?In politics, it matters neither to love nor to hate but to understand.?
Let?s assume for a moment that president Aristide is evicted from power some time this year or next. Then, what? Would that coincide with a democratic awakening? Would a leader?in the truest sense of the term?finally emerge, march with the people, and intone the song of the long-awaited second liberation? When Baby Doc Duvalier fled power in 1986 under international pressure and immense popular discontent, the event created an imperceptible political vacuum to the casual observer. (Weren?t we all, after all, casual observers? Only one man I recall, the last of the Mohicans?who shall affectionately remain nameless and in fact passed away before the collapse?remarked that the Duvalier aftermath would be terrible and create a political leadership vacuum.) What would make Aristide?s departure any different?
After all, the Haitian opposition to the Duvalier administration?Duvalier administration, an oxymoron, I must confess?had seemingly gathered momentum and clout with the like of Gregoire Eugene, Sylvio Claude, Marc Bazin, and Gerard Gourgue. They all claimed to be democrats in a country that never truly lived a decisive democratic experience. Doubtless, some were sincere even though one cannot truly be called a democrat without a democratic record. They all celebrated the winds of change and used its coattails to further their cause and their standings in the minds of the Haitian people. They all failed.
Where did things go wrong? They failed, as we know, for ignoring the powerful army and not knowing how to broker alliances with the omnipotent generals of yesteryear. And neither could they have neutralized the army the way the Duvaliers masterly did it for three decades. The army took over, when Duvalier left, to transition the country to democracy and organize fair elections.
The democratic transition became almost immediately an exercise in rhetorical futility notably under the watch of General Henry Namphy. Namphy compared quite cynically the transition to some sort of democratic extravaganza (in French, ?La bamboche démocratique?). But no one paid attention. The party continued for a little while until Namphy cracked down bloodily.
The country had once again failed to experience potential new leadership.
Namphy was toppled eventually and a succession of ridiculously ephemeral military takeovers drove the nation into an abysmal whirlwind of terror. By 1990, fed up, the international community and the State Department demanded that elections be held as soon as possible. A slew of candidates, self-proclaimed leaders and democrats, came out of the caves of historical oblivion to rally a people that grew otherwise smarter, thanks to grassroots movements.
Two candidates caught attention. The dreaded former secretary of the Interior and National Defense of baby Doc, Dr. Roger Lafontant, attempted to unite the different Duvalierist factions. He claimed to be the heir to Duvalier and promised to restore Duvalierian peace and order, otherwise known as the peace of the cemetery. In an effort to counter Lafontant, several opposition parties?in a seminal event seemingly so rare in Haitian history?formed a coalition of disparate forces known as the FNCD to unite behind and push the candidature of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990.
Aristide, then a popular priest with unparalleled charisma and a penchant for colorful language, resonated well in the heart of the people. He won the elections, in December 1990, in a landslide that left the international community and Mr. Bazin?a favorite of Washington?puzzled. Nothing could stop the triumphant priest.
Aristide, some five years after Baby Doc?s departure, filled the leadership vacuum, or so we thought. He had staunch supporters in all strata of Haiti?s society. He had won a mandate for change. Hopes were high that finally one man could carry the destiny of the nation upon his shoulders and fulfill the hopes and dreams of millions, for too long shattered and dismissed. People believed he could unite and be a national healer.
However, the priest did not have an agenda; he had all the characteristics of a caring and compassionate man at the time; but no grand vision. After all, he emerged on the power scene, thanks largely to the Lafontant incident. He was a priest, a man of the cloth. He was a great motivator on the pulpit, but he lacked leadership skills so seemingly necessary and instrumental to galvanize and engage the nation on the road of positive change and national development. Aristide did not know to steer clear of petty issues. He neglected to take the high road and so, seven months after having been elected, he was forced to yield power in September 1991, to an army he had exasperated too much.
General Cédras headed the coup and the country. But with an army traditionally trained to be the enemy of civilians in a quasi-feudal society, all bets were off that Cédras had the political savvy and heirloom to unite the people. The international community raised hell for the return of Aristide and imposed economic sanctions that proved to be detrimental to the fragile economy. Aristide, entrenched in Washington, suffered lip service from the Bush administration and had to wait Clinton for a firm engagement to secure his return to power.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was back in power in 1994. Ever since, he has dominated the political arena either as a result of his stature or more recently by intimidation. Regardless of the outcome of the current situation in Haiti, the fact remains that no one man can readily fit in the shoes of Mr. Aristide, this in spite of his lack of some crucial leadership skills and apparent failure at positioning the nation on the trajectory of development and democracy. Mr. Aristide is certainly not a democrat, but so aren?t the potential Haitian leaders until they can prove otherwise.
The funny thing is that those who attack Mr. Aristide engage themselves in the very practices they criticize. For instance, things are rarely done in full transparency in the Haitian political parties and groups. Dealing with anti-Aristide groups reveals that they practice the same obscure behind-the-door maneuvers for almost everything, from the petty to the critical. It is quite pathetic. It is as if nothing can ever be done clearly, right, and in the open. Backstabbing is always in order when you deal in that kind of madness. (Why backstabbing senselessly? Haitians have so much ground amid all the differences that it is absurd for the country not to be engaging all its people in its development.)
Hence, the keen observer is forced to ask the question, would the after-Aristide be any better? Would the after-Aristide not create a political vacuum and further disarray in the island nation political and social life?let alone its economy? Haiti seems to be in a constant stalemate since 1986.
Political forces should not be trusted as democratic when they have not been in power to prove and harden themselves in the practice of democracy. Politicians in positions of leadership are not necessarily leaders. One becomes a leader in developing and realizing a vision, living and exemplifying the values. Leadership is a rare commodity. Corporate America, for instance, struggles continually to prepare people for leadership roles. Very few succeed. Leaders are not easy to come by. After all, it?s not everyday that Humanity will produce the likes of Napoleon, Louverture, De Gaulle, Churchill, Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. But two hundred years of leadership vacuum for any country is untenable.
With Aristide, Haiti may have missed another rendezvous with leadership. Aristide was so close?damn it! But given the makeup of the Haitian political fauna, it may be quite a while before another opportunity presents itself.
Haiti has no luck, pure and simple. Politicians of all of faith usurp the cloak of leadership to further their personal and insatiable greed. The government has become the only industry in the nation and so everybody exploits it to the fullest. Haiti?s biggest problem has always been a lack of leadership. It is ultimately leadership that will transform Haiti into a modern nation. It is leadership not ideology that will provide a vision. Haiti has experienced a leadership vacuum for nearly 200 years. Nothing short of leadership can fix Haiti?s secular problems of illiteracy, hunger, erosion, portable water, electricity, and education, to name a few. No single politician?barring Henri Christophe?has ever attempted to claim the legacy and promise of 1804.
I wish I had a sibylline message, but all I can say is that leadership will come on the heels of a seminal event.