Originally: Bases of a Successful Approach to Haiti
Haiti is a troubled country in which people in public life find it difficult to compromise. Haitians are slow to trust and quick to denounce. This is true even of those intellectually committed to democracy. The wonderful loyalty shown to one another in family life?witness more than $1 billion in voluntary family remittances from Haitians in Canada and the United States each year?is extended to politics with difficulty. There, it is everyone for himself, from the president on down, as most recently and convincingly demonstrated by President Aristide, although he was only the latest in a long line of Haitian presidents who behaved this way. Haiti, therefore, has yet to truly build a nation.
However, there are times when Haitians surmount these barriers of mistrust, take personal risks, and accomplish great things together. At the end of 2003 and the first months of 2004, a sketchy, tenuous unity of purpose took hold among probably a majority of Haitians, just in time for the bicentennial of that original rare moment of unity that culminated in 1804, the victory of the world?s only successful slave insurrection. The unity of 2004 was a negative unity, a rejection of Aristide?s corruption, abuse, and violence, a unity long to congeal and quick to dissipate. Yet, there it was, spreading from the intellectuals and the government opposition coalition Group of 184 to the students and concerned citizens of Port-au-Prince, to the people of Cap-Haitian mobilized by Initiative Citoyenne, and to the former Aristide henchmen with their mass following in Gonaives. Only yesterday these henchmen had been terrorizing the democratic elements. But now, the various strands of the impromptu movement encouraged each other. Demonstrators in Port-au-Prince on January 1, 2004 listened on their radios for news from Gonaives. Each reinforced each other and when the former Aristide thugs in Gonaives took police headquarters on February 5, 2004, having scattered the police and gangs sent by Aristide, the death knell of the regime sounded. The man who had once had virtually the whole country behind him now had no one to defend him.
Another motley group of former Aristide henchmen, drug dealers, soldiers of the disbanded army, and terrorists observed these goings-on from the Dominican Republic. They grabbed some old rifles, piled into a few trucks, and knocked down the house of cards they found in the Central Plateau and Cap-Haitian. The frequent, insistent demonstrations of the Group of 184 had lapped almost to the grounds of the palace, but being peaceful, never physically threatened the occupant. The uprisings of the former Aristide henchmen in Gonaives and now the drug dealers and army men from the Dominican Republic were different. Aristide duly fled, having allegedly safely placed abroad in family accounts at least $250 million against this day. It was an alliance of convenience, not any intellectual unity that bound these three main disparate strands of the anti-Aristide uprising together. Yet none could have succeeded without the other. They even seemed to have developed a dim awareness of this fact.
Give the Haitians credit, then, for having reliberated themselves in 2004. For it is certain that as in 1804, they did it by themselves. In fact, they did it in the teeth of resistance by major power centres in the West. The Bush administration quickly overcame its early ideological distaste for Aristide to accept and support him as the power holder in place. For three long years it lent diplomatic support and from 2002 gradually restored the aid that President Clinton had cut in an effort to correct the 2000 elections. The OAS tilted toward Aristide. Ex-members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other lobbyists were alleged to have received $7 million from Aristide to press his case in the U.S. political arena. Even elements of the Left, which should have been strongest for the people and against Aristide, were in his camp, and remain so to this day. It is the people of Haiti, then, who are to be saluted in 2004. No one in the West has grounds to complain that they did it in their own way. That thugs gave the final push is to be blamed not on Haitians but on Westerners who abandoned the democratic movement, leaving it incapable, alone, of finishing the job. Far from aiding the democratic movement, in the final weeks, after fifty Marines were sent, the push was on in the West to send many more to prop up the rejected Aristide regime. Totally misunderstanding the situation, U.S. senators John Kerry and Tom Harkin, the Black Caucus, much of the U.S. Left, and the editorialists of the New York Times and Washington Post all clamored for the Marines to go and save Aristide. In the crunch, the Bush administration, as would any incumbent American administration under the circumstances, decided not to commit the U.S. military to such a completely hopeless and useless cause.
Canada can base a successful approach to Haiti on this coincidence of understanding with the Bush administration, but more importantly, on grasping the crucial importance of building on such sense of unity as the Haitians managed to achieve in the anti- Aristide uprising. Foreigners will not conveniently disarm either the rebel or the Lavalas gangs for the new government. There are too many guns and they are too easy to hide. It would transform the foreign troops from stabilizers into occupiers. That leaves only political suasion, building on the tenuous anti-Aristide unity as a way to subsume and channel the former henchmen and soldiers into the political process. Only some will be willing to be so channeled, while others will opportunistically return to their criminal ways, posing a dire challenge both to the interim regime and its foreign protectors. Minimizing, rather than provoking this problem ought to be the goal. Similarly, the inclusion of the pro-Aristide Lavalas party in the original tripartite commission that named the interim government, and the attempt to include it in the electoral commission, may yet persuade modern-minded members of this organization that its future lies in the political process, rather than as a continued personalistic vehicle for Aristide and an organizer of deadly gangs.
There is no need for the countries of the Americas and donor community to drive wedges between the Haitians. The international community should?and the Canadians are best at doing this? objectively survey the scene, discern the elements of unity that exist, and demand that Haitians work together in a common process and facilitate this happening. Once it is made very clear to the Haitians that mutual accommodation is key to progress, and foreign support is for the democratic process, not any particular faction, the route toward success is opened. ■ James R. Morrell is Director, Haiti Democracy Project, a research organization based in Washington, D.C.