Haiti
 

None Can Serve Two Masters

By Jean-Claude Bajeux, January 31, 2001
Director of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights

"And so Jesus was taken into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil." --Matthew, 4, 1.

"None may serve two masters: You cannot serve God and money." --Matthew, 6, 24.

Everyone remembers and cherishes the excitement that seized the whole country between October 1990 and March 1991. A virtually religious élan seemed capable of curing this former slave society of its historical partition, its cleavage into two blocs. Liberation theology saw the poor people as agents of an anti- and post-capitalist revolution. I always had doubts about this even while admitting that it accomplished a lot among certain sectors of the population with the aid of a nucleus from the clergy, particularly Karl Levêque, Jean-Marie Vincent and Jean Pierre-Louis.

However, one can also find in the inner workings of this society, in its history and culture, the type of biblical aspirations also found in Voodoo rites that could take a young ex-Salesian priest to the national palace, in a point-by-point riposte to the empire of evil and death of François Duvalier, Roger Lafontant, and their thousands of Tonton-Macoutes. This young ex-Salesian priest became an icon whose presence reversed the magnetic field which had dominated the country for the previous twenty-nine years, warding off the waves and evil forces that had dominated the people.

The people of poverty known as the people of God emerged from a long and sinister servitude and looked again to the state for the benevolent laws that had been destroyed by the Duvalierists. This tumultuous liberation recalled the miracle of the Exodus. All for one, one for all became the order of the day for a people atomized by history who now discovered their community, which they saw as a family seated around the table. The religious aspect of this process was evident even though the Catholic Church backed away from the scene and conspicuously broke with the young Salesian priest.

In 1803-04 it had been in the name of equality. This time the origins of the voice and message lay in the Sinai desert, in the biblical songs that accompanied the drums and guitars of liberation.

"The kingdom of this world" is the place of temptation of which St. Matthew spoke, the place where good and evil are mixed, the ground underlain with evil intentions. It is the place of plurality, of the relative, of contradictions. It is the seat and field of action of political power which if not kept in check can operate with full discretion on the lives and fortunes of the people. It can leap from holy ground into the arena of political combat in which Jesus took no part.

It was necessary in the name of greater unity to find a candidate with whom the poor could identify and whose good faith would make up for lack of administrative experience. Above all it was necessary to have someone who was the opposite of those we had always had, the opposite of the dictators and satraps. It was necessary to have a governmental team of a new style acting according to ethical principles giving an example of earnestness and transparency in dealing with money, following a policy of development, modernization, and opening to the outside world, breaking with the previous regimes and swindlers. It was necessary to have someone at the head of the state who could respect the rules of the game, pluralism, legality, democracy, the verdict of elections, rights of the minority--someone with a vision of the future for the national interest.

Eleven years later there is no doubt about the result. It is clear. There is a flagrant moral failure, politically and economically. The democratic movement that blazed the way to power for Aristide finds itself, all its components, on the outside. The "biblical" inspiration and its setting of roots among the popular communities did not last long. Soon came, in undeniable form, the rumors of the "big eaters" carving up the privatized state enterprises and the politicians who were simultaneously big businessmen.

Some days ago an article in the Wall Street Journal explored the fortunes being mined from the "treasury" of Teleco, the state telephone company, in contracts for material and construction. It's time to talk openly about what has been only mentioned in whispers-- the lack of accounting for the "gifts" of Voam, Taiwan, and the highly touted "small projects of the presidency." Since 1997 to the present day the country has stagnated with an inflation rate in 2000 of 10 percent a month, negative growth of 1.2 percent, and a gourde that has fallen to twenty-five per dollar.

Article 279 of the constitution says, "Thirty days after his election the president must present an accounting of all his assets, liquid and non-liquid, and must do likewise at the end of his term." The next article extends this to all the members of the government. This remains a pious hope. The rumor mill now speaks of wealth reaching into the millions of dollars.

The Wall Street Journal article followed on another by Jean-Michel Caroit appearing in Le Monde on January 15, "Haiti's Misery." Also an article by Jean-Claude Leclerc on December 11, 2000 in the Devoir of Montreal and an article by Richard C. Hottelet in the Christian Science Monitor of January 30. After all the indignation, revolt, and death, the morals of yesteryear have returned in all naturalness. Life has resumed its course, as before, as always, and it says enrich yourself any way you can as fast as you can, and do everything to arrange a sacrosanct immunity. For corruption needs impunity. Let not the fates of Milosevic, Fujimori, Pinochet, Philippines president Victor Estrada, and in France, Roland Dumas, be repeated here.

This is one of the reasons for the obstinacy with which they falsified the results of the last four elections. It is striking how populism fears the numbers and the votes. They do this not only to assure their return to "the table" but at the same time to eliminate all dissenting voices, so that the country has been literally paralyzed for three years and is now denied foreign aid as in the time of Duvalier.

There is a strange irony of history in the return of Aristide by the unanimous United Nations. There is a paradoxical situation recalling the blathering and empty bombast of the Duvalierists and the military coupsters on nationalist themes and so-called self-reliance, sprinkled with muscular slogans about peace, although the first condition of peace is respect for rules of the game and the patient exercise of nonviolence. For peace as St. Augustine said is "the tranquility of order," the primacy of law over the passions, the victory of nonviolence over brutal force, and above all consistency of words and action by those in power. Eleven years, after which the situation of the country is more precarious than ever. The situation of the citizens in all classes is more precarious than ever. Life is harder and more anguished than ever. For personal reasons of gaining and holding power the whole plan of development has been sacrificed and the country paralyzed for five years. Democratic institutions are being subverted. Despite an expenditure of a billion gourdes the election commission, and for good reason, is unable to come up with any solid numbers on the last four elections. The last election was called a "farce" by the sober newspaper Le Monde. The last election commission compounded the frustrations of the citizens of every category and made us the laughingstock of the world.

Forget about real and credible tallies, why have elections at all if "the people" have already voted? And who cares if at least two hundred thousand people had their cards lost in the last election if the official spokesman says that 61 percent (of what?) voted? The refusal to verify the tally sheets is linked to the arrogant insistence that they speak for the people, period. They are like the small group depicted by Dostoevsky in the tale of the Grand Inquisitor.

Here is the bitter lesson of the last ten years: a missed rendezvous, a lost chance. With the return of the demons of the past the nation has no choice. It must return to the promises of 1986. The time that has passed and been lost has generated ever more urgent needs. Since 1986 life is indisputably harder in almost all respects whether personal security, production, the infrastructure, etc. We are marching backwards and the national mood is confused, divided and helpless.

We know that in such situations we must have the power to mobilize the whole nation, we must have a collective impulse that recalls the founders of the nation. This the time to examine one's conscience. The time to reflect on the future and its demands. The time of values, the simple values of honesty and sincerity. The time of coming together, necessary as the democratic transition has been blocked and subverted by the "Fanmi."

It is also the time for clear and decisive action. Faced with the blackmail of a handful of gang members called "ghosts" who are financed and protected, faced with the power of money that has bought conscience, loyalty and applause and has permeated the clique with a contemptible arrogance, a new majority must organize and move forward to stop this disastrous course and resume the path of development, jettisoning the demogogy of "self-sufficiency" and the temptations of predatory enrichment.

 

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