Friday, June 19, 2009

A quick note from Haiti

The sun rises at about 5am at this time of the year in Haiti, and so I have been up since then, working, writing, reading articles online and preparing for the day's interviews ahead. I must confess that some of the media coverage of Haiti in the United States at present does give me pause, continuing to portray, as it does, a country on a knife's edge tumbling towards pervasive unrest.

This does not resemble the country I have seen since I returned to Haiti. Despite the sometimes-chaotic demonstrations of student groups advocating for various issues and yesterday's upheaval at the memorial service for the priest Gérard Jean-Juste, during which at least one person was killed by gunfire, Haiti seems to be, on balance and much to my surprise, at at better place than I have ever since it since first visited the country in 1997.

Traveling all over Port-au-Prince yesterday by taxi, tap-tap and moto, including to Jean-Juste's former parish, the Paroisse Sainte Claire in Petite Place Cazeau, I would say that 80% of the city was perfectly calm and marked by the guarded optimism that I have been pleasantly impressed to see since my return here. Of course, though, there are some elements that are very threatened by the idea of a popularly elected government such as René Préval's bringing security, stability and economic development to Haiti, and there are some - journalists included - who will always make the mistake of believing that a few neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince are the entirety of Haiti. But, though the country's problems are still massive, a fragile foundation appears to be being laid for better things to come, which we must all hope for and work for.

An opinion from the ground, if you will.


A few additional thoughts (2:53 pm, Port-au-Prince time): I think that the Haiti as some members of the diaspora see it and the Haiti as the poor majority who actually must carve out a meagre living here every day see it is often a very different place. High-minded debates (and I say that seriously, not sarcastically) about national sovereignty are important and useful, but not a single person I have spoken to since I arrived here has brought up MINUSTAH's presence as a negative. The fact of the matter is that, even three years after the inauguration of a democratically-elected president and legislature, Haiti's state institutions remain pitifully weak and in need of the international support they are now receiving. To paraphrase a friend of mine who was in his case speaking about Guatemala (which also had a UN mission on its soil), Haiti is already a weak state that does not guarantee security or justice or health or education. And until the state can supply that to its citizens, discussions about the politics of sovereignty are just that, words that do nothing at all to ameliorate the suffering and struggle of the vast majority of 9 million Haitians. Bit by bit, though, things seems to be getting ever-slightly better for people here, people who can now more or less go about their lives without living in fear of being murdered by the police, raped by Macoute/Fraph/chimere or whatever the militia du jour is called or disappearing into jail for criticizing the powers-that-be. The UN presence here is a bitter pill, perhaps, unless one considers the alternatives.

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