Friday, August 24, 2007

Gassant and the Senate: A pointless showdown with no winners in sight

The current face-off taking place between Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor, Claudy Gassant, and Haiti’s parliament has thus far shown signs of almost all of the characteristic weaknesses with which the Haitian state seems content to shoot itself in the foot time and time again: Arrogance, intolerance, accusations of corruption and the plain inability of the parties involved to be able to see past the political considerations of the moment to the broader picture of the health of the state as a whole and the well-being of almost 9 million Haitians. All that is missing now from Haiti’s traditional political tableau is violence. Let’s hope it remains absent.

When Gassant, for reasons thus far clear only to himself, refused to appear with his superior, Minister of Justice René Magloire, before the judiciary committee of Haiti’s senate this week, the senators reacted as has been their wont for recorded memory, like roosters in a yard. Members of the body declared that they would summon Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis to declare a vote of no-confidence and, thus, forcing Haitian president René Préval to form a completely new cabinet at a moment when, for the first time in years, Haiti appears to be making modest progress on both the political and economic front.

Put simply, for the Haitian senate to force the Préval government into this level of crisis because of the actions of one public prosecutor would be suicide for the health of the Haitian state and the poor majority dependant on the executive branch and the senate to work together to do the people’s work, to bring jobs, healthcare, security and peace to this this impoverished and violence-scarred country.

Gassant is by many accounts a difficult though honest man, who since his return to Haiti one year ago has thus far succeeded in butting heads with everyone from his boss Magloire to Police Nationale d'Haïti (PNH) chief Mario Andrésol. Whether he is yet another among a long line of Haitian public figures who begin to suffer from gwo neg (big man) syndrome the moment they get a taste of power I cannot tell from my vantage point here in Paris. But for senators Gabriel Fortuné, Youri Latortue, Rudolph Boulos, Ricard Pierre and Rodolphe Joazile to evoke the possibility of toppling a government over some perceived slight by Gassant is irresponsible and dangerous and seems to show little respect for the millions of people who stood in line last year and voted Préval into office, free to select a cabinet of his choosing.

It does not help the appearance of opportunism that this month Haiti’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, succeeded in ousting Préval’s Minister of Culture, Daniel Elie, because, by many accounts, he was simply not willing to dole out government money in the fashion that the deputies were demanding. Nor does it help the appearance of impartiality that Senator Boulos’ brother, Reginald, is being questioned vigorously by Gassant at the present time.

Nor, must it be said, does it help Gassant’s case that he seems unbothered by the fact that those put into Haiti’s dysfunctional justice system tend to rot in jail for years without trial. The arrest of Haitian businessman Fritz Brandt and his son, David Brandt, sent a tremour through Haiti’s tiny elite but, really, they are only the tip of the iceberg in a system that contains thousands of nobodies who literally spend years in one of the most appalling prison systems in the world without ever seeing a verdict rendered in their cases. This aspect of Haiti’s justice system needs to be addressed energetically and immediately if the authorities ever want anyone to have any faith in the country’s courts. Holding people without trial was wrong under the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, it was wrong under the 2004-2006 interim government and it is wrong now, simple as that.

If the Haitian senate wants to censure or otherwise take steps to remove Gassant from his post in accordance with Haitian law, that is their affair, but they would be advised to tread very carefully, as I fear that, with their threats to topple the Alexis government, they are close to joining their predecessors who, when confronted with their greater mission for the good of their country and the politically attractive opportunity at hand, always chose the latter, to the detriment of Haiti’s long-suffering people.


Anonymous said...

very lucid analysis even from the distance. the same reflexes of "gwo ponyet" are operating in this context and prove once more that ALL Haitians need to show wisdom and respect for individuals and this should start with the leadership: in Parliament as in the Executive. We need to cease the destructive practice of retaliation for dissenting views. We can agree to disagree and work with integrity and authenticity as a team to pull Haiti out of its morasse.

Anonymous said...

I was very disappointed to learn that one of Haiti's most prominent family (Brandt) was put through such horrid situation. If anything, these families have exploited the country in ways that one could not put a number on, but the economic and lawless governments have granted them the freedom to do so. Mr. Gassant, whom I know personally, could have pursue these individuals on many other grounds than the one he has chosen. I am not sure off the details surrounding those actions, but do hope that they will flourish and that they were not just done just because..We do tend to get over our heads sometimes and Mr. Gassant and company better have more in their sleeves than just that. Yes, it is true, I am embarass for the family and many others whom are still suffering in jail without proper representation.We need a system of change in Haiti..As my late mother used to say, "this country will need to be burned to the ground with everyone in it, including herself, if any changes were to prosper from this place". I do hope that we will not have to get thru that...Hope, Hope is desperately needed for HAITI...WM