by Thomas Péralte
Reprinted from HAITI LIBERTE
This past Mon., Sep. 8, 2014 marked two major events in Haiti: the first day of school and the last day of the regular session of the 49th Legislature.
The former was the bigger calamity of the two. Since the arrival of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe in power in 2011, the opening of school has always been delayed until October. According to many educators, Martelly’s so-called Free and Compulsory Universal Schooling Program (PSUGO), clumsily and demagogically introduced in his first year, has contributed significantly to the deterioration of education in Haiti. This year, after a dismal success rate of only 22% in the state exams, 3.3 million students are expected to return to classrooms throughout Haiti, according to statistics from the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training. But less than 3% of students are heading to school on the first day of classes, a telling failure for the government.
Various factors contributed to most students flunking state exams and missing the start of the school year: widespread poverty, chronic unemployment, soaring costs of school materials and tuitions, and growing insecurity.
While every new school year presents a heavy burden for most parents, this year is worse than most. While some schools have opened their doors to welcome a few students, many have not. The state has not yet finished correcting the tests of students who had to retake the Baccalaureate 1 and 2 exams because they failed the first time. While the Martelly-Lamothe regime trumpets education as its priority and arbitrarily and illegally taxes international money transfers for $1.50 and international telephone calls at 5 cents a minute to supposedly pay for free education, Haiti’s poor are nonetheless finding it impossible to send their children to school. Where is the money supposedly collected for education? Three years after the establishment of the National Education Fund (FNE), no clear and transparent accounting of it has ever been presented to the public.
At the same time, teachers are demanding the payment of back salaries owed to them and reform of the system. President Martelly spends a fortune to churn out patently false and outlandish propaganda about what he calls “free education,” which has thrown the antiquated Haitian educational system completely out of whack. He often claims to have sent 1.9 million children to school, but investigations have concluded that only 250,000 children have benefitted from this hyped but substandard education initiative.
Meanwhile, senators and deputies met together in a National Assembly as required by the 1987 Constitution to close the last session of the 49th Legislature. Since Martelly came to power on May 14, 2011, elections to renew senators, deputies, and municipal governments have never been held, as required by law. Deputies have now held the last regular session of the fourth year of their term, and no election for the renewal of the lower house is scheduled. Aware of the poor record of this Parliament, deputies during the final plenary session voted a dozen proposals and bills in about three hours, after having spent four years neglecting the mission entrusted to them by the Constitution: law-making and oversight.
One of the bills passed would change the administrative divisions of the territory. The deputies proposed increasing Haiti’s current 10 departments to 16 to take into account the demographic weight of several regions. The West Department would spin off a new department called the Palms Department, which would encompass Petit-Goâve and the island of La Gonâve. The North Department would be divided into North 1 and North 2, with Cap Haïtien and Grande Rivière du Nord as their respective seats. The Artibonite and Central Plateau Departments would be divided into High and Low. The South would spawn a new Southeast and Southwest, covering such remote towns as Tiburon.
The deputies also elevated several communal sections with significant populations to the rank of commune.
The deputies are now in recess, waiting to see what will happen on the second Monday of January 2015, when Parliament is supposed to reconvene. But because elections have not been held and are not scheduled, it is more likely to expire with the end of the terms of another third of the Senate. (Some legal experts interpret the law to say that the Senators’ terms won’t expire until May 14, 2015, since they took office late, but it appears Martelly would like Parliament out of the way as soon as possible.)
For some opposition deputies, the 49th Legislature was the worst legislature in Haitian history. Some even said that during the reign of the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-1986) the legislature was not as vassalized, sold-out, and corrupt.
Meanwhile, the Haitian people continue to denounce and mobilize against the political persecution of Martelly’s political opponents, including former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and activist lawyer Michel André. People call for respect of the 1987 Constitution, democratic principles, and the rule of law.
The complete failure of students during this summer’s state exams, of getting kids back to school, and of the 49th Legislature demonstrates very clearly the damage that can be done when imperialist nations override a sovereign election to impose incompetent and corrupt stooges in power in the world’s first black republic. Propaganda is killing education in Haiti, just as President Martelly’s arrogance is killing democracy. Martelly is leading the country toward chaos and dictatorship. Democratic institutions are endangered, and democracy will disappear if the people do not take their destiny into their hands.