Fourteen days from today, Haitians will be commemorating the 93rd anniversary of the landing by American marines in Haiti ostensibly to restore order. The marines quickly took control of the affairs of the country, staying 19 years to remake Haiti in their own image. They left in 1934, after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided that it was best for the United States to establish a neo-colonial relationship with its neighbors rather than resort to direct hands-on management and resource extraction.
Today as in 1915 Haitian governance is in crisis. Signs point to shared frustrations that run especially deep among the youth who can only look forward to the desolate future that their impoverished land has in store for them. Officially there’s no one in charge of the government. Three months ago, the Senate voted to dismiss Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis after people rioted in Port-au-Prince and many provincial capitals to protest against the scarcity of food and its skyrocketing costs in the wake of an international price surge.
Since there is technically no majority party in the Haitian parliament – except for a recently convened group composed of parliamentarians who broke rank with their party and coalesced into a so-called progressive political block while still maintaining their party affiliation – the President is entitled to name a new Prime Minister. And both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies are to sign off on whether the nominee meets the constitutionally-required criteria that would allow him or her to form a government, develop a plan which would then have to be ratified by parliament before he or she can be fully in charge.
Follow me so far? I hope so, since I am only giving you the quickie version of an otherwise convoluted process…
In Act I, President René Préval nominated Pierre Ericq Pierre, Haiti’s representative to the Inter-American Development Bank. Act I ended with the Chamber of Deputies rejecting the nominee on the basis that he could not prove that he was a true Haitian, for only a true Haitian is entitled to hold high office (e.g. President, Prime Minister, etc.) according to the 1987 Constitution. To be a true Haitian, one has to have been born of a native-born Haitian father or mother. Parliamentarians challenged the authenticity of the documents presented by Mr. Pierre to prove his true Haitianhood, requesting documents proving that his grandparents were native-born Haitians.
In Act II, President Préval sent up his consiglieri Robert Manuel whose lineage could be traced to President Tancrede Auguste who ruled Haiti for about 6 months in the 19th century. Act II ended with parliament rejecting the nominee on the basis that he had failed to meet another criterion for holding higher office: the 5-year continuous residency requirement.
Act III started last June with President Préval nominating someone whose Haitianhood was unquestionable, met the residency requirements as well as the other requirements stipulated by the Constitution. I can sense that you have been dying to know what these criteria are. According to the 1987 Constitution, nominees for Prime Minister must pass the following tests:
- The True Haitian test: Be a native-born Haitian, and never have renounced Haitian nationality
- The Maturity Test: Have attained thirty (30) years of age
- The Character Test: Enjoy civil and political rights and never have been sentenced to death, personal restraint or penal servitude or the loss of civil rights
- The Middle Class Test: Own real property in Haïti and practice a profession there
- The Residency Test: Have resided in the country for five (5) consecutive years
- The Accountability Test: Have been relieved of his responsibilities if he has been handling public funds
By all accounts, Préval’s latest nominee, Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis, meets all these criteria. Her opponents do not question this. Yet her nomination has stalled in the face of a full-scale assault on her fitness for the position. (See previous post on this matter). A fight by proxy has taken hold. Today, the Press Office of the Prime Minister-designate launched a new web site that seeks to counter the opposition’s campaign to reframe her and control the message.
Since the debate over her nomination seems to hover around questions of morality, a word whose closest cousin, the adjective “moral,” is used only 4 times in the Haitian Constitution, I looked for the moral obligations of the citizen and found the following under the title Duties of the Citizen:
Citizenship entails civic duties. Every right is counterbalanced by a corresponding duty.
Civic duties are the citizen’s moral (emphasis mine), political, social and economic obligations as a hole to the State and the country. These obligations are:
- To respect the Constitution and the national emblem;
- To respect the laws;
- To vote in elections without constraint;
- To pay his taxes;
- To serve on a jury;
- To defend the country in the event of war;
- To educate and improve himself;
- To respect and protect the environment;
- To respect scrupulously the revenues and properties of the State;
- To respect the property of others;
- To work to maintain peace;
- To provide assistance to persons in danger;
- To respect the rights and freedom of others.
Failure to abide by these provisions shall be punishable by law.
It should be clear to the learned members of the Haitian parliament tasked with recommending a yes or no vote on the nomination that guidance can only be derived from the above lists of test measures and legally-sanctioned obligations. Yet logic has escaped them before. It may escape them yet again.
I don’t know yet how Act III of the Haitian governance saga will end. All I know is that as Haiti approaches the 93rd anniversary of the US Marines’ invasion, the boots — 9,000 of them — are already on the ground, thanks to the United Nations. Thankfully, they will be able to prevent the bloodletting that inevitably follows a period of increasing political instability and frustration. I hope the whole thing turns out ok, and that soon Haitians will be turning their attention to moving the country forward, examine closely the silliness that is enshrined in a document inaptly named “Poverty Reduction Strategy and Growth for Haiti,” and decide on a real course of action. I hope that they will also turn their attention to dealing with a challenge that truly tests their moral core, and it is the following: when will Haiti really rid itself of child slavery and its corresponding mindset?