Imagine two nations, or more, in one. Nations that threaten and confront each other. Imagine prejudices about color, background, and speech and you approach the drama of a situation of semi-segregation.
Imagine a man forty years old who has never had a job, income, or salary, and wakes up every morning to cope with misery. Imagine that he is the majority. Imagine a slum with shacks that fall down with every rain, whose inhabitants are illiterate and lack potable water. Imagine that they are also in the majority. Imagine a countryside denuded of its trees, a dry land with men and women who are weary of trying to draw blood from a stone, and who head for the city. Or the sea.
Imagine in the same country, the same city, mansions worth over a million dollars. Imagine families who have riches galore and are proud to say that their children go to the French school or the Union School. Imagine that these children have never even seen the slums or countryside. Imagine the indifference of an economic elite alienated and corrupt, with contempt for the popular culture and the people. Imagine an elite that wants the rule of law for themselves but not the people. Imagine the illiterate masses who speak Creole and dance Vaudou demanding their civic rights. The violence and rancor that results. Imagine this dog-eat-dog situation and you begin to have an idea of the Haitian social climate.
Imagine now the politics. That of yesterday and today. Power-holders of exclusionary character maintaining all the prejudices, maintaining all the cleavages, suppressing the popular spirit. Populist governments led by “charismatic leaders” coming out of the middle classes and becoming rich, ending in corruption and totalitarianism. “Charismatic leaders” aided by technocrats of the second tier, by fascist intellectuals and violent people with neither morality nor law who enrich themselves and follow the example of those they claim to combat.
And the West. They supported the dictatorship of the day during the Cold War. And they are seduced today because of their guilty conscience by the populist melody. The West which has forgotten that the “good doctor” François Duvalier also profited in the beginning from the support of large sections of the population. The “good doctor” François Duvalier–neither the first nor last of the Haitian populists–who said “My enemies are enemies of the country.” He was also detested by the traditional elite. The “good doctor” François Duvalier passed on power to his son for a total of thirty years of Duvalierist dictatorship (1957-86), impoverishing a country that was already poor, weakening institutions that were already fragile, and aggravating social conflicts that were already exacerbated.
But why speak of all this? Because in December 1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former priest of the church of Saint-Jean Bosco, was elected president of Haiti with an impressive majority of votes. Millions of people saw in him the “charismatic leader” who would give them voice, force, and dignity. He had no program. But he was the candidate of the downtrodden and the rich were in fear. In November 1991 the army overthrew him. The coup d’état was anachronistic, the people had not only chosen Aristide, they had chosen the republican way. The coup d’état was bloody, supported by the elites who didn’t want to see the poor get any further. But the West had invested its money in these elections. The United Nations, OAS, Bill Clinton demanded his return. The army took three years in its anachronistic furor. Meanwhile, Aristide negotiated an embargo against his country and his government was ensconced in Washington, paid in dollars from the Haitian funds seized by the Americans.
Three years was long. One however does not defy the will of the president of the United States with impunity. In September 1994 an angry Clinton announced that he had given the order to invade Haiti to restore the constitutional president to office. The army of Haiti gave in when it saw that American planes were in the air. In October 1994 Aristide returned. His attire, his language had somewhat changed. In 1995 he gave his place to his “twin brother,” as he called him. For five years René Préval, the former prime minister during the earlier presidency of Aristide, made sure of one thing, to give back to his predecessor the seat that he occupied. Five years of dilatory maneuvers, ruses and flagrant acts to assure the perennity of Aristide’s party. For the whole population poverty increased. And criminality progressed.
On May 21, 2000, after many delaying tactics, the executive resigned itself to holding legislative and local elections. The opposition cried victory. Lavalas, the party of Aristide, cried victory. Who was lying? Both, undoubtedly. What did not lie were the cameras and the tape recorders of the Haitian and international press which, up to then, were favorable to the Lavalas movement. They saw the ballot boxes in the street, the vote-stealing in the police stations. Lavalas won everything: senate, mayors, deputies. The opposition called for complete annulment.
On November 16, 2000 the presidential elections took place after a series of bombings. The opposition and executive traded accusations. Jean-Bertrand Aristide ran almost alone. Against him were only a handful of unknowns. The opposition abstained. Aristide got 90 percent of the votes. However, how many citizens actually voted? Five percent, says the opposition. Between 10 and 15 percent at most, said the foreign press. Sixty-five percent, said the executive’s press agency. Then the political struggle was over the legislative and municipal elections, what should be done with them. No one moved off of their positions. The negotiations went around in circles, just like the investigations of crimes.
Still, why speak of all this? Because it is my country. Because I risk dying from a bullet from some adolescent whom misery has made into a monster, or from some professional who knows how to disguise a political killing as common crime. Because this impasse deprives the country of all aid and sends it back into poverty. Because the greatest possible threats now hang over the people: the lifelessness of a country that is ungovernable and not governed, the different sectors each holding its piece of power blocking the other; the uncontrollable violence of a people dying of hunger and living in illiteracy while the former rich of the world of finance and industry keep their fortunes and the new rich in the political realm live on drug-trafficking; the triumph of a party occupying all the spheres of power despite the lack of legitimacy in the institutions, imposing totalitarianism all the while proclaiming their good intentions. These threats are real. When a questionably elected mayor attacks a judge, when the rich arm against the poor and the poor against the rich.
So why speak of all this? So that Haiti may not suffer the West’s paternalism or condescension. What Haiti does not need is someone who says: ?Yes, but?[it?s Haiti, after all.]? when democratic principles are violated. After having been complicit for far too long in the mechanisms of exclusion that have split our country into two, today the meddling of small-minded foreigners, full of good intentions, poses a new danger, in its readiness to rationalize our electoral shenanigans. Haiti doesn?t need anyone to tell her who is popular (or who was); rather, she needs assistance to construct her institutions in the strictest observance of democratic procedures. For it is with the republic that one must finally vanquish exclusion. This is what Haiti needs?for all the actors and the government (and the economic power) to finally accept republican modernity. Otherwise the people will die. From poverty or from violence. The people are on the way to dying.