The Nation - October 24, 2019

"Beyond all of these extremes, there is the simple duration of the protests. They’ve been going on for almost a year, not always at the same level, but on a national scale. There are two reasons for the intensity and seeming endlessness of the protests. Anger and hope. Anger: for more than 15 years, the entire population has been left to deal with life without infrastructure, order, or a foreseeable future. Some of the protesters have never had a reliable way of life. Hope: the belief or wish that there might be another vision for this dreamlike, tropical, fabulous green land, now wasted, destitute, deforested, and beaten down by human and climatic systems."

In Haiti, the unrest continues unabated. Only this morning, Haitian street protesters planned to meet up in a vast group, and march on Toussaint L’ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. The social media call to protest (“Operation Airport Lockdown”) included a suggestion that marchers bring “ti chez” or “little chairs” along with them so that once they have taken over the runways, of which there are not many, they can hold a comfortable sit-in for the day. The digital image for the march shows an airplane in flight over a runway, with the motto: “The Only Plane That Will Land is the One That Will Take Away Jovenel,” a reference to Jovenel Moïse, the country’s president, who has become the focus for popular anger and dissatisfaction.

As you watch what’s happening in Haiti today, and read the front-page coverage, it’s important to remember that the massive unrest in the streets is not powered by emotion only. The people you see out there are not thoughtless and they’re not simply angry. There is a logic to what’s happening; there’s a history and so many reasons why. There’s a plan, a hope. There are ideas. There is need and desperation, definitely. But implicit in what’s happening is a rejection of a long-standing system—and a dream of what another Haiti could look like.

I don’t say this as a romantic. I’m not saying that there aren’t subtle forces at work behind the scenes. Of course money is changing hands somewhere, to influence the moment and its outcome. There is always money coursing through protests, especially in poor countries. But recall that Haiti has always been a leader in seismic shifts in how the world functions. Remember the revolution of 1791–1804 that ensured that slave capitalism would eventually be doomed all over the planet? I’m reminded now of that revolution, which took a long time to accomplish. Remember that Haiti was the first nation to cast off an American military occupation, in 1934. Besides frustration about infinite corruption and zero leadership in Haiti, there is a lot of thinking now about how the country might survive outside globalized markets, and how it could return to an agricultural system of updated, modernized, self-sufficient small farming. Changes like these take a long time to accomplish, and require the support of huge majorities willing to work for these goals or other grand changes. It’s a demanding job, to tire out an enemy who has every advantage. But it can be done—and has been done before in Haiti.

The situation that has been unfolding over the past year is the long, drawn-out, tortuous result of a concerted attack on popular democracy, and of the Haitian elite’s reluctance to allow any political or economic space for the masses entrenched in generations of poverty. The international community has followed along with the English- and French-speaking Haitian business and political elite—whose word on Haiti is taken as gospel by foreign officials who don’t speak Creole—and has also often taken the lead. This elite-sector-first strategy worked as long as people could still live in the Haitian countryside. But as Haiti joined the global economy and its agricultural system failed to compete abroad and was undersold at home, urban migration with all its concomitant ills began to impinge on the ease of the Port-au-Prince elite. ...
Read full report at The Nation