Monday, May 15, 2006

The Beginning of Hope:

Today Rene Preval is being inaugurated as prezidan of Haiti and, oh, the pomp and circumstance. Our little inn is overrun with South American journalists, girlfriends of Venezuelan dignitaries, and French-Canadian police officers. Outside the entrance, three National Haitian police officers dressed in their crisp blue and ocher uniforms sit slumped in chairs under the shade of a few trees. A huge UN vehicle somewhere between the size of a tank and jeep is parked to the side. U.N soldiers from Nepal sit inside the gate, armed for action, but with expressions that say they know this assignment will be about as dangerous as guarding a Sunday morning parade.

This week the parking lot has been jammed with all kinds of vehicles, including a bus from the government of South Korea. All the money that is being spent on people attending and covering this inauguration—any excuse to go to a party in another country. President Bush is sending his brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, to lead the U.S. delegation. On television, we catch a glimpse of him seated next to a woman in a broad brimmed hat—probably the new U.S. Ambassador to Haiti.

Cripes. I mean I know we need our rituals, but the more elaborate they are, the more obscene they seem in a country as poor as Haiti. I suppose in some ways it’s good that the inauguration of the Haitian president is receiving this kind of attention. After Aristide’s ouster and two years of an incompetent, corrupt government, the international community is tired of babysitting Haiti. This inauguration is evidence of a democratic success, so let’s celebrate! And even though Haiti is the lowliest of nations, it too deserves to have ceremonies like the rich countries. Riding back from the orphanage yesterday, we couldn’t believe how clean the streets were. The garbage that normally overflows from the gutters: gone. Even a lot of the rocks and rubble had been swept away, making the ride as smooth as I’ve ever experienced. So PAP can be cleaned up with the right motivation.

The ceremony is being televised and the wait staff and a few guests gather around the bar watching the ponderous events. The Haitians break out in smiles when Preval appears, presidential and dignified in his neat dark suit. Jeers greet the picture of outgoing interim president Alexandre Boniface, who looks clownish wearing a wide red and blue sash across his chest that will be transfered to Preval. As the camera scans the well-dressed crowd attending the swearing in, I can’t help but think that this is Haiti’s parasitic class. They live off the flesh and bones and lives of the poor masses, who become suddenly human when viewed one at a time. Like the dehydrated baby at the clinic on Friday. I’m sure his family is all caught up in the festivities. As these fine people wind their way into the Palace and then the Cathedral, I think, “Today you are at the head of the line, but in the line that really matters, you will be behind your brothers and sisters from Cité Soleil.” I’ll be back there with you.

I guess I shouldn’t make little of these moments of optimism and success, however temporary or even illusionary. How else can change begin? It’s just that Haiti has had so many new beginnings that actually threw the country in reverse.

Maybe this time will be different. This morning at breakfast, John said to one of the hotel owners, a man who we would guess isn’t a fan of Preval, “Today’s a big day.”

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s the beginning of hope.”

No comments: