Think about having to change a tire in a swamp. The first question is, where do I place the jack? Where’s the solid ground that can bear the load to lift and free the affected wheel?
When it comes to lifting Haiti, a country seemingly in perpetual crisis, the big question is the same: where do we start? Where are the institutions and associations that can be the framework for building a functioning society?
A recent description by reporter Kirk Semple in the New York Times details why longtime residents say these are the worst times yet. “Weeks of unrest around Haiti, coupled with rampant corruption and economic malaise, have led to soaring prices, a disintegration of public services and a galloping sense of insecurity and lawlessness.”
“Gas shortages are worsening by the day,” Semple continues. Hospitals have cut services or closed entirely. Public transportation has ground to a halt. Businesses have shuttered. Most schools have been closed since early September, leaving millions of children idle. Widespread layoffs have compounded chronic poverty and hunger. At least 30 people have been killed in the demonstrations, including 15 by police officers.”
The almost three-year-old government of President Moises has painted itself into a corner of mutual bad faith, unable to appoint the colleagues he wants, unable to work with the opposition and now facing months of street protests calling for his resignation.
President Moises biggest problem he inherited from his predecessor, Michel Martelly, whose term was marked by the disappearance of $1.3 billion in Venezuelan energy money, and who nominated Moises to take over the country and his hidden legacy. With the PetroCaribe program now cancelled, Haiti frequently runs out of gas, and the whole economy chokes to a near-stop.
Then there are two terrible long-term trends: the compounding-every-year brain drain of people and money leaving Haiti for someplace more livable; and climate change, already bringing rising seas and historically damaging storms. Haiti is tied to the rails of the main storm track for Atlantic hurricanes and has been hard hit in 2004, 2008 and by Hurricane Mathew in 2016. The catastrophic earthquake of 2010, was followed by smaller quake in 2018, which also took lives and property.
And yet people live on. And the protests, after months still on the march, are themselves a sign of life, of aspiration, of a willingness to turn out to change Haiti.
Amy Wilentz is an American journalist and writer. She is a Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, where she teaches in the Literary Journalism program. Wilentz was Jerusalem correspondent for The New Yorker, and is a contributing editor at The Nation. She is the author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier; Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti; and the novel Martyrs’ Crossing; among other books.