Ronald Charles: Private armies continue to defend the interests of Haitian elite
Ronald Charles Interview (Part 3 of 4)
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re joined again by Ronald Charles. He’s a PhD student at the Department of Religion at the University of Toronto, and he used to be a lecturer at the Christianville University college in Haiti. Thanks for joining us. And as we said in the first segment, you’ve been living now in Toronto for about nine years. Your family, much of it is still in Haiti. We kind of got to the point in Haitian history where you have, essentially under the guidance or tutelage of US foreign policy, an elite in Haiti allied with the US, and of course with very much their own interests. Now the earthquake has taken place and this elite is in complete disarray. A lot of their houses have come down. Their police force is crushed. Whatever structures the elite had for exercising power are kind of on the ground, I would think. Is this correct? And is the US trying to fill some of this void?
RONALD CHARLES, DEPT. OF RELIGION, UNIV. OF TORONTO: It’s more or less correct. But let me correct you in some ways here. The earthquake was not that democratic. The earthquake killed mostly the poor people. Yes, you had some people from the elite, they were downtown doing business or giving lectures or whatever, so the ones were downtown at that time, they were killed, many of them. But the earthquake did not hit the mountains where the beautiful mansions, the big, big mansions are, where the rich people live. So, for example, yesterday I was looking at the news, and I saw they portrayed two different Port-au-Princes, one where you have all these people starving, screaming, hurting, and the other one you still have beautiful markets and people having good time. So this is the reality.
JAY: So some swimming pools are still intact?
CHARLES: Yes. So this is the reality that you’ve had in Haiti and you still have today. Well, some of these people of the elite, some are leaving now. They’re going to the States or to wherever just to wait until calm is back. Maybe two, three, or five months, and they will come back again. They’ll still find their houses, their houses there for them. Everything will be there for them. Let me give you an example of how powerful the elite are in Haiti. During the earthquake, one of the guys—I’m not going to name him—he wanted a paper to be signed by the prime minister for his business because [inaudible] and everything that happened. He got the papers signed in less than 15 minutes. How—they are so powerful that even—.
JAY: Let me just ask you. You don’t have to name him, but why wouldn’t you want to name him?
CHARLES: Well, in Haiti we have six families which control the whole country. I could name them. I don’t know all of their names. I don’t know why I don’t want to name him. Let me put it this way. But six families, and they control everything: they control the power, they control the economy, they control everything. And one needs to understand that it’s more like a feudal type of society.
JAY: So the point I guess I was making, and maybe perhaps more I’m asking, to control you need guns. It’s either soldiers or police or a militia. To what extent has that infrastructure of coercion been destroyed by the earthquake? And to what extent is, now, foreign troops, particularly American, filling that void?
CHARLES: COHEN: Well, for example, in Haiti you have the police, but you also have many security contractors. So the elite, they hire security contractors for their own businesses. And in many—.
JAY: So little private armies.
CHARLES: Exactly. So they still pay for this and they still receive these services. The police now is in disarray in Haiti. Don’t even talk about this one. But the Americans going in, they want to secure business, and they want to give security to the business people in Haiti, because they still want to do business with them. So this is what you have. And it can be very difficult for someone outside to understand what I’m talking about about this elite, but from the beginning they had no interest in the development of Haiti. They only see themselves. And even this earthquake, they don’t care. I only heard one or two stories of people from the elite helping, but otherwise you don’t hear anything. And they could and they can, but they are not doing anything, because they still want to hold on to everything, because this is how they still control the whole country, six families. They—what they—it’s interesting that many of them, they are weekend shopping in Miami, and they send their kids to study in the States, and they vacation in Europe, and they live in the mountains. So you hardly even see them, but they have everything.
JAY: There’s thousands, maybe millions of Americans, Canadians, people around the world donating money now. What should they be also demanding in terms of policy from their governments? Like, if there’s going to be real change in Haiti, and if the needs of the people are really going to be met, what should people be saying to their politicians?
CHARLES: That’s a very good question. And I’m afraid, sincerely, of all this money going in Haiti, because I was talking to someone yesterday: this person said that he talked to someone in Haiti, and some of the aids coming in are already in stores, in stores and being sold to people.
JAY: So some of the elite are already getting their hands on the goods.
CHARLES: Exactly. Someone, for example, needed to have a tent, and this person had to buy the tent for 125 Haitian [inaudible]
JAY: Well, here that’s one of the major demands is for tents. People just don’t have shelter.
CHARLES: Exactly. So—.
JAY: So controlling the tent market’s going to be big business.
CHARLES: It’s going to be. So someone here in Canada needs to make sure that the money you’re going to send is going to the people, and to do that, maybe give to charities that are on the ground.
JAY: Are there any in particular you’d recommend?
CHARLES: Well, Médecins Sans Frontières is one very good, and this is the one that comes to my mind because I know that they are doing quite a remarkable job. The second thing is I don’t know why many people don’t trust all Haitians, but some Haitians, they are doing work on the ground, and they know what they are doing. But a lot of the NGOs, some are doing good work, but some are there to perpetuate the misery of the people, because otherwise they would not have any reason to be there. For example, let’s take Cité Soleil. Cité Soleil has been a slum for many, many years. And Cité Soleil has the most NGOs there working, and one is doing this little thing, one is doing this little thing—they don’t want to work together. So, because when people, the nobodies of Canada and the US, when they go to Haiti, they become somebody—they have, then, servants, you know, they become the new masters, they have beautiful houses and beautiful cars—and they don’t want to leave this, so they do a little bit of work here and there, but they want the situation to continue like this so that they can justify their presence in Haiti. So people sending money needs to be very careful. And also, for example, when you look at the amount of money they are going to give to the government, it’s very, very little from the aid coming in. Well, if the country needs to be rebuilt, the government needs to have money. And I’m not saying that I’m for this government. Actually, I think many of them are not qualified to be where they are. But if we really want to help Haiti to have infrastructures, we cannot bypass the government; we have to deal with them. We have to make them accountable, but not only them, also the NGOs. I don’t know why people think that the NGOs are good guys, all of them are good guys. I don’t think so. I think we should problematize this and say the NGOs need also to be accountable to you, to people here sending money.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the future of Haiti and what kind of policies would actually lead to solutions. Please join us for the next segment of our interview on The Real News Network.