Democratic Deforestation

March 25, 2011

Paul and Joegodson

Joegodson wanted us to post some reflections about the election that has been “occupying” his country lately. Many Haitians went to the polls on March 20. Joenaara is now two months old and she, literally, adds her voice to our discussions. Joegodson holds her in one arm, the phone in the other. From time to time, she interjects quite forcefully. It makes me (Paul) happy to hear her voice so very alive and well.

These few thoughts will be limited to Manigat and Martelly, the two candidates that no-one-knows-exactly-how were chosen to perform in the run-off spectacle for the presidency. Joegodson participated only insofar as he observed the elections closely and engaged everyone he knew in debate.

He didn’t vote. Since a number of political parties, most notably Lavalas led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, were excluded from participating, the elections were illegitimate for Joegodson. Among the group of twelve candidates who joined forces on November 28 to protest that the fraudulent first round was proceeding fraudulently were Manigat and Martelly. Like the other candidates, they had suddenly become defenders of democratic principles half-way through election day. It was nice to see the word “solidarity” floating around Haiti for a few minutes. But Manigat and Martelly received seductive telephone calls the following day telling them that they stood a chance to participate in the run-off and they were immediately back in the spirit of the elections. Solidarity is a noble idea … unless you’re winning.

Joegodson accepted that many people chose to vote. They weren’t democratic elections, okay. But he knows that there was still a choice to be made in what he reminded everybody were undemocratic elections. For Joegodson, the voting booths were made inaccessible by the piles of hypocrisy that surrounded them. Others in his entourage found ways to get through.

The candidates spoke incessantly of their desire to help Haiti. So, why are you running for president, Joegodson asked? The post of president, as offered, is an opportunity to amass some power and wealth by allowing the more powerful and wealthier free access to the island and its people. Manigat and Martelly both spoke of their readiness to lead Haiti. This system that has been imposed so clumsily on Haiti first separates the leaders from the people. And then the candidates are supposed to connect with the people to demonstrate that they are in solidarity with them. Of course, the Aristide phenomenon was different. He was an organic leader who continued to feel more comfortable with the people than with the political class that pulls the strings, as long as it follows the direction of the business class. Imagine how the pretentious elite must hate such a person! How could the halls of power ever be kept clean if the poor were allowed access? No. First, renounce the poor. Then, bond with them. Once elected, ignore them.

Martelly and Manigat both said that education was a priority. So, teach! Open a school! Organize a mechanics’ institute! There are any number of ways to pass along knowledge. The state of Haiti, as long as it has been controlled by the United States, has demonstated over and again that education is a waste of money that could otherwise line bottomless pockets. You’ll know when a candidate is serious about universal education, Joegodson reminded his friends. He will be forced into exile.

The two candidates offered different images for the spectacle of the elections. She was elderly and dignified. He loud and brash. Both were well rooted in the establishment: he as a businessman, she as an academic. Both want to help Haiti by holding the office of the president. They presented platforms and said that they would implement them. (Once you believe that the candidates accepted by the United States will work for the people of Haiti, you are so far down the road of delusion that it will be tough to find your way back to sanity. Why, oh why, do you think that Aristide can’t play? What will be their relationship with the Interim Commission whose many billions of dollars Bill Clinton has so generously consented to manage?) But Manigat and Martelly have never distinguished themselves by working alongside the people that they say they want to represent. How do they see that relationship? Joegodson thinks he understands how they look upon him. It’s not a relationship he is willing to enter.

On the last day of the campaign, Joegodson and his friends watched them on television. Among his friends were people who were committed to one or the other candidate. However, the final day changed their minds.

Manigat was at a campaign stop in the north of Haiti. She was introduced by someone who had much more energy than she was able to muster. She presented herself to the crowd as their mother. They would vote for their mother, she said. It wasn’t working. She asked for people to raise their arms if they were going to vote for her. A quarter of the people didn’t bother to raise their hands. For a campaign rally, it seemed underwhelming. But she smiled with her mouth if not her heart and carried on. She said that it was with those arms (in the air) that they would build the new Haiti. It was kinda creepy. Each arm, apparently, was to represent a branch in a tree that was the new Haiti. Everyone with Joegodson was trying to get their head around this image: “She’s going to take our arms off now?” No one could connect with this twisted metaphor. But it got worse when she threatened to hug every one of them in her own arms. Manigat said that she too was going to raise her arms to embrace them. However, one of her arms, she said, was weak, so she would have to hug them with the arm that was still strong. Strong enough, she said. No thanks, said everyone watching.

It was a perfect demonstration of the poverty of the political system imposed on Haiti. Manigat’s claims have been consistent. Her supporters have echoed them. She is an intellectual. She has had much experience in and around politics (she has run for office before and was once, briefly, the first lady). She is a university professor and therefore intellectually capable. But the people with Joegodson understand Haiti as it is lived. They live under tents; they struggle to survive. They doubt that a carefully coiffed professor who wants to hug everyone could possibly know how to build their Haiti from the ground up. And so even the people who had been prepared to vote for Manigat changed their minds. Theirs is not an anti-intellectual position. It means that people, like Manigat, who think that the intellect cannot grow in the dirt where it is planted are mistaken.

Anti-intellectualism is, sadly, well-represented by the alternative candidate, Martelly. He will probably win. Poor and ever poorer Haiti.

There is something in between these two. Unfortunately, those who impose their will on Haiti are careful to make sure that that any intellect that grows organically in Haiti is cut down before it reaches maturity. That is the primary deforestation tragedy of Haiti.

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