Haiti has been overshadowed as of late by Egypt, not without some cause. Egypt is in the middle of a nationwide people-led movement that has already had visible effects on the longstanding government and even U.S. foreign policy. Haiti, on the other hand, is going through what experts and analysts would agree is technically termed: another case of the Mondays.
Yesterday two things happened in Haiti. President Rene Preval definitively stated that he would remain in office past the February 7th mandate (according to the Haitian constitution, the president must depart by this date, and if there is not another president lined up, an interim government would rest in its place). The other thing that happened, almost predictably, was a backlash of protests. But unlike what is taking place in Egypt where demonstrators are organized (even reportedly forming a leadership committee) and have a clear goal and target, the protests in Haiti are sporadic, and the overarching goal is not always clear.
It’s clear that no one is pleased with Rene Preval choosing to stay past the mandate, but his statement is not all that surprising, especially given that there was never anyone in place to lead the transitional government. Nonetheless, Preval actually stating that he would remain another three months created ample cause to release frustration. Yesterday, though, that frustration never seemed to coalesce into much more than sporadic protests and demonstrations in the areas where they always take place: Delmas 95, downtown around the National Palace, Champs de Mars. In other words, this Monday, this day of dissatisfaction throughout Haiti, was expected. Rioters burned tires, police fired tear gas, and by the end of the day it was done. The sun had set, the riots dissipated with the darkness, and the protests had all but disappeared by Tuesday morning.
What separates Egypt from Haiti, though, is not just the short-lived nature of such protest, it’s that the overall goal was never too clear in Haiti. If you scroll through tweets marked with #Jan25, you’d find clearly defined roles in a quickly evolving movement. You’d find local activists disseminating information to the world and coordinating a movement across the country. There is no #Feb7 timeline, quite simply, because that type of coordination did not exist yesterday. Were people protesting the fact that Preval would stay through until May, something that was well-known long before his actual statement? Some protestors chanted that they wanted a return to Aristide. Others demanded an entirely new election. And I’m sure somewhere, someone marched proudly with a Wyclef: If I were President t-shirt.
What happened yesterday was not a revolution, nor should it have been seen as such. Maybe it was a warning of things to come if the second round of elections does not allow Haitians to feel like their vote mattered, like they are not part and parcel to a working democracy. And, if that were the case, I hope that Haitians would exercise all their democratic rights, including that of nonviolent protests, in a collective and concerted manner. Until such coordination exists (and, historically it has in Haiti, given that Haitians overthrew French colonialism), though, I am hesitant to view such protests as anything more than a case of the Mondays.