Haiti needs a shot in the arm with a dose of healthy nationalism. I am not talking about xenophobia or the sort of rabid nationalism which has crippled Cuba and Venezuela, but a national pride which can inspire a positive move toward self-sustainability.
Chile is a good example of a country that has recently displayed healthy nationalism in the face of a natural disaster. Being in a strong economic position at the time of its earthquake and having seen Haiti’s government overrun by a flood of non-governmental organizations, Chile was able to decline international aid. This was a strong statement of positive nationalism and it worked.
Long-term, authentic nationalism results from the ability of a country’s citizens to believe in the functionality of their country. To foster this internal confidence, a country must have at least the following: a just and reasonable rule of law and a government that can execute it fairly, a working economy, access to education, basic social security, and a clear sense of national identity. In the case of an impoverished nation, healthy nationalism also requires that citizens can envision a brighter future.
The lack of these basic elements provides a breeding ground for malformed social movements such as we saw in the first half of the 20th century in Europe and later in our own hemisphere. In difficult times, it is easy for despotic leaders to exploit fear and the romantic memory of a past time of grandeur in order to create faux “national movements” based in hatred. We have seen Jihadists take similar advantage of dire conditions.
It would not be difficult to create a version of these malignant movements in Haiti today. A misguided leader with a bit of charisma and creative speech could easily sweep the country into a fear-mongering movement. The two groups that are especially vulnerable to this type of negative movement are the people in the camps and those people living right next door who are not happy that the camps exist.
If the nations of the world, especially those of this hemisphere, do not want Haiti to default to radicalism, financial assistance to Haiti needs to be focused on these nation-building blocks. This assistance cannot be distributed through the U.N. or non-governmental organizations directly to the people. It needs to go through an internationally supported and internally led government—a government that can promote a healthy sense of nationalism.
International support also has to be large enough to actually produce improvements in the country’s physical infrastructure. This means money for building public schools, not for vouchers. This means trade and technical support to develop the REAL economy—not the informal sector, the unruly child of well-intentioned charity and relief organizations.
It is also very important that Haiti be protected from China. China has already begun its quiet invasion by dumping cheap motorcycles into Haiti. Next, China will exploit the textile trade preferences recently granted to Haiti, as the lumbering giant already has done in Sub-Saharan Africa. Attention also needs to be paid to issues with rogue activities. Given the U.S.’s concerns about Pakistan, it is noteworthy that the Pakistan military participates in the U.N. force in Haiti.
Recent political events in Haiti have not helped the country develop internally. Founded or not, the street view is that the Prime Minister is the overt imposition of an inexperienced outsider put in place by outsiders. This may be an unfair representation of Clinton’s former U.N. chief of staff. However, Mr. Conille has spent the preponderance of the last decade outside of Haiti working on international health matters. He has no experience with the broad based economic issues of development or the complex workings of Haitian politics. For many Haitians, “Clinton’s man” comes with a certain peze-nen.
President Martelly’s interest in bringing back the military is also not helpful. The recent editorial in the Washington Post rejecting the idea of re-forming the military in Haiti is correct. The driving force behind this idea is a myopic, romantic yearning for a time when Haiti appeared to have order. However, healthy nationalism will not be achieved through flashy uniforms, marching drills, and coercion. Haiti does not need a return of the military—Haiti just needs one of the half-dozen or more divisions of civil police to actually succeed at civic security.
The largest damper on the building of a healthy nationalism in Haiti is the presence of thousands of NGOs—the vast majority of which are currently side-stepping the national government and applying aid with no recourse to any one government institution. This is certainly not a situation where the people gain any sort of positive feelings toward their government.
I am confident Haiti can discover its core national pride because I see it daily in the students at Louverture Cleary. Long before the earthquake, the Louverture Cleary student body adopted the mantra, “Nou Pare Pou n Rebati Ayiti, et ou?” which translates as, “We are ready to rebuild Haiti, and you?” This motto is not only eerily prescient – it proves Haitians know that their country will ultimately have to be BUILT by them, not fixed by outsiders.
He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.
Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.