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To truly help Haiti, diaspora must start by making amends | Opinion


Over the quarter century since The Haitian Times has been around, we’ve had many interesting experiences, to put it mildly. But one stood out in particular. Shortly after we launched the publication, I received a call from the owner of a prominent restaurant seeking to advertise. We were delighted and saw this as a good omen that would attract more advertisers. 

After invoicing the entrepreneur many times, we stopped running the ad because of no payment. One day, I was at the restaurant for a meeting when the owner called me aside to do a mea culpa.

“I know I’m wrong,” he told me. “But I didn’t know you were going to be this professional. I thought you’d stop by and eat every now and then, and you know…” 

He trailed off then. I feel comfortable putting these words in quotes because they are seared in my brain. I said nothing and returned to my meeting.

This exchange was a harbinger of things to come. But to be clear, some of these indignities are not limited to my community. Other publishers have their own version of the same stories. We get a hearty laugh out of them when we meet and swap war stories. 

Something was different about The Haitian Times though. Its creation upset some powerful gatekeepers who felt that its mere presence and our editorial independence posed an existential threat to their hegemony over the community. 

They were determined to limit its influence and undermine its audience with the ultimate goal of driving it away. That mindset shocked us, but we saw all of that as noise that would go away. We were laughed out of the queen’s court when we attempted to work collaboratively with others.  

A few years into running this incredibly challenging enterprise, I hit the pause button to figure out how to handle these unforeseen setbacks. I read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” a book about strategy, tactics and techniques of combat. One of the many takeaways I gleaned is that I thought I was competing in a 100-yard dash, but I was actually running a marathon. 

Basically, I needed patience and self-control as I embarked on this journey. Ultimately, many of these gatekeepers would fade away and move on. We’re still around informing the community and being part of our readers’ lives. 

In the early 2010s, I, too, had taken a few steps back to try to understand the digital revolution that had fundamentally changed the media business. By the Covid-19 pandemic, we had taken small, but positive steps to figure out what was next. 

I decided to change tactics and shed the pugilistic attitude, and instead offer everyone an olive branch. Now, I do not engage in combat as much as I did during the beginning of The Haitian Times. I pick my battles carefully. 

As it became clear that our community was deeply impacted by the pandemic, The Haitian Times became a nexus — rallying organizations, working with them to make sure that resources and accurate information were being shared, despite our history of conflict. The time for relitigating old quarrels was over. 

Haiti needs us in the diaspora

I accelerated my peace tour last year, after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. This crime, after all, had exposed the dysfunction that Haiti had become. Petty disputes had no role whatsoever. Our homeland was in danger. Leaders had to rally the community around the flag and inform them about the virtue of a community-minded approach over the individual go-along. We must adopt a “WE,” not an “I,” mentality.

Our country needs us to. 

Leaders in Haiti have shown little inclination in solving the myriad of problems facing the country right now. We can’t take the lead there even if we want. But what we can do is to strengthen existing organizations’ capacity and create strong local, regional, and national organizations capable of defending our interests here and back in Haiti. 

The need to organize elections and tackle the gang problem remain the top priority for the United States and the international allies, according to Brian A. Nichols, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. It was refreshing to hear that this experienced diplomat has realized Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry, his man in Haiti, is spinning his wheels and is not too interested in organizing elections in the near future. 

Last week, Nichols also called on Haitian leaders to put aside differences and put out the five-alarm fire Haiti has become. 

“Negotiations are not going to result in a completely new government, they’re going to result in a path forward towards elections, and the restoration of democracy,” Nichols told The Miami Herald.  “We can’t have people just carving up the pie in any different way.”

Nichols added they are aware Henry has been “sort of floating names” of people who should serve on a nine-member Provisional Electoral Council with civil society groups and “they’re going to have to come together around that.”

“We can’t force this on them. However, a CEP is a necessary precondition, along with improved security for elections,” he said. The situation in Haiti, he noted, demands urgency, according to The Miami Herald.

This is why we in the Diaspora need our coming together moment. Since taking on this role, Nichols has looked to us here for guidance. He wants us to be a stakeholder. He would like for us to be a bigger player, but frankly we’re not there yet. 

Nichols can do two things. He can help the diaspora build its capacity and let us know exactly the role he’d like for us to play. If he thinks the people in Haiti are giving him the runaround, think about what they would do to an uninformed member of the diaspora who is all emotion and no nuanced understanding of the reality in Haiti. The Haitian leaders have perfected the art of maronage, or spinning. 

I know that I will continue my apology tour and work assiduously to unite us as a community. Our country needs us now more than ever. We all need the diaspora version of the Bois Caïman revolution. 

But we need to let bygones be bygones to rise to the occasion. 

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