Thursday, September 14, 2006

Le Prix du Sang

On Tuesday, Véronique Valmé, who decided to return to Haiti from abroad two years ago, was laid to rest at the Eglise St-Pierre in Petionville. I never met Véronique personally, though I do know at least one of her relatives. She was shot and killed on Saturday night in what was apparently a failed kidnapping attempt, along with her namorado, Karl "Karlito" Lubin Zounon, who was of Haitian-Béninois extraction as they left my favorite restaurant in Port-au-Prince, Anba Tonel. A presumed assailiant was also killed.

Three more lives - joining those of people I did know, like Jacques Roche, James Petit-Frere, Winston Jean-Bart and others - brought to a violent early end for what? "Where will this all end?" some Haitian friends have asked me. From the humblest bidonville in Port-au-Prince to the wealthiest mansions in Laboule and Fermathe, hardly a home has been untouched by the violence that has swept through the country in the last five years, and my fear is that the government of Rene Preval and the UN forces in Haiti thus far seem powerless to stop it.

No doubt the predators of this poor country, in Haiti and abroad, sustain themselves on a steady diet of deaths like these, each one able to be used for political ends, useful in the quest, by their willing accomplices and their acolytes blinded by arrogance or naiveté, in the struggle for "miserable power," as the Haitian people suffer continually and without respite. Haiti’s greatest author, Jacques Stephen Alexis, wrote of his Haitian protagonists in his finest book, Compere General Soleil, published in 1955, that "The closer they came to the promised land, the more they felt the net tightening around them."

In 1983, at the height of the dictatorship of Jean-Cluade Duvalier, Pope John Paul II visited Haiti and thundered "Haiti must change" in reference to the violent, authoritarian state apparatus. Those words still ring true, but what must change today is the system of social and economic exclusion, the pernicious flow of guns and drugs through a fragile, easily corruptible state and the cancer of violence that has cut through so many lives. Much like the people I witnessed displaced from their homes by violence in Martissant this past July, Véronique and Karlito were doing nothing, harming no one, when that violence visited itself upon them.

Haitians and the international community must take a hard look at themselves and ask how they can stop that violence's bloody march forward before another generation of young men in the slums are lost to the gun, before any more journalists are cut down for simply practicing their craft, and before any more people, simply out for a night on the town, become yet another element in the litany of lives whose potential we will now never know.


Malou said...

Dear Michael:

Thank you for your impartial article. There have been so many senseless killings in Haiti that many of us Haitians aren't able to make sense of the madness that is destroying the country. Haiti needs to start healing since it has been slowly dying. We, as Haitians, must stop pointing fingers and realize we are all to blame for the deteriorating crisis in our country. In the past, we have elected or tolerated demagogues, tyrants, who were allowed to pillage and destroy our country. We have to learn from the past to build a better Haiti free of foreign influence in the likes of Kurzban, Concannon, and particularly Dellums, Maxime Waters, John Conyers (so-called African-American freedom fighters), among others. Haiti is in dire need of uplifting its health systems, revamping agricultural outputs (must deal with the erosion crisis so we can feed the masse), educational reforms (including civic education in schools to teach our youth law and order), sound investment in the rural areas to rescind the migration influx in P-au-P in order to restructure its debilitating infrastructure. We need to be rid of these notorious gangs who are terrorizing the country through adequate social programs or alternatively through “whatever means necessary” as they are proving to be a major obstacle to Haiti’s security and stability. Equally important, we need to do our utmost to positively support the current government. We may not have all voted for the new government but unless we all pull together, to support the govt., Haiti will continue in its downward path. Haitians must end their divisiness and bring forth their goodwill through the art of compromise and unity. I was recently in Burkina Faso and was so pleased that I could walk the streets freely. There was a time in Haiti, I enjoyed this priviledge of being able to stroll through neighborhoods or the downtown area taking in the sights of vendors, artisans, and people doing their daily errands. My daughter is Jacques Stephen Alexis's grand-daughter. She has only travelled to Haiti once to learn about her roots and heritage. I feel great pain that I am unable to take her home in fear of the blatant insecurity. To learn about island life (as it once existed in Haiti), she has travelled to other parts of the Caribbean. I am also teaching her to love Haiti through books, arts, and Claude Saint-Rome's beautiful documentary: Haiti, mon reve, mon amour ( It is my fervent wish to retire in Haiti and I believe it is the same for many Haitians in the diaspora. We are subtly helping by sending funds to family and friends, yet Haiti, can and will only succeed through ALL of us, pulling together in the rebuilding effort of our country. Remembering our ancestors' slogan: L'Unité fait la Force...

Michael Deibert said...

Chere Malou,

Thanks very much for your thoughtful response to my article and blog posting. I agree with you whole-heartedly, the divisions that have plagued Haiti for years and the mercenaries who prey on them have done nothing to advance our beloved Haiti and I hope that, over the next five years, those who support Haiti out of good conscience will find a way to help the millions of decent Haitian who want to see the country grow and become more just in their efforts. If the Preval government does its best to respond to the concerns of those millions, it likewise deserves our support. People like to explain away Haiti's ills by blaming them all on the machinations of foreign powers (the left) or the country's vodou and African-based cultural tradition (the right). But most often I have found that the deficiencies come from the people at the top, whether they be elite or the new black economic/political class we have seen emerge in the last 15 years, vying for power, power, power and money, money, money, to paraphrase Cornell West. I have always felt that the best we journalists can do is give voice to Haiti's poor majority and those trying to help them and hold the various malefactors accountable for their actions. Inshallah, we will keep doing so.

Kenbe fem,

Michael Deibert