By Billy Pierre, Staff Writer
The events of May 1968 represent the most important social movement in the history of France during the twentieth century. These events occurred at the end of the Thirty Glorious [Years] (Les Trente Glorieuses), which was the three-decade period following the Second World War during which France saw a rapid economic growth. Between 1945 and 1975, economic growth was 5% per year. While the industry and agriculture sectors flourished, the population was not happy. The wealth was not well distributed in the country. In fact, more than 500,000 people were unemployed at the beginning of 1968, whereas 2 million workers were paid the minimum wage. This feeling of exclusion led to a general strike. The revolution of May 1968 ended with a 35% increase in the minimum wage and a 10% increase in real wages. Later, Charles de Gaulle would dissolve the General Assembly.
Similar protests took place during the same year in Léopold Sédar Senghor’s Senegal, when students revolted against the shrinking of financial aid. They also protested France’s presence in the country. An agreement between the government, employers, and unions allowed for the revaluation of the minimum wage by 15%, with a decrease in the expensive lifestyles of civil servants.
Today, it is safe to say that an air of May 68 hovers over the Haitian society. The events that have occurred since the
beginning of July are nothing but a testimony to this. The month of July was especially marked by an uprising of the Haitian underprivileged class against the high cost of living. How can a government dare to increase the price of fuel to 350 gourdes while the minimum wage was only 300 gourdes per day? Consequently, the demonstrators demanded that the increase of minimum wage to 800 gourdes should instead be 1,000 gourdes. These uprisings led to the looting and destruction of many businesses in the Haitian capital. During the demonstrations that followed, the Parliament was also singled out. The public believes that parliamentarians cost too much, although they are doing nothing to quell the public’s misery.
However, the demonstrations have taken a different turn. Although originally fighting the high cost of living, the population has now taken to the streets, pressuring the government to fight corruption by shedding light upon the Petro Caribe funds. In 2006, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched the program Petro Caribe to allow Haiti, along with several other Latin American and Caribbean countries, to obtain oil at a cheap price and be able to sell it.
The funds collected by the Haitian government through the program were intended for development projects. Today, these funds are estimated at USD 3.8 billion. But no one knows where the money went.
Some citizens have started a petition on social media with the goal of obtaining 100,000 signatures, a way to send a clear message to President Jovenel Moise that the public is serious about the “Kote kòb Petro Caribe” (“Where are the Petro Caribe Funds”) movement. Similarly to this petition, the movement began on the web. Some artists, playing the role of leaders, launched this movement. On a regular basis, they use their social platform to send messages of encouragement to keep the population mobilized.
The population was prompt to react. People take pictures with signs that read: Kote Kòb Petro Caribe (“Where are the Petro Caribe funds?”). Social media offers a significant advantage to the movement. First, the fact that it goes through social media indicates that the movement has emerged from a segment of the population that is very energetic, the millennials. Moreover, this movement has already reached the globe. Indeed, after the first sit-in held in Port-au-Prince on Friday, July 24, other cities in the country joined. It was then the turn of other cities in the world to rise in support of this movement. Among which, one can quote the city of New York that showed its support during the weekend of Labor Day, then the cities of Montreal and Paris.
This movement is taking place in a very critical period, both politically and socially. Since the beginning of his 5-year term, the current president has been the subject of popular protests. The legitimacy of his power has been challenged several times. The opposition seeks every means to overthrow him. On the social level, the situation of the population does not seem to improve. According to UNICEF figures, 78% of the Haitian population live below the absolute poverty line and 56% in extreme poverty. The same report states that no less than 63% of the country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of only 20% of the population, which reveals a high rate of disparity. In such a context, one can understand that the country was already on the verge of the abyss.
With such magnitude, this movement has all the potential to become the most important socio-political event of 21st century Haiti. However, the biggest setback of this movement comes from the weakness of the judicial system itself. Concerns remain about the lack of independence of the judicial system. In a statement addressed to the Court of Cassation on October 2, 2017, Mr. Stanley Gaston, president of the Bar Association of Port-au-Prince and of the Federation of Bars of Haiti, denounced the level of corruption in the judicial system. He complained about the case of many judges who were reappointed while there were still charges against them. The lawyer recognizes that only a revolution can bring a change in the system. The Petro Caribe affair is the ideal pretext that can lead to this revolution. The population, in the most peaceful way, shows that it has no intention of dropping this case. Therefore, it is time to put the judicial system into motion and begin the trial of the century, which will certainly lead to the rebirth of the Haitian nation, a nation free of corruption.