HAITI, the second-oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere,
celebrated its bicentennial in 2004 and had little to show for it.
Discovered by Columbus in 1492 during his first voyage to the Americas, the
nation has since then experienced all shades of development?except that of
effective modern political and economic management. This dysfunctional
character of Haitian political dynamics, an absence of conscious economic
policymaking, and decayed social institutions has also triggered an unhappy
and at times tragic record of interaction with the external world. Most recently
this has played itself out in several episodes, first as a result of the collapse
of the Duvalier dynasty in 1986, then in the context of U.S. military
intervention to return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, and again
in 2004 to manage a messy transition in the wake of an abrupt conclusion to
Aristide’s second presidential term.
Born out of the economic excesses of slavery and the political violence of
the French Revolution, Haiti emerged in 1804 as an independent nation. Its
economy in ruins and its population exhausted, it began its career as a modern
nation without any foreign friends. In fact, its early status as an outcast among
the community of nations further increased its vulnerability to both internal
and external threats. At the beginning of the twentieth century this overlap of
threats ultimately generated direct U.S. political and military administration
(1915?1934). Since 1986 the difficulties experienced by Haiti’s development
process has introduced into the life of the nation an almost continuous engagement
from the international community, notably the Organization of
American States, the United Nations, key governments (the United States,
France , and Canada), and an extensive NGO and humanitarian community.
Despite these misfortunes Haiti has not lost the basic features of its national
character. Its roots lie in a hybrid of French eighteenth-century colonialism,
African culture, a marginal brand of Catholicism, and the aftereffects
of the United States ‘ strategic sweep in the Caribbean region. Indeed, the
African cultural and spiritual features have remained almost unaltered for a
majority of the population since they were first imported in the seventeenth
century. The vitality of this primarily rural environment has survived in the
face of economic adversity and the unusual lack of interest of the political
leadership in the process of national development.
Roughly the size of the state of Maryland, Haiti occupies the western third
of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. It
lies at a crossroads of trading passages and strategic interests? Cuba lies to the
immediate west across the Windward Passage, the open waters of the Atlantic
Ocean bound Haiti on the north, and the Caribbean Sea lies to the south.
Haiti remains ethnically and culturally distinct, being 95 percent black and the
only independent French-speaking nation in the Western Hemisphere.
With an estimated average per capita gross national product (GNP) income
of about $250, Haiti is also the poorest country in the region. In fact, a
52 percent literacy rate and a life expectancy of fifty-five years rank Haiti near
the bottom on a global basis. A mountainous topography coupled with a failing
agricultural program and land-management neglect have not only concentrated
the country’s estimated nine million people into the nominally
fertile 28 percent of the country but also in recent years accentuated the flows
of out-migration. Revenues from a few odd agricultural and mineral exports
and collapsed offshore manufacturing and tourism sectors have limited economic
impact, leaving much of the workforce on the margins of economic
life. Haiti’s surplus talent keeps leaving for other shores?including the
United States , where the current population of Haitian origin is estimated to
be about 1.2 million. An indeterminate portion of the economy is dependent
on contraband and drug trafficking.
Study of the Haitian experience is frustrating. The most charitable characterization
of Haiti’s public administration is that the government has been at
its relative best when pursuing a policy of benign neglect?leaving most of
Haiti ‘s peasants to their own autonomous devices. A very small and generally
urbanized political and economic elite has for the most part directed priorities
at maintaining its own fragile status quo and in sustaining a limited enclave of
export-oriented commercial activity. Some writers speak of a “kleptocracy,” or
“predatory state,” and of the “politics of squalor.” Some allude to the “colonial”
or “self-colonized” character of the Haitian society.Others borrow from development
literature and assess Haiti in the context of a “transitional society.”
The arrival on the political scene in the late 1980s of a radical populist
political priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, gave currency to new notions of governance,
in this case “deliberative” democracy. This implied a political leadership
inclined to override institutional intermediaries found in mainstream
western democracies, such as parliaments and political parties. Instead, more
recent characterizations of Haiti imply disappointment and speak of a “failed
state.” What, in fact, is a viable characterization of Haiti’s politics and development
The Decay of the State
The Caribbean entered the historical record of the European world in 1492,
the year Columbus discovered Haiti. Some three hundred years later Haiti
fought its way to independence from France in 1804. In between there flourished
a plantation colony characterized by extraordinary wealth and deep social
and racial divisions. Few factors have had a more dramatic impact on
today’s Caribbean polities than their transformation some three hundred
years ago from small colonies of settlement into economic dependencies of
The environment of sugar and slaves came crashing down in Haiti in the
late eighteenth century. Saint-Dominique, as Haiti was then known, was
the crown jewel of France’s overseas empire. But the importation of over
eight hundred thousand African slaves created an untenable socioeconomic
milieu. Open racial and color conflict was set in motion with the violent explosions
of the French Revolution after 1789, and what followed was the
Haitian Revolution of 1789?1804, which ravaged the country to the core. In
the bloody confusion blacks, lighter-skinned mulattoes, and whites built
complex alliances and were helped along by the intervention of British, Spanish,
and, naturally, French forces.
After independence in 1804 the early Haitian leaders faced the traditional
patterns of nineteenth-century power politics. As a smaller state Haiti was
treated as an object of policy, if dealt with at all. A spiritual heir to the French
Revolution, it also provided a serious challenge as the first non-European
postcolonial state in the modern world. According to diplomatic historian
Rayford Logan’s characterization, Haiti started out as a “power and enigma,”
turned into an “anomaly,” became a “threat,” and ultimately was an “outcast”
among the nations of the earth. 2
Lacking any viable institutions, Haiti initially evolved a remarkable collection
of powerful personalities who shaped the nation’s style of governance?
authoritarian, personalist, anchored in coercive power: Jean-Jacques Dessalines
(1804?1806), Haiti’s first emperor and efficient exterminator of the whites in
Haiti ; Henri Christophe (1807?1820), Haiti’s first crowned king; Alexandre
Pétion (1807?1818), Haiti’s first president for life; and Jean-Pierre Boyer
(1818?1843), who ruled over an increasingly crippled nation. At mid-century
another extraordinary figure appeared?Faustin Soulouque (1847?1859), later
Emperor Faustin I. He ordered a general massacre of the mulattoes, led the
country in several abortive campaigns into the neighboring Dominican Republic,
and further precipitated Haiti’s deterioration.
By the dawn of the twentieth century Haiti was in debt to French, German,
and U.S. financial interests. France had underwritten all external loans
between 1825 and 1896 and owned the National Bank. The Germans held
the trading sector.Most imports came from the United States, and after 1900
U.S. influence expanded into banking.
The 1915 U.S . intervention in Haiti was the result of severe disarray in
that country’s politics?suffice it to say that the degeneration of Haitian politics
had indeed attained a new plateau. Of the twenty-two presidents who
served between 1843 and 1915, one finished his term in office, three died a
natural death while in office, one was blown up with the presidential palace,
another one was probably poisoned, one was hacked to pieces, and one resigned.
The fourteen others were overthrown. The sorry state of Haitian
finances was also perceived by Washington as a Trojan horse for European intervention
in the Caribbean . The object of the U.S. action was not to expose
Haiti to U.S. exploitation but to promote Haitian political stability, financial
rehabilitation, and economic development.
Yet Haiti remains one of the United States’ least successful interventions.
True, a minimum of financial order was established, debt was reduced, and
the administration infrastructure was improved, but U.S. presence did not
lead to democratic virtues or greater management capabilities among the
Haitian elite. Violent anti-U.S. feelings triggered a review of U.S. policy in
1930. Faced with similar problems in Nicaragua, President Hoover and his
successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, were determined that the United States
would exit from Haiti’s tropical imbroglio as quickly as possible. Following
the 1915?1934 U.S. period were twenty years during which Haitian governance
slowly decayed under the weight of presidential excesses. This period
came to an uninspired end with the 1957 elections that brought François Duvalier
to power.What ensued was a harsh family rule that was to last until his
son’s downfall in 1986.
This has in turn been followed by a succession of failed attempts at democratic
governance, at considerable cost to Haiti and the international apparatus
supporting the efforts. This frames what might now be termed the
Aristide Presidencies: this begins with his election in late 1990, his ouster in
September 1991 and the international isolation (1991?1994) of the ensuing
military regime, a UN-mandated and U.S.-led military intervention (September
1994) leading to Aristide’s return to office in October 1994, the election
of his designated successor in late 1995 and the subsequent political
paralysis (1997?2000), the reelection of Aristide in late 2000, and his departure
in late February 2004, replaced by an interim regime operating under a
UN mandate and a commitment for new elections by the end of 2005. This is
obviously unfinished business.
The Character of Society
More than in any other country in the Western Hemisphere, the structure of
Haitian politics underscores the isolated and traditional character of the country’s
society. Formal ideology is not a particularly useful component in explaining
the course of Haitian developments. The character of the polity is therefore
best assessed by a review of the following factors: religion, the nation’s rural-urban
bifurcation, cultural values, and the Haitian society’s worldview.
Religious institutions are numerically and culturally important in the Caribbean,
but in Haiti established churches have been to a degree displaced or
absorbed by indigenous cults and practices derived from tradition and folklore.
Although marginal in much of the region (the Rastafarians in Jamaica,
for example), Voodoo in Haiti has been enriched by both Christianity and
ancestral African rites for over three centuries to provide Haitians with a
great emotional outlet.
Basic to Voodoo is the ancestral past and its impact on the present. There
is a fatalism in its cosmos that does not leave much room for shaping the
present or the future. Nature and humans contend with each other in a process
forwarded by appeals to the many spirits who control all forces. An individual
struggles to survive within an essentially static hierarchy.
This defensive character of Haitian religious culture has intermixed with
the country’s unique historical experience. The product of slavery and of harsh
colonial conditions, the very origins of modern Haiti were fixed in a rejection
of the white race, if not entirely of the culture that it represented. That viewpoint
took its toll on the Haitian psyche. Although French and modernizing
sociopolitical influences engaged the minute portion of the nation represented
by the elite, the vast majority of the population remained tied to the slave experience
and its eradication with the revolution of 1804. More African and
Creole than French, more illiterate than literate, and historically more isolated
than any other country in the Caribbean, Haitian culture has to a degree generated
an enduring demoralized attitude regarding the nation’s potential.
This fact has been made more acute by the exploitative preferences of the
two sectors of Haitian society that might have taken the country out of its
long dead-end run: the mulatto (lighter-skinned) minority, historically associated
with the country’s commercial activity, and the black elite, representing
a politically governing class. The ensuing geographical separation of the elite
from the masses and of the urban population from the rural one has had significant
political and social implications. Accounting for perhaps 70 percent
of the population, the peasantry has been excluded from national decisionmaking.
The fact that national debates take place partly in French, a language
that the vast majority of the population does not speak or read, underlines the
fissures in Haitian political dynamics.
The heart of Haiti is its inner country?rural, poor, and dedicated to basic
agricultural production. Long periods of isolation have made this part of Haiti
a conservator of African traditions, and the traditional milieu is still the dominant
environment of Haiti today. Roughly 80 percent of the population is
made up of peasants who speak Creole and no French, are essentially illiterate,
and live in social conditions reminiscent of past centuries; Voodoo is a spiritual
influence despite the strong presence of Catholic and Protestant churches.
What has made life bearable for the average Haitian is the fact that government
has historically not intruded into their lives. After 1957 the Duvalier
regimes modernized notions of “government” by introducing a more formal
and occasionally brutal local security presence. Disbanded in the 1990s, neither
law enforcement nor much of a local administrative presence has reasserted
itself. The growth of a corrupting drug trafficking economy has
further eroded the capacity of local government to address economic, social,
and security needs.
The other world of Haiti is built primarily around the capital and a few
secondary towns. It is not only urban but also coastal in character. If the nation
has developed any capital wealth since independence, this is where it is
to be found. An urbanized and somewhat cosmopolitan elite has dedicated
itself to trading as opposed to developing a national economy. This community
includes the mulatto economic elite in a historically uneasy association
with the black political classes
The absence of a viable political development process has stunted the growth
of socioeconomic and political interest groups normally found in a modernizing
society. Likewise, the weakness of Haitian institutions has for the most
part made it very difficult for the process of change to be channeled toward
Government administration has constituted a center of influence, if for no
other reason than that it has represented the source of jobs, money, gifts, and
public favors?if not outright access to the national treasury. The urbanized
sector for the most part consists of a docile, lower-middle class of Haitian society.
Unionization, paralyzed under the Duvaliers, has not been a factor despite
the limited rebirth of a trade-union movement in recent years. At its most senior
echelon the public sector has included the lucky few who have had access to
corrupt government patronage emanating from the presidential palace.
The Catholic Church’s influence has rivaled that of the government. After
the 1860s the church fulfilled an important educational mission and provided
isolated communities with the rudiments of continuity and linkage to the outside
world. Not surprisingly, the spiritual and political worlds have occasionally
overlapped. As recently as the 1960s François Duvalier pushed through a
“Haitianization” of the clergy, also reviving age-old frictions regarding appointments
of the church hierarchy in Haiti. As elsewhere in the region, the
clergy is split between conservative and liberal contingents.
The Catholic Church played a decisive role in the 1986 ouster of Jean-
Claude Duvalier. Under pressure from the Vatican, the Church pulled back
from a formal political role, but its engagement continued to be the conduit
through which human rights and other sociopolitical concerns were exposed.
The grassroots or “Ti Legliz” movement in the 1980s that was the basis for
Aristide’s arrival to power in 1990 created splits within the Church hierarchy
and more generally within Haitian society. More recently the expanding
grassroots involvement of evangelical Protestant denominations has translated
into political movements at the national level and might affect a landscape
historically dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.
Born out of revolutionary violence, Haiti never succeeded in constructing
the structures of a civilian society capable of minimizing the rule of force. As a
result, consolidation of political power in the hands of strongmen made the
armed forces the institutional pillar of society. Part of Haiti’s history is the story
of competing mercenary bands ( cacos) and peasant groups ( piquets) fighting a
ragtag government military. The trend was partially reversed after 1915 during
the U.S. occupation led by U.S. Marines. Ironically, the most visible product of
this period turned out to be the Garde d’Haiti?later transformed into Haiti’s
armed forces. They remained by default the only organization with a national
political reach and a semblance of institutional cohesion.
With the Duvalier regime’s collapse in 1986 the military inherited political
control and promptly made an even bigger mess of things. The army was
ultimately disbanded by Aristide in late 1994, and in a return to the past replaced
by a national police. The rapid politicization of the police in the late
1990s failed in removing the use of force from the Haitian political scene.
This is what had happened after the first U.S. intervention in 1915. Worse
yet, the intersection of a politicized police and the impact of drug trafficking
created new pressures of their own. By most accounts the collapse of the
Aristide government in 2004 was due to the increasing power and autonomy
of renegade police and former military elements and the infiltration of these
into the higher echelons of Haiti’s government leadership.
Haiti ‘s low level of political participation has generated few alternative institutions.
Not only has the economic poverty of the nation centralized national
authority into a minute urban constituency, but the cumulative ravages of crises
since the 1980s have also undermined the reservoir of political leadership. The
political party structure, anchored more by personalities than viable agendas, is
weak and not likely to change quickly in a society used to authoritarian rule.
Likewise, modern social or political pressure groups typical of democratic
environments (for example, human rights organizations, local community interests,
women’s groups, students, labor unions, the media) have found limited
space to prosper. The small modern business community has remained cautious
or sometimes co-opted by changing political winds. Yet in the growing
vacuum created by a decade of crisis and paralysis civil society in general and
portions of the private sector in particular have increased their political profile.
This became evident in the lead-in to the collapse of the second Aristide presidency
in 2004. Another pressure group with a potential role is Haiti’s large
exile community, limited for now to being a source of political money as well
as economic investment through remittances.
From Duvalier to Aristide
The Duvalier era began in 1957 (Papa Doc became president for life in 1964)
during a period of political confusion that included the collapse of the previous
government (Paul Magloire), violence, and fraudulent elections. François Duvalier
was the product of a movement toward a return to black culture and of a political
resurgence that took hold during the U.S. occupation (1915?1934). In the
1920s a Haitian intellectual class had begun to evolve a potent political racialism
derived from a reevaluation of the country’s African tradition. This racialism initially
evolved into a conception associated with the French-African negritude
movement, which entailed a belief in the distinctive character of an African environmental
heritage and a rejection of the superiority of European culture.As a
form of “cultural decolonization,” it was later elaborated by Haitians, including
François Duvalier, into a rationale of black political power, which through the
early 1970s constituted the framework of government control.
Who was François Duvalier? The person who held such a spell over Haitian
affairs after 1957 was a soft-spoken physician and part-time ethnologist.
A black, or noir, by Haitian standards, Duvalier had four children, including
one son, Jean-Claude (later to be known as Baby Doc). Unlike many of his
colleagues in Haitian history François Duvalier was never a military man
and, as a result of his writings, he was perceived as something of an intellectual.
These characteristics confounded most observers and political opponents
and initially misled the United States.
In practice, the Duvalier years were characterized by brutal political control,
corruption, income inequalities, illiteracy, and environmental degradation, and
compounded by brain drain. A shrewd autocrat, he ruthlessly suppressed opponents
that were or appeared to challenge his authority. The influence of the
mulatto elite was eroded, the political power of the Roman Catholic Church
was reduced by allowing the government to have a say in the nomination of the
Haitian church’s leadership (which until then had been essentially French), and
the army was purged and brought into line. A powerful paramilitary organization
( Volontaires de la Securité Nationale,VSN)?the famed Tonton Macoutes
(TTMs)?was established to protect the regime and enforce its directives.
Confounding most predictions, Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) did initially
show some durability after taking over in April 1971 following his father’s
death. An unknown quantity when he assumed office at age nineteen,
his contact with the outside was limited by a closed environment of presidential
advisers, family members, and security guards, and most notably his dynamic
and controversial wife, Michèle Bennett, daughter of a mulatto business
family. What was ultimately termed an “economic revolution” operationally
implied greater solicitation of economic assistance from major donor countries
(United States , France, Canada) and a consortium of international and private
lending agencies. Yet the authoritarian and often aimless nature of Haitian
governance ultimately led to Duvalier’s downfall in 1986.
Duvalier faced Catholic Church militancy and declining support from
Washington . The ensuing mobilization of the population was sanctioned
during a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1983. The pope’s references to “injustices”
and the need for a more equitable society were seen as an indication of
the Church’s intent to champion change and take on an active political role.
U.S. policy also shifted gradually, beginning with the Carter administration’s
emphasis on human rights followed by a broader global theme of freedom
and democracy under the Ronald Reagan presidency. Likewise, Haiti became
a matter of interest in the halls of the U.S. Congress. This was driven by public
awareness resulting from the drama of Haitian refugee flows in the early
1980s as well as the political mobilization of segments of the African American
political community on behalf of Haiti’s struggles.
The collapse of the Duvalier regime began in November 1985 with a series
of spontaneous riots in Gonaives that turned into a major anti-government
protest. The regime’s ineptitude, coupled with the army’s understandable reluctance
to confront these street demonstrations with deadly force, led to the government’s
collapse and Duvalier’s departure on board a U.S. military transport
plane for exile in France on February 6, 1986.What followed was not, however,
what either the Haitians or the international community had expected.
Governmental authority passed to the military-led Council of National
Government for a transition period of unspecified length, led initially by
General Henri Namphy. The ensuing near-anarchy subdued only when it fi-
nally appeared that the interim regime was planning for elections. U.S. foreign
aid flows increased, as did support from other donors. Some progress
was even achieved in stabilizing the economy. But the foundations upon
which this stability was constructed were dangerously weak. International
policy designs for a democratic society were projected into the future without
attention to the near-term process on the ground in Haiti.
The first casualty was the bloody elections of late 1987, halted in the first
hour of balloting by armed thugs linked to the army and Duvalierist allies. A
truncated election was scheduled for January 1988, in which Leslie Manigat
won the presidency. This unstable situation received little international support,
and Manigat was overthrown in June. The political situation unraveled
further as Namphy returned as head of the government, but in September he
himself was pushed aside by General Prosper Avril. Avril governed from a
position of declining authority; the balance of power within the military was
upset (with a coup that nearly succeeded in April 1989), and the patience of
the international donor community had begun to wear thin. Avril’s reluctance
to move toward elections led to the regime’s collapse in March 1990 and
opened the way for a process that resulted in elections in December 1990.
By an overwhelming majority Haitians chose a charismatic ordained priest,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as president in what was regarded by most observers as
the nation’s first modern election. The 1990 elections presaged a period of intermittent
euphoria as well as a succession of spectacular failures that has lasted well
into the new century in what might now be termed the Aristide Presidencies.
The Aristide Presidencies
and Global Politics
Aristide is a powerful political persona and by all accounts the principal variable
in Haiti since 1990. Born in Haiti’s south and brought up in Catholic schools,
he early acquired a rapport with Haiti’s large and overwhelmingly poor population.
He speaks their social and political language and has been able to convey a
message of hope. This has been coupled with vivid images of change clearly directed
at the elite, encapsulated most dramatically by Lavalas, the cleansing
flood. In Aristide’s powerful words, the latter will bring his fellow countrymen
“from misery to poverty with dignity.”
Aristide is a survivor, having escaped death several times since the late
1980s. A very complex personality, he displays an almost mystical vision of
his country. What began as a liberation-theology-based political movement
anchored in Port-au-Prince’s slums was catapulted into national prominence
in the late 1980s at a time when the nation’s military leadership was providing
neither stability nor growth. Often accused of holding a questionable commitment
to the western-based notions of representative democracy, Aristide
sprang into the 1990 elections late in the game.
The 1990?2005 period includes three presidential elections, two won by
Aristide (1990 and 2000) and another won by a close ally (René Préval in 1995).
The period also is composed of two constitutional interruptions (late 1990 and
early 2004), both involving Aristide. This underscores the uncertain verdict
of Haiti’s steps toward democratic governance, let alone coherent management
of national policy issues. It also suggests the deep chasm that now frames Haitian
political dynamics and the unique role played by Aristide in this regard.
In 1990 Aristide was chosen by the Haitian electorate to achieve justice, address
the concerns of Haiti’s poor, and provide a clear break with the recent Duvalier
era. He survived an early coup attempt and seemed to be reestablishing
some level of national confidence and peace, but within eight months was ousted
in a coup whose causes continue to be debated.Whether it was the army’s paranoia,
Aristide’s inflammatory rhetoric, or the pockets of violence directed at the
opposition, the crisis that ensued has continued in varying ways for over a decade.
Aristide was succeeded in 1995 by his protégé, René Préval, who in the
end governed weakly but concluded a complete five-year mandate. A major
impediment was the inability of the government and the national assembly to
work together to pass laws, approve budgets, or sign off on appointments
(notably for prime minister), all of which led to political paralysis and a festering
crisis that previewed tensions during the next cycle of elections in
2000. The hopes triggered initially by Aristide’s election in 1990, the near-crusade
for his return in 1994, and the succession of Préval were mostly disappointed
by zero-sum political dynamics. The distrust between Aristide’s
Lavalas movement and the rest of the political community not only deepened
but in turn brought about conflict within Lavalas. This generated break-away
groups and ultimately formed the basis of an enlarged political opposition. By
the late 1990s some of Aristide’s early allies had become his opponents.
As predicted, Aristide returned to office in early 2001 following elections the
previous year whose credibility was questioned by the international community,
notably the OAS in the case of the May 2000 parliamentary races.What was a
serious but manageable dispute instead triggered a deepening mistrust among
Haitian political actors, as well as with the international community. Diplomatic
mediation by the OAS failed, and by 2003 the political atmosphere between the
Aristide government and multiple opponents had deteriorated close to the point
of no return. Pockets of violence erupted, with some of Aristide’s tactical allies
turning against him and aligning themselves with an assortment of gangs, former
military, and renegade police. In tandem, increasingly large segments of
Haiti ‘s urban civil society began to mobilize against Aristide. The ensuing standoff
in early 2004 was broken under pressure from Paris and Washington. Facing
a violent rebellion, Aristide left the country, ultimately to exile in South Africa.
The backdrop to these domestic dynamics is a never-ending cycle of ultimately
unproductive external interventions. Following the September 1990
coup Aristide went into exile, first to Venezuela, then the United States, from
where he returned in October 1994. This period was anchored by an increasingly
tough economic and diplomatic embargo of Haiti to strangle what became
known as the de facto military-led regime. This came to an end in
September 1994 with a U.S.-led and UN mandated military intervention.
Almost ten years later the international community once again intervened
in the wake of a rebellion against Aristide’s second presidency. An initial joint
U.S.-French-Canadian diplomatic and military initiative midwifed a transition
to an interim government led by Gerard Latortue, whose mandate was
to hold elections by late 2005. This intervention was ultimately folded into a
UN mandate operating under the Charter’s more forceful Chapter 7 terms of
reference and a multinational military and civilian police force with a majority
Latin American composition.
Throughout the Cold War Haiti generally stayed away from Third World
politics and most North-South disputes, and in this respect alone differed
from that of its English-speaking Caribbean neighbors. Yet one constant that
remains is Haiti ‘s relationship with the United States. Successive U.S. administrations
have been disposed to reassess ties with Haiti, and periods of cooperation
have followed. In retrospect, much of this has been built on
exaggerated expectations in Washington and suspect political foundations in
Haiti itself. The record is one of economic downturn and troubles with foreign
aid, intervals of political upheaval and refugee crises, bouts of bloody violence,
and a gradual internationalization of Haiti’s problems.
Notions of establishing a modicum of democratic governance have turned
out to be a long-term and frustrating campaign. Neither Haitian leadership
nor various international actors have had very realistic conceptions of
what is involved. This led, for example, to a succession of electoral exercises
(1987, 1990, 1995, 1997, 2000) whose imperfections cumulatively resulted in
the 2004 collapse of Haitian governance and a further narrowing of Haiti’s
political options. Haiti’s limited modern civil society and nongovernmental
organizations have gotten squeezed also by a socioeconomic environment
dominated increasingly by corruption and violence.
The extensive international financial commitments (over $1 billion) promised
upon Aristide’s return in 1994, and undergirding a remarkable goodwill in
the development assistance community toward Haiti, were either wasted or
went unused.To compound matters the collapse of government economic development
policies in the late 1990s gave further prominence to the influence
of narcotics trafficking and contraband trade in all forms. The intersection of
political and economic instability with organized crime and a dramatic decay
of already fragile national institutions has been an unhappy outcome to the
hopes of a democratic transition.
A nation in desperate socioeconomic condition with almost no track
record of purposeful government faces limited choices. Haiti has a reservoir
of individual skills and political acumen, but the challenge lies in the pooling
of these human resources and the development of relevant economic and political
organizations. Although there are egalitarian and cooperative features
in the nation’s peasant environment, Haiti’s traditional political culture and
linguistic bifurcation are profound obstacles to the development of a modern
democratic government. In addition, the dubious interest of portions of the
elite in collaborating in the economic, political, and cultural integration of the
nation renders near-term national development problematic at best.
Given all this and the nation’s catastrophic social and ecological collapse
since the late 1980s, any future Haitian government faces a daunting task.
Quasi-humanitarian concerns are likely to predominate, and fears of political
crisis will continue to attract external interest. This is particularly true for
Washington , whose vision of regional Caribbean strategic interest has been
amplified by a concern that any crisis in Haiti will affect the United States directly
through refugee flows. Foreign governments and agencies will therefore
continue to set priorities in the hope of generating a basis for technocratic development
and socially relevant and politically responsible governance in
Haiti . The degree to which Haiti’s political culture, leadership, and decayed
institutions have learned from the frustrations of the past decade represents
the fragile basis upon which Haiti’s future is to be built.