Originally: Haiti ou la permanence du malheur

Haiti, or the Perennity of Misfortune


Le Monde, January 28, 2003


By Jean-Michel Caroit



In less than one year, Haiti will celebrate the bicentennial of its independence.  Two centuries after the victory of Saint Domingue?s rebellious slaves over Napoleon?s army, the outcome is disastrous and, with each day that passes, the first black republic more and more lives up to its reputation as the poorest country of the Americas.  While the international community remains indifferent, Haiti is in the process of converting itself into an ?ungovernable chaotic thing,? the intellectual Michel Soukar fears.


The prodigious hope for change that Jean-Bertrand Aristide once embodied, after the fall of the Duvalierist dictatorship in 1986, has disappeared in this country that holds the hemispheric records for AIDS, malnutrition and infant mortality.  The Lavalas movement, a popular torrent that triumphally swept the diminutive slum priest into the presidency in December 1990 has exploded into fratricidal struggles that paralyze government.


[Now] at the head of an incompetent and corrupt faction, Jean-Bertrand Aristide?s presidency is increasingly being called into question, as much in Haiti as on the international stage.  Returned to power in 2000 in a controversial election, he suffers from a deficit of legitimacy that has provoked a freeze on international assistance.  ?Jean-Bertrand Aristide, it?s a complete disaster,? says Jean-Claude Bajeux, former Minister of Culture and courageous defender of human rights.  And this attestation of failure does not spare the international community ? first and foremost the United States, which sent 21,000 soldiers, in September 1994, to return Aristide to the presidency and to ?restore democracy? after three years of a bloody military coup d?état.  The operation became a fiasco because of a refusal [on the part of the U.S.] to assume its attendant responsibilities.  In the absense of internationally supported ?nation building,? internecine quarrels, driven by the thirst for power, found fertile ground.


Cocaine transshipment point


?In foreign politics, Washington is chronically incapable of managing more than one crisis at a time,? noted Warren Christopher in the December 31, 2002 New York Times.  ?In the first years of the Clinton administration, our focus on Bosnia and Haiti distracted us from the massacres in Rwanda,? added the man who served as Secretary of State from 1993 to 1997.  Today, Haiti suffers from this monomania of the American administration, which is now even worse, given its obsession with Iraq.


Unlike Venezuela, Haiti doesn?t produce a drop of oil.  Seen from Washington, it is problematic only because of the hungry ?boat people? who make landfall on the Florida coast (the state governed George W. Bush?s brother, Jeb Bush), and because of its role as a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine.  Fifteen percent of the white powder consumed in the U.S. passes through Haiti, which only survives thanks to the profits on this trade together with remittances from its diaspora.  As in Venezuela, the political opposition, supported by a broad grouping of civil society organizations, is demanding the resignation of the head of state.*  The extreme polarization and intransigence of those involved bars the way to a negotiated solution, in spite of the mediation efforts of the OAS and the enormous costs, both economic and social, associated with the prolongation of the crisis.


Since November, 2002, the movement contesting [Aristide?s presidency] has expanded.  In spite of the repression of the opposition and journalists, and [the regime?s] resort to the use of  ?chimères,? armed bands recruited from the slums, [anti-government] demonstrations and strikes continue.  Confrontations between the partisans and opponents of Aristide have already left four dead and 300 wounded.  The steep hike in oil prices, which the government no longer has the means to subsidize, has accentuated the discontent and raised the cost of basic consumer goods.


A nation drained of life


At the end of 2002, in the midst of student unrest and following a successful demonstration by the opposition in Cap-Haïtien, rumors of Aristide?s imminent departure spread.  Popular unrest would oblige him to flee like [his predecessor,] Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986.  But, as ?Baby Doc? announced his intention to return to Haiti to clean up the mess made by Lavalas on Merican television, Aristide responded that he had no intention of abandoning the presidency.  He once again accused the international community of strangling Haiti with a [so-called] ?embargo,? referring to the freeze on assistance [to the government], et challenged to participate in new legislative elections in 2003.


The Democratic Convergence, a heterogenous opposition coalition united by their hostility to Aristide insists that [ongoing] repression, impunity and the suppression of basic rights make it impossible to hold free and fair elections.  They emphasize that the regime has not respected its commitment to create the conditions that will provide a favorable environment for the elections and the resumption of international assistance.  As one result, the ?Cannibal Army,? a gang allied with Lavalas, lays down the law in the city of Gonaïves.  But the opposition still hasn?t convinced the ?Friends of Haiti? that it represents a viable alternative.  The [recent] emergence of ex-colonel Himmler Rébu [of the now-defunct Haitian Armed Forces] within the opposition?s leadership is a concern of many Embassies, first and foremost that of the United States.


The opposition is hoping that the appearance of civil society on the scene, with the all too obvious support of the International Republican Institute, an arm of the Republican-controlled U.S. administration, will tip the scales in their favor.  But it?s first general sticke, organized on January 24th by 184 civic and professional organizations, was not a complete success.  Government functionaries and marketwomen, who barely survive from day-to-day, went about their business as usual.  If the current indifference persists, Haiti?s agony will continue.  And Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the erstwhile messiah now stripped of his myth, will preside over the bicentennial of a nation drained of life and abandoned by hope.


* Editor?s note: The recently emerged civil society coalition now calling itself ?Citizens? Action? (Fr.: Action Citoyenne), to which the author refers here, has yet to call for the resignation of President Aristide, although it has been highly critical of his manifest lack of political will to resolve the crisis and create a propitious climate for the holding of free and fair elections.