The state of decomposition of the Haitian elites
Every year around this time (January 1) Haiti celebrates its independence day. I usually profit off of this milestone to review the state of the state of the country. The year 2019 brings the double memorial of the 50th anniversary of the death of Jean Price Mars (1969) and the centenary anniversary of his book “The Vocation of the Elite” (1919). I have reread the book recently to evaluate how Haiti fared 100 years later, after Jean Price Mars has so well defined what the Haitian elite should do to bring Haiti into the path of modernity.
I must confirm the Haiti elites have failed lamentably in that mission. All its different structures find themselves in the state of decay or decomposition, whether it is the political elite, the commercial one, the social one, the intellectual one, even the diaspora — they all have failed to concert in rebuilding a nation at the dimension of the emancipator mission set by its founders.
Already 100 years ago, Jean Price Mars, upon coming back to Haiti at the end of a diplomatic mission in France, returned to find a nation occupied by the American forces (1915-1934) with a mass as well as its elite in disarray, not understanding the national and international dynamic leading to this defeat of the gallant Haitian people that liberated the universe from the world of slavery.
In a series of conferences compiled into a book titled “The Vocation of the Elite” Jean Price Mars undertook the assiduous task of dissecting the Haitian society from its origin with the buccaneers in 1541; they were 3,000 to 4,000 savage men who utilized pirating skills and means to disrobe the boats laden with gold, spices and produce leaving the Caribbean towards Europe.
To tame this group of bandits the French governor brought into the island some 50 prostitutes and female criminals from prison as well as those French citizens who failed in their endeavors, who agreed to work for free for three years; and that was the beginning of the colonization of Hispaniola that muted into Haiti from the ashes of St. Domingue some three centuries later.
To further civilize this new population, France sent defrocked priests, those with dubious morality that condoned the environment where man was an animal for another man. In that context we can recall the infamous bishop Las Cases, who obtained from the king of Spain the right to sell charters to slave merchants.
As such, wave after wave of African slaves were uprooted from Africa to the new world to replace the Indians decimated by sickness, alcohol, new disease and persecution brought upon them by the Spanish Conquistadors
As Jean Price Mars instructed, the Haitian ethos did not start in 1804; it is rooted in the insomnious discrimination, where the skin classification was led to its paroxysm between a Socotra, a griffin, a marabou, a mulatto, a quadroon, a Métis, a mamelouc or a quartertone.
For the purpose of this essay we will stick to the term “mulattoes”, a product of the slave woman with the white master. They became a force to be reckoned with, either because of their education — they were usually sent to France to be educated — or because of their fortunes inherited from their fathers.
Their aspiration was to be seen and accepted as white with full rights and privileges. They did so for centuries until they found out it could not happen unless they made an alliance with the mass of black slaves most numerous in numbers, in diligence and in determination to get out of the state of slavery.
That alliance, sealed in Arachaie on May 18, 1803, produced the formidable strike of the rag army of Jean Jacques Dessalines against the best troop of Napoleon Bonaparte. The French army was defeated at the battle of Vertieres on November 18, 1803, and Haiti burst into a free nation on January 1, 1804.
That victory was of a short span, because two years later Dessalines was assassinated by his own comrades because he advocated building a nation that should become hospitable to most of the 400,000 citizens that comprised that new nation.
Haiti today, with its 11 million people, is in a state of decomposition and decay that has its origin in the fateful day of October 17, 1806, when the mulattoes and the war generals decided the spoils of the colonial empire should be restricted to only a few, leaving the rest in complete desuetude.
A quick perusal of the structural elite groupings will indicate that they have all failed the nation.
Haiti’s structural underpinning that could have reacted to ignite the sentiment of appurtenance to build a true nation is in a moribund state. In a previous essay I have characterized that structure with three axes: the Catholic Church, the army and voodoo.
The Catholic Church, a witness of Haiti turmoil since 1492, when Christophe Columbus planted a crucifix at the Mole St. Nicholas, where he landed, has been indigenized by Francois Duvalier around 1965. For the good or for the worst, the Haitian priests did not continue the civilization process brought about by the French priests from Brittany, if there is a veneer of education introduced by the French nuns, the Christian brothers and the priests in the towns, it should have been continued in the rural sectors by the Haitian priests.
Not having done so, we have wave after wave of destitute rural citizens becoming internal and external migrants in the ghetto of the cities or taking a leaking boat for a dangerous trip to Florida via The Bahamas.
The Haitian army, another vibrant institution of the past, has been dismantled by Jean Bertrand Aristide under the pretext that the American government was inimical to a Haitian army. The true reason for its dismantlement was the hatred harbored for the institution that fomented a coup against a populist regime, where the rule of law was flouted by the very government that was supposed to enforce it.
The army was replaced by the Haitian police, a force of 13,000 men and women deployed mostly in the capital with minimal contact with the rest of the country. The Haitian army reconstituted recently is only 600 strong, still looking for a mission devoid of the leadership and influence exhibited by the old Haitian army in the provincial cities.
Voodoo, promoted as a religion in the new Constitution, cannot pinpoint one school, one clinic, one cultural center it has operated anywhere in the country for the past 200 years of its existence. Yet the voodoo cultural force with its music, its dance, its knowledge of curative herbal medicine, if organized properly, could advance man manifestation towards a better civilization.
On the political side, the effective leadership is myopic from both the governmental apparatus and the political parties. The government, whether dictatorial, military or illiberal democracy, have all rested on corruption, self-serving, and plain theft of the spoils of the state to maintain themselves in power or be re-elected through manipulation of the balloting or just buying votes shamelessly at $10 each.
The legislative is mostly a refuge of those who hold in ransom both the government and the people using the Sicilian method of bribery to hold the lion’s share of the Haitian budget in hostage for themselves.
The political elite are not better than the government. Some of the parties are created to steal the funding provided by the government for campaigning of the candidates; others are accessories to the party in power, plotting together to maintain the status quo while professing fake compassion and hypocrite empathy.
The opposition parties, which use strikes and street demonstrations to make their points, have become more of an irritant than a constructive force that would move the country towards a communal experience for nation building. The movement to recover the $3 billion dissipated from the PetroCaribe fund has galvanized the population for a while; there are indications the mountain will deliver a mouse, since the alleged guilty parties hold the reins of power and will not give up, regardless of the strength of the demonstration against the regime.
The commercial elite made mostly of expatriate Syrians and Lebanese have a low level of nexus with the country. Akin to the colonial masters of the era of pre-independence they support the worst political groupings bent on maintaining the status quo in their favor, leaving the mass of Haitian people in a Sisyphus-like struggle where, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
The Haitian diaspora, some 3 million strong, sends some $3 billion in remittances to Haiti. That money injection at the rate of $50 per person per month is used mainly to buy food and produce from the Dominican Republic for daily consumption. Its impact on the country economy is minimal at best, even negative at worst, since it maintains the status quo while not promoting local agriculture that could be send back to the diaspora in the form of nostalgic produce. Complaining it does not have a voice in the political spectrum, it usually comes out strong through social media each time there is a social crisis to call for a meeting that usually bears a mouse from the mountain.
The Haitian intellectual elite can be divided in four groupings, all of them demonstrating poor leadership in moving forward the Haitian boat. In fact the leaders of two of them (Francois Duvalier and Jean Bertrand Aristide) have almost destroyed even the noblesse oblige principle so entrenched in the Haitian ethos.
We can pinpoint their beginning to 1920, when, at the height of the American occupation, there was a major debate as to which way to go to put the American occupying forces out of the country.
There was the school promoting the French tradition, led by Dantes Bellegarde and Leon Laleau, advocating for the promotion of the French heritage in the Haitian culture.
There was the indigenist school, led by Jean Price Mars, urging to go back to the popular use and customs of the Haitian people, loving ourselves first as we are and practicing social education towards the masses.
There was the school of les griots with leaders like Lorimer Denis, Francois Duvalier, Louis Diaquoi and Carl Brouard, advocating that it was the time for those of the dark skin to get their share in the spoils of the country.
And last but not least, there was the indigenist revolutionary group, which advocated there could be no solution to Haiti dilemma but in a true Bolshevik revolution. In that circle, you could situate Jacques Stephen Alexis, Jean Bertrand Aristide and the left leaning of the Catholic Church amongst others.
None of those schools have called for the doctrine of the building of the sentiment of appurtenance, the glue that would circulate amongst all the segments of the Haitian society to build a true nation with the fine institutions and the excellent infrastructure that would propel each one of the Haitian citizen and the nation to its zenith!
With such a bleak picture of the Haitian canvas, one is tempted to be discouraged about Haiti in the future. I have learned to never despair for or about Haiti. It has done great things in the past; it is bound to do so again in the future. It only needs the right leadership to shepherd a great nation with great people to a great mission for itself and for the universe! Be a liberator; transform every human spirit from being a Satan to his fellows to being like an angel, as God intends us to be!
• Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD, is a regular contributor to the opinion section of Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.