photo by Jacques-Richard Miguel

Here’s what happens in a country without a functioning judicial system. This man, above, was stealing motorcycles, apparently, down near rue Capois in Port-au-Prince two days ago. He was allegedly working with a ring of thieves. But he was the one who got caught, and the people in the zone took justice into their own hands and lynched him. Of course such behavior is unacceptable. But there’s a reason for it. 

People in Haiti know that malefactors will not be brought to justice. At best, a man like this, arrested, will spend years and years in penitentiary, uncharged, awaiting a trial that may never come.

I remember that a street kid I used to hang out with in the 80s and 90s once gave me a lecture on justice in Haiti. He was explaining why some well known criminal, a kiiler and torturer, ought simply to be put to death by the population.

“Well,” he said, as I recall it, “If you bring him to the penitentiary, he will never face a judge and then when the government changes, he’ll be let out.” So many times, in my experience of Haiti, this kid was proven right, with his street concept of justice.

But that’s not an end to it, is it? The problem with justice and the judicial system in Haiti is that it is corrupt and has been corrupted for decades if not centuries. Money flows into it, and destroys it. The threat of violence against honest judges has also been a powerful tool.

On Thursday, we shall see if former dictator and human-rights abuser Jean-Clause Duvalier will shed his arrogance and agree to appear before a judge on various charges. On Feb. 7, he skipped his court appointment, with no consequences.

Duvalier is well protected, with his close connections to the current president, and even though his crimes in Haiti rise above the simple theft of motorcycles, he’ll probably remain untouched by justice. Possibly, he’ll even be found innocent of charges that could otherwise have kept him from digging into the millions he and his family stole from the Haitian people back in the 1970s and 1980s.

It’s important to let the Martelly government know that the world is watching. But is the world watching? Or does the international community no longer care about Duvalier’s fate?

If it’s ok for Duvalier to go on swanning about Port-au-Prince with no consequences for his history and behavior, and for the history and behavior of the regime of Duvalier II, it certainly sends a message, not a good one, to the current and future leaders of the country.