At first glance, the idea of charging $1.50 on every money transfer or phone call made to Haiti to build and maintain schools seemed honorable and brilliant. For once, it seemed, the Haitian government was acting to improve the living conditions of its citizens.
So to speak, many of us help fund schools on a charitable basis or have friends and family whose tuition we pay until they graduate to terminal level. And yes, immediately upon hearing the news, many Haitians expressed skepticism. They wondered if the money would be used for the intended purpose.
The skeptics were right. The $1.50 tax, according to a lawsuit revived last week, turned out to be another ploy designed to line the pockets of corrupt Haitian leaders.
More than a decade after Michel Martelly – the former president – instituted the tax, the Haitian government has shown no evidence that it built a school – not one – with the money. Incidentally, these funds total tens of millions, given that Haitians in the diaspora collectively sent approximately $3.8 billion in remittances to our loved ones in 2020 alone.
Martelly and his successors personally benefited from that money, according to the filed lawsuit, which has been winding its way through the U.S. federal court system since 2018. In 2021, a lower court challenged the suit’s jurisdiction, but last week a panel of 3 judges ruled that the trial could continue.
Shady business that has been brewing for a long time
I am more than happy that the US court has allowed this case to continue. Of all the financial wrongs that Haitian leaders have perpetrated against the Haitian people, this is the most outrageous. It’s a scam that most people saw coming, but couldn’t do anything to stop it.
The lawsuit named Martelly, his immediate successor interim president Jocelerme Privet and Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated last July. The most damning allegation was that Martelly used some of the money to build a lavish beachfront home.
The only surprise for me is that Privert was caught in the trap of this scandal. He led an interim government responsible for organizing the elections that eventually brought Moïse to power. But I don’t share that sentiment about Martelly and his hand-picked successor Moïse – the self-proclaimed “Bandi Legal” or Legal Bandit.
During his music career, Martelly has surrounded himself with a cast of sleazy characters resembling the miscreants who flanked Donald Trump during his two-time presidency.
In fact, I successfully sued Martelly in 2001 after he failed to show up to perform at Kreyolfest, then the Haitian Times’ flagship event. I did this to send a message to the other thugs in this heinous industry. I wanted to let them know that even though we were the new kids on the block, we weren’t going to be bullied by budding gangsters.
Years later, I was stunned that a man of such low character would be elected president of anything, let alone a country. But given that in Haiti anything can happen, we had four years of Trumpian-style rule under Martelly. We Haitians tend to be trendsetters.
Imagine an endless sequence of Trumps
I often say to friends and colleagues who ask me why Haiti is like this that it’s very simple: Imagine the United States being ruled by people like Trump for centuries. They can then identify themselves. Without bad governance, Haiti would have none at all.
Sometimes it is disheartening to see a people as proud and industrious as my Haitian people being mistreated by their leaders. Some conspiracy theorists think it’s on purpose. I’m starting to believe it because I too am confused.
Why do crimes against the Haitian people go unpunished?
The answer is an open secret, and everyone knows it. Former Ambassador Daniel Foote, who resigned as President Joe Biden’s special envoy to Haiti, made a startling revelation during a public forum with The Haitian Times in February. During the conversation, Foote said every Haitian politician had a file at the U.S. Embassy and the State Department knew he was corrupt. Yet these officials continue to look the other way – as if things were normal. They are not.
It’s time for the diaspora to fight back with the purse
I don’t know where this trial will go or if justice will be done for the defendant if he is found guilty. What I do know is that the Diaspora needs to tackle this theft head-on. If we remain silent, it means that we are complicit. It’s so simple.
First, we must hold protests outside every Haitian embassy and consular office around the world to demand transparency and what happened to the money. We need to see an account of the schools that have been built.
Obviously, such documents do not exist. So we must quickly escalate the situation by insisting that the government waive fees on transfers. There are also charges for phone calls, but these days almost everyone uses WhatsApp to call Haiti, so not a lot of revenue goes into government coffers.
Again, we know they won’t do such things. And this is where we have to make a bold decision: to stop sending funds to Haiti.
Yes, our second gesture is to cut the purse strings. You can start by choosing a day, then a week, then a month. And we need to keep the pressure on until government officials tell the truth.
I know that would add to the misery of our people. But who would have ever thought that the West would have imposed such draconian sanctions on Russia for Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine? When dealing with thugs, you can’t act like altar boys.
It is time for Haitian officials to stop abusing the Haitian people. They have made it impossible for Haitians to live with a modicum of dignity. They have degraded Haitian society, where people have resorted to survival tactics, even if it means losing their moral compass. A once proud people have been reduced to a nation of beggars and are unable to control their destiny.
This must change.
Once again, I challenge my comrades in the diaspora to rise to the occasion. Which brings me to the third action we can take. We have the power to vote in elections in Haiti. Let us exercise that right and vote for competent and honest governance in our beloved, yet deeply troubled, homeland.
If we don’t act, we will continue to be played like a top. We cannot afford to remain inactive. Our brothers and sisters need more than our remittances at this point. They need the chance to live with dignity and carve out a better life than they have now.
I hope the American justice system can be the spark we need. It’s not as if the Haitian justice was going to do it. This system is a contradiction in terms.