Alfred Dawes | RIP, President Jovenel Moïse
Haiti is a country that allows us to feel better about ourselves. The former crown jewel of the French colonies, now failed state, allows us to say that if we don’t fix our problems, we are going to end up worse than them. The poorest country in...
Haiti is a country that allows us to feel better about ourselves. The former crown jewel of the French colonies, now failed state, allows us to say that if we don’t fix our problems, we are going to end up worse than them. The poorest country in the western hemisphere that consistently ranks among the most corrupt in the world is the absolute zero of the developing world’s progress scale. So, when the news broke that the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated at his home, the world shook her collective head: “Not again. Poor Haiti”.
The international condemnation of Mr Moïse’s murder is quickly giving way to a raft of conspiracy theories as to who would have ordered the attack. The cornerstone of these theories is the elevation of Moïse as a messianic figure, who was in the process of radically changing the country and challenging the status quo. With the death of a public official, their legacy is whitewashed and one should not speak ill of the dead. There are some, though, who are deeply troubled by the elevation to sainthood of Jovenel Moïse.
The narrative is as follows. Haiti is controlled economically and politically by oligarchs who install and remove presidents and politicians at will. Families control various industries such as food, transportation, etc. Moïse wanted to introduce constitutional changes that would curb the power of these oligarchs and reduce corruption. The powers that be rejected the reforms and did everything they could to destabilise the government. When Moïse stood firm, resolute in his mission to create a new Haiti, he paid with his life.
This is not entirely true. There is an oligarchy of chiefly mulattoes that has ruled the country economically and politically for years. Contrary to popular opinion, it is no longer a colour issue. It is a class issue. Black Haitians who have risen to the upper class found themselves in a position where they could help or exploit their fellow blacks. They chose the latter. Moïse, a man who rose from humble beginnings, had no intentions of limiting their power or acting decisively against corruption. He was, in fact, one of them.
When I expressed the theories surrounding the assassination of the president to several Haitians, they found it “shocking and erroneous”. Everyone expressed deep regret at the assassination and unreservedly condemned it. The population of Haiti is united in their opposition against the assassination. Nobody deserves to die in that manner. All differences have been put aside as the nation unites to come to grips with the tragedy and the inevitable turmoil to come. Ordinary Haitians, however, are deeply disturbed at the attempts to sanctify Moïse.
They point out that he violated the constitution several times and was not supposed to be president since February this year, ruling instead by decree. His government worsened an already bad situation, with five million Haitians facing hunger. During his tenure, the only industry that grew was kidnapping for ransom. There was no job creation, no schools or hospitals built, and an assault on the court system. He fired judges, nominated and installed their replacements. In refusing to accept the end of his term, he failed to organise elections, resulting in senators serving beyond their mandate.
The connection with gangs to wage war on opponents was reminiscent of the Tonton Macoute of François Duvalier’s’ reign of terror. Gangs played an active part of political activities and townships were invaded and citizens massacred. Up to a week ago, hundreds of thousands of Haitians were demonstrating in the streets for Moïse to go. There were no large pro-Moïse counterprotests, as would be expected in a functional democracy. Instead, the demonstrations were broken up by security forces ably assisted by armed thugs. Many innocents died. Many more went missing.
Money for reconstruction after the devastating earthquake and hurricane has been stolen by Haitian businessmen and politicians. Billions of dollars from the Petrocaribe fund and other aid agencies went missing. Moïse never initiated meaningful investigations into these alleged acts of corruptions. He couldn’t. Companies to which he was connected have been implicated in the nefarious activities. He instead focused on consolidating power into his hands, as the dictators who preceded him.
The events unfolding in Haiti are an indictment on the international community. The United Nations has spent years in the country. After billions in aid, the promises of reconstruction, stability and peace, the most significant contribution of the UN has been a cholera epidemic. The United States has meddled in Haitian affairs to the point of neo-imperialism. We will not forget Aristide. It is CARICOM that must once again step up to the plate and work with the Haitian people to build a country worthy of the only freedom fighters to defeat their masters and end slavery. In spite of the challenges past attempts have faced, we cannot succumb to ‘Haiti Fatigue’, as described by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. We are their best hope. They need us.
We crave a messiah to save us from the corrupt elites and politicians. We cry out for justice and pray for the day that someone, somewhere, will be the hero we long for. That is why we so desperately want to believe that Jovenel Moïse was such a man. Even as we wish him eternal rest, we must honour the many Haitians who suffered and died under his reign, by acknowledging that he was not.
- Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.