Michael Deibert's Haiti Blog

Haiti's new president embarks on cross-country mission

14 April 2018

Haiti's new president embarks on cross-country mission 

FDI Magazine

(Read the original article here)

Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, tells Michael Deibert how he is looking to effectively govern the whole country, through policies such as improving healthcare in all regions and building roads to prevent the more rural areas becoming isolated.  

Jovenel Moïse became president of Haiti in February 2017, just after Hurricane Matthew hit the country’s southern peninsula. An agribusinessman from the north who is often referred to as 'Nèg Bannan' (the Banana Man) because of his previous life as a banana entrepreneur, Mr Moïse won more than half of the vote in a crowded field. Since entering office, he has repeatedly criss-crossed the country, initiating road-building programmes in the provinces and measures such as remobilising Haiti’s army (demobilised in 1995 but never officially disbanded). 

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background before you became president.  

A: The fact that I have lived both in a rural zone in the north – I was born in a small town, Trou-du-Nord – and in [the capital] Port-au-Prince helped me better understand the socioeconomic dimensions of the country. Haiti, like many countries in the world, has a kind of cleavage. You have urban zones, rural zones, people in the town and people in the country. As an agricultural entrepreneur, I was able to see the entire country and it helped me understand the challenges of governing here. My experience in the private sector – I was the president of the chamber of commerce in the north-west and the secretary general for the national chamber of commerce – helped me understand the economic problems of Haiti. 

Q: You’ve been president for more than a year. How do you gauge your performance thus far?   

A: I would say that during this first year I’ve developed a better understanding of the challenges of governing. We have taken a lot of decisions and done a lot of work all over the country. We’ve addressed healthcare, for example – now you have a dialysis centre in the north and one in the south, we’re putting another one here in the west where we only have one. And with infrastructure, we have teams working in every department [and region building roads].  We call our strategy 'the caravan of change'. I said that we were going to have a new army, a professional army, an army in service of development, with engineers and technicians to work on natural disasters, and now we’re building one. With this new approach, we want to move Haiti beyond being the republic of non-governmental organisations [NGOs]. We welcome NGOs but they cannot replace the state, which is what has been happening in Haiti. We are working to resolve that problem 

Q: Can you speak a little about the opportunities for foreign investment in Haiti.  

A: In energy, Haiti consumes [more energy than it produces], so people produce their own with generators, batteries in their houses and other means. So this is a great opportunity, with [energy sector regulator] Anarse, to democratise the energy sector. We are also prioritising renewable energy – wind, water, sun and biomass. In tourism we have opportunities for construction of hotels and cruise ports. There is enormous potential in tourism. And there is an opportunity in the assembly sector too, with the Hope and Help acts, which allow us to export [textiles and apparel] duty-free to the US. 

Q: What was the motivation behind declaring the gourde the only legal currency for business in Haiti?  

A: The same motivation that every country has. Our constitution, our law, is very clear on this – there is one legal currency: the gourde. [To have two currencies] provokes inflation for those, especially the poor, who have to continue paying in gourdes. We haven’t stopped people from having bank accounts in dollars, or transferring money in dollars. But transactions within the country will be in gourdes. 

Q: Historically, there has been a big difference between the people in the cities, especially Port-au-Prince, and the people in the countryside. What steps has your government taken to end this?  

A: I am against all forms of division, which is a big problem in this country. We want to make all the departments interconnected. We want the deconcentration of public services and the decentralisation of the structure of the state to the provinces.

Haiti: time to take a second look?

13 April 2018

Haiti: time to take a second look? 

FDI Magazine

(Read original article here)


Haiti's name has been synonymous with natural disaster and political turmoil in recent decades. However, as Michael Deibert discovers, foreign investors both large and small are impressed with what they have found in the country, and many sectors are ripe with potential.

In his offices just off Champs de Mars square, set beneath brooding mountains and just beyond a glittering Caribbean Sea in bustling, colourful Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, speaks of his vision for a national revival

“There are enormous opportunities here,” says Mr Moïse, a former agribusinessman who assumed the presidency in February 2017. “In energy, to construct a high-tension interconnected national network; in renewable energy, such as wind, water, sun and biomass. In tourism, we have opportunities for the construction of hotels and cruise ports. There is opportunity in the assembly sector, where we are allowed to export [textiles and apparel] duty-free to the US.”

Hidden stability

Despite the president’s enthusiasm, at first glance Haiti, a country of just under 11 million with a history of poverty and political instability, may seem a counterintuitive place for foreign investors to consider. However, the country actually boasts one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the Caribbean, two international airports (in the capital and in Cap-Haïtien on the northern coast) and, apart from a brief interim government, has been governed by elected presidents since 2006. The second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere after the US (having defeated the French in 1804), Haiti is making a renewed push for foreign investment.

In February, the IMF signed an agreement with Haiti’s government, with the latter agreeing to “carry out economic and structural reforms to promote economic growth and stability, and alleviate poverty…[ and a] fiscal policy will focus on mobilising revenues and rationalising current expenditure, to make room for critical public investment in infrastructure, health, education and social services”.

Earlier in 2018, the government set up the Autorité Nationale de Régulation du Secteur Énergétique to oversee the opening of the country’s system of production, distribution and sale of electrical energy previously overseen by the state-run Electricité d’Haiti. After years of maintaining an unspoken dual status with the US dollar, in March, Mr Moïse declared Haiti’s national currency, the gourde, as the sole legal currency for business in an effort to stem inflation.

Opportunity and poverty

State investment agency the Centre de Facilitation des Investissements (CFI) is located in the capital’s Turgeau neighbourhood. The building is an atmospheric house in the gingerbread style of architecture, whose inside walls are covered with Haitian art and posters posing the question ‘Haiti: why not?’.

CFI general director Tessa Jacques says: “We are looking at tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy, apparel manufacturing and agribusiness. With the rise of private sector entities being able to sell electricity directly to the consumer, we’re talking about micro-grids, with solar, wind and other types of renewable power. It’s certainly a business opportunity.”

But the country’s statistics are stark. According to the World Bank, Haiti’s GDP per capita hovers around the $846 mark, with more than 6 million people existing beneath the national poverty line of $2.41 per day. Earlier this year, the Banque de la République d’Haïti, the central bank, expressed concern about the country’s deficit, which is somewhere north of 3bn gourdes (more than $200m). Questions remain over how $2bn of money linked to the Venezuelan Petrocaribe fuel programme – overseen by Mr Moïse’s predecessors, Michel Martelly and the late René Préval – was spent.

Downward spiral

Some of the factors that have most adversely impacted Haiti’s economy have been external. In the early 1980s, a US-Canadian programme to stem the spread of African swine fever exterminated 1.2 million Creole pigs – a major contributor to Haiti’s peasant economy – and only haphazardly compensated owners.

In the early 1990s, a US-led economic embargo imposed on the country to force a military junta from power devastated the country's middle class, dealing such a blow that the country’s GDP only regained pre-1991 levels in 2008. The decision by Haiti to reduce its tariff on imported rice from 50% to 3% in the mid-1990s then destroyed the ability of Haiti’s farmers to compete with cheap imported rice flowing into the country.

“The decisions we made in the late 1980s in terms of commercial openness and liberalisation were not smart, not gradual and not selective,” says Etzer Emile, a Haitian economist and professor at the capital’s Université Quisqueya. “When I compare that with other countries in the region, they did it step by step and product by product. We didn’t, and that transformed Haiti from a productive economy to an import-dependent economy.”

Satisfied customers

However, these problems did not deter mobile phone giant Digicel, which launched a $130m investment in Haiti in 2006, the largest corporate investment ever made in the country by an international company.

“This is a land of opportunity with more than 10 million consumers that is still very largely untapped,” says Maarten Boute, chairman of Digicel Haïti. “The lack of large-scale reliable employment means that there is access to a massive talent pool; almost every Haitian is looking for a job. With the right training and management, it is a very dedicated and committed workforce.”

Nor did Haiti’s ills deter Dutch brewing giant Heineken, which purchased a 95% stake in the Brasserie Nationale d'Haïti (Brana) in 2011, and invested another $100m in 2014. Founded in 1975, in addition to Haiti’s signature beer, Prestige (often served so cold that ice coats the glass bottle), Brana also produces Guinness and various brands of bottled water and soft drinks.

“Haiti is one of the most populated countries in the Caribbean and as a market is expected to grow,” says Brana managing director Wietse Mutters. “We are looking for organic growth and long-term investment.”

In addition to its 1400 employees, Brana now boasts a training centre and it partners local schools to train students finishing their studies to bring them into the company upon graduation. It is also updating and modernising its facilities, located in a sprawling industrial park just across the street from country’s main airport.

“If you’re here for the long term, I would say it’s a good investment,” says Mr Mutters. “I would look at facts, not reputation and rumour. Talk to investors like us. I think there are huge opportunities here, not only for multinationals but also for start-ups. I think the government is very supportive of foreign investment and it sees the need for it.”

Haiti can be a place of jarring contrasts. A fractious, sometimes explosive political culture co-exists with warm, gentle people. Desperately poor slums are found sometimes only a stone’s throw from elegant restaurants and shiny new hotels. Off the radar for years to many but the most adventurous, Haiti is now vying to come back in from the cold.

Deux Mains: from small beginnings

Not all foreign investment in Haiti exists on a massive scale. Near the capital’s airport, the 25 full-time employees of the Deux Mains (“two hands” in French and a homophone of “tomorrow”) apparel company work in a series of containers situated around a bucolic courtyard.

Founded by Julie Colombino, a relief worker who first came to Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, the company initially registered as a non-profit before registering as a for-profits enterprise in 2014 (the non-profit arm continues as Rebuild Globally). The company uses repurposed car tyres and inner tubes in nearly all its products, sourcing those and almost all its other raw materials in Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.

Describing itself as an “ethical fashion company”, Deux Mains has attracted the attention of the likes of designer Kenneth Cole, who partnered with it to launch a limited edition sandal line, and the model Heide Lindgren, who began as a brand ambassador and now serves as an official adviser.

Partnering with USAID’s local enterprise and value chain enhancement programme, the company – which sees 40% of its sales in the US and 60% in Haiti – is expanding into a 440-square-metre factory and adding 15 employees in order to produce its signature sandals, handbags and other goods through a combination of artisanal and industrial techniques.

“There are several benefits that are available for a business in Haiti,” says Deux Mains vice-president Sarah Sandsted. “We have a hard-working, talented workforce here really eager for opportunity. Haiti is such a creatively inspiring place, and our products are more beautiful because we are in Haiti."

Haïti ne périra pas : une histoire récente de Michael Deibert

Critique du livre Haiti will not perish: a recent history

Haïti ne périra pas : une histoire récente de Michael Deibert  

Publié le 2018-01-26 | Le Nouvelliste

(Read the original article here)

Culture -

Dans son dernier livre, Haïti will not perish: a recent history, Michael Deibert affiche une fois de plus sa grande connaissance et son profond attachement à Haïti, avec laquelle il entretient une histoire longue de vingt ans.

Son livre retrace l’histoire d’Haïti et les événements qui s’y sont déroulés depuis la guerre d’indépendance de Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines, Christophe, Boukman et autres jusqu’au décès de René Préval en mars 2017. Son tableau est grand et utilise une palette de couleurs très variées : la santé (y compris l’arrivée du choléra par le biais de troupes des Nations unies) ; les relations avec la République dominicaine; la communauté internationale, en particulier les Nations unies par le truchement de la MINUSTAH ; la CARICOM ; l’influence des États-Unis au fil des décennies ; les élections (toujours entachées d’irrégularités) ; la corruption (toujours présente) ; les portraits d’individus tels que Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Jean-Claude Duvalier et René Préval ; les préjugés en matière de couleur de peau, etc. Son récit des suites du terrible tremblement de terre de janvier 2010 est le meilleur que j’ai lu jusqu’à présent, et son tout premier chapitre, « Istwa » (Histoire), qui couvre la période des années 1840 jusqu’au départ forcé de Jean-Bertrand Aristide en février 2004, est en lui-même un petit chef-d’œuvre.

La qualité de la recherche de Michael Deibert est extraordinaire. Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de me demander comment lui, un auteur blanc, avait pu se faire autant de contacts parmi les Haïtiens noirs. Homme noir moi-même, je me rappelle avec stupeur le moment où, tandis que je visitais une école à Port-au-Prince, un petit écolier m’a appelé « blan » avant même que j’ouvre la bouche. Bien entendu, il ne réagissait pas par rapport à la couleur de ma peau – puisque de manière tout à fait ironique, j’étais plus foncé que lui – mais par rapport à ce qu’il jugeait comme étant mon apparence générale « d’étranger ». Donc de blanc.

Il y a trois questions que j’aimerais soulever suite à la lecture de ce livre.

Tout d’abord, l’attitude des Nations unies par rapport à Haïti (et, j’imagine, par rapport à d’autres situations similaires). À l’époque où j’étais le conseiller spécial de Kofi Annan sur Haïti en 2004, j’avais, à de nombreuses reprises et sans grand succès, cherché à faire accepter la différence entre peacekeeping et peacebuilding, c’est-à –dire entre le maintien de la paix et la construction de la paix. Dans mon rapport final, j’ai dit à Kofi Annan que « j’étais fermement d’avis que le concept de la MINUSTAH tel qu’il existait n’était pas sain, et était en grande mesure non pertinent pour le peuple haïtien, dont le bien-être était d’une importance capitale. Les éléments civils de la MINUSTAH devaient… en grande majorité inclure des aspects de développement choisis après une consultation approfondie avec le gouvernement haïtien et d’autres parties prenantes en Haïti… » Le livre de
Michael Deibert semble indiquer que presque rien n’a changé depuis lors.

Étroitement lié dans l’esprit des bureaucrates de l’ONU, avec leur insistance sur le maintien de la paix, est ce qu’ils appellent – Michael Deibert en parle – la « stratégie de sortie » (exit strategy) de l’organisation. J’ai trouvé particulièrement alarmant, pour ne pas dire contre-productif, qu’une telle stratégie ait pu être formulée avant même que l’ONU – dans le cas d’Haïti, la MINUSTAH – ait mis les pieds dans le pays concerné. On peut apprécier le désir (mis à part les coûts impliqués) de ne pas s’attarder et ainsi de ne pas donner l’impression d’être une force d’occupation. Mais comment traiter sérieusement les problèmes de fonds du pays si on prépare déjà son départ avant même d’être arrivé ?

 Ensuite, Gérard Latortue, Premier ministre par intérim suite au départ de Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a été, comme je l’ai écrit un jour, attaqué pendant son mandat comme étant « la marionnette illégitime de l’administration de George Bush ». Ce qui était une accusation parfaitement injuste à l’encontre de cet homme et le Livre blanc publié par son gouvernement de transition, couvrant la période allant de mars 2004 à juin 2006, fait état des avancées non négligeables réalisées par lui et son équipe.

Enfin, les Haïtiens en général. Michael Deibert fait souvent référence et exprime son grand étonnement à ce sujet, à la volonté des Haïtiens non pas vraiment de travailler les uns avec les autres, mais plutôt d’être en situation de conflit permanent au détriment du pays. Il cite Louis-Henri Mars : « La vraie question en Haïti est une question de relations, comme celle-ci : « Sommes-nous unis ou représentons-nous des tribus disparates ? » Pourquoi la réforme institutionnelle est-elle ce feu follet insaisissable ? Pourquoi la corruption au quotidien est-elle si difficile à éliminer ? Pourquoi, malgré toutes les attaques dont elle fait l’objet, l’impunité est-elle si répandue, si naturelle ?

 Pourquoi Michèle Pierre-Louis demande-t-elle tristement : « Est-ce que cela signifie que tout ce qui fonctionne doit être annihilé ? » Et Michael Deibert se rappelle qu’en janvier 2012, Michel Martelly avait dit devant le Parlement qu’Haïti était à l’époque « la somme des luttes intestines, des assassinats, des enlèvements, de l’embargo, de l’anarchie, du chaos, de la dégradation environnementale, de l’égoïsme et de la cupidité. Ceci doit changer ». Les choses ont-elles changé ? Si non, pour quelle raison ? A quoi cela sert-il de toujours faire référence à ce passé remarquable si le présent, comme le centre du poème de W.B. Yeats, ne tient pas ?

Michael Deibert a écrit un livre remarquable. Il est détaillé, incisif, sensible, et écrit dans un style assuré qui ne s’arrête jamais pour s’interroger sur quelle direction il va aller. C’est à mon avis une lecture indispensable pour toute personne, originaire d’Haïti ou pas, qui veut comprendre ou bien compléter ses connaissances au sujet des courants de la politique et de l’histoire d’Haïti en général et en particulier des quinze dernières années.

Ce livre tire son titre d’une promesse faite par René Préval en février 2010 à l’Université Notre-Dame à Port-au-Prince. « Haïti ne périra pas », avait-il dit ce jour-là, un mois exactement après le tremblement de terre.

Haïti ne périra pas. Mais quand donc sa population tirera-t-elle profit de manière productive de ses compétences et de son intelligence considérables dans l’intérêt national ? Quand donc Haïti s’épanouira-t-elle ?

Reginald Dumas

A Review of Michael Deibert’s Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History

A Review of Michael Deibert’s Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History  

Posted on Wednesday 3 January 2018

By Reginald Dumas

Submitted to AlterPresse

(Read the original article here)

In his latest book, Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History, Michael Deibert once again demonstrates his vast knowledge of, and deep affection for, Haiti, with which he has had a twenty-year connection.

His absorbing, often mesmerizing, story traces the history of, and events in, Haiti from the independence war of Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe, Boukman and others to the death in March 2017 of René Préval. His canvas is vast and multi-colored: health (including the cholera introduced by UN troops); relations with the Dominican Republic; the international community, especially the UN through MINUSTAH; CARICOM; US influence over the decades; elections (always flawed); corruption (always present); portraits of individuals such as Aristide, Jean-Claude Duvalier and Préval; the skin color divide; and so on. His account of the aftermath of the massive January 2010 earthquake is the best I have ever read, and his very first chapter, Istwa (History), covering the period from the 1840s to the forced departure of Aristide in February 2004, is itself a little masterpiece.
The quality of Deibert’s research is extraordinary. I could not help wondering how, as a white man, he was able to acquire such a range of black Haitian contacts. A black man myself, I remember my astonishment, while visiting a school in Port-au-Prince, at being called blan (white) by a small pupil even before I had opened my mouth. He was of course reacting not to the color of my skin – ironically, I was blacker than he – but to what he perceived as my overall “foreign” appearance, which meant white.

There are three issues arising from the book on which I should like to comment.

First, the approach of the UN to Haiti (and, I suspect, to other similar situations). While I was Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Haiti in 2004, I repeatedly, and without notable success, sought to have a clear distinction drawn between peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In my final report, I told Annan that I was “firmly of the view that the concept of MINUSTAH as it now exists is unsound, and largely irrelevant to the people of Haiti, whose welfare has to be of paramount importance. The civilian side of MINUSTAH must…overwhelmingly comprise developmental aspects chosen after close consultation with the Haitian government and others in Haiti…” Deibert’s book suggests that nothing much has changed in the years since.

Closely allied in the minds of UN bureaucrats with their emphasis on peacekeeping is what they refer to – Deibert mentions it – as the organization’s “exit strategy”. I found it alarming, not to say counter-productive, that such a strategy would be formulated even before the UN – in Haiti’s case, MINUSTAH – actually entered the country concerned. One can appreciate the desire (quite apart from the costs involved) not to overstay one’s welcome and thus project the impression of an occupying force. But how would the country’s fundamental problems be seriously addressed if one
were already planning how to leave before one had even arrived?

Second, Gérard Latortue, the Interim Prime Minister after Aristide left, was, as I once wrote, mauled during his tenure “as the illegitimate rag doll of the Bush administration”. It was an unfair assessment of the man, and the Livre Blanc (White Paper) published by his transition government, covering the period March 2004 to June 2006, records the not inconsiderable advances made by him and his team.

Third, Haitians as a whole. Deibert frequently refers to, and expresses his bemusement at, the willingness of Haitians not so much to work with one another as to enter into constant confrontation, to the detriment of the country. “The real question in Haiti,” he quotes Louis-Henri Mars as saying, “is an issue of relationships, of ‘are we in this together or are we separate tribes?’”

Why is institutional reform such a will-o’-the-wisp? Why is the everyday corruption so difficult to tackle? Why, despite all that is preached against it, is impunity so pervasive, so natural?

Why would Michèle Pierre-Louis sadly ask, “Is it that everything that works has to be killed?” And Deibert recalls that in January 2012 Michel Martelly told Parliament that Haiti then was “the sum of internal strife, assassinations, kidnappings, embargo, anarchy, chaos, environmental destruction, selfishness and greed. This must change.” Has it changed? If not, why? What is the point of always referring to a magnificent past if the present, like Yeats’ center, is not holding?

Michael Deibert has written a remarkable book. It is detailed, thoughtful, sensitive, and in language that never stops to wonder where it might be heading. It is to my mind indispensable reading for anyone, Haitian and non-Haitian alike, wanting to understand, or supplement his or her knowledge of, the currents of Haitian politics and history in general, and of the last fifteen years in particular.

The book takes its title from a promise by Préval in February 2010 at the Université Notre-Dame in Port-au-Prince. “Haïti ne périra pas,” he said that day, one month exactly after the earthquake. “Haiti will not perish.”

It will not perish. But when will its people harness productively their considerable intelligence and abilities in the national interest? When will Haiti flourish?

Reginald Dumas served as Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador to Washington and Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States and as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Haiti.