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Memo from Port-Au-Prince

Where the Culture of Corruption Meets the Corruption of Culture

by RICHARD MORSE

Our band RAM left for Au Cap last Monday to perform. Unfortunately our part of the show was rained out.

Met a few interesting people.

The Minister of Culture seems like a decent fellow. He met with us and a couple other bands to see how we viewed things. At some point he brought up financing for a Jazz Festival in Port-au-Prince and though I didn’t say it at the time, perhaps USAID ought to be financing Jazz Festivals. I believe Jazz is the official music of the United States. It makes sense that USAID would finance.

I met a friend of President Preval’s (the one who owns a bookstore) and I can’t quite figure out if he was threatening my life when he brought up Jean Dominique in our conversation. I think the friend feels I should be more supportive of the President’s entourage. Perhaps it’s a question of definition. "Populist" can mean that the government ought to guarantee education to all citizens, up till the age of sixteen, or, "populist" can mean "you’re nice to your maid". Go figure. Just because I believe that some of the President’s entourage believes that "populism" means "being nice to your maid" is no reason to threaten my life!

One consistent political thread we’ve had in Haiti is making sure that the road between Cap Haitian and Haiti is in the worst possible condition. Fixing the part of the road (a twenty minute stretch along 8 hours of road) that goes along the private beaches of Montrouis, is a very small step in a positive direction. Seriously I don’t make this stuff up.

The Senator from Gonaives is quite controversial. A new friend from a foreign government described him as very smart and dynamic. Preval’s friend referred to him as a drug dealer.

Here’s a list of some of the people I tried to convince that Preval would make a good President back in 2006:

1) The Pentagon (in Washington)

2) The State Department (in Washington)

3) The State Department and Embassy (in Haiti)

4) The World Bank (in Washington)

5) Inter Development Bank (in Washington)

6) USAID (in Washington)

7) Lavalas

8) Duvalierists

9) The Brazilian Ambassador (in Haiti)

10) The Chilean Ambassador (in Haiti)

11) The Argentinian Ambassador (in Haiti)

12) Preval himself, along with his by then ex-wife Jerri.

13) Guests and frequenters of the Oloffson, including the new Prime Minister, before I knew she was Preval’s friend.

14) My band

I tried to convince these people, including Preval, that Preval would be our best chance for peace in Haiti. Anything we get from Preval in addition to Peace, is a gift. Now I’m getting death threats from his friends? Maybe I’m not elitist enough. Maybe I should start playing Jazz or classical music. Hey, I’m not the one calling the Senator a drug dealer.

We, the band, did have some logistical problems in Au Cap and the new Prime Minister’s assistant was very helpful in sorting everything out.

I’m concerned that all of Haiti’s tourism efforts are being directed towards Cap Haitian because whenever I go to the area, there’s a subtle sense of corruption pervading. I noticed it in Milo and I noticed it in Cap.

For those of you who didn’t know; I believe Haiti’s Cultural politic should be directed towards our African, Caribbean, Native American roots; not our French/American roots. I’m not saying to completely ignore our French and American roots, they do have their place in the scheme of things. They’re just not as dominant, as some would like to pretend, when it comes to Haitian Culture.

If you haven’t seen the devastation the four hurricanes left in Haiti, take a drive from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haitian. The riverbed is now a hundred yards wide in certain locations. I guess its not a news item anymore. I can’t recognize Gonaives though I did see food being handed out. The metal bridge at Pont Sonde is gone. Folded up and wrinkled.

* * *

So, we, (RAM), had been invited by the Ministry of Culture to perform in Cap Haitian for the anniversary of Vertieres. Our contracted monies were supposed to cover band fees and transportation. We were to receive food and lodging in Cap Haitian. We get to Cap Haitian and there’s no food for 24 hours. Luckily, the Prime Minister’s office had some one keeping an eye out for us. The day after we arrived, the musicians were thrown out of their hotel because some one hadn’t paid for the rooms. Stealing the food budget and the room budget designated for a band is some pretty petty thievery.

So the concert is about half way done, we’re meeting with the Minister of Culture and we get word that they stopped the concert because of rain. The podium wasn’t covered, the sound system wasn’t covered and the instruments weren’t covered, so the sound company packed up and left. We were ready to play. We get back to Port-au-Prince and now we hear that they’re going to have a meeting next week to determine whether we’re going to get paid. This is after we’ve rented a bus, a car, plus per diems and three days away from home. I’m drifting back and forth between "The Corruption of Culture" and "The Culture of Corruption". The Minister’s office kept bringing up the term "patriotism".

On a completely different note, the President’s friend, the one from the bookstore, said something, that, to this day, is rattling around my brain. He said, no one really liked Jean Dominique. I still don’t understand the remark. Jean Dominique’s funeral was held in a packed stadium. Jean Dominique was not only one of Rene Preval’s great friends, but he was also Preval’s "political advisor". Things must get awfully odd when you’re in power. I prefer being in a band.

Thirdly, I read a headline in the Nouvelliste that said Preval wanted MINUSTAH out of Haiti by the end of his term. (I didn’t read the article. Actually, I stay away from news. My doctor told me the stress isn’t healthy.) If MINUSTAH had not been here in April, I’ll bet anyone 38 cents that Preval would have fallen along with Alexis. He’s at least smart enough to want the troops here for the duration of his term! Looking back on things, it seems that Alexis may have been an excellent Prime Minister. Perhaps that was his downfall. Madame Pierre Louis’ task is a great task. I wish her the best of luck in this political minefield.

I wonder if asking MINUSTAH to leave is some kind of coded language telling government officials to steal what they can now, (including musician payrolls and per diems) before "blan" goes home. If I do get paid next week or next month, I’ll make sure to print an apology to all those concerned.

RICHARD MORSE runs the Olafsson Hotel Port-au-Prince Haiti and the leads the Haitian band RAM.