On a Road to Nowhere

24 Mar
Photo by Reed Weimer, courtesy Creative Commons

Photo by Reed Weimer, courtesy Creative Commons

Last week at about this same time, I was sitting in a car on the Route National, about a mile from the hotel I’d gone to for the weekend on the Cote des Arcadins and at least an hour and a half away from my destination, Port au Prince. Cars, trucks and buses sat likewise in front of us and many more in a long line behind. Motorcycles, laden with passengers and packages were managing to get through, but a continuous flow of people walked along the verge in both directions.

Across the highway, an empty truck had been parked, blocking our access. It was very hot, and some people got out of their vehicles to walk around, or sit on the wall beneath a tree that was actually shading its opposite side.
We were blocked by a protest. The ostensible reason for the protest and the barricades, of which there were several, was a rumour that the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, had privatized the main public beach and sold it to his prime minister, Laurent Lamothe. In fact, it had been closed to clean up all the garbage on it.
But the facts didn’t matter here. Political opponents of Martelly like Senator Moyse Jean Charles, had taken them and a mass of discontented, disenfranchised young people to create transport havoc. At one point, an opening on the highway was quickly blocked again with piles of old tires. A friend of my driver’s godson came by on a motorcycle, moved them aside and waved us through.

It felt strange to feel good when the generally despised U.N. blue helmets and police showed up to dismantle the barricades, so I could finally make it back in time to finish up the work I needed to do in my final three days in Haiti. To be, for a change, on the side opposite the angry young people who got pissed off enough at my futile attempts to persuade them to let us through with a few badly aimed rocks and a lot of insults. Believe me. The irony of it all was not lost on me.
I got the fact that life for them is unconscionably difficult and unfair. I agreed that Martelly is a lousy president, corruption is everywhere and that whites like me should leave.
But I still needed to get to work. I didn’t want to spend all day sitting in a car stalled on the highway in the unrelenting heat.
And mostly I was disheartened by the pointlessness of this politically manipulated protest. The kids who came by yelling at us were probably not locals, but whipped up and driven in to annoy us travellers — as many impecunious bus and tap tap passengers as middle class car owners — by political opponents no less corrupt and devious than the folks in power.

Later I learned from Daniel Tellias, who works in Cite Soleil with groups of highly motivated slum dwellers, that one of the biggest obstacles to making life better and safer there are his country’s politicians. They pay major money to local leaders, whether gang related or not, to maintain their control. To show up when needed for a political rally or, like last Monday, to take over roads in fake protests.
The government and ruling class in general meanwhile don’t see any need to inform the poor of what they are doing. A sign on the beach saying that it was closed for a clean-up would have gone a long way to diminishing the angry crowds. But Haiti’s ruling class can’t usually be bothered to communicate. Their traditional methods of governance is just doing what they please. It might be something bad or it might be something useful, but the poor don’t need to know. They just need to accept what their betters have decided.

All sides of the country’s political spectrum are guilty of using this method. In one way or another, they’re in charge. And on the ground, the uninformed and un-consulted argue amongst themselves, leaving everybody on a road to nowhere, instead of a path towards change.


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