Ten years after the earthquake that took so many lives and destroyed the economic fabric of the country along with bringing a nefarious change in the political spectrum Haiti looks and feels tired, ravaged and on the way to a dire future if you can use such a word to call the upcoming days. As schools finally started to reopen after the three months when peyi lock forced the country to a standstill, the usual recurrent problems started, first with teachers not being paid in the public school system in most provincial towns while most public institutions remain in pitiful conditions. In Port-de-Paix and in the North West Department teachers are on strike demanding to be paid for more than a year in some cases. In Les Cayes the main public secondary school, Lycée Philippe Guerrier, is closed because teachers there are on strike, demanding a salary and better working conditions, a familiar refrain. Other Teachers in the system are demanding their letters of nomination which they have been waiting for over two years because they do not get paid until they receive that letter. Second, students have not received any help or counseling regarding all the time lost and the bad effects from witnessing the recent events. Most parents are broke and unable to provide basic supplies because the cost of these items has risen sharply along with the cost of food and most basic commodities. Before peyi lock most schools were in bad shape anyway and little has been done to make them look and function better; this also applies to many institutions in the private sector that cater to students that do not come from the elite.
At the university level the overall situation is also just as bad as in the elementary to secondary school level. The earthquake destroyed most of the buildings of the Universite d’Etat d’Haiti in Port-au-Prince and in towns near the capital. Some private institutions like GOC, an engineering school, and a host of others went down in rubbles. Both in public and private universities teachers and students lost their lives, trapped under the weight of tons of concrete. At the Faculte de Linguistique Appliquee the Dean Pierre Vernet along with some teachers and many students were victims that day.
Ten years later only a couple of private elementary and secondary schools like College Marie Anne, Petit Seminaire College St Martial, and the Lycée Toussaint, as one of the very few public schools, have been rebuilt. Most other schools and the majority of universities that were destroyed then still function in hangars of makeshift wooden structures that become so hot that midday classes are out of the question; the Faculte de Linguistique Appliquee and the Faculte des Sciences Humaines are good examples of that where classes stop from 12 noon to well past 2 PM.
Even at the few relatively good private universities teaching is still done with chalk boards, and very little technology is used in terms of computers and software. The majority of students have to buy their own laptops and also purchase access to the internet via USB or portable routers for which they pay every month. Very few can afford that so students rely mostly on copies of texts used in the classroom since most books are too expensive or they work in groups with one computer. In towns other than Port-au-Prince the situation is even worse in terms of teaching methods and access to modern technology, with most universities there functioning without electricity. The situation with insecurity in those towns is becoming so bad anyway that it may be a good thing that lack of electricity prevent schools there from functioning after dark. Young school girls are being raped in broad daylight in the areas outside of towns called communal sections so having school after dark is definitely out of the question. Ten years after the earthquake the promise of building a new centralized campus for the State University remains a pipe dream while students continue to suffer in silence. A lot of promises were made to the university back in 2010 and 2011 but nothing has materialized, while many teachers have left the country.
The health sector is in worst shape than the education sector. Since the earthquake of 2010 only the hospital in Mirebalais was built with Canadian funds and it is not functioning because of not being supplied by the Ministry of Health both in terms of human resources and working supplies. The main hospital in Port-au-Prince, the University Health Center commonly called General Hospital has not been rebuilt since it was destroyed during the earthquake. Prior to that it had not been functioning greatly but it still provided respite to the majority of the population if only with basic facilities, while millions of dollars were earmarked and spent to rebuilt it into a modern state of the art facility. Eight years after the then Minister of Health Mrs. Duperval announced with glee that money was there and the hospital would reopen and be the best in the Caribbean region in four years, there still is nothing of substance there with the construction site idle surrounded by tin sheet fencing, an abandoned desolate area, a stark reminder of failed promises. If not for the doctors from Cuba who are the only ones working in the provinces we would have major health emergencies coming from the communal sections. In the hills above most major towns like Gonaives, Saint Marc, Les Cayes, Cap-Haitien and other towns people are living in complete poverty with little or no access to schools, health clinics, stores and police protection. They have very little while they live in huts that do not protect them from the elements which in turn brings diseases, sickness and exposure to natural disasters. It is no wonder that the cholera epidemic outbreak is still causing sickness and death in areas in the hills and the countryside where people still have problems finding clean drinking water and most continue to defecate in open air.
In terms of agriculture which should be the backbone of the economy the situation is so bad that famine is starting to rise in communal sections in the North and North West. The output from agriculture is dwindling with very little done to bring solutions. In the Artibonite region which used to be the main rice producer and supplier for most of the country the level of production has dropped sharply in the last ten years with the past two years being a disaster. Fields sit dry and in desert like conditions because irrigation is faulty even though the biggest river in the island goes through the department on its way to the sea. Seeds and fertilizer are too expensive so farmers sell their plots to move to nearby towns in search of survival. The Ministry of Agriculture does little to help farmers and businesses in agriculture while financing in this sector is either non existent or too expensive with interest rates as high as 40% in some cases. Because the agricultural sector cannot feed the population most of the food is imported with rice coming from the U.S. while everything else comes mostly from the Dominican Republic. Since many people do not work and cannot afford the imported food they starve or rely on handouts from public and private charities. It is estimated that nearly a third of the population does not eat enough to satisfy the need for calories, protein and other needed nutrients; the youth are greatly affected especially small children. With increased investments in agriculture more food could be produced and people would find more to eat, but this is not a priority for the government. They prefer to beg the U.S. for food that could be produced by farmers in the country with some help and a good agricultural and food production program like it was done in Belize with funds from Petro Caribe. Instead we have a situation where the agricultural sector has seen prices of all supplies and tools rise drastically during the term of Presidents Martelly and Moise while production has gone down accordingly. It seems as if it is their mission to destroy the agricultural sector. In the meantime close to a million people may starve and will have to eat dirt and garbage to survive despite President Moise claiming he would strengthen and modernize agriculture to feed the population and put money in pockets during his campaign.
Insecurity has gone up drastically the recently with kidnapping of children and young women becoming prevalent once again. Since gangs have become the most powerful force in the ghettos and in some of the provinces criminality has risen accordingly. In the Artibonite region almost every day a bus is stopped by bandits and all the passengers are robbed at gunpoint. Trucks are seized and held for ransom until their owners come up with money to get their property returned. On the road to Malpasse small merchants are robbed all the time as they travel to the border to buy goods from the Dominican Republic; they are also stopped on their way back and all the merchandise is taken. The police cannot cope with the gangs who outnumber them with more powerful weapons. In Martissant, the southern entrance to Port-au-Prince, police are battling gangs who have made traveling on the National road to the south a risky voyage. Most police officers prefer not to risk their lives battling well armed gangsters because they are paid too little for that, so the population is left to fight by itself while certain senators and deputies enjoy all the money they can make associating with these gangsters who help them during elections. This past weekend Martissant was a war zone with two police officers from UDMO, a specialized unit, seriously injured fighting it out with the gangsters from the area. Those traveling on that road, the only one if you want to reach Port-au-Prince from the south, had to turn back, unfortunately a man driving during that time lost his life from a stray bullet.
Speaking of elections they have not been programmed anytime soon so we can look for one man rule for a long time, maybe another thirty year reign who knows? Because of the insecurity and instability most businesses in the provinces are going under while tourism has effectively died with the majority of hotels either closing or laying off workers. The economy is in shamble and there are no solutions in the upcoming days save for vague promises of infrastructure by the president while no money is available. In the meantime President Jovenel Moise has engaged in one more fight with ten senators whose mandate he is trying to shorten in order to completely erase the parliament which he has called non existent the day a new legislature was to begin its term. The president failed to hold elections in 2017 and 2018 when he had the opportunity, claiming that parliament did not vote the law to have elections. But the president enjoyed a comfortable majority in the parliament in terms of votes during that time and if he was not able to maneuver with a clear majority to get the law voted and promulgated he only has himself to blame. Now the situation makes holding nationwide elections almost impossible because the majority of the population will not participate in any electoral activity with Moise as president. There will probably be a lot of violence, riots and property damage if the government tries to hold elections while most politicians wether in the opposition or watching on the side lines will not participate.
So during the upcoming months President Moise will represent the sole force governing the country since he is not going to consult much less pay attention to the senate. The remaining senators can meet and make pronouncements but the president will marginalize the institution and rule by decree. This is the perfect set up to organize a dynasty starting with the constitutional reform that Jovenel is talking about earnestly. The president did not talk about quickly holding elections, instead he is talking about rewriting the constitution to better allow him to carry out the mission he feels the people of Haiti have bestowed upon him. Like the Messiah he is going to tackle the system and revolutionize the country with the love of the people strongly behind him. All this from a man who barely received 500,000 votes to win a contested election ripe with fraud in a country of more than eleven million people. So far only the Haitian National Police and the international “friends” of Haiti stand behind Moise and his rush to ultimate power. Aside from that support he has very little political Back up save from the PHTK political party and its corrupt politicians along with their few allies.
Presently we are heading toward dark days in Haiti. Carnival season just began so we can look forward to a few days of respite until the party is over. Historically most major upheavals always happen after carnival is over and the people have enjoyed the brief moment of drunken revelry.
Once the music stops problems return full force with the associated complaints, demonstrations and violence. This time I believe the after carnival blues may bring a lot of sadness. We are barely out of a period of turmoil where a lot of people died from either the violence associated or not getting assistance because of peyi lock. Unless something positive is done to drastically change the course of the social situation and provide jobs and well being to the population the next outbreak will be worse.