viernes, mayo 11, 2007

“Rêve Haïtien”

Ben Fountain's collection of stories, "Brief Encounters With Che Guevara," includes one particularly worth to mention in this blog. In “Rêve Haïtien” the main character is an OAS observer living in Port-au-Prince during the time of the military regime which ruled the country between 1991 and 1994. Some one hundred fifty former colleagues of mine (and I) fit that description. We were all fourteen years younger and MICIVIH was the joint UN-OAS adventure we were part of. “Rêve Haïtien” plot takes place in Pacot, Champ de Mars, near the Church of the Sacred Heart and in the Salomon and La Saline neighborhoods. Paintings of Hector Hyppolite, Antoine Obin, Préfète Duffaut, Frantz Zéphirin and many others populate the scenes. Reluctantly, the idealist Mason believes he found his purpose in life the day he became involved with an inspired smuggling scheme aimed at financing an armed resistance to the military junta.

A reviewer of the book says "Fountain has taken a lot of risks here (…) putting characters in situations they wouldn't likely be in.” Ha, ha, ha. Sounds too awkwardly familiar, but it’s just art (and literary criticism) imitating life, again.

When I came back to Haiti two and a half years ago, some old friends of MICIVIH times were already here and others joined us later. The time arrived for some of the most experienced to leave but a brand new generation of “fresh” observers has come (and gone) to develop their own “Rêve Haïtien.”
Here we are, past and present, hanging together on the eve of Mercedes' departure, surrounded by the ubiquitous paintings of some of the finest artists in Ayiti.

jueves, abril 26, 2007

Lékol bòlèt

El pasado 3 y 4 de febrero tuvo lugar en el Centro Carter de Atlanta, GA, un seminario internacional acerca del “Rol del sector privado en la mejora de los resultados educativos en Haiti” en el cual se asociaron varias agencias internacionales de cooperación, corporaciones de negocios, ONGs y representantes gubernamentales haitianos.

Uno de los documentos que circularon durante el evento resume bien ciertas constataciones sobre el sistema educativo haitiano, que paso a citar:

“(…) Non-public education is such a vibrant business amidst one of the most poverty stricken societies in the world. (…) Public spending in education (in Haiti) amounted to 1.5% of GDP in 2005-2006, while in the Latin America and Caribbean region it reached 4.3% of GDP. While on average private expenditure in education in LAC reaches 1%, in Haiti it amounts to 3.5%.

The provision of education is predominantly offered by the non-public sector. Based on information from the 2002-2003 census, the non-public sector enroll 95% of preschoolers, 81.5% of primary school students and 75% of secondary or third cycle students. This situation is largely different from the general pattern of LAC region, where private enrollment averages 20% in primary and 24% in secondary.

(…) Non-public schools have been set up in Haiti to fill the void left by government neglect. (Non-public education in Haiti grew) fueled by society’s almost blind trust in education’s potential to overcome dire conditions of poverty.”

El signo omnipresente de lo que acaban de leer en tan serio y sesudo análisis son los denominados “lékol bòlèt", que en otras latitudes de América Latina se conocen popularmente como “escuelas de garaje”. Se trata en general de centros pre-escolares y colegios (pero también incluso universidades!!!) creadas al ritmo creciente de la demanda pero sin respeto a los estándares educativos nacionales ni supervisión alguna de los respectivos Ministerios.
Escuelas instantáneas que en este pais proliferan ya sea bajo la sacro-santa bandera de la iniciativa privada, o bien el letárgico emblema de la caridad.

domingo, febrero 11, 2007

Fantasy, movies and literature imitating reality

In the movie Royal Bonbon's opening scene, a homeless middle-aged demented black man named Chacha wanders his way around the Carénage in Cap-Haitian. Then the character strolls the streets of the city begging for food and annoying people. He’s a “moun fou”. The female street vendors - the “ti machan” - kick him away, angered by his apparent vulgarity. Chacha undergoes an amazing epiphany and, declaring himself “King Chacha”, recruits a young child and leaves Cap. His hallucinatory dream turns into reality when he arrives to Milot and claims to be King Henri Christophe reincarnated. More children and a bunch of old people join him to take possession of the ruins of the Sans-Souci palace. Then he distributes honors and titles to set up a weird aristocracy.

Alejo Carpentier’s novel “The Kingdom of this World”, after the looting of Sans-Souci, the main character – Ti Noel - takes refuge in the ruins of his old master’s house. With a strange and beautiful, albeit useless, variety of spoils from the palace, the character rebuilds a makeshift personal kingdom, while awarding honorific titles to the passersby.

The real life fact is this: General Henri Chistophe crowned himself King of Haiti in 1811 and imposed a Constitution that very same year, creating
hereditary titles for four Princes, eight Dukes, 22 Counts, 37 Barons and 14 Chevaliers.

viernes, enero 19, 2007

L'otro día (Homenaje a Les Luthiers)

L'otro día caminando por la calle
vi a la gente odiar y luchar
y por eso en mi canto yo les digo:
lo mejor es no salir a caminar.

Les Luthiers - Homenaje a Huesito Williams

Los inversionistas privados de Port de Paix también ponen su cuota de pujanza en la ardua tarea de relanzar la economía de Haití. Aunque a veces parece que pujan demasiado… al descubrir que las cisternas para el carburante resultaron más grandes que el lote y la correspondiente excavación que debería albergarlos, el promotor y dueño de lo que será una futura estación de combustible simplemente optó por dejar los gigantescos depósitos en plena vía pública.

miércoles, diciembre 27, 2006

Jwayé Nowël timoun!

It’s Christmas Eve in Haiti.

I had the chance to fly to Gonaives accompanying Edmond Mulet, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Haiti and current Chief of MINUSTAH. At his initiative, we left the relative comfort of Port au Prince to have lunch with the Argentinean soldiers based in “the city of Independence”, the capital of the Artibonite Department. A visit to a local orphanage and medical center run by the Sisters of Charity, Mother Theresa's Catholic order, was part of the program. The troops have been delivering drinkable water to the nuns for some months but today they had prepared something special: Christmas presents for every children.

It’s always amazing how kids react to presents this time of the year, particularly toys. No need for further explanations.

The nuns are great. They work hard and their kindness is a real
inspiration. I’m not posting the “backstage” pictures… those
corresponding to the HIV positive patients of all ages that are receiving medical treatment and those of the dying that receive dignifying care during their last days. I’m sure you can imagine them.

One powerful image remains: the cradles made of iron construction bars… there’s definitely no room to romanticize poverty.

miércoles, diciembre 13, 2006

Pèp la se sèl mèt beton-an (a snapshop of Haitian "mobcracy")

Timid or prudent, or maybe both, the CEP has announced some preliminary results for the local elections held ten days ago. The news has been received with mixed reactions, ranging from rushed radio press conferences called by heated (loser) candidates, to road blockades, burning tires, physical threats, stone throwing, day and night gunfire and arson in various parts of the country. One of them, again, is Bombardopolis.

Despite its futuristic airplane industry hub-like name, Bombardopolis is a remote and poor village in the north-western tip of Haiti with less than 10,500 registered voters –including the surrounding rural areas. During the presidential and parliamentary elections last February tensions there ran very high… to say the least!

The ruthless struggle among eight political parties running for Deputy and their fanatical distrust of each other, as well as of poll officials, led four of them to gather violent crowds of supporters to enter the polling stations and destroy the ballots. Some sources pointed to the local leaders of LESPWA, MIRN, ALYANS and UNION. These acronyms may not ring any bells to people unfamiliar with Haiti (by the way, there are around 100 registered political parties here and some 30 more non-registered). For the sake of clarity, let me just say that LESPWA, whose presidential candidate is the current President Mr. Rene Preval, got 51.21% of the national votes, MIRN's presidential candidate Mr. Luc Fleurinord received 1.90%, ALYANS' presidential candidate Mr. Evans Paul got 2.49% and UNION's presidential candidate (backed by LAVALAS) Mr. Marc Bazin got 0.68%.

However, the poor results of their corresponding candidates will not deter any Haitian local politician from pursuing his or her quest for power, nor lessen the fervor of their local supporters and allies ... quite the opposite.

Tensions skyrocketed in Bombardopolis after the December 3rd election. Incoming reports indicating a much more serious wave of post electoral-related violence include information about houses looted and set ablaze and people fleeing town. Unfortunately, there is a crude explanation for all of this … for those anti-civic leaders this is the very last chance to get a piece of the pie (of power)!

Se pa cochon moun yo remen, se pito griot. Como decimos en mi país “no es por amor al chancho sino al chicharrón”.

miércoles, diciembre 06, 2006

No K.O.

Besides its outcome, there are some important issues that should soon be discussed regarding the past municipal and local elections in Haiti, as well as the broader electoral cycle that began in 2005 - which included the voter’s registration, Presidential elections and run-off parliamentary elections.

However, the first necessary step must be to temper claims referring either to total success or total failure.

From my part, I would only like to say that it’s true that the quality of elections and their administration (the aspects to which scholars refers as procedural democracy) was the best possible under the peculiar circumstances of Haiti. For instance, don’t forget that the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP, for its acronym in French) missed ALL the deadlines for the elections to take place in 2005, as originally established in the multi-party transition agreement.

The constant postponement added disorganization and confusion to the whole process, and the public witnessed the internal power struggles among the CEP’s politically-appointed members on a daily basis. For many observers, this situation was created on purpose. Some political spoilers and criminal groups found this rather advantageous, while international donors became anxious about the potential waste of their voluntary contributions for the electoral process (more than US$70 million compared to less than US$2 million provided by the Haitian state).

The picture changed dramatically with the appointment of an Executive Director in October 2005, a move practically imposed by the international community. Finally, the presidential election took place on 7 February 2006 and Rene Preval won by a landslide.

To avoid the futility of periodically throwing money away for elections in Haiti, everybody knows that much more has to be done in the near future. Otherwise, Democracy will remain a highly irrelevant word in this country.