NEW YORK—In “Red Heat,” a thoroughly researched tome about America’s geopolitical maneuvers in the Caribbean during the Cold War, author Alex von Tunzelmann writes: “The history of Cuba, Haiti, and The Dominican Republic is a repeating cycle: plunder, oppression, a flash of hope, and a slide into disappointment.” Depressing, yes. But with February 7 upon us, this poignant line is particularly á propos.

The date – 7 Fevriye, 1986 – once stood for a new era in Haiti. A rebirth after 29 years under the Duvalier dictatorship, and the Haitian people’s march toward democracy. In recent years, however, February 7 has served more as a date for politicians to stage activities that amount to no more than stunts in the long run.

This year, the attention-seeking personalities and media manipulators started early enough, drawing attention since December with their demands for resignation, street mobilizations and so-called press conferences to anyone with a smartphone.

This year, as a result, Go West Now team stopped to take a critical look at this pattern. We decided to put resources toward only the most significant developments over the past month or so, as we saw politicians and personalities posturing for government positions ramp up their bases and machinations. They’ve plundered the airwaves and livestreams with questionable statements and promises, subsequently suppressing the voices of those who might actually have the country’s best interests at heart. A few have even succeeded in giving that flash of hope to some Haitians who desperately want anyone to get this country out of crisis mode.

Knowing the tendency toward demands and demonstrations as February 7 approaches, we made a deliberate decision not to cover the dizzying developments in the lead-up to it, as we have in the past. It’s our way of upholding the vision to tell Haiti’s story contextually. We urge other media outlets to follow suit, lest we keep falling as an institution into the same pattern, with disappointment waiting at the end of the cycle.

Why February 7 is so triggering

This decline of February 7’s stature as a milestone may have started decades ago. That fall became very obvious just between the Martelly and Moise administrations, as the former stepped down in 2016. That drop has continued since. Each year, the demands, deals and deadlines linked to February 7 have created much fodder for politicos, keeping the news media and observers busy following every sensational development. Yet, when we’ve looked back at those moments weeks or months later, and with the lens of whether any progress was made in pulling Haiti out of crisis, these power plays look like mere distractions. Flashbangs, yes, but still with no substance.

As recently as 2020, the date still held some significance because of its role on the elections calendar as the day to install a new president. Back then, many claimed Jovenel Moise’s term should end in 2021, based on their interpretation of Haiti’s 1987 Constitution. As a result, much controversy and pressure for him to step down by that date rose up. Some people wondered if there might be a coup if he didn’t.

In February 2021, police arrested a ratty group that allegedly attempted to overthrow Moise in an early morning invasion of the National Palace. Moise had objected to their timing, saying his term ended in 2022 and that he would prepare elections for a new government to be installed the following February 7.

Alas, by the time February 2022 arrived, Moise was dead, murdered in his home. Haiti was even more on edge, traumatized by his assassination and heated over the controversial head of government, Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Opponents of Henry naturally called for him to step down because that’s the date Moise’s presidential term, and therefore his cabinet, would have ended. That year, the Montana Accord coalition named a new president to take power, effective February 7, as part of its transitional government. A so-called “Louisiana Summit’ held in Baton Rouge, La., also introduced its own version of a transitional government with February 7 as the effective date.

Then came February 2023. By then yet another group had emerged — the High Council of the Transition (HCT) — also with demands tied to February 2023. Henry himself was demanding some action by that date, telling groups that opposed him they had until February 7. The date came and went.

The dizzying developments kept coming, many of them taking place outside the political parties officially involved. In the lead ups, we’ve seen gangsters issue their draft plans for a government, well-connected politicians publish opinions in top outlets, the international community urging action one way or the other, conspiracy theories gain traction and, of course, street demonstrations.

None have moved Haiti forward past February.

Waiting, watching, wondering

Now, here we are in 2024. The big items are the Kenya deployment and Guy Philippe. Henry is waiting for Kenya to deploy, possibly this week, as leader of the United Nations-approved Multinational Security and Support Mission (MSS) to help save Haiti from itself. Everyone is watching what Philippe might do, with or without BSAP, on this date. Some others are circling around too, among them Moise Jean-Charles and Claude Joseph.

What will become of either topic weeks or months from now is anyone’s guess. We all hope Haiti will be in a better place, of course. But history has shown us the pattern that von Tunzelmann lists — “plunder, oppression, a flash of hope and a slide into disappointment.”

The question now though is: What, if anything, has changed since Red Heat was published in 2011? Von Tunzelmann wasn’t wrong back then. But is there anything different that can be added to extend the list into something less depressing?

Only one thing stands out: The Diaspora. Haiti, like her neighbors, have diasporas across the globe who finally realize collectively that they are no longer emigrés returning home anytime soon. These diaspora are tied to the culture, history and people, despite the physical distance. This group is also savvy enough to see where the gaps and pitfalls are, to avoid detrimental patterns. Patterns such as following the movements of an ex-con just in case he tries something on February 7 after calling for more protests to force Henry down.

Our diaspora can have an impact here. At this stage of Haiti’s story, the goal should be to add a new phase at the end of von Tunzelmann’s line. “Stability” works.

We can’t wait to report on that story. Until then, anything else that might, maybe, probably, happen around February 7 is just too ephemeral to prioritize.

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