Originally: Le pouvoir maléfique du pouvoir


Executive Director

Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (CEDH)



If transparency existed, we would be able to know how much it cost?cost whom? us, citizens, taxpayers?for the regime to launch its hysterical propaganda campaign against the January 24 general strike. Whereas, with a strike, the risk of confrontation doesn?t exist: No one throws rocks into a void; ?counter-demonstrators? are free to take to the streets themselves; and simple citizens can conduct their business as they please.  The success of a strike is measured by this void it creates, and it is this very void that the current regime fears.  This void, this silence, this sudden disappearance of the man in the streets, has a peculiar eloquence?one that provokes panic and terror in populist circles.


It is time to recreate ?86, but with a difference.  To revive the demands of the democratic movement.  To rediscover ?the historical unity of a people with legitimate demands,? as the late Marcel Gilbert?speaking then at the opening of the Congress of Democratic Unity, along with Roger Dorsainville and Roger Gaillard?put it; that congress whose objective was to create just such a broad unity.  This time, recalling that mandate, the entire nation shall again unite?to bear witness to a disaster.


After all, we are all ?the Haitian people,? however various our circumstances; that Haitian people that literally ?finds itself,? locked arm-in-arm, at particular moments in our history, when the danger that threatens the nation requires a concerted, collective response.  November 7, 1986 was one of these moments, because, with the disappearance of Charlot Jaquelin, the sinister specter of a world with which we were all too familiar reappeared.  The disappearance of Charlot Jacquelin, and the refusal of the military authorities to reveal his fate, could have been the harbinger of the disappearance of any one of us?as so many thousands of our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers had disappeared in the dungeons of Duvalier?s hell.*


There are these moments, then?as in 1803?when the Haitian people, in its sociological diversity, with its competing and yet complementary interests, finds itself, locked arm-in-arm?on the road to Vertières.  As someone very dear to me said of the strike, with just the right take: ?The nation is finally taking charge of itself.?


Unfortunately, the regime, since as long ago as 1991, has turned its back on the nation, preferring the more exclusive company and complicity associated with back-room dealings.  But, in turning its back on this almost mystical national unity?whatever the ancestry of each of our citizens, whatever their political ideology or family lines?by privileging personal ties to the tribal chief over the diversity and richness of the many constituent parts of our society; this populism has turned its back on its own national destiny, on its own historical mandate, on the great undertakings of the Haitian nation, on the democratic transition, on the problems of the country and, in effect, it has turned its back on the country herself.


For in pursuing their own ends, the populists have fallen under the dizzying spell of ?total? power, complete power?the key to their ever more rapid enrichment, from state lands, from state contracts, from the state budget, from state-managed enterprises (particularly telecommunications, ports, procurement and insurance).  This group of populists now finds itself so wrapped up in all of this, in every domain, that the possibility of a correction, of an about-face, is negligible?given the webs of complicity, the absence of a vision of the State, the absence of a coherent development program, and the sorry absence of setting any kind of a positive example, at any level of society.  It is this kind of vertigo, this kind of baleful drift off course which, in ?The Brothers Karamazov,? Ivan personified through his fictional creation, the Grand Inquisitor, whose very soul is seared by the silent stare of the unknown man, Christ. 


We have seen these designs emerge progressively.  Yesterday?s activists?today transformed into wheeler-dealers and ruthless stalkers of their opponents?are no longer the altar boys we once took them for.  They have partaken of gold and of blood, and, above all they have tasted the fear that their very presence now inspires.  Such appetites have splintered populist ?governance,? and have transformed their calls for justice, for national unity and for peace into empty slogans as, in real life, they encourage and do just the opposite.  In this state of disarray and delinquency it?s impossible to obtain any reliable information, or even a precise number of any kind.  Above all, don?t try to figure out what?s going on under the surface!  The moment has been given over to making deals.  The moment, which is a moment of crime, is also a moment of lies.  It is the time of mountebanks, of shylocks, of manipulators.  It is the time of farce, a tragic farce which is not amusing, because it is the harbinger of death.  It is the time of empty speech, of the incantation of grand principles, decorated with vague and abstract generalities; while we citizens are asking nothing more complicated, gentlemen, than ?What time is it??


How has this been possible?  ?How has pure gold been engulfed by vile lead??  I admit that I have problems explaining this to foreign friends and visitors who, not being able to understand this reversal, prefer in certain cases simply to stop talking about Haiti entirely.  Looking at one or another of these distinguished personalities, in their perplexity, one is surprised to find oneself murmuring along with them ?Quantum mutatus ab illo!?  Confronting this astonishing turnabout, this apparent ability to respond today by negating what was said yesterday, the international press remains uncomfortably silent; whereas, in 1994, Haiti was the fifth most frequent subject of international news.  Contrary to some of today?s slogans, we are well-liked, we were once admired.


It is this unfathomable turnabout that explains the labored silence, while at every level of everyday life, the spectacle unfolds around us?arbitrariness; the fractured state; justice denied; corruption at the heart of governance, the confusion between order and disorder, between honest men and delinquents; the constant improvisation; and, above all, a rhetoric that doesn?t hesitate to exacerbate division, hatred and exclusion, using not only the public media, but even paid commercial announcements.  This rancorous and irresponsible campaign, at such a decisive moment, only confirms the infantilism of Haitian political culture, with its recourse to a rhetoric of exclusion within the concept of Haitian nationality itself, which only makes our already quite precarious circumstances that much more fragile.  And this two hundred years after 1804!  Insecurity is, above all, the uncertainty that suffuses everything, because at the center of it all, the line separating what is lawful from what is not has been obscured, and what should be prohibited is permitted.  In this swamp, the State is melting away of its own accord, and any distinction between good and evil has been erased.


With all frames of reference having disappeared in this stew, who then will protect the citizen?  Who will build the future, if we are without national unity?  In a country where there are no indigenous peoples?and for well-known reasons!?exclusion draws distinctions among different classes of citizen, a legal aberration that, nonetheless, is also ensconced in the 1987 constitution, which regrettably treats Haitians of the diaspora and our naturalized citizens separately.


Whereas, in front of our very eyes, on January 24, we again saw?not without some measure of sadness and compunction, of sighs and silences, to be sure?the historical unity of a people who still have legitimate demands and expectations, ?le peuple revendicatif.?  Because ?civil society? is nothing else but that?it?s the Haitian people, having organized themselves into institutions, groups and coalitions; it?s the people in their fundamental unity, above and beyond irrelevancies and individual differences; it?s the people of citizens, all equal under law.  And when the nation is in peril; when its freedoms are threatened; when the temple of our sovereignty is defiled by money-changers; when individual appetites are no longer held in check; when the law, decency and truth are mocked by a bunch of ?comedians?; and when the state is paralyzed; then it is this nation that must rise to the occasion.


And that challenge is sometimes undertaken by individuals, who emerge to take the lead, whatever the cost.  Thus, in the United States, two journalists were acting for everyone when they tracked down the burglars of Watergate, in a game of successive discovery and revelation that ended by opening the eyes of an entire nation.  Similarly, Time Magazine recently named three women as its ?Heroes of 2002.?  They were each whistleblowers?one at the FBI, where she drew attention to serious negligence in intelligence matters; the two others, from Enron and WorldCom who, in spite of pressure, threats and humiliation, unmasked the lies that disguised the shenanigans, the false data and the fraudulent procedures of the companies for whom they worked.


Our own history does not lack for comparable examples.  We must honor the example of these men and women, and for the sake of our collective memory, commemorate the names of those who overcame the fear and trembling and confronted the intimidation, the torture and the killings meted out by power once it has been cornered.  For the moment, it is still silence, the silence of death, which envelops forty-four years of summary executions and exaction.  Impunity?guaranteed by the silence of the victims, society?s amnesia and a paralyzed justice system?is doing quite well.  The triptych of ?justice, transparency and participation? was set aside somewhere during the most recent electoral campaigns.  ?Peace,? ?dialogue,? ?negotiation,? and ?patience? are today?s mantra, endlessly chanted to the families of R.P. Jean (Ti-Jean) Pierre-Louis , Jean Dominique, Brignol Lindor, Eric Pierre, and of the three sons of Viola, as well as to the families of the tens of thousands of those who have disappeared since 1957, and who have now disappeared again, or so it feels?under the veil of this monstrous secret that still keeps us awake nights.


It is in search of another destiny than this one that the Haitian people rediscovered itself this past January 24, as it had rediscovered itself two months earlier, on the road to Vertières, the road of decency.  This January 24, it was necessary to say, in unison, ?No!? to what is unacceptable, simply by staying at home.  It was also necessary to say ?Yes!? once more, with this same gesture of simply staying still, to the values of ?86, ensconced in the 1987 constitution.  That day?s initiative, with its ?no?s? and ?yes?s? which once again proclaimed the nation?s unity, was but a prologue to future actions, a prologue designed simply to ensure the survival of the nation at a time when the omens of catastrophe, of national collapse, are all around us, and yet inspire no other response from the current regime than spells and incantations.  A regime that curses its former friends, that attacks the ?recalcitrant,? while still unctuously inviting them to dialogue, and even to power-sharing?all the while obstinately refusing to assume its own responsibilities, comfortably cloaked in the incoherence of its empty rhetoric.


Yet even this constant improvisation, absent any program for development, is insufficient to explain the enormous distance by which the regime has strayed from its 1990 mandate.  It?s as if, as in a horror film, the victims have been transformed by monsters into monsters themselves, and have returned to live among us.  As if, once Daniel was in the lions? den, the lions finally won?by turning Daniel himself into a lion! 


In effect, one can only exorcise the demons of power, only resist its vortex of evil, by keeping one?s distance, by keeping other options open, by staunchly maintaining an independent stance.  Otherwise, one must resort to excuses, to constant dissimulation, so that the chicken doesn?t cry out while it is being plucked, as they say.  You have to cover your tracks, silence your victims and accomplices.  You have to invent events, false leads and false testimony.  And this crooked path leads inexorably to making a deal with that other face of power, the face that is never unveiled, the face that speaks an unknown tongue, that wears a mask and carries the grim reaper?s scythe of death over its shoulder; that power that rules over the kingdom of fiends, where dissolute silence reigns supreme.  As folk wisdom tells us ?There is always an evil imp guarding the treasure.?  The imp has a long memory, and he always collects his due. 


In this populism that lost its way between 1990 and 2003, and which by its very scope seems to offer precious little in terms of an eventual return to the rule of law, one can already make out the principal features.  They run from the misappropriation of public funds and the inappropriate use of public media, through the sapping of all institutions that might properly exercise the controls and sanctions required by a democratic state, to a total control of the electoral apparatus.  And as if this were not enough, there is the official threat of ?Zero Tolerance,? which, in the Haitian context, is nothing less than a license to kill; there is December 17 with the homes and offices of the opposition put to the torch; there is the infernal string of assassinations and disappearances; the standstill in the justice system; and the hunting down of curious journalists, talkative witnesses and over-zealous activists.


Those who allow themselves to be dragged into this vortex slowly come to resemble each other; they carry on their faces the impassive mask of silence.  Only the truth will eventually liberate them.  Like Eichmann, their features take on a cast that is the human face of power?s capacity for evil, the face of ?the banality of evil,? to recall Hannah Arendt?s striking phrase.  That banality of a model functionary, organizing, with no apparent compunction, the transport of an entire people, of men, women and children, across Europe.  They have become the unthinking stewards of the Kingdom of Death.


Jean-Claude Bajeux

February 1, 2003

On the occasion of the Sixteenth Anniversary of the National Congress of Democratic Movements, at the Salesian Mission, Thor, Haiti



* Editor?s note:  Charlot Jacquelin, a young instructor for Misyon Alfa, the Catholic Church?s Creole literacy program, disappeared in the police barracks of Cité Soleil in September 1986.  On November 7, 1986 more than two hundred thousand citizens marched to demand his whereabouts and release.  Neither were ever forthcoming, but the events of that day of protest inspired organizers to launch the National Congress of Democratic Unity, whose signal accomplishment as a citizens? coalition was its successful support of the 1987 constitution, which was overwhelmingly ratified by popular referendum on March 29, 1987, in what remains the largest single turnout of Haitian voters in history.