For the past two years, I’ve traveled to Haiti to get to know the country I left as a child. It has been my mission to make my experience with Haiti more than just the country my parents have taken me to visit. My trips have allowed me to see Haiti as more than the often negatively stereotyped and anecdotal stories shared by those in the diaspora and the media. Paradoxically, my trips have also provided me with a front seat to the problems Haiti faces. Like all countries in the world, Haiti faces a collection of issues. These problems are fixable through individual actions, commitment and dedication of the government, and foreign direct investments.
This year while I was in Haiti, protests broke out as an outcry against mandated fuel hikes by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Haiti has been subsidizing its fuel through Petrocaribe, a program which allows Caribbean countries to purchase fuels from Venezuela at below market prices. The IMF advised Haiti that it was time to stop the subsidies. In doing so, Haiti would start to collect much-needed revenue that the government could use to pay its outstanding debts and invest more in social services.
On Friday, July 6, 2018, the government of Haiti announced fuel price increases. Gasoline was going to increase by 38%, diesel by 47%, and kerosene by 51%. The protests eventually sparked two days of strikes against corruption, high unemployment, and destitution. The Prime Minister eventually resigned due to mounting pressure against him. The civil unrest led to three deaths and several businesses being negatively impacted. When the news broke out, many news-outlets focused on the violent incidences that occurred. Very few people took the time to learn the reasons for the protests. Some who agreed with the protesters felt that they should have carried themselves peacefully—a critique largely ignoring the needs of the protesters.
As someone who grew up in Haiti in the 90s, it was a reminder of the instability caused by a weak government that has little commitment to the majority of the people it serves. It was also a reminder of why so many Haitians rather leave Haiti than stay. After the 2010 Earthquake, many of Haiti’s neighboring countries offered Haitians migratory opportunities. Today, these choices are limited. Countries across the Americas are no longer offering Haitians visas or waiving visas for entrance. Many of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are facing their own internal social or political issues. In turn, Haitians have no other choices but to stay in Haiti.
The public response to the government’s fuel price increases provided the Diaspora and the many friends of Haiti the opportunity to learn about the harsh reality facing Haitians. For a community who is so ready to see Haiti rise, it is time for us to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. What do we want to accomplish? What will be our focus? The number one goal should be to make Haiti work for the majority of those who live in it. This reality will only come to fruition with a government that is accountable to its citizens, financial investments, and job creation. This will not be easy, and we cannot let civil unrest deter us from our goals. We must stay focused. They will continue to happen if we’re not diligent about fixing the root cause. However, we should use them as learning opportunities.
One of the many lessons from this month’s protests were the people’s frustration with government corruption, lack of accountability, and the high cost of living. We need to address these issues. Foreign parties will never fix these issues for Haiti. It will take strong leadership both from private citizens in Haiti and those in the government.
One thing the Haitian Diaspora and friends of Haiti can do is to advocate for investments in Haiti. Investment does not mean starting a non-profit or getting non-profits to come to Haiti. It means convincing people to open businesses in Haiti. We in the Diaspora should be the first to do so. In thinking of business investments, it should be more than just a business that gives the proprietor a return. It should be a business that employs people and pays taxes.
If you live in the Diaspora and you’re still a Haitian citizen, meaning you are legally allowed to vote, exercise that vote if you have the means. On a bigger front, the Diaspora can be more engaged in the day-to-day politics of Haiti. The goals should not be to be political but to realize the people in government hold the key to how the country functions.
An engaged and informed community has the power to shift Haiti in the right direction. We will better understand the context of the hyperbole and sensationalism that often characterizes Haiti.
Daphney is passionate about finding sustainable solutions to poverty. In this Blog with HaitiLuxe, she aims to engage Haitians in the social development of Haiti and hope to spark the interest of everyday-Haitians in the development of their own country.