Since last Friday, and even before, the political opposition in Haiti has taken to the streets calling for the end of President Martelly's rule. In protesting this government, many in the streets viewed themselves as simultaneously protesting U.S. power in Haiti. But would the U.S. hear them? This was the problem. Despite the fact that the protest movement--coined Operation Burkina Faso--has been active for over a year, reaching a peak last November with tens of thousands taking to the street throughout the country, it has been scarcely covered in the U.S. press. In an attempt to carry their voices across the water, protesters immersed themselves in U.S. headlines. Their signage and chants revealed a smorgasbord of political hotspots begging for relevance on the international stage. On December 5, 2014, on the streets of Port-au-Prince, protesters chanted, "Down with Obama, Live Putin," while holding up signs of Vladimir Putin. The protest still achieved scant coverage stateside, though it was covered by BBC and in Australia.
Days later, on the weekend of December 12 in Port-au-Prince and in the northern city of Cap Haïtien, protesters carried signs that read "Black Lives Matter," usually in English but also in Creole (Pèp Nwa Genyen Menm Valè!). These protests, decidedly larger and more contested, forced the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe in the wee hours of Sunday morning. This was covered widely in the U.S. media, but cursorily, and it probably slipped under the radar of most Americans. The allusions to Ferguson and New York certainly went without mention. I mentioned this to a friend in Bel Air who has been active in the protest movement, and he told me that they should have reenacted the Abu Ghraib toture--fully aware of the just released report!
It is possible to read this smorgasbord of U.S. headlines as grasping for an audience. That was certainly part of it, as my friend made clear. But it also derived from a deep understanding that Haiti's is, and has long been situated, at the center of geopolitics. How far off was it to suggest that Black Lives Matter when U.N. peacekeepers opened fire on a fleeing young black protester? Or more broadly, how much of a stretch was it to draw connections between racism, militarized police, and undervalued black life in Haiti and the U.S.? And just as important: how absurd was it to appeal to Putin when the President asked to resign has ties to the Duvalier family dictatorship, whose anti-communist stance ensured U.S. support and a long reign?