February 23, 2020 at 12pm on FacebookLive
- Michèle Oriol, Renown Historian: History & Economy
- Widlore Merancourt, Editor in Chief, Ayibopost: Country Narrative
- Shaina Silva & Carel Pedre: Moderators
(Click HERE for KREYOL)
Thank you for the invitation, I am happy to be here. I studied at the Faculty of Ethnology at the State University of Haiti with a specialty in agriculture. I did part of my studies in Haiti and part in France. Since October 2019, I have been in Nantes, France doing a residency. I am studying how people become elected, how leaders emerge.
I am Editor in Chief at AyiboPost. Our focus as an organization is in four key areas. We aim to redefine what is newsworthy in Haiti. We aim to share stories that are not often covered. We try to bring more diverse voices to the conversation, and we help people better understand issues to better understand proposed solutions. I have 14 years of experience in the media and recently assumed the post as Editor in Chief.
From the outside looking in, Haiti looks like a failed nation. How did we go from being the first black republic to being the republic of NGOs?
- When Haiti took independence in 1804, we did not have a highly literate population. We did not have 50 people who could read and write. Compare Haiti to the first republic in the americas, the United States and you will see that the populations were very different.
- The Haitian founding founders were not highly educated and they did not know the basics of running an economy or an administration. Despite winning the war and claiming independence, they were not familiar with agricultural development, being urban socialites themselves. They had limited knowledge of the economy and limited knowledge of the commercial sector.
- When we took independence, we did not have the human resources or human capital to run a country
How did we go from tribes in Africa who were flourishing, trading with Europeans, to being enslaved? Where could that gap have formed?
- Slavery did not start in Africa. Slavery started during the 14th century when Arabs were trading slaves across the region.
- Africans who arrived in Haiti came from everywhere. They did not have a common origin or a common language.
- Nantes sent the most slaves to Saint-Domingue. They would transport slaves from Africa to Saint-Domingue.
- At that time, ⅓ of the coffee and sugar supplied to Nantes came from Haiti.
Can you tell us Widlore about what is happening on the ground in Haiti?
A lot of people are talking about Peyi Lock. This is when the country is in total lockdown, when the entire country is shut down. Schools are closed, businesses are closed and people are afraid to come out onto the streets.
- We don’t talk about what brought us to this situation. What brought us here?
- We had Peyi Lock because the economy was not working for everyone.
- We have a population of 11 million, 4 million of whom are food insecurity
- 60% of the population are underemployed
- 20% inflation rate
- You see widening inequality where the few privileged are living differently from the vast majority of the population. You have people living the lavish lifestyle, building expensive hours and driving luxury cars.
In the last decade we had two major opportunities to redistribute wealth in Haiti
- Post-earthquake, there was 15 billion dollars donated and we don’t have a lot to show for it. We have reports saying that the Red Cross amassed ½ billion dollars and they barely built 10 houses.
- The second opportunity was the PetroCaribe Funds. PetroCaribe was based on a contract we had with Venezuela to invest oil profits into social services. The money was mismanaged. A lot of corrupted officials and corrupted businesses took the money, about 2-4 billion dollars.
- Activists stood up to fight corruption, demanding that politicians give back to the community money that was taken from them.
- There is a huge income gap in Haiti. With many living in extreme poverty and a few living in extreme wealth.
- The poorest are the true victims of Peyi Lock.
Our leaders did not have the technical capability to run and govern a nation. What does the government leadership look like right now? Who is running the country and how?
- Some might say that René Préval was the only president in Haiti to serve two full terms.
- There were supposed to be legislative elections in October 2019 where a new parliament would have been voted into power did not happen. A lot of people who wanted to be elected were upset, feuling greater dissent.
- Where we are today is that we do not have a parliament, and by June 2020, we will not have mayors running major cities.
- We have a population that is hungry, that is poor, that is not able to produce to feed a growing population. We have leaders who are not able to lead and vacant seats in the government. We are in a state of political, economic, and social crisis. We have leaders without a vision.
- We should not be dependent on elections to resolve our problems. Hosting elections only appeases foreigners. We need to restructure the electoral process and we need to restructure political parties. We should not expect the government to be leading change agents in Haiti.
Widlore, as a young Haitian who is shaping the narrative through storytelling and journalism, where do we go from here?
- People are not hopeless. It is because there is hope that people are out on the streets protesting.
- There is a lot of mistrust of established authorities, but there is a lot of mistrust against the opposition as well. They were once part of the system that they are critiquing as deeply corrupting.
- You have people doing things, you have people taking initiative. We can and should talk about the challenges, but we need a news ecosystem that will also highlight people who are shaping the country in a positive way. There is a need to build a stronger news ecosystem, to hear stories of people doing amazing things for this country.
- We need to reframe what we consider to be newsworthy.