Monday, March 28, 2011


The run-off of the Haitian Presidential election was held on Sunday last, March 20th. Whilst the election itself thankfully passed without incident, the events of the weeks leading up to and following the poll, were in perfect tandem with Haiti’s turbulent history.

The first event, on the Friday prior to the ballot, was the long-awaited but poorly timed return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after seven years in exile, from South Africa. A White House spokesperson had stated that Barack Obama had phoned South African President Jacob Zuma, to express the concern with regard to allowing Aristide to leave for Haiti. To counter this, there had been a number of open letters published by the Guardian newspaper, London, from a long list of campaigners including actor and black rights activist Danny Glover, and Rev Jesse Jackson, calling on South Africa to assist in Aristide’s return.

There was confusion with regard to the specific date of the former leader’s return. As we reached midweek preceding the election, it seemed that Aristide’s detractors had given up that his return would inevitably happen, but they were fighting still to delay the homecoming. Even after it became clear that Aristide would arrive in Haiti Friday morning, elitist radio stations in the capital, often Aristide’s harshest critics, broadcast that his return would not be until the following Tuesday, seeking to misdirect his supporters in Port-au-Prince.
The number of people reported at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the capital on Friday morning varied, but all accounts agreed that there was a continuous flow of people in the streets, making their way to the airport; walking, riding in cameyon trucks, and, as one Haitian did, riding down the street on horseback dressed in late 18th century battle attire as worn by Jean Jacques Dessalines, the first leader of Haiti. Crowds chanting ‘Titid, Titid’, a nickname for Aristide, crowded the airport, climbing trees and slipping through fences to catch a glimpse of the former president. Upon landing, Aristide addressed the crowd, speaking in ten languages, including the Zulu and Swahili that he had learned whilst in exile, and thanked those who had supported him during the past seven years. He talked of the current elections, and how the exclusion of his Fanmi Lavalas party, was an exclusion of the majority. Following the speech, he and his wife and two children made their way in a car with tinted windows to their home in the north of the city. Here, many more crowds had gathered, chanting in celebration of the return of a man they observed as Haiti’s hope in this time of turmoil.

The statement by Aristide that he was returning to Haiti to be observed not as a politician, but as an educator, had been questioned, but he held his word, from the time of his arrival to the election at least.

The following day, Saturday, the eve of the election, Presidential candidate Michel Martelly had organised a large rally in front of the national palace of Haiti, the culmination of a series of campaign concerts around Haiti. Haitian musician Wyclef Jean performed at the event, which included lights, fireworks, and had the general atmosphere of a well-funded campaign. The following morning, as the polls opened here in Gros Morne, word trickled out that Jean had been shot shortly after the concert. Jean’s brother told reporters he had been shot, and a spokesperson reiterated later that he had received a bullet would to the hand, but was recovering. The news of the shooting would naturally lead, given Jean’s role as a primary supporter of Martelly, to the assumption that the supporters of Mirlande Manigat, Martelly’s opponent, had taken up arms. There had been word earlier in the week, mostly via radio bouche (literally ‘mouth radio’, analogous to ‘word of mouth’), that if Martelly was not elected, things, to put a point on it, would kick off. His base support of young males would apparently ‘set Haiti alight’, if their preferred candidate was not given the office of president. The reports of Jean’s shooting may, or may not, have cast a shadow of doubt for voters on Manigat’s campaign in the early hours of the polls. If this was true, Manigat’s pitch of a mother nursing her injured child was voided: she was like all those that had come before her, resorting to violence. However, as the events of the alleged shooting were investigated further over the course of the day, it transpired that when quizzed by police, the doctor who had attended to Jean’s wound stated that the small graze on his hand had been caused by a shard of glass, and not a bullet. Jean would over the course of the following week maintain his story that he had heard ‘pops’ like those of a small gun, realised his hand was bleeding, and had quickly driven with his entourage to the nearest hospital. It may have been a coincidence that the events occurred the night before the vote, but this meant the headline of ‘Wyclef Jean Shot’ would reach voters through radio stations and radio bouche as they stood in line waiting to vote, before the details of the story emerged later.

The day of the election finally arrived on Sunday. We had been advised, to my surprise, the day before, that driving was forbidden on the day of the election. Two of the party of eight in our household had been asked to volunteer as independent observers at the two polling stations in Gros Morne. When they returned home on their lunch break I asked if I would be allowed into one of the centres with them upon their return. We agreed that it was worth a try. Although the two had been issued with badges to prove their status as independent observers, as I have alluded previously, being a blan in Haiti is like having ‘CD’ registration plates on a car in Ireland: very few ask questions. As I approached the entrance to the polling centre with my colleague Mitch, my left hand leafed the passport in my pocket, should they ask for identification. In my right hand I held a notebook and pen, half-heartedly suggesting my being here was of a professional nature, though somewhat voided by the Led Zeppelin tshirt, shorts and flip-flops. My precaution was irrelevant, and I nodded with a feigned sense of mutual understanding at both the local police officer and the Argentinean UN soldier standing guard, as I passed through the small gate.

Mitch introduced me to Osam, the coordinator of the independent observers, who was only too happy to proudly show me around the polling centre and explain the system to me. This particular centre, in a school on the main street of Gros Morne, was one of two centres in the town. Each of the two centres consisted of fifteen offices, most of which were housed in a half of a classroom, separated into two using the school-benches. Each office had a list of approximately four hundred members of the electorate, posted outside on A4 paper, who were eligible to vote in that office. The Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) had assigned to each office a president, vice-president and secretary, tasked with the checking of identification cards, distributing ballot papers and inking the right thumbs of voters to show that they had voted. As a concurrent run-off election for the departmental senate seat was being held, there were four political parties with an interest in the ballot. Four representatives, one from each party, were posted in each of the fifteen offices to observe the voting and the count that followed. Osam told me that the turnout had been low, similar to that of the first round of the election in November.

Four o’clock came, and the gates to the centre were firmly shut, nobody being permitted to enter or exit until the count was finished. I walked around the fifteen offices observing the counting process: the secretary of the office removed each ballot paper from the transparent plastic polling box, showed the observers that the back of the paper had been signed by the voter, read aloud the name of the candidate that had been selected, then finally placed the paper in a pile corresponding to that candidate. All the other staff jotted rough counts while this went on, and then when all the ballots had been removed, a recount was carried out. The presidential votes were counted first, and then the senatorial votes.

The count did not take long, another reflection on the turnout. As I waited for the recounts to be completed, I tried to start a conversation with one of the three UN soldiers in the centre. As it transpired, he only spoke Spanish, and upon trying to retrieve some of the language from the depths of my brain, I found it had all been replaced with Kreyol.

When Osam had collected the figures from all fifteen offices, he showed me the final tally. From what I could observe quickly, the average turnout between the offices had been 120 from four hundred people, thiry percent of the electorate. In each of the offices, Manigat had achieved a winning margin of about 2 to 1. Osam explained that the presidential election worked on a popular vote system, so each vote here for either candidate would count for the exact same as a vote for either candidate in any other part of the country, without any type of departmentalisation. He explained further that the count from the other centre in Gros Morne had been very similar, but that the margin of approximately twelve hundred votes for Manigat would compare minutely to the hundreds of thousands of Martelly supporters in the larger towns and cities. We thanked Osam for his patience with us, and left the centre as the other staff filed out.
The relatively small victory for Manigat in Gros Morne will no doubt, as Osam said, pale in comparison to the support gained by Martelly in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Gonaives, and Cap-Haitien. However, Manigat’s corresponding victory in the first round shows that of the members of the electorate that did come to the polls in Gros Morne, most stuck with their initial preference. As Manigat topped the poll nationwide in the first round, this should not be dismissed.

As the reports came through on Monday that voter turnout had been similar throughout Haiti, speculation began of who would emerge victorious. Martelly’s young supporters had enjoyed a colourful campaign trail, but could they be relied on to have actually gone to the polls? The provisional results of the election will be announced by the CEP on the 31st March, with the final results following on April 16th. While hopefully these announcements and the following transition of power can occur peacefully, it appears that Haitians, in their millions, rather than expressing their views by voting, have done so by not voting. Whether these views are a sign of support for Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas, a sign of apathy throughout the country, or otherwise is open to debate.

Biwo your head in the sand: one of the polling offices, without much of a queue

The count proceeds under observation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


One of the associations many people make with Haiti, aside from the earthquake, voodoo and a dynasty of dictators, and an association that is of a much less grave nature, is with musician Wyclef Jean. A Haitian who found fame with rap group The Fugees in the mid-nineties, Wyclef has done work of mediocre acclaim since, but has remained in the public eye, especially in Haiti. He recently came prominently to the attention of the international media by announcing, early last year, his plans to run for the office of President of Haiti in the 2010 elections. He was subsequently denied the permission to run for the office, as he had not been resident in Haiti for the requisite period of time. Wyclef has been politically outspoken with regard to his native country, and has done considerable work to put aid money into Haiti. Notably, he established the Yéle Haiti Foundation, which provided scholarships for thousands of Haitian children in a number of cities in Haiti. The charities reputation, however, is far from amicable, having been the subject of criticism in relation to delayed tax reports and payments made by Yéle Haiti to Jean himself, including $100,000 for a performance at a benefit concert. Despite his dubious reputation, Wyclef is a household name in Haiti, as well as in the States, and many Haitians, particularly young males, would hold him in high regard. 

To draw an easy analogy, he's their Bono.

So to focus on the background to the events of the Friday just gone, Wyclef has recently announced his support for one of the candidates in the Presidential run-off election, Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly, formerly a fellow musician. I have written previously about some of the more farcical elements of this election, but to summarize, Martelly hardly seems like a man with the qualifications to hold the office he is running for, but given the lack of a strong opponent in Mirlande Manigat, as well as his overwhelming popularity, it seems that in all likelihood, Martelly will emerge elected. His popularity is only furthered by a tour of ‘political rally-come-concerts’ he is currently conducting in towns and cities around Haiti, as well as Miami, a city with a substantial Haitian migrant population. (As an aside, despite not being resident in Haiti, Haitian citizens living abroad are permitted to vote. Herein lies something the Irish government could learn from). Wyclef has joined Martelly on occasion at these events over the past two weeks. And so, on the night in question, I was not surprised to hear, on arriving at a local bar in Gros Morne, that the duo were performing at a street concert in Gonaives, a large city about an hour from Gros Morne.

The bar in Gros Morne is Panic Beach, owned by Tidenn, a giant man of about fifty years, who trained as a mechanic, and has worked for the nuns, as a driver amongst other things, for the thirteen-odd years that they’ve been here in Gros Morne. He doesn’t speak a word of English, but to any of the volunteers, American or Irish, who have worked with the nuns, he is a friend. It was Tidenn who broached the subject of the concert in Gonaives to the four American volunteers, two other Haitian friends and myself on Friday night, which was particularly quiet at Panic Beach. There were in fact no other customers present, and as it was pushing half nine in the evening, it seemed unlikely that there would be any further arrivals. Panic Beach is an outdoor bar that lies beside a river on the outskirts of Gros Morne, and with the opening of another bar in the centre of town, Ma Preférence, business in Tidenn’s is becoming increasingly confined to public holidays, or evenings that he has a band in to play. It was proposed, on a whim perhaps, that we travel to this concert in Gonaives. It was dark, and the only vehicle at hand was the nuns’ old Toyota 4x4, affectionately referred to as ‘Bon Sam’, an abbreviation of the large red print along its side which reads ‘BON SAMARITAN GROS MORNE / PENDUS’. Bon Sam has seen better times, and the registration papers of the vehicle are somewhat questionable. Nonetheless, it contained more than enough room for our party of eight, and there are few people who have driven the road between Gros Morne and Gonaives more than Tidenn. So it was decided upon to make the trip to Gonaives. We had just ordered a round of drinks, but Tidenn held the matter of urgency in higher priority than his Prestige beer bottles, and so we were encouraged to bring them on the road.

As any previous volunteer with UCDVO will tell you, the roads in Haiti ‘have character’, in a way that trip down the side of the Sugarloaf on a peddle-bike might have character. I wrote about the roads before I had arrived in Haiti, in January, but was surprised to find, on arrival, that the situation has vastly improved since last August on the road from Port-au-Prince to Gros Morne. The majority of the road has now been laid with tarmacadam, the noticeable exception being the last stretch between Gonaives and Gros Morne. A reasonable estimation of the journey time between these two towns, in a decent 4x4, would probably be about 50 minutes, town centre to town centre, with little traffic (there are no traffic lights, of course).

We were lamenting the lack of any radio or stereo system in the back of Bon Sam, and making up for it with sporadic renditions of ‘Ale lave platfom ou’, a current hit in Haiti, for no more than twenty-five minutes, when we noticed the favourable transition from dirt road to tarmacadam, and Tidenn announced our arrival by rolling down his window and shouting at a man across the street in typical booming fashion, asking where the concert was being held. The man indicated we head straight along the main road. We continued on, until the street began to become increasingly dense with people, and then as we reached a large open junction, saw UN police directing people and traffic away from a large pink stand with the words ‘MARTELLY TÉT KALE’ emblazoned across. It was established very quickly that unfortunately the concert had just finished, but that the duo of Martelly and Wyclef would be making an appearance at a hotel further back the road. A quick u-turn was performed and we somehow seamlessly merged into an entourage of official-looking vehicles with darkened windows. A large gate was being opened for the convoy up ahead, and we pulled in, the gate swiftly rolled shut behind us.

There are many hotels and resorts throughout Haiti. It is a Caribbean island after all, and whilst holidaying in a country as poor as Haiti does not appeal to many, there is a tourist trade, as well as the endogenous bourgeoisie society, and the off-duty UN and NGO staff, all of whom are catered for at beachside locations around the country. Many of the UCDVO volunteers have visited Kaliko, one such resort north of Port-au-Prince, which with a swimming pool and air conditioning, is a stark contrast to the capital city, only a thirty minute drive away. This particular hotel we happened upon on the night in question was not complete, but nearing the completion, as one Martelly supporter explained to me, showing me the swimming pool, the stage with outdoor dancefloor, the indoor dancefloor with disco lights and extravagantly oversized portraits of Haitian rap artists, the fountains that lined the walkways at the entrance, and the tiled bar with an adjoining pavilion, in which a buffet table had been set up, covered with food in anticipation of the presidential candidate’s entourage. Again, the contrast of the hotel with the streets just outside its gates vividly highlighted the degree of the poverty gap in the country. This is not to say that we weren’t completely in awe and appreciation of these surroundings, and were trying hard not to look like fish out of water, always a difficult task for a blan in Haiti. There was no doubt that we had been admitted to this plush setting because the colour of our skin differed to that of almost all others present. Events were clearly in the preamble, a DJ alone on the stage, playing Kompas music at a reasonable volume, while those present, numbering only about thirty, all dressed in the shade of shocking pink used by Martelly in his campaign paraphernalia, sat around patio furniture sipping drinks from glasses - as opposed to plastic cups or glass bottles. We took a table next to the outdoor dancefloor, and awaited the arrival of the entourage.

After about an hour, I had gotten up to talk to one of the security guards, when the noticeable change in atmosphere indicated the arrival of Martelly, Wyclef, et al. Both the musician and the politician were met with great enthusiasm by the two Haitian friends who had travelled with us from Gros Morne, and much hugging and handshaking ensued. The security guard had been in the middle of showing me a range of identification cards he had in his wallet, and was not prepared to abandon the conversation with the arrival of Martelly’s party. Identification cards seem to be a form of status symbol here, and often you will see Haitians wearing their work ID attached to a lanyard around their neck on weekends or occasions when they are clearly not on their way to or from work. Martelly, Wyclef and co were busy getting food from the buffet by the time the security guard had finished showing me the cards in his wallet, so I got a drink and struck up a conversation with two young Haitian lads, strategically positioned to shake hands with the politician or the musician as they left the end of the buffet. Martelly was continuously surrounded by at least one security guard, as well as his wife and a tall white man who struck me as some sort of advisor, and as they left the buffet table, they bypassed myself and the two Haitian lads, and went to a table in the corner of the bar. I consoled myself when I spotted Wyclef leaning on a barrier, eating and talking to a bulky security guard. Myself and the two lads weaved over and, making eye contact, I shook his hand. I asked him how he was and how the concert had gone in Creole, and he replied to me in English that he and the concert were ‘good’, and then made a facial expression as if to anticipate further questioning. As I supposed striking up a conversation concerning the scamming of moneys from charitable organisations might make proceedings a little uncomfortable, and having little else in mind to discuss with the musician, I decided that it would be best to vacate the area before things became awkward, and, confident that Martelly would be similarly receptive to my conversation, went in search of the politician. He was still sitting in the corner surrounded by supporters taking photographs when I found him, and after waiting on the periphery for about five minutes, I became bored and returned to the table with the other white folk.

After another half an hour, it began to rain, and given the outdoor nature of the soiree, this was taken as a sign to conclude the evening’s events. As the entourage prepared itself to walk to its convoy, I pushed through the throng of people surrounding the politician. His wife had produced a yellow rain mac from somewhere (the shop must have run out of pink rain macs), and was putting it over her husband’s head. As he walked through the crowd, shaking hands with well wishers whilst security guards cleared the way, I made one final push, hand outstretched. He shook it, looked at me, and gave me firm smile and nod, before he was immediately whisked on by his people. The swell of achievement lingered for only a moment, before being brought back down to the common sense realisation that this man had not yet been elected, and if he was, it might not be the best thing for the country in a time where it needs strong, experienced leadership. Having said that, as we bounced along in the truck on the way back to Gros Morne, it had been worth the trip, and as revealed later by Tidenn as he produced a stuffed plastic bag upon our arrival, we had emerged in the receipt of the universal currency of politicians on the campaign trail – the free tshirt. Pink as my sunburnt forehead.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


The appointment today of 15 cabinet ministers in the Dáil came at a time when the country needed a ‘dream-team’ to be wheeled out, heads held high in confidence, ready to save the nation from oblivion. As the allocation of portfolios was announced, the question of the need for so many governmental departments arose. How crucial are these positions, and how much attention should they receive?

One of the cornerstones of the economy of a developed country is employment. Steady employment means taxable incomes, which means a government can fund things like a health system, roads, policing, schools and all the other things we take for granted (yes, even the Irish health system). These in turn provide employment in the public sector. It seems silly to simplify this to such an extent, but here in Haiti, this structure barely exists. Taxable incomes are virtually unheard of, so most of the money for the above comes from foreign aid. Again, all this is taken for granted in a developed country like Ireland, and so the system has evolved beyond the basics to include government departments with responsibility for less crucial matters, such as (forgive me) the Gaeltacht, Sport and Heritage. The order of priority of these affairs is a subjective matter, but the priorities of a government building an economy more or less from scratch should be unanimous. A solid department of finance is key, backed up by departments responsible for employment, education and transport. It reminds me of the exercise carried out in team-building weekends, and late-night college drinking sessions, where four people try to form a ‘table’ with their bodies. Each person has both feet on the ground, with their knees bent, and lies back on the lap of person behind them, who is at a right angle. This requires all four people to lie back simultaneously in a square, and if one person falls, the group falls. (I’m sure there are many appropriate engineering analogies relative to this issue, but this is the one that always comes to my mind.) The development of a country requires the simultaneous establishment and success of sources of employment, a functioning taxation system, infrastructure to facilitate transport, and education to further the qualifications of the workforce.  So this is the first page of every economics textbook, what of it?

 In overseas aid, particularly post-disaster, job creation is an area that is often neglected. The scale of the disaster in Port-au-Prince was extrapolated by the circumstances that lay in the city long before any seismic plates had shifted. Extreme poverty, and lack of infrastructure, drove people to the city searching for an income, meaning they lived in condensed, poorly constructed buildings, often over-crowded, in a dense semi-arrangement, such as the one on the steep slopes of Petionville, a suburb of the capital that was worst hit by the quake. Whilst jobs are currently being created by the aid influx, particularly in the area of construction, these are not sustainable. If and when the effort to ‘rebuild Haiti’ is completed, the number of jobs in construction will dramatically drop off. And a country cannot sustain itself solely on income tax from construction work. Right now in Haiti, roads are being constructed, and schools are being constructed, both at a rapid rate. These projects assist in addressing the issues of infrastructure and education, but job creation is relatively stagnant, outside of construction.

So why, you might ask, should we be worried about job creation in Haiti, when the live register at home is beginning to look like the 01-area phone book? Whilst we haven’t seen unemployment like the current situation since the 1980’s, the current level of unemployment in Haiti has not been seen in Ireland since before the creation of the State. Two thirds of people here have no formal employment. To go back to education briefly, the training of the workforce has increased as of late, again most notably in the area of construction, but third level education is still lagging behind. It’s like trying to dig yourself out of a hole with no training, formal or informal, in the usage of shovels.

The international community, in conjunction with the incoming government, needs to address the issue of unemployment, while it still has a presence here. Examples of projects that could be carried out include the chicken coop project UCDVO has funded previously, and about which I wrote last month. As farming is what most of the Haitian people have been doing to keep their families in food for generations, it is an area that they are already more than competent in, or at least have experience in. These sustenance farmers need assistance in transforming their farms into businesses. There are already some projects underway that I have heard about, with the goal of setting up the export of mangos to the US. Despite the abundant crop of mangos in Haiti every year, they are only a seasonal fruit, and cannot provide year-round sustainable income for farmers, and so there is a need to research and develop other potential markets for export, and not just to the US. There is also a need to address the issue of the importing of foodstuffs from Asia. However, given the minute crop of rice in Haiti relative to the demand, this does not look like it will change any time in the near future. Given Haiti’s tropical climate, it lends itself to the cultivation of many goods that might not fare well in other climates, and the export of such goods is an area where Haiti could potentially move to the fore, internationally.

Other areas in which Haiti’s export trade has previously blossomed are clothing and textiles. While undoubtedly, the wages of workers in such areas would offend most people, it is an area which could be regulated, and developed in cities other than Port-au-Prince. This could, crucially, balance out the number of workers in the agricultural sector. There are currently textile factories in Port-au-Prince, and the owners of these could be given tax incentives to open further operating plants at other locations.

Until the next generation of educated Haitians comes into the workforce, the majority of jobs will need to be in labour and manufacturing. When the next generation of educated Haitians come into the workforce, there will need to be an incentive for them to stay. In a country where international trade is increasing, there will always be a need for people educated in the areas of business, IT, languages, and engineering, to begin with.  However the initial steps need to begin now, while the international aid agencies are sending qualified people into Haiti.

There will come a stage when the aid cash stops flowing into Haiti altogether. It is our hope that by the time that stage comes, these four pillars of stable economy will be established. From here, the government can take it upon itself to pick more narrow, direct priorities to share its attention. These will obviously differ from (forgive me) the Gaeltacht, etc. To go back to the analogy of the ‘four-person human table’, this stage corresponds to the point where everyone else argues about which people the newly formed table could support, if they sit on top.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


We had a visit up here, last week, from a French woman who is currently working for the Clinton Foundation in Port-au-Prince. Amid conversation about the differences between the French language and Haitian Creole, I asked her if the cultures of her native country and the one in which she currently resides bear many similarities. Haiti being a former French colony, I would have expected her to say that some form of hangover remains, to a similar extent that the language persists (albeit in a mutated form). She surprised me somewhat by saying that no, the country was much more similar to the USA, culturally, than to France.

Having thought about this since, it only makes sense. In Haiti, I have yet to see any person displaying any attribute or custom that I would consider typically ‘French’. I have, however, lost count of the number of times where I have thought something particularly ‘American’. Most clothing here comes donated from the States, and it appears every other Haitian child owns a t-shirt commemorating one homecoming or another. Obama, whose popularity I mentioned before, is known to some children who don't even know their own President. Brand symbols such as the nike swoosh are sown onto the saddles of 50cc motos. The culture, it seems, that most young Haitian people aspire to, is African-American. The icon of this is of course musician Wyclef Jean, who succeeded in the Haitian-American Dream of going to the US and becoming a millionaire rap artist. You might think that this is no different in Ireland, but at least most transatlantic-antics are taken with a pinch of salt, and the likes of Crystal Swing keep our aspirations of becoming rap artists firmly in the ground.

Although Haiti had been under French rule between 1697 and 1804, France has had some, but relatively little interference here, when compared to the US. After the Haitian Revolution, when Jean Jacques Dessalines became the first ruler of Haiti, he set about massacring any remaining French or mixed-race Mulatto people on the island nation, save some doctors and pharmacists. The remaining French class was small, virtually non-existent. Later, between 1915 and 1934, the US military invaded and occupied Haiti, taking apart the country's constitution and effectively re-introducing slavery. Granted, during this period of time under the American occupation, much of Haiti's infrastructure was constructed. The United States withdrew in 1934, and between this time and the inauguration of Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, Haiti had no fewer than eleven heads of state. Relations with America fluctuated during Papa Doc's, and subsequently Baby Doc's, reign as 'President for Life'. Eventually, in 1986, under pressure from the Reagan administration to relinquish control, Duvalier Jr went into exile in France, leaving, critically, on an US Air Force jet. 

In the mid-nineties, America actually assisted in the restoration of a democratically elected head of state. Having been inaugurated as the first democratically elected president of Haiti, with 66% support, Jean Bertrand Aristide was deposed by a military junta in 1991, after only eight months in power. Through 'Operation Uphold Democracy' (which, on the list of US military operations on Wikipedia, is definitely the LEAST ridiculous name - see 'Operation Sea Dragon' and 'Operation Bushmaster'), former US president Jimmy Carter was able to negotiate, with the head of the junta Raoul Cedras, the peaceful restoration of Aristide as President in 1994. It is also of note that the US and the Organisation of American States (OAS) imposed isolating embargos on Haiti under the military junta. Whilst these embargos intended to increase pressure on the ruling parties, they ultimately had the opposite effect. The ruling elite and the military, as one, excelled in smuggling, both in fuel and in illegal drugs. The detrimental effects were mostly confined to the lower-middle classes, working in relatively new private sector jobs. The effect on the environment was also significant. A lack of fuel meant Haitians turned to alternative sources, which in turn increased deforestation. This will hold particular resonance with former UCDVO volunteers, who have worked on reforestation projects around Gros Morne.

The late nineties and early noughties seem to be a bit of a murky period for relations between Haiti and the US. From what I can gather, the following happened:
1.Aristide genuinely had the best intentions for his country and its people, and while realistically did not see his country dramatically evolving into a global force financially, he did want his people to maintain dignity in their relative poverty. Thus, he did not want his country to be taken advantage of.
2.This, combined with the popular support of Aristide, did not sit well with the US, but Aristide would be out of power in 1996, and under the Haitian constitution, could not stand for a second consecutive term.
3.Aristide was re-elected in 2001.
4.The US imposed a government aid embargo on Haiti in 2001.
5.Aristide was forced into exile in 2004. His lawyer claimed prior to this that the US had been arming anti-Aristide factions, who subsequently took control of northern Haiti. Aristide claims that on March 1st, 2004, the chief of staff of the US Embassy in Haiti came to his house, and told him that if he did not leave office, he and many other Haitians would be killed, and that he was then escorted to a flight to the Central African Republic by US authorities.

Prior to coming here, and even after, the general perception of Aristide I had was one of a dictator. This, I have since become aware, is probably due to the general control of the US over the media. Aristide’s general demeanour of a passionate, vociferous priest doesn’t help.  In recent days, there have been a number of open letters written to the Guardian Newspaper, London, calling for the return of Aristide from exile in South Africa. The general perception of liberal news sources outside the US, is that there is pressure from the US on South Africa to keep the former President out of Haiti until the run-off of the Presidential Election is held here on March 20th.

This brings us nicely to the most recent bout of alleged US interference in Haiti. The current elections have no doubt come at a poor time. Any country would need more than a year to re-establish order after a cholera epidemic, let alone such a massive earthquake. In the earthquake, the government buildings next to the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince were destroyed, purportedly taking many records of the electorate with them. The result of this was that a significant portion of the electorate did not receive their ballot cards, and was reflected in the 22% turnout at the November 28th General Election. The international pressure for Haiti to hold these elections, despite all the signs opposing it, had prevailed.

Pressure to hold an election was one thing from the OAS, but then, following the announcement of the provisional results, pressure to change the results culminated in an alternative line-up announced at the end of January, for the run-off election between the top two candidates, on March 20th.

As the foremost donor of aid to Haiti, one could argue that the US deserves a certain amount of input into how Haiti should be run, at least for an initial transition period. When responding to the reports by members of congress of US involvement in the deposing of Aristide in 1994, Colin Powell was quoted as saying "It might have been better for members of Congress who have heard these stories to ask us about the stories before going public with them so we don't make a difficult situation that much more difficult" and that Aristide "did not democratically govern, or govern well".

A running joke in our house is to list off the things that America 'invented'. For example, I'll say "Oh, this sandwich is really good" and Mitch will say "America invented sandwiches". Other examples include Jokes, English, Computers and many many other things America may or may not have invented (but probably didn't). One of the ones I thought particularly ironic was ‘democracy’. It seems that America has tried on numerous occasions to show Haiti how democracy should be done, and yet the model doesn't quite seem to fit. While culturally, it appears America has drawn the minds of the next generation, only time, and US immigration law, will tell if that leads to a more physical draw. For now, Haiti needs to develop a stable democracy, with a flourishing economy, and the US should support, but not try to impose this.