The revolutionaries who set out to liberate Haiti from a plantation economy 225 years ago could not have imagined that one day, a plantation owner running for president would offer Haitians a vision of returning to plantation life for a minimum wage of 3 dollars a day and a plate of rice and beans. With his Agritrans banana plantation, Jovenel Moise promised Haitians that if they voted for him, he would put more food on their plates and more money in their pockets. 55% of the roughly one million voters who went to vote in the November 20th election, took him at his word. The rest of the country remained silent as nearly 80% of six million eligible voters stayed home and did not participate.
For Bookmanlit, Jovenel´s victory seems to be an anomaly, a complete rejection of the very ideals of Haiti´s Revolution which put an end to state-sponsored use of enslaved workers on plantations to produce goods for foreign export. Ever since 1791 when Haiti extricated itself from supplying the international market with coffee and sugar, farmers in Haiti have produced mainly for local consumption. But as Haiti´s population has increased with no parallel increase in national production due in part to eroding farmland, farmers have had to grapple with poverty and competition from foreign imports. Today, many farmers are abandoning farming altogether and moving either to Haiti´s overpopulated cities or overseas.
With his Banana Man campaign, Jovenel Moise appears to have tapped into a public sentiment to address the growing poverty and deficit in agricultural productivity. His counter-revolutionary message of returning to a plantation economy was embraced by the administration of former president Michel Martelly who agreed to finance him with 6 million dollars and 1000 hectares of land, while a German banana export company, Port International, negotiated a contract to receive 70% of the organic bananas produced on the Agritrans plantation.
Bookmanlit has repeatedly written about the potential conflicts of interests inherent in a Jovenel/Agritrans presidency. Among the concerns: Will the president advance the interest of Agritrans shareholders or will he advance the interest of Haiti ´s citizens? Should he not reveal the identity of his anonymous Agritrans co-shareholders? What if they are mainly government officials? What if they are Dominican investors seeking ways to exploit Haitian labor within Haiti´s borders? Would it not be advisable for him to sell his shares in Agritrans so that his decisions as president will not be seen as either in favor or disfavor of the company?
We hope that as president, Jovenel Moise will distance himself from the plantation economy platform that got him elected. Some of his words have been encouraging. In his first statement as president elect, Jovenel Moise said that he will strengthen Haiti´s institutions, particularly the electoral system that propelled him to victory. He declared that he will establish a permanent electoral commission in the country to carry out elections that respect the will of the Haitian people. This is welcome news. For the past 30 years since the end of the Duvalier era, every administration has failed to follow this Constitutional mandate to create an independent electoral body. If Jovenel Moise is able to build this institution, and have it function independent of himself, it will be a tremendous achievement, and a key component in creating stability and restoring confidence in government.
More than three quarters of the population chose to sit out this election, perhaps believing that their vote would not make a difference. We urge the president elect to address this silent vote of no confidence in government. We also would urge the population to embrace hope instead of despair. There are many challenges ahead. Funds must be secured to establish needed infrastructure. The country cannot attract jobs and investments if there is no pre-existing basic infrastructure. Clean water, sanitation, and electricity are must haves and we hope Joveneĺ Moise´s administration will make having them a priority.
In the past six years since the 2010 earthquake, we´ve watched the Haitian government squander resources, capital, and opportunity. We´ve watched officials get paid too much for accomplishing too little. We´ve watched the spectacle of the state being used as a ¨chwal papa¨, and as a ¨cha kanaval¨ for the benefit of a few, while the basic needs of the majority remain neglected. Cholera continues to kill in the absence of potable water and sanitation. We hope that the days of endless ¨gagòt¨ come to an end. We hope that in his promise to enforce Haiti´s institutions, Jovenel Moise will blaze a new path and establish transparency, discipline, and accountability within his administration.
On February 7th, 2017, Jovenel Moise is expected to be sworn in as the 58th president of Haiti. He will preside over a country that fought against the ills of a plantation economy, and a nation that has repeatedly been battered by natural, as well as by domestic and foreign manmade disasters. The low voter turnout suggest an apathetic population distrusting of government willingness to improve the lives of anyone but its cronies. While campaigning, Jovenel Moise promised to put food on our plates and money in our pockets. We hope he´ll deliver on that promise while not dispossessing the people who have worked the land for centuries often despite government counter-efforts like the removal of rice tariffs negating national production. We hope that he immediately makes his assets known and divest himself from Agritrans S.A., an anonymous society seeking to acquire the most land it can while paying workers the least possible. The president cannot be an agent for this company when his duty is to guard the territory and secure for Haitian workers the most possible. Above all, we hope he works tirelessly to avoid even the appearance of corruption because corruption is the most corrosive force maintaining our poverty and making the presidency a potential jackpot, the envy of predators. We hope he embraces transparency in a verifiable manner for the stability necessary for meaningful social- economic progress.
We sincerely hope that the next 5 years will not be spent protesting an administration created to defend the interests of the anonymous society of Agritrans shareholders. We hope Haitian farmers will retain control of their land. We hope they will organize themselves into cooperatives with the right to control their harvest. We hope they will demand government assistance to increase production. And we hope they will stand firmly against any attempt to transform their farmland into free trade zones/ zone franche geared at producing mainly for export.
As a forum that celebrates the legacy of Bwa Kayiman and of the Haitian Revolution, Bookmanlit hopes Jovenel Moise will abandon the plantation economy platform he campaigned on and embrace an economic model that upholds the ideals of the Haitian Revolution and the dignity of all Haitians.
As the candidate of the PHTK party, Jovenel Moise received substantial financial support from the incumbent administration of former president, Michel Martelly. Funded by Haiti´s private sector and favored by the international community, the plantation owner has also been well marketed to the public by the PR firm of Ostos Sola.