Yolette Etienne ActionAid Haiti interview

Friday, 3 August 2018
Rosa M Tristan

"In Haiti we need to build a strong civil society but every small move fills us with hope"


Haiti is on the verge of a serious social crisis. The latest mobilizations in the country, following a rise in fuels, has put in a brete the Government of President Jovenel Moise, whose Prime Minister has had to resign. The cause: a rise of fuels that affected life in a place where one lives longer than the limit. Now is another opportunity to revive ties for the relaunch of the bases of a democratic movement that ends up with decades of corruption, deteriorating social and environmental and intrusiveness of international institutions and other countries in their policies. One of the people who know best the Haitian reality is Yolette Etienne, head of Action Aid Haití and specialist in international relations, emergency and development. Alliance solidarity is part of Action Aid International since last June and has worked in Haiti since 2008. The interview takes place by Skype, shortly after the protests that resulted in a score of dead.

The prestige of the NGOs is very 'touched' in Haiti after some cases, but however the country dependent on international aid. This will change someday?

In fact, we live in the 'Republic of NGOs'. In fact, this process has evolved over time. During the Duvalier dictatorship, and after its fall we had few international NGOs, among which some of the best-known focused on support for the construction of democracy; to do this they relied on local organizations. It was with the 2010 earthquake when there was a real invasion of foreign NGOs that, in general, waived these local organizations. That was very serious because it slowed down the local empowerment, weakened them, and also things were done without taking into account the context of the country. It was one of the factors that the conquests of social consolidation of the 1980s not realized a change in the political space. And so we arrive at elections which the singer Michel Martelly won. Corruption with Martelly was tremendous, but civil society was already divided and weakened opposition. In 2017, change has not come with President Jovenel Moïse, is from the same ideological family and it is implementing a policy that deepens the social gap without nuances. So we still have the challenge of rebuilding local Haitian organizations and count on them to change takes place, because it will not come from the parties above.

Examples that disincentive would how is has set the mobilisation which took place in June?

Since the President Moïse came to power [February 2017], there have been several events that have led to social tension. One took place when national budgets, last September, because it is reflected a sharp increase in taxes for the poorest population, and just when international aid decreased. There were many demonstrations. It was a time of consolidation of unions, especially in the textile sector, which for now is very strong in Haiti. The workers demanded a raise in the minimum wage, which is $ 5 a day. With that money, it is impossible to survive, but they did not get results and manifestations are systematically repressed. In Haiti, the textile is boosted with the Hope Act adopted by United States to liberalize trade between the two countries in this sector. What attracted companies from Latin America and Asia to Haiti, using Haitian partners to benefit from exports to the power of the North paying a pittance to employees. And the last shock was the announcement of the increase of fuel between 31% and 51%, the latter for kerosene, which is what families used to have light where there is no electricity. The chaos was unleashed again.

What has this decision be due?

Since in March this year, Moise met with the IMF already is he came talking about it had demanded him to liberalize the prices of diesel and electricity, which means increasing them. With the intent to avoid the protests, it was decided to announce the rise the day playing Brazil in the World Cup. In Haiti there is much interest and thought that everyone would see the party and held the Brazilian victory, so they took advantage of that moment. But Brazil lost and found out the population. That July 6, they began to put barricades in all neighborhoods, burning wheel, blocking thousands of people in the capital and other cities. It was a spontaneous movement. The next day, after the address by the Prime Minister announcing that the measures did not change, began the large demonstrations to attack shops, offices public, burning of vehicles... That hard two days but normal life could not be reactivated until Tuesday, July 10. Raise diesel oil also affected those who use public transport or eat rice to be carrying from one side to another and which is also urged. That has been the last key moment of mobilization in which the population has shown their distaste with the Government although haphazardly.

Can you tell it's a failed Government?

What is clear is that he was elected by a very small population and that it has not brought any change. Look at the change Caravan that organized to discover the country. In his day, brace said that it was for revitalize the agricultural sector, but launched it without money and ultimately turned to the Inter-American Bank of development (IDB) and to draw funds from other ministries, all without a strategy and, what is worse , without any result. He spent money that there for nothing more than for the rich to win more by buying expensive equipment, but without explaining how they were going to improve the conditions of small farmers. Also set a budget for Parliament which is like the budget of the health of the country, a Parliament, incidentally, where all the parties members get benefits because they put pressure on the Government to appoint General managers, ambassadors... Another example is what happened with Pretrocaribe. It is outrageous that the President opposed da tracking fraud reports and know where have gone the 3,000 billion of flexible credit offered Venezuela while lasted this country's oil supply. Weight to everything, the weakness, the disappointment of the population toward politicians, the weakness of the opposition and divide the democratic sector is what gives strength to this Government without vision of development and improvement of the situation of the population.

Is there any risk of an uprising that takes place these months in Nicaragua?

If the Government wouldn't take any measure could happen something like, but as I mentioned, the civil society is weak. This uprising now has been spontaneous, without having back a space to build a democratic force. Recently, we have assembled 20 organizations of peasants, workers, women, organizations of the different departments, probably like other attempts at clustering, with the aim of creating that space. As Action Aid Haití we help this type of meetings because we believe that they are positive for the country. The last call for general strike on July 30, has had no impact because it became rapidly. Now, if the Government dictates some measure aimed at the population, you can endure and not become another conflict as the Nicaraguan. On the other hand, as NGOs also we must press to institutions like the IMF so that they stop pressuring Haiti economically and support the democratic dialogue.

Is there hope for Haiti?

Of course there is it. Whenever there is a small light, Haitians have hope for our future. There are many initiatives underway in my country, what happens is that not they articulate global to grow development. There is no position in the elite to break the cycle of misery of a people who never stops fighting, but yes you can see that face recurrent and desperate practices of political leaders, the Haitian people has always shown that he does not surrender and is e n looking for hope. It is the lesson of 6 and 7 July.

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