Geopolitics

Hard Truths, And A Glimmer Of Hope In Haiti

In the wake of the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haitian writer Yanick Lahens revisits the history of the island, addressing its fractures, but also seeing a reason for cautious optimism.

Haiti president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in Port-au-Prince on July 7
Haiti president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in Port-au-Prince on July 7
Yanick Lahens*

-Analysis-

Not wanting to respond in the heat of the moment to the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, I declined requests to speak with journalists. Typically, a real-time reaction forsakes nuance, resulting in an answer that severs the event from the deeper factors that caused it. The inevitable shortcuts taken to summarize an event for "front-page news' tend to compound the reservoir of cliches and prejudices that exist around it, despite any attempts otherwise. And when an event worthy of the front page takes place in Haiti, the temptation is even greater to dive into such an abyss.

There's a reason for that. Haiti, more than any other place, has the capacity to boggle the minds of those unable or unwilling to stretch outside of their intellectual comfort zone. This emblematic island nation challenges and disturbs all at once. And yet, those who have not grasped the place Haiti holds in modern history — in its very birth and subsequent transatlantic influence — will only see the fire, poverty and bloodshed. They will only see another coup d"état, and they will only see black skin.

What happens in Haiti must always be placed in conversation with its inescapable history, summarized quickly around its unthinkable independence in 1804, when the country thwarted slavery, colonialism and nascent capitalism, and at a time when the Western powers were preparing to consolidate their world empire. Independence made Haiti the first country of the South, and subsequently the mold and template — I cannot stress this enough — of North-South relations.

Haiti understood before everyone else. Placed in quarantine (today we would call it embargo) by the colonialist powers of the time, the country was forced, as a condition to ending its political and economic isolation, to pay reparations for profits lost to the former French colonizers of Santo Domingo. This would place a heavy burden on Haiti from the beginning, dragged down by a steep mortgage that would send the country spiraling into a debt it wouldn't be able to pay off until the middle of the 20th century. And yet, during its difficult period of isolation, Haiti still helped Simon Bolivar liberate five Latin American countries and even inspired Greece to gain its independence.

Independence made Haiti the first country of the South.

Writer Laurent Dubois, in Les Vengeurs du Nouveau Monde (Les Perséides, 2006), noted that in 1801, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson was already thinking about what would happen should Santo Domingo achieve independence, which he feared would set a bad example for the other slave-holding countries in the region. In a conversation with delegates from France and England, he laid out conditions of engagement: "Not allowing blacks to own ships will be enough." In essence, Jefferson ceded Haiti the right to exist as a large village of maroons, but there was no possibility of accepting it into the concert of nations.

You may shrug and tell me that this happened long ago. But since then? Alas, the spirit and even the very words of this statement have persisted and infiltrated the policies that the great powers enforced on Haiti throughout the 19th century and up to the present day.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat and in keeping with Jefferson's vision, did not bat an eye when referring to Haiti as the "backyard," implying a location where garbage is dumped. Donald Trump, the latest Republican president, stooped lower, remorselessly referring to the country as a "shit hole." The former eliminated Haitian rice production in the 2000s by forcing the Haitian market to accept subsidized, and therefore much cheaper, American rice. The latter, seeking the Haitian vote against Venezuela, promised unconditional support for the authoritarian regime of the late president.

But how was all this possible, you may ask? Well, it was made possible due to the complicity of the political and economic sectors that have ruled Haiti since independence.

The departure of the colonizers brought about a double shift that resulted in two different approaches to government and societal organization. The majority of the Bossales, the men and women who had just arrived from Africa, radically rejected the plantation system and liberal economic logic. Throughout the 19th century, they built an original culture that incorporated a common language and religion, prioritized the lakou (the common dwelling) as a basic community space, emphasized the cultivation of gardens and shared everything down to the last piece. It was a culture that would be protected from the beginnings of the neo-colonial project. The rural environment is referred to in everyday language as "the country outside."

Artists performing during a ceremony in honor of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise — Photo: Orlando Barria/EFE/ZUMA

The other group was made up of the Creoles, many of whom were revolutionary leaders and others who accepted and adopted colonial traditions after independence, namely, the French language, the Catholic religion and Western legal foundations. With the two cultures constantly at odds, the chaos truly began with the failure to integrate the state model of the Creoles, across the country, and, as the sociologist Jean Casimir specifies, with the international community's negative view of the Bossale. Now, the country must find a way to build a community out of a centuries-old conflict.

Many of Haiti's struggles since the 19th century originate in this specific disconnect. Back-to-back international and internal crises throughout the 20th century progressively weakened the country's institutions, leading to long-standing distrust in government and placing a large swatch of the population into poverty without any structures intended to offer support, all of which was reinforced in 2010. Global and local crime syndicates have taken advantage of and co-opted these weak institutions. The licit and the illicit ended up merging, establishing corruption as a mode of governance, a process that eventually led to the shocking assassination of President Moïse.

Some may be quick to highlight the international aid Haiti has received over the years. But this aid perverts those who give as well as those who receive. When the aid does not simply feed corruption on both sides, a substantial portion of it goes back to the donor, leaving the recipient dangerously dependent, even if a few organizations, thank God, escape this model. The aid given after the 2010 earthquake is a perfect manifestation of this dysfunction.

As rapid urbanization unfolded and the centrality of the Creole language spread through various media and social networks, a youth has risen up, eager to stake their claim as the "country within" by showing the world their desire to fully exercise their citizenship, and build community and institutions. It is this young and new "country within a country" that has, with their bare hands, fought back against the unconstitutional referendum project supported by the international community. And they have managed to do this, as the young philosopher Edelyn Dorismond points out, despite the serious assaults on symbolic architecture; despite the massacres orchestrated by gangs, instruments of the powerful; and despite widespread imprisonment and the general exhaustion of so many.

We Haitians must save ourselves from reductive narratives.

It was these young people who were preparing to do the same, to fight against the widely contested elections that were supported by the international community. In the face of such obstacles, building community and democracy will take persistence and time. A lot of time. It will demand the construction of a new political order and fresh representation. There is no speedy solution or quick answer.

We Haitians must save ourselves from reductive narratives whose harmfulness lies in their ability to trap us in sad emotions, as Gilles Deleuze says. It is natural, and we will feel sadness, fear, hopelessness. But let us also remember, using the guiding light of history, how to make room for clear-mindedness and strength and draw from familiar joy. Let us not be defeated twice.

Contrary to what is conveyed in international or even national media, there is hope in the projects that are at work. One is the ecological community project in the lower northwest region, which is building a multifunctional park in a working-class neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Others are artistic endeavors, agricultural activities, building an efficient university, creating innovative models for schooling. All these initiatives share one key point in common: They have been able to integrate the people in their approach. In contrast to our collective misfortunes, they are unfolding far away from the "front-page" sound and fury.

In the Failles, the novel which I wrote in 2010 in the aftermath of the earthquake, I repeatedly asked myself how to write without "exoticizing" misfortune and tragedy. Let's refuse to deny our suffering, but let us not indulge in self-flagellation or use our misfortune as a means of profit. Because if there is misfortune, it is not only Haiti's, it is the misfortune of the first world, the second world, the third world and the fourth world. It is the misfortune of our dominant world-model. It is not exotic; it is the misfortune of all.



*Yanick Lahens is a prize-winning novelist and essayist from Port-au-Prince.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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