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“Di Mwen” is a podcast dedicated to sharing a more complete, more personal narrative about Haiti. This is part 3 of the series “Haiti Elections, WTF?!” on the Di Mwen podcast, covering different perspectives on the ongoing Haitian presidential elections. Seymour Billy is a Haitian student who refuses to vote in this upcoming election, this is an interview explaining how he came to this decision.
“I did not choose to not vote. They have made me not vote.”
According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the amount of voters in Haiti has decreased every election season since 2000. In 2015, over 80% of registered voters did not participate in parliamentary elections. Seymour Billy Windley is part of that majority.
As an anthropology and sociology student in Port-au-Prince, one would think voting would be an obvious choice for Seymour. Instead, at 28 years old, he is already disillusioned with the election process because nothing has changed. And presumably nothing will change. Seymour believes his hand has been forced not to vote, “Se pa mwen ki chwazi pa vote. Yo fè m pa vote. I did not choose to not vote. They have made me not vote.”Last year’s election attempt was a circus. Seymour predicted the 2015 presidential run-offs would not happen. He was spot on. There were 54 people vying for the title of Head-of-State, and somehow Haiti ended up with interim President Jocelerme Privert, who was installed by the Senate.
“Don’t talk to me about my rights as a citizen when it’s election time, when in the four previous years, you failed to recognize me as a citizen; failed to recognize my humanity.”
Arguably, the right to vote distinguishes democracy from other government systems. “I don’t appreciate politicians touting citizens’ right to vote while neglecting these same citizens’ civil rights, their economic rights.” Seymour says. Before the scheduled run-offs in 2015, in some neighborhoods sound trucks blasted songs encouraging people to cast their ballots. Seymour dismisses this, “Pa pale m de sitwayènte lè gen eleksyon. Don’t talk to me about my rights as a citizen when it’s election time, when in the four previous years, you failed to recognize me as a citizen; failed to recognize my humanity.” In Haiti, basics like healthcare, a decent place to live, clean water, and gender equality are not available to the masses. No wonder most people do not vote.Though Haiti’s lack of civil rights is common knowledge, the international community sponsored Haiti’s 2015 elections. They claimed the goal of their support was to strengthen Haiti’s government. Funding poured in from the United States, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Norway, and Argentina. The U.S. alone provided $33 million. Money well wasted.
Perhaps this money would have been better spent providing resources to young people. Seymour maintains the country’s progress is dependent on the youth. Haiti’s population, 70% being under the age of 29, is plagued with unemployment and illiteracy. Even when a person defies the norm and obtains an education, advancement is difficult without connections or a prominent last name. Seymour is a victim of the status quo. He suspects finding a professor to assist him with his thesis has been challenging because he is not from the right family. To add insult to injury, Seymour has heard young people say, “Sa lekòl vo, sa inivèsite vo? Martelly pat lekòl men li te rive vin prezidan.” What is a college education worth? Martelly was not college educated and he became president. Michel Martelly, a.k.a Sweet Micky, did not earn a college education. Yet he was a president elect (of course there are those who maintain Martelly was selected by the Haiti’s biggest funder, the United States, and never elected by the Haitian people).
Without role models and viable opportunities, the solution for many is to leave Haiti. “Si ou renmen peyi, a kite l. If you love Haiti leave it,” is advice Seymour has received from several people. Haitians can be found all over the world earning degrees, making money, and using their skills to better other countries. Seymour, a budding intellectual, may one day count himself among the expatriates.
Who would blame Seymour for leaving Haiti?
“Majorite minis, prezidan kote timoun yo ap viv? Most ministers, presidents, where do they children live? Most of these people’s children live abroad because Haiti has nothing to offer,” Seymour bitterly points out. With their children safely tucked away in other countries, Haitian leaders and elites do not have to deal with the consequences of their failed leadership. They can hop on a plane anytime things become messy. The people left behind have to survive the failures. Are the leaders at fault for not respecting their civic duty? Or are the Haitian people to blame for not holding their leaders accountable? Is the international community responsible for simultaneously funding and benefiting from Haiti’s broken government? Or is it Seymour’s fault for giving up on the democratic process?
Democracy does more hurt than harm to Haiti, according to Seymour. Protests, fraudulent ballots, riots, schools and business shutting down, and a general sense of insecurity are common during election season. Furthermore democracy has not deterred a cycle of corruption, leaving Seymour feeling like he is stuck in a labyrinth.
Haiti’s situation stirs up an array of emotions. For some, this includes nostalgia for the Duvalier regime. The same regime that imprisoned or even killed people who spoke against the administration. Under the Duvalier rule, Seymour and other vocal compatriots would not be so forthcoming with their disdain for the government. Freedom to voice an opinion may be the one positive element democracy introduced to Haiti.
Seymour believes research is needed to find a more suitable system for Haiti. He proposes a counter model, something completely different from what Haiti has tried before. What that model looks like he says is beyond his scope of knowledge. But it is clear, things need to change. Until then, Seymour concludes, there is not much hope.