the country, especially the capital, Port-au-Prince, where many of them died in Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Much has been made of the muted response by the Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH), Haiti’s national police force, to the violence. This is doubtless due to at least in part to the prickly relationship between Moïse and PNH chief Michel-Ange Gédéon, whose authority Moïse appeared to undercut with a controversial May decree. Though though many rank and file members of the PNH work diligently for meagre pay under grueling conditions, the moral of the body is constantly undermined by politicians who pay armed actors around the country (referred to as the baz, or base) to commit violence and deliver votes at election time.

Though the use of irregular armed partisans dates back in Haiti at least to the reign of Faustin Soulouque, who ruled from 1847 to 1859, the practice became part of the country’s political DNA during  the 1957-1986 Duvalier family dictatorship (whose milita was the feared Tontons Macoutes) and Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s truncated 2001 to 2004 term (in the shape of quite young gunmen referred to as chimere, after a mythical fire-breathing demon) and now has metastasized down to the most local level. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Martissant.

Set in the southern hills above the capital, Martissant has been carved into smaller zones of influence for various baz leaders, with names such as Ti Bois (Little Woods) and the self-explanatory Grand Ravine. In 2012, a young policeman named Walky Calixte was slain in the zone. Despite what a judge said were phone records linking two parliamentarians - Rodriguez Séjour and M’Zounaya Bellange Jean-Baptiste - to the crime and police protests, Haiti’s parliament refused to lift their colleagues’ immunity and the killers were never brought to justice. When a former Grand Ravine baz leader, Romelien Saint Jean (also known as Tèt Kale though not directly affiliated with the PHTK), was released from prison last month and tried to reassert control, he was slain by his successor, bearing the nom de guerre Bougoy, who has also been linked to the disappearance of Haitian journalist Vladimir Legagneur this past March. Much of the violence in the zone is believed linked to positioning ahead of elections scheduled for next year.

Their families driven into the capital’s slums years ago by the destructive policies foisted upon the country by outside entities, the baz has shown they are still a potent tool in the hands of actors, public and hidden, in Haiti’s political firmament, as an anecdote told to me by a friend in Haiti amid this week’s violence makes clear.

A mob arrived to set fire to a businesses by the house of a woman she knew. Some people from the neighborhood came out to talk with them and to ask them to not go through with it as the building was near a bunch of homes that could have caught fire. After listening to them, the leaders of the mob told the residents they were “sorry” but “we have a job to do and we have to go through with it."

Michael Delbert is the author of Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History (Zed Books) and is a Visiting Scholar at Franklin & Marshall College.

Monday, June 25, 2018

On the Ground With Cops Hunting El Salvador’s Gangs

04.30.18 5:23 AM ET

On the Ground With Cops Hunting El Salvador’s Gangs

Police and soldiers are fighting an endless war against groups like MS-13 and Barrio 18. Can God sort out what the cops have failed to do?

Michael Deibert

The Daily Beast

(Read the original article here)

PANCHIMALCO, El Salvador—Under a blanket of stars on a forested hillside overlooking a series of deep ravines, four policemen hop off the back of a pickup truck and rendezvous with colleagues—another policeman and three soldiers—guarding a school in this gang-ridden suburb of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador.

A day earlier, responding to reports of gunfire, police arrived in the neighborhood to encounter a group of armed members of Barrio 18, one of El Salvador’s two largest gangs. After an exchange of fire, police said, three of the young men lay dead.

“They were trying to flee and this is where we encountered them,” says the commander from the Sección Táctica Operativa (STO) of El Salvador’s Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) as his men, toting U.S.-made M16s, set up a perimeter.

“The more we apply pressure, the more the gangsters are forced to flee,” said the commander, going on to explain the region’s complex topography. “Here, this whole area belongs to Barrio 18, but over there, beyond that hill, is MS-13 territory.”

For the last 25 years, the state in El Salvador has fought a roiling war against two gangs, Barrio 18 and MS-13 (also known as Mara Salvatrucha), both with their rough-hewn roots on the streets of Los Angeles, California, where thousands of Salvadorans sought refuge during the country’s 1980 to 1992 civil war.
Eventually, the guns fell silent after peace accords were signed and the combatants of the right wing and left wing decided to resolve their differences via electoral politics rather than military means as the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) and Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), respectively.

The two main gangs, however, continued to thrive as many of their founding members were deported from the United States to El Salvador, a country many barely knew.

From street corner toughs, Barrio 18 (in recent years, further factionalized into two groupings, Barrio 18 Revolucionarios and Barrio 18 Sureños) and MS-13 have developed into international criminal enterprises and an alluring target for the rhetorical flourishes of self-proclaimed law-and-order politicians in both El Salvador and the United States, including Donald Trump.

The impact they have had here, not just in the urban core of the cities but in areas like Panchimalco, a semi-forested working class suburb on the city’s southern fringes, has been profound.

Many in this part of the capital are descendants of the Pipil indigenous inhabitants who populated the area when the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s. These verdant hills were once famed not for violence but for natural beauty spots, while the towns were known for colonial architecture, such as the Iglesia de la Santa Cruz de Roma cathedral in Panchimalco’s central square, and handicrafts.

Today, the police commissariat here is in charge of patrolling the area covered by five separate municipalities, with a total population of around 161,000 people. For the 520 policemen tasked with enforcing the law here (assisted by about 150 soldiers of El Salvador’s army), there are, according to police estimates, nearly 3,000 gang members: 1,746 from MS-13, 671 from Barrio 18 Revolucionarios and 379 from Barrio 18 Sureños. Nearly 900 of the gangsters are believed to be based within Panchimalco itself. Last year, the area saw at least 23 homicides, but the habit of the gangs (referred to in Spanish as pandillas) of dismembering and disappearing their victims make exact numbers hard to come by.
The four police guarding the school in Panchimalco—all of whom look barely out of their teens—seem to see this situation as ordinary.

“This is normal for us,” says one police officer, a fringe of mustache on his upper lip. “This is simply our job.”

Although the forces of the state heavily outgun the gangs—the response of the pandillas when the police move in on their turf is to hide rather than confront—the situation in Panchimalco suggests a shift in way crime in El Salvador organizes itself.

“In 2000, the normal pattern was to have the gangs and criminality in general in urban zones, but in recent years, especially the last three years or so, these phenomena are more or less at the same level in both urban and rural zones,” says Howard Cotto, the PNC’s director general. “The zones within the urban districts, but close to rural parts of the country, are where the gangs have proliferated the most. They have the opportunity to be in contact with a large population, but in situations where, when the police arrive, they can flee to a rural zone.”

This is not a battle for the faint of heart. Last year, El Salvador, a country of around 6.5 million people saw 3,947 homicides, a shocking number that averages out to about 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, though it actually represented a steep drop from the 2016 rate of 81.2 per 100,000. Increasingly, uninvolved civilians find themselves caught up in the mix.

In 2016, a clique of Barrio 18 Sureños filmed themselves slaughtering three day laborers and eight workers of an electric company in the town of Opico, northeast of the capital. More than 40 of those killed last year were police officers. Nor do the police themselves have a spotless record. In recent years, police were linked to extrajudicial killings in at least two departments: La Libertad, were eight people were slain on a farm in San Blas de San José Villanueva, and in Panchimalco itself, were five people were slain in the Los Pajales district.

“Initially, many of the gangs had a similar concept of defending their barrios and communities against other gangs while being against the system at the same time,” says Cotto. “Now they’ve realized the economic value of drug trafficking, extortion, robbery, and they place an economic value on the control of their territory. This is a vision of organized crime.”

Some argue for a holistic approach.

“I don’t like gangs at all, but you have to remember something,” says San Salvador’s outgoing mayor, Nayib Bukele, who took office as part of the ruling FMLN in 2015 but has since been expelled from the party and become a fierce critic of both it and ARENA. “If you see, out of 70,000 or so gang members, there’s not one that comes from a high-income family, why? If it’s a crime problem, wouldn’t all members of society be involved? You can find drug dealers in low-, middle- and high-income families, the same with murderers… It’s not whether you have money or not that defines you as a criminal. So why does being a gang member involve being poor? It’s obviously a social problem. So you have to fix that in order to fix the problem.”

During his mayorship as the capital’s mayor, Bukele reached out to heretofore marginalized young Salvadorans—graffiti artists, hiphop emcees, skateboarders and others—as a way to lure them away from the call of the gangs. He invited them, among other initiatives, to participate in painting enormous murals on the side of the Mercado Cuscatlán, a recently opened market in the city’s urban core, and in a special football program with La Liga, the top professional association men’s division of the Spanish football system.

“Do you think those kids are going to join a gang? Or these kids who paint graffiti murals and now have thousands of followers on Instagram?” asks Bukele. “If you open the world to them, they wouldn’t join a gang. Infrastructure is important, but we try to include all of these people. You should have opportunities in life without joining a gang. Here, the only way for a lot of kids to be someone—in a bad way—is to join a gang.”

The city, however, remains a patchwork of neighborhoods under control of one or the other of the country’s main criminal factions. In Colonial Modelo, where a museum housed on the grounds of a former army base pays tribute to such sanguinary figures from El Salvador’s civil war as Domingo Monterrosa (the driving force behind the 1981 massacre in the village of El Mozote), the zone’s eponymous main thoroughfare divides Barrio 18 on the north side from MS-13 on the south side. Even the tony Colonia San Benito, which hosts the city’s Zona Rosa nightlife and hotel district, boasts an active Barrio 18 faction wedged in between its bars and restaurants.

In the capital’s Colonia Dina, a group of former Barrio 18 members, most of them recently released from prison, labor in a bakery under the watchful eye of Pastor Nelson Moz of the Iglesia Bautista Misionera Ebenezer.

“I was born in Usulután, but came to the capital with my family when I was 8 or 9 years old because of the civil war,” says Saúl, a 37-year-old former Barrio 18 member. “I was living in Apopa. For 10 years, my life was in the street, with the pandilla. Then at 19 years old, I went to prison, and I was there for 15 years and I just got out six months ago. In 2010, my mom, who used to visit me in jail, died. And then God was the only one there for me… I have a year and eight months of being a Christian now and have left the gang and I only want to serve God. A lot of us here don’t have anywhere to go. Thank God the pastor opened these doors to us.”

The pastor views his work among the gangs as central to the type of evangelical Christianity that he practices.

“Historically, this is a community with a strong presence of the gangs,’ says 55-year-old Moz, whose church runs the bakery. “We needed to open our doors and provide an option other than delinquency. A lot of these guys have nothing. A lot of people think they are monsters, or machines of destruction, but they’re human beings, they have souls, they’ve made grave mistakes in their lives, but they need this opportunity.”

Security forces take a dimmer view of the 13 former gang members—many of them heavily tattooed with gang insignias—who live here, and several told a visiting journalist that the bakery is regularly harassed by police who enter it without a warrant to question and otherwise disturb those seeking refuge.

The depth of the pastor’s commitment to his new charges is attested to by the fact that the world between the gangs and the organizations seeking to help them can be a complicated one, and the consequences for those seen by the state as falling on the wrong side are severe.

After his release from prison in 2006, Dany Balmore Romero García, a former MS-13 member known to most by his previous moniker, Danny Boy, became deeply involved in a non-governmental organization—Optimismo, Paz, Esperanza, Renovación y Armonía (Optimism, Peace, Hope, Renewal and Harmony or OPERA)—that sought to provides a creative outlet and counseling to gang members. But in 2016 Romero García was arrested on terrorism charges after the government accused him of using the organization as a front for gang activities. He is now held incommunicado in a maximum security prison.

In Soyapango, a gritty suburb on the city’s eastern fringe, neighborhoods serve as bastions for three main criminal organizations: MS-13, Barrio 18 Revolucionarios and a new group referring to itself as Mao Mao.

“There is a very large presence of the gangs here,” says Soyapango’s police chief, Romeo Lazo. “When people—not police but civilians—not local to a neighborhood enter, they are immediately intercepted, interrogated and sometimes robbed. There are a number of abandoned houses here, too.”

Noting that MS-13 is the strongest and “most bloody” faction in the zone, Lazo goes on to explain that, as in Panchimalco “we have a permanent presence of police in schools during class hours and patrols on the routes students take to and from school. We are trying to approach this from both a repression and prevention perspective, with recreational activities and other things for the youth, as well.”

Away from the police station, in Soyapango’s 22 de Abril neighborhood district, graffiti from MS-13 can still be seen daubed onto the walls on squat cement homes clinging to a hillside as a contingent of STO officers rumbles slowly through in search of a suspect. They quiz one young man because of his very stylish and very new sneakers. They check his identification for outstanding warrants. It turns out he lived for years in Virginia, and speaks passable English.

“There are a lot of guys deported from the United States in this zone,” says the STO team’s leader. “One of the gang’s objectives is always to extend their territory, and as a result there are a lot of the battles between them.”

Many Salvadorans are exhausted by the grinding violence and perplexed by the government’s often schizophrenic approach to it.

Under the government of President Mauricio Funes (the first FMLN candidate to win the post, in 2009), a murky 2012 truce was hammered out between the gangs and endorsed by the Catholic Church and the Organization of American States. The killing diminished but the gang’s other criminal activities, such as extortion, continued unabated and a steady stream of reports depicted a lavish lifestyle for gang leaders in prison.

Funes’ successor as president, the FMLN’s Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla commander, took office in June 2012 and threw the truce out, and many of those who negotiated it were put on trial for conspiring with the gangs (all were acquitted). Funes fled to Nicaragua in 2016 and has subsequently been convicted of illicit enrichment.

Accusations of links of politicians to the gangs continue. During the campaign for the mayorship of San Salvador earlier this year, the FMLN’s candidate, Jackeline Rivera, suspended her campaign after what were said to be threats emanating from MS-13.

An MS-13 leader later claimed, in a testimony presented to the public prosecutor’s office, that the group had supported the ARENA candidate for the post, Ernesto Muyshondt, who had given them “tens of thousands” of dollars in previous years which they then used to buy cocaine. Muyshondt denies this.

At the Iglesia Bautista Misionera Eben-ezer, though, those who are trying to extract themselves from the cycle of violence and rejoin the straight and narrow path that leads to something like a normal life continue to persevere despite their long odds.

“I lost my family, I lost my son, I lost my woman, I lost everything,” says Saúl, the former member of Barrio 18. “I have friends who have gone back to the pandillas, but in reality nothing good will come of that. I hope they will open their eyes.”

Michael Deibert is an author, journalist and Visiting Scholar at Franklin & Marshall College.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Haiti's new president embarks on cross-country mission

14 April 2018

Haiti's new president embarks on cross-country mission 

FDI Magazine

(Read the original article here)

Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, tells Michael Deibert how he is looking to effectively govern the whole country, through policies such as improving healthcare in all regions and building roads to prevent the more rural areas becoming isolated.  

Jovenel Moïse became president of Haiti in February 2017, just after Hurricane Matthew hit the country’s southern peninsula. An agribusinessman from the north who is often referred to as 'Nèg Bannan' (the Banana Man) because of his previous life as a banana entrepreneur, Mr Moïse won more than half of the vote in a crowded field. Since entering office, he has repeatedly criss-crossed the country, initiating road-building programmes in the provinces and measures such as remobilising Haiti’s army (demobilised in 1995 but never officially disbanded). 

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background before you became president.  

A: The fact that I have lived both in a rural zone in the north – I was born in a small town, Trou-du-Nord – and in [the capital] Port-au-Prince helped me better understand the socioeconomic dimensions of the country. Haiti, like many countries in the world, has a kind of cleavage. You have urban zones, rural zones, people in the town and people in the country. As an agricultural entrepreneur, I was able to see the entire country and it helped me understand the challenges of governing here. My experience in the private sector – I was the president of the chamber of commerce in the north-west and the secretary general for the national chamber of commerce – helped me understand the economic problems of Haiti. 

Q: You’ve been president for more than a year. How do you gauge your performance thus far?   

A: I would say that during this first year I’ve developed a better understanding of the challenges of governing. We have taken a lot of decisions and done a lot of work all over the country. We’ve addressed healthcare, for example – now you have a dialysis centre in the north and one in the south, we’re putting another one here in the west where we only have one. And with infrastructure, we have teams working in every department [and region building roads].  We call our strategy 'the caravan of change'. I said that we were going to have a new army, a professional army, an army in service of development, with engineers and technicians to work on natural disasters, and now we’re building one. With this new approach, we want to move Haiti beyond being the republic of non-governmental organisations [NGOs]. We welcome NGOs but they cannot replace the state, which is what has been happening in Haiti. We are working to resolve that problem 

Q: Can you speak a little about the opportunities for foreign investment in Haiti.  

A: In energy, Haiti consumes [more energy than it produces], so people produce their own with generators, batteries in their houses and other means. So this is a great opportunity, with [energy sector regulator] Anarse, to democratise the energy sector. We are also prioritising renewable energy – wind, water, sun and biomass. In tourism we have opportunities for construction of hotels and cruise ports. There is enormous potential in tourism. And there is an opportunity in the assembly sector too, with the Hope and Help acts, which allow us to export [textiles and apparel] duty-free to the US. 

Q: What was the motivation behind declaring the gourde the only legal currency for business in Haiti?  

A: The same motivation that every country has. Our constitution, our law, is very clear on this – there is one legal currency: the gourde. [To have two currencies] provokes inflation for those, especially the poor, who have to continue paying in gourdes. We haven’t stopped people from having bank accounts in dollars, or transferring money in dollars. But transactions within the country will be in gourdes. 

Q: Historically, there has been a big difference between the people in the cities, especially Port-au-Prince, and the people in the countryside. What steps has your government taken to end this?  

A: I am against all forms of division, which is a big problem in this country. We want to make all the departments interconnected. We want the deconcentration of public services and the decentralisation of the structure of the state to the provinces.

Haiti: time to take a second look?

13 April 2018

Haiti: time to take a second look? 

FDI Magazine

(Read original article here)

Haiti's name has been synonymous with natural disaster and political turmoil in recent decades. However, as Michael Deibert discovers, foreign investors both large and small are impressed with what they have found in the country, and many sectors are ripe with potential.

In his offices just off Champs de Mars square, set beneath brooding mountains and just beyond a glittering Caribbean Sea in bustling, colourful Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, speaks of his vision for a national revival

“There are enormous opportunities here,” says Mr Moïse, a former agribusinessman who assumed the presidency in February 2017. “In energy, to construct a high-tension interconnected national network; in renewable energy, such as wind, water, sun and biomass. In tourism, we have opportunities for the construction of hotels and cruise ports. There is opportunity in the assembly sector, where we are allowed to export [textiles and apparel] duty-free to the US.”

Hidden stability

Despite the president’s enthusiasm, at first glance Haiti, a country of just under 11 million with a history of poverty and political instability, may seem a counterintuitive place for foreign investors to consider. However, the country actually boasts one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the Caribbean, two international airports (in the capital and in Cap-Haïtien on the northern coast) and, apart from a brief interim government, has been governed by elected presidents since 2006. The second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere after the US (having defeated the French in 1804), Haiti is making a renewed push for foreign investment.

In February, the IMF signed an agreement with Haiti’s government, with the latter agreeing to “carry out economic and structural reforms to promote economic growth and stability, and alleviate poverty…[ and a] fiscal policy will focus on mobilising revenues and rationalising current expenditure, to make room for critical public investment in infrastructure, health, education and social services”.

Earlier in 2018, the government set up the Autorité Nationale de Régulation du Secteur Énergétique to oversee the opening of the country’s system of production, distribution and sale of electrical energy previously overseen by the state-run Electricité d’Haiti. After years of maintaining an unspoken dual status with the US dollar, in March, Mr Moïse declared Haiti’s national currency, the gourde, as the sole legal currency for business in an effort to stem inflation.

Opportunity and poverty

State investment agency the Centre de Facilitation des Investissements (CFI) is located in the capital’s Turgeau neighbourhood. The building is an atmospheric house in the gingerbread style of architecture, whose inside walls are covered with Haitian art and posters posing the question ‘Haiti: why not?’.

CFI general director Tessa Jacques says: “We are looking at tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy, apparel manufacturing and agribusiness. With the rise of private sector entities being able to sell electricity directly to the consumer, we’re talking about micro-grids, with solar, wind and other types of renewable power. It’s certainly a business opportunity.”

But the country’s statistics are stark. According to the World Bank, Haiti’s GDP per capita hovers around the $846 mark, with more than 6 million people existing beneath the national poverty line of $2.41 per day. Earlier this year, the Banque de la République d’Haïti, the central bank, expressed concern about the country’s deficit, which is somewhere north of 3bn gourdes (more than $200m). Questions remain over how $2bn of money linked to the Venezuelan Petrocaribe fuel programme – overseen by Mr Moïse’s predecessors, Michel Martelly and the late René Préval – was spent.

Downward spiral

Some of the factors that have most adversely impacted Haiti’s economy have been external. In the early 1980s, a US-Canadian programme to stem the spread of African swine fever exterminated 1.2 million Creole pigs – a major contributor to Haiti’s peasant economy – and only haphazardly compensated owners.

In the early 1990s, a US-led economic embargo imposed on the country to force a military junta from power devastated the country's middle class, dealing such a blow that the country’s GDP only regained pre-1991 levels in 2008. The decision by Haiti to reduce its tariff on imported rice from 50% to 3% in the mid-1990s then destroyed the ability of Haiti’s farmers to compete with cheap imported rice flowing into the country.

“The decisions we made in the late 1980s in terms of commercial openness and liberalisation were not smart, not gradual and not selective,” says Etzer Emile, a Haitian economist and professor at the capital’s Université Quisqueya. “When I compare that with other countries in the region, they did it step by step and product by product. We didn’t, and that transformed Haiti from a productive economy to an import-dependent economy.”

Satisfied customers

However, these problems did not deter mobile phone giant Digicel, which launched a $130m investment in Haiti in 2006, the largest corporate investment ever made in the country by an international company.

“This is a land of opportunity with more than 10 million consumers that is still very largely untapped,” says Maarten Boute, chairman of Digicel Haïti. “The lack of large-scale reliable employment means that there is access to a massive talent pool; almost every Haitian is looking for a job. With the right training and management, it is a very dedicated and committed workforce.”

Nor did Haiti’s ills deter Dutch brewing giant Heineken, which purchased a 95% stake in the Brasserie Nationale d'Haïti (Brana) in 2011, and invested another $100m in 2014. Founded in 1975, in addition to Haiti’s signature beer, Prestige (often served so cold that ice coats the glass bottle), Brana also produces Guinness and various brands of bottled water and soft drinks.

“Haiti is one of the most populated countries in the Caribbean and as a market is expected to grow,” says Brana managing director Wietse Mutters. “We are looking for organic growth and long-term investment.”

In addition to its 1400 employees, Brana now boasts a training centre and it partners local schools to train students finishing their studies to bring them into the company upon graduation. It is also updating and modernising its facilities, located in a sprawling industrial park just across the street from country’s main airport.

“If you’re here for the long term, I would say it’s a good investment,” says Mr Mutters. “I would look at facts, not reputation and rumour. Talk to investors like us. I think there are huge opportunities here, not only for multinationals but also for start-ups. I think the government is very supportive of foreign investment and it sees the need for it.”

Haiti can be a place of jarring contrasts. A fractious, sometimes explosive political culture co-exists with warm, gentle people. Desperately poor slums are found sometimes only a stone’s throw from elegant restaurants and shiny new hotels. Off the radar for years to many but the most adventurous, Haiti is now vying to come back in from the cold.

Deux Mains: from small beginnings

Not all foreign investment in Haiti exists on a massive scale. Near the capital’s airport, the 25 full-time employees of the Deux Mains (“two hands” in French and a homophone of “tomorrow”) apparel company work in a series of containers situated around a bucolic courtyard.

Founded by Julie Colombino, a relief worker who first came to Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, the company initially registered as a non-profit before registering as a for-profits enterprise in 2014 (the non-profit arm continues as Rebuild Globally). The company uses repurposed car tyres and inner tubes in nearly all its products, sourcing those and almost all its other raw materials in Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.

Describing itself as an “ethical fashion company”, Deux Mains has attracted the attention of the likes of designer Kenneth Cole, who partnered with it to launch a limited edition sandal line, and the model Heide Lindgren, who began as a brand ambassador and now serves as an official adviser.

Partnering with USAID’s local enterprise and value chain enhancement programme, the company – which sees 40% of its sales in the US and 60% in Haiti – is expanding into a 440-square-metre factory and adding 15 employees in order to produce its signature sandals, handbags and other goods through a combination of artisanal and industrial techniques.

“There are several benefits that are available for a business in Haiti,” says Deux Mains vice-president Sarah Sandsted. “We have a hard-working, talented workforce here really eager for opportunity. Haiti is such a creatively inspiring place, and our products are more beautiful because we are in Haiti."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Notes on the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala

The Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) was formed as an outgrowth of the peace accords that ended Guatemala's 36 year civil war. It was tasked with supporting the country's Ministerio Público & Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) in their investigations of illegal security groups and clandestine security structures with direct or indirect links to the state or ability to block judicial actions related to their illegal activities.

Since its inception, CICIG has had some stunning successes, incl arrests of a sitting president (Otto Pérez Molina), a former president (Álvaro Colom) a fmr VP (Roxana Baldetti) and targeting a former president (Álvaro Arzú) and a sitting president (Jimmy Morales) for their alleged roles in corruption.

I have been reporting on Guatemala for 15 years and I have been scathingly critical in my writing of parties of both the right (Partido Patriota, Frente Republicano Guatemalteco, Frente de Convergencia Nacional) and the left (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza) and their roles in maintaining this system that is strangling the country. To anyone who has spent any time in Guatemala, it is clear that the cancer of corruption and impunity in not an ideological struggle but a phenomenon from which all political currents benefit and seek to maintain.

As the net closes in on Guatemala's political elite - especially sitting president Jimmy Morales, his family and his supporters - troll armies, many with links to online marketing businesses based in Guatemala City, have emerged.

The politicos and their troll farms are feverishly working around the clock to muddy the waters and drum up support for the expulsion of CICIG before their backers have to face justice for their crimes. The troll army follows a particular pattern including variations of the following:

1) Claim that they are "true" or "pure" Guatemalans (the language of the genocide that marked Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war)

2) Claim that CICIG chief Iván Velásquez is linked to Colombia's FARC or the government of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, even though no evidence exists for this and CICIG arrested the country's first leftist president (Álvaro Colom) since Jacobo Árbenz was in office from 1951 to 1954, only to be overthrown by CIA-engineered coup.

3) The troll armies then seek to defame and slander members of Guatemala's civil society who have long battled against impunity & corruption, people like human rights activist Helen Mack Chang and  El Periódico publisher José Rubén Zamora

4)  The troll army then, usually fairly quickly, curdles into anti-semitic dog-whistles by blaming George Soros etc for the temerity of CICIG & the Ministerio Público to prosecute corrupt Guatemalan officials for their crimes.

Unfortunately, they have been so effective that some people I respect and other people of influence - Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Bill Browder, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jesery Representative, Chris Smith & others - have (with the best intentions, I think) been swept up in the desperate fight for survival of Guatemala's corrupt political actors.

A closer look at recent events in Guatemala - such as the revelation of illicit campaign financing by the FCN of president Jimmy Morales - reveals a truer picture, that those who have feasted on the prostrate body of the Guatemalan nation and state for decades feel they are fighting for their very lives.

My advice to those seeking to weigh in on role of CICIG in Guatelama would be to look at the totality of CICIG's work there over the last decade and weigh it against the forces arrayed against it & what their motivations may be. The lives of 17 million Guatemalans, and their struggle to build a decent country depend on it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Haïti ne périra pas : une histoire récente de Michael Deibert

Critique du livre Haiti will not perish: a recent history

Haïti ne périra pas : une histoire récente de Michael Deibert 

Publié le 2018-01-26 | Le Nouvelliste

(Read the original article here)

Culture -

Dans son dernier livre, Haïti will not perish: a recent history, Michael Deibert affiche une fois de plus sa grande connaissance et son profond attachement à Haïti, avec laquelle il entretient une histoire longue de vingt ans.

Son livre retrace l’histoire d’Haïti et les événements qui s’y sont déroulés depuis la guerre d’indépendance de Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines, Christophe, Boukman et autres jusqu’au décès de René Préval en mars 2017. Son tableau est grand et utilise une palette de couleurs très variées : la santé (y compris l’arrivée du choléra par le biais de troupes des Nations unies) ; les relations avec la République dominicaine; la communauté internationale, en particulier les Nations unies par le truchement de la MINUSTAH ; la CARICOM ; l’influence des États-Unis au fil des décennies ; les élections (toujours entachées d’irrégularités) ; la corruption (toujours présente) ; les portraits d’individus tels que Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Jean-Claude Duvalier et René Préval ; les préjugés en matière de couleur de peau, etc. Son récit des suites du terrible tremblement de terre de janvier 2010 est le meilleur que j’ai lu jusqu’à présent, et son tout premier chapitre, « Istwa » (Histoire), qui couvre la période des années 1840 jusqu’au départ forcé de Jean-Bertrand Aristide en février 2004, est en lui-même un petit chef-d’œuvre.

La qualité de la recherche de Michael Deibert est extraordinaire. Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de me demander comment lui, un auteur blanc, avait pu se faire autant de contacts parmi les Haïtiens noirs. Homme noir moi-même, je me rappelle avec stupeur le moment où, tandis que je visitais une école à Port-au-Prince, un petit écolier m’a appelé « blan » avant même que j’ouvre la bouche. Bien entendu, il ne réagissait pas par rapport à la couleur de ma peau – puisque de manière tout à fait ironique, j’étais plus foncé que lui – mais par rapport à ce qu’il jugeait comme étant mon apparence générale « d’étranger ». Donc de blanc.

Il y a trois questions que j’aimerais soulever suite à la lecture de ce livre.

Tout d’abord, l’attitude des Nations unies par rapport à Haïti (et, j’imagine, par rapport à d’autres situations similaires). À l’époque où j’étais le conseiller spécial de Kofi Annan sur Haïti en 2004, j’avais, à de nombreuses reprises et sans grand succès, cherché à faire accepter la différence entre peacekeeping et peacebuilding, c’est-à –dire entre le maintien de la paix et la construction de la paix. Dans mon rapport final, j’ai dit à Kofi Annan que « j’étais fermement d’avis que le concept de la MINUSTAH tel qu’il existait n’était pas sain, et était en grande mesure non pertinent pour le peuple haïtien, dont le bien-être était d’une importance capitale. Les éléments civils de la MINUSTAH devaient… en grande majorité inclure des aspects de développement choisis après une consultation approfondie avec le gouvernement haïtien et d’autres parties prenantes en Haïti… » Le livre de
Michael Deibert semble indiquer que presque rien n’a changé depuis lors.

Étroitement lié dans l’esprit des bureaucrates de l’ONU, avec leur insistance sur le maintien de la paix, est ce qu’ils appellent – Michael Deibert en parle – la « stratégie de sortie » (exit strategy) de l’organisation. J’ai trouvé particulièrement alarmant, pour ne pas dire contre-productif, qu’une telle stratégie ait pu être formulée avant même que l’ONU – dans le cas d’Haïti, la MINUSTAH – ait mis les pieds dans le pays concerné. On peut apprécier le désir (mis à part les coûts impliqués) de ne pas s’attarder et ainsi de ne pas donner l’impression d’être une force d’occupation. Mais comment traiter sérieusement les problèmes de fonds du pays si on prépare déjà son départ avant même d’être arrivé ?

 Ensuite, Gérard Latortue, Premier ministre par intérim suite au départ de Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a été, comme je l’ai écrit un jour, attaqué pendant son mandat comme étant « la marionnette illégitime de l’administration de George Bush ». Ce qui était une accusation parfaitement injuste à l’encontre de cet homme et le Livre blanc publié par son gouvernement de transition, couvrant la période allant de mars 2004 à juin 2006, fait état des avancées non négligeables réalisées par lui et son équipe.

Enfin, les Haïtiens en général. Michael Deibert fait souvent référence et exprime son grand étonnement à ce sujet, à la volonté des Haïtiens non pas vraiment de travailler les uns avec les autres, mais plutôt d’être en situation de conflit permanent au détriment du pays. Il cite Louis-Henri Mars : « La vraie question en Haïti est une question de relations, comme celle-ci : « Sommes-nous unis ou représentons-nous des tribus disparates ? » Pourquoi la réforme institutionnelle est-elle ce feu follet insaisissable ? Pourquoi la corruption au quotidien est-elle si difficile à éliminer ? Pourquoi, malgré toutes les attaques dont elle fait l’objet, l’impunité est-elle si répandue, si naturelle ?

 Pourquoi Michèle Pierre-Louis demande-t-elle tristement : « Est-ce que cela signifie que tout ce qui fonctionne doit être annihilé ? » Et Michael Deibert se rappelle qu’en janvier 2012, Michel Martelly avait dit devant le Parlement qu’Haïti était à l’époque « la somme des luttes intestines, des assassinats, des enlèvements, de l’embargo, de l’anarchie, du chaos, de la dégradation environnementale, de l’égoïsme et de la cupidité. Ceci doit changer ». Les choses ont-elles changé ? Si non, pour quelle raison ? A quoi cela sert-il de toujours faire référence à ce passé remarquable si le présent, comme le centre du poème de W.B. Yeats, ne tient pas ?

Michael Deibert a écrit un livre remarquable. Il est détaillé, incisif, sensible, et écrit dans un style assuré qui ne s’arrête jamais pour s’interroger sur quelle direction il va aller. C’est à mon avis une lecture indispensable pour toute personne, originaire d’Haïti ou pas, qui veut comprendre ou bien compléter ses connaissances au sujet des courants de la politique et de l’histoire d’Haïti en général et en particulier des quinze dernières années.

Ce livre tire son titre d’une promesse faite par René Préval en février 2010 à l’Université Notre-Dame à Port-au-Prince. « Haïti ne périra pas », avait-il dit ce jour-là, un mois exactement après le tremblement de terre.

Haïti ne périra pas. Mais quand donc sa population tirera-t-elle profit de manière productive de ses compétences et de son intelligence considérables dans l’intérêt national ? Quand donc Haïti s’épanouira-t-elle ?

Reginald Dumas

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Review of Michael Deibert’s Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History

A Review of Michael Deibert’s Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History  

Posted on Wednesday 3 January 2018

By Reginald Dumas

Submitted to AlterPresse

(Read the original article here)

In his latest book, Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History, Michael Deibert once again demonstrates his vast knowledge of, and deep affection for, Haiti, with which he has had a twenty-year connection.

His absorbing, often mesmerizing, story traces the history of, and events in, Haiti from the independence war of Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe, Boukman and others to the death in March 2017 of René Préval. His canvas is vast and multi-colored: health (including the cholera introduced by UN troops); relations with the Dominican Republic; the international community, especially the UN through MINUSTAH; CARICOM; US influence over the decades; elections (always flawed); corruption (always present); portraits of individuals such as Aristide, Jean-Claude Duvalier and Préval; the skin color divide; and so on. His account of the aftermath of the massive January 2010 earthquake is the best I have ever read, and his very first chapter, Istwa (History), covering the period from the 1840s to the forced departure of Aristide in February 2004, is itself a little masterpiece.
The quality of Deibert’s research is extraordinary. I could not help wondering how, as a white man, he was able to acquire such a range of black Haitian contacts. A black man myself, I remember my astonishment, while visiting a school in Port-au-Prince, at being called blan (white) by a small pupil even before I had opened my mouth. He was of course reacting not to the color of my skin – ironically, I was blacker than he – but to what he perceived as my overall “foreign” appearance, which meant white.

There are three issues arising from the book on which I should like to comment.

First, the approach of the UN to Haiti (and, I suspect, to other similar situations). While I was Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Haiti in 2004, I repeatedly, and without notable success, sought to have a clear distinction drawn between peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In my final report, I told Annan that I was “firmly of the view that the concept of MINUSTAH as it now exists is unsound, and largely irrelevant to the people of Haiti, whose welfare has to be of paramount importance. The civilian side of MINUSTAH must…overwhelmingly comprise developmental aspects chosen after close consultation with the Haitian government and others in Haiti…” Deibert’s book suggests that nothing much has changed in the years since.

Closely allied in the minds of UN bureaucrats with their emphasis on peacekeeping is what they refer to – Deibert mentions it – as the organization’s “exit strategy”. I found it alarming, not to say counter-productive, that such a strategy would be formulated even before the UN – in Haiti’s case, MINUSTAH – actually entered the country concerned. One can appreciate the desire (quite apart from the costs involved) not to overstay one’s welcome and thus project the impression of an occupying force. But how would the country’s fundamental problems be seriously addressed if one
were already planning how to leave before one had even arrived?

Second, Gérard Latortue, the Interim Prime Minister after Aristide left, was, as I once wrote, mauled during his tenure “as the illegitimate rag doll of the Bush administration”. It was an unfair assessment of the man, and the Livre Blanc (White Paper) published by his transition government, covering the period March 2004 to June 2006, records the not inconsiderable advances made by him and his team.

Third, Haitians as a whole. Deibert frequently refers to, and expresses his bemusement at, the willingness of Haitians not so much to work with one another as to enter into constant confrontation, to the detriment of the country. “The real question in Haiti,” he quotes Louis-Henri Mars as saying, “is an issue of relationships, of ‘are we in this together or are we separate tribes?’”

Why is institutional reform such a will-o’-the-wisp? Why is the everyday corruption so difficult to tackle? Why, despite all that is preached against it, is impunity so pervasive, so natural?

Why would Michèle Pierre-Louis sadly ask, “Is it that everything that works has to be killed?” And Deibert recalls that in January 2012 Michel Martelly told Parliament that Haiti then was “the sum of internal strife, assassinations, kidnappings, embargo, anarchy, chaos, environmental destruction, selfishness and greed. This must change.” Has it changed? If not, why? What is the point of always referring to a magnificent past if the present, like Yeats’ center, is not holding?

Michael Deibert has written a remarkable book. It is detailed, thoughtful, sensitive, and in language that never stops to wonder where it might be heading. It is to my mind indispensable reading for anyone, Haitian and non-Haitian alike, wanting to understand, or supplement his or her knowledge of, the currents of Haitian politics and history in general, and of the last fifteen years in particular.

The book takes its title from a promise by Préval in February 2010 at the Université Notre-Dame in Port-au-Prince. “Haïti ne périra pas,” he said that day, one month exactly after the earthquake. “Haiti will not perish.”

It will not perish. But when will its people harness productively their considerable intelligence and abilities in the national interest? When will Haiti flourish?

Reginald Dumas served as Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador to Washington and Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States and as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Haiti.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

If You Visit Haiti

If You Visit Haiti

By Michael Deibert

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must ride up to the majestic Citadelle Laferrière, completed on the orders of Henri Christophe outside of Cap-Haïtien in 1820, to see a place, as much as any other, where slavery was defeated in the Western Hemisphere.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must wander through the streets of Cap-Haïtien itself, gaze upon the beautiful colonial architecture, sample the rhum at one of its fine hotels and enjoy a meal along the Boulevard du Carenage.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must travel over the rough roads to Môle-Saint-Nicolas to see the ruined forts of the French, Spanish and British, all defeated by Haiti's liberators, there.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must take a boat across the churning channel that separates Port-de-Paix from Île de la Tortue to experience the wonder that is Point Ouest, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Caribbean.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must go to la ville de l'indépendance, Gonaïves, to visit its great vodou lakous: Souvenance, Badjo and Soukri.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must turn off Route Nationale 1 just beyond Saint-Marc to drive deep into the Artibonite Valley and witness the skill and endurance of the peasants who coax bounty from the unforgiving earth.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must spend a night at one of the glittering resorts along the Côte des Arcadins, sipping rhum and watching the sun set carnally into the Caribbean there.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must drive into the Plateau Central, to hear about the long history of peasant organizing there and to visit the gorgeous Bassin Zim waterfall.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit the beautiful waterfall at Saut-d'Eau, an important place of pilgrimage and restoration for vodou adherents.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must go to Port-au-Prince to see the exuberant, difficult life of the people there, listen to the the konpa pumping out of ebulliently-coloured tap-taps, and sample the delicious Creole food and rollicking nightlife of Pétionville.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit the green and restful world of the Parc de Martissant, in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of the same name.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must meet with groups like the Konbit Soley Leve and Lakou Lapè to see how Haitians are working hard to bridge the issues that have historically divided them and create a brighter future for themselves.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must see first-hand the great work that groups like the Centre de Œcuménique des Droits Humains (CEDH), La Fondation Heritage pour Haiti (LFHH), Réseau National des Droits Humains (RNDDH), Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète (FOKAL) and the Fondasyon Kole Zepòl (FONZOKE) are doing to help uplift the country.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must ascend to the heights of Kenscoff and Furcy above the capital, to enjoy a strong cup of superior Haitian coffee in the bracing cool of the mountain air.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit Croix-des-Bouquets to see the extraordinary iron work and vodou flags created by the artisans there.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must sample the douce marcosse in Petit-Goâve and go to visit the stone sculptors in Léogâne.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must wind your way across the mountains down to Jacmel, to see one of the Caribbean's most radiant colonial towns, which sheltered Simón Bolívar during a key time in his struggle.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit the Grand'Anse to walk in the footsteps of great Haitians such as John James Audubon and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must come up with your own list of wonders to let me know what I have missed.

Haiti will not perish.

Kenbe fem.