A historic earthquake was only five years ago, a political crisis deepens by the day, and decades of poverty and corruption aren’t going anywhere. But Haitians still have hope. And they still have fun.
“This is what we do, we make music, we make people dance, we make people drink, eat, whatever. No matter what,” Richard Morse, the owner of the Oloffson Hotel hotspot and frontman for the band Ram, told Fusion during one of his hotel’s famous weekly voodoo rock parties.
Morse grew up in Connecticut, but he learned the country’s traditions from his Haitian mother and took up permanent residence at the age of 28, building strong roots in the local music scene.
“At first everyone was saying what’s this guy doing in the band, you know? Who is this guy?” Morse said. “And then people get used to me and they realize that this is what I do, this is who I am. Everyone knows me in Haiti.”
That includes President Michel Martelly, another Haitian rock star. He became the country’s president in 2011 and happens to be Morse’s cousin. They’ve fallen out recently, though. Morse quit working as a Martelly adviser to protest corruption he claims to have seen in the administration.
“Some people get into government just to make money. So I couldn’t be a part of that. I left,” Morse said.
Morse is far from the only local fed up with Martelly. Protests are intensifying in Port-au-Prince over the president’s failure to keep Parliament from dissolving over elections that have been delayed for three years. Late Monday night, a deadline passed that left Martelly effectively running the country by decree. Martelly retains the support of the U.S. and United Nations, but it’s a worrisome development nonetheless for a country with a troubled history of unilateral rule.
Monday also happened to be the five-year anniversary of Haiti’s worst earthquake in 200 years, which killed roughly 200,000 and displaced 1.5 million in the western hemisphere’s poorest country. The population was only about nine million total, and 40 percent were under the age of 14.
“After the earthquake it was you know, it was devastation, so I felt like the only way I could help was to help get someone elected and then just help move the country forward,” Morse said.
The anniversary proved to be one of solemn remembrance mixed with raw uncertainty. Today, thousands are still homeless, and two out of three Haitians still live on less than two dollars a day. Haiti has long been one of the world’s most corrupt countries, and people are questioning the government’s use of foreign aid — particularly the more than $10 billion donated after the earthquake. More and more Haitians see ineffectiveness, detachment, and worse in their president.
“When this many people are in the streets for this amount of time it usually means it’s coming to an end,” Morse said.
But at the same time, Morse sees new beginnings. Haitians are used to rebuilding – to picking up the pieces – often on their own.
“At the time [of the quake] no one wanted to do anything,” Morse said. “Just cause of the shock, but life continues, you’ve just got to move on.”
He makes sure his 24-year-old son William, a rhythm guitarist in Ram, holds this lesson close.
“I think there’s a sense of energy kind of building up,” William said. “I think people are starting to open their eyes.”