We decided to spend our last day enjoying the beaches of Haiti. We drove about an hour and a half to Kaliko Beach Club. The resort was beautiful. It seemed deserted, but we were ok with that. We hit the beach and decided immediately it was never too early to enjoy a fruity cocktail! Soon after we arrived, the Haitian “entrepreneurs” came quickly. The water slowly filled with a couple of boats wanting to take us scuba diving and snorkeling. The beach filled with people selling everything from homemade crosses to artwork to seashells. We spent some time looking at the goods but then had to be stern with the fact we were not interested and just wanted to relax. We had an enormous buffet of Haitian food at our fingertips for lunch and moved to the pool after lunch. Catie was not herself. She did not eat anything for lunch and as we laid in eighty degree sun at the pool, she asked me to cover her up with a towel because she was cold. Her stomach was upset and I could tell she was beginning to get homesick. I was a bit worried about her but was just glad if she was getting sick, it was our last day and we would be on our way home soon.
As an educator in the public school system, I am constantly living in a state of “what if”. I will look out the window of my office and if I see a stranger in our small school parking lot, I immediately begin to create scenarios in my head and think about how I’m going to handle them. I do the same as a parent. As I walk with my kids in public places I always imagine what I’ll do if someone pulls a gun or begins shooting. It’s terribly sad to live like that, but I do. This was no exception. The men were eyeing all of us, but eyeing Catie especially hard. As I created the scenarios in my head of what might happen if they got a hold of her and what I would do, the fear and anger increased.
And just as quickly as it began, it was over. We started moving, passing some police who I assume were the ones pushing the protesters back towards us. Our interpreter asked why Catie was crying. I said, “she’s scared!” He laughed and said there was nothing to be scared about…the protesters were all talk. I do believe he felt safe, but I still am not sure what "could" have happened to us. I believe people do things with a “group mentality” they might never do alone. And they were angry. Although I don’t speak their language, the look and sound of anger is universal. And not just angry, they were angry at us. It was the first time I had felt what so many in this world feel on a daily basis…hate because of the color of my skin and where I am from. Even though I was there to help them, It didn’t matter. I was a white American.
First some background on the political state of Haiti in order to show you the corruption that has been taking place in this country and the reason for protest...
- In 1957 a medical doctor, François Duvalier, won a free and open election for the presidency. Although Duvalier was the legitimate winner of the election, once in office he had no scruples about the use of power and force to continue in office. Duvalier ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971. He created a network of executioners throughout the Haitian countryside called the ton ton makouts. It is estimated that thirty thousand Haitians were killed for opposition to his rule during that period. When François Duvalier died in 1971 the Duvalier political machine put his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in charge. The son did not have the taste for ruling that his father had. But Jean-Claude did have a taste for luxury that had to be fed by corruption and theft. The regimes of the Duvaliers have been characterized askleptocracies, rule by thieves. Jean-Claude's rule lasted from 1971 to 1986.
- In 1986, Baby Doc fled Haiti in the wake of mounting popular discontent and was replaced by Lieutenant-General Henri Namphy as head of a governing council.
- Since then it has been a series of Presidents/Acting Presidents/Provisional Presidents with most presiding with allegations of fraud, corruption and abuse of power. Many were forced out of office.
Around this time, Mother Nature takes her turn on the Haitian people.
- In 2004 severe floods in the south leave more than 2,000 dead or disappeared and nearly 3,000 are killed in flooding in the north in the wake of tropical storm Jeanne.
- In 2008, nearly 800 people are killed and hundred are left injured as Haiti is hit by a series of devastating storms and hurricanes.
- A couple months later, a school in Port-au-Prince collapes with around 500 students and teachers inside (although authorities blame poor construction for this).
- January 2010 up to 300,000 people are killed in a massive earthquake. It is said that UN workers infected Haiti with cholera which claimed 3,500 more lives and triggers violent protests.
- By July 2011, the death toll from cholera outbreak climbs to nearly 6,000.
Now to their current political environment. Elections took place in November 2010 and the announcement of inconclusive provisional results triggered violent protests. In March 2011, Michel Martelly won the second round of presidential election and took up office as President. In October 2012, hundreds protested against the high cost of living and called for the resignation of President Martelly. They accused the president of corruption and failure to deliver on his promises to alleviate poverty. Mr. Martelly, a former pop music star, was criticized for failing to hold elections during his five years in office and for surrounding himself with cronies, some of them criminals. He never shed his garish style and was considered an autocrat who let Parliament expire during his tenure. Haiti’s latest political crisis resulted from a presidential election held this past October with 54 candidates and that critics said was riddled with fraud. Political operatives were able to vote multiple times, and the president’s handpicked successor came in first despite being a virtual unknown, leaving the 53 candidates who did not make the runoff vote to question the results. The runoff was delayed twice as protesters demanded clarity. Mr. Martelly insisted that there had been no fraud and that the runoff should take place, urging voters to choose his candidate, Jovenel Moïse, a banana exporter. But a former government official who officially came in second, Jude Célestin, refused to participate in the runoff until a new electoral council was chosen and a thorough review of the first round was conducted. Another runoff in December was postponed due to security concerns. (from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/08/world/americas/michel-martelly-haitis-president-departs-without-a-successor.html
Our ride home from the beach took place on Friday, January 22. Elections were supposed to take place again on Sunday, January 24, thus the protests. This election was postponed as well. Leaving Haiti deeply divided, Martelly resigned the presidency on February 10, 2016, leaving Haiti without a president for a week. On February 17, 2016, he was succeeded by Jocelerme Privert who will serve as interim president. Elections are now set for April 24 and the winner will take office in May. Understanding the history of corruption that has ruled Haiti, one can understand the frustration with leaders who have historically done nothing to help the people of this impoverished country. As scared as I was in the moment in Haiti, I would have been just as scared to find myself in some of the anger and protests currently overwhelming my own country these days.