Haiti (1994–96)

The perils of a rush for the exits

By James Morrell

a chapter in:


Regime Change: It's Been Done Before

Edited by

Roger Gough

Foreword by

Douglas Hurd


First published in May 2003 by Policy Exchange

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James Morrell is director of the Haiti Democracy Project, before

which he was research director of the Center for International Policy,

a liberal think tank in Washington. He was an adviser to President

Aristide at the Governors Island negotiations in 1993. In 2000 he

observed Haiti's legislative elections for the OAS. James received his

Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1977.



From the Foreword by Douglas Hurd, British foreign secretary, 1989'95

Regime change is a new and ugly name for an ancient process—the

toppling of a ruler because he has become repellent or dangerous

either to his own people or to their neighbours or to both. The lucky

rulers end in exile, the unlucky as mangled corpses like Mussolini; in

either case busts are smashed and statues overthrown.

But in a world of almost two hundred nation-states with a wide

variety of ruling systems all kinds of questions quickly gather round

the concept of regime change. It is particularly good to have this

book from Policy Exchange as we tackle the consequences of the

regime change which we have ourselves contrived in Iraq . . .


From the Introduction by Roger Gough

This book grew out of a Policy Exchange round-table held in early

March 2003. We were lucky enough to assemble a group of experts

at our London office to begin discussing the historical experience of

regime change. Misha Glenny (on the Balkans), Steve Heder (on

Cambodia), and Michael Griffin (on Afghanistan) gave brief

accounts of how regime change worked (or failed to work) in their

region. A major theme of the subsequent discussion was that insufficient

weight is given to past experiences of regime change ' and the

policies that follow it. This collection is the result of that sentiment,

and represents the collective efforts of an international group of

contributors in April and May 2003 . . .

The 1994 US intervention in Haiti—which, James Morrell

reminds us, was a second US occupation, with the first (1915-34)

providing many points of comparison—might have seemed a

promising blueprint for externally induced regime change. US forces

invaded to restore a democratically elected president to power, and

to remove an oppressive military regime. Instead, Haiti after 1994

serves as a particularly dramatic example of the damage caused by

lack of follow through following an intervention. Given the deep

problems of Haiti's political culture and its economic backwardness,

such sustained commitment was doubly necessary. Yet there were

also resources available, such as a pool of qualified emigres, that

could have improved the situation. This makes the ultimate failure

of the 1994 intervention all the more depressing.

In this case, the most significant forces working against a

sustained commitment to Haiti were to be found within the US

political process. The Clinton administration had examined a

serious process of nation-building and political change in 1993, but

buckled under a series of pressures, including the unnerving effect of

casualties in Somalia. The ultimate intervention, a year later, was

driven by a growing Haitian refugee crisis, and its effectiveness

undercut by partisan pressures. These came both from the

Republicanshostile both to Clinton and to nation-building interventions

and from Democratsnotably groups within the Black

Caucus who favoured a simple restoration of President Aristide over

more comprehensive reform.

Because of these pressures, policy focused on short-term, symbolic

objectivesthe restoration of the president, and a reduced Haitian

refugee countrather than long-term institution-building. Given the

weakness of institutions and of civil society in Haiti, there was a

vacuum that could have been filled by the occupiers. In the absence of

this, power returned to its traditional sources, highly personal politics

and an over-mighty presidency. Furthermore, the failure to develop

successful governance resulted in the squandering of some $3 billion

in aid, a sobering reminder of the likely fate of such programmes in

the absence of sustained and successful institution-building.



5. Haiti (1994–96)

The perils of a rush for the exits

James Morrell

 Clickable table of contents

I. The regime change: how complete, how successful?

A. Leadership removal

B. Institutional change

C. Attempts to exorcise the past

D. Reemergence of traditional elite politics

E. Failure to disperse economic power

F. Struggle of civil society

G. Free elections, rule of law, and effective governance


II. Factors behind the failure of regime change in Haiti

A. Was there an alternative elite or constituency on which the inter vention could rely?

B. To what extent did existing elites remain important?

C. How consistent was external control? What alternative might
have been pursued?

Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

The modern road not taken



T he United States has tried forcible regime change in Haiti twice

over the past century, in both cases failing to change the essential,

underlying conditions. The first regime change brought considerable

modernization (1915-34), which it would take Haiti two

decades to spend down before plunging into the extended darkness

of Duvalierism (1957-86). The second regime change (1994) was

followed by a rush to the exits and unprotected nation-building,

quickly abandoned; accordingly, the relapse into prior conditions

has come much faster.

Each regime change involved the invasion of a sovereign nation

and so came at grievous cost to the international rule of law. In each

case, however, the rule of a modern capitalist nation, even though

foreign-imposed, was more democratic than that of the venal native

powerholder it replaced. This was because in both cases the invader

tried to set up a state that worked for larger purposes than power

aggrandisement of the incumbent individual or armed group.

The fact that neither invasion accomplished any permanent

improvement would seem to seal the case against these interventions:

not only were bad external precedents set, but no internal

good came out of them. Yet, as we argue in the 'audit' of the

second occupation below (with the first occupation always in the

back of the mind as a comparison), the real question is whether

the nation-building efforts of these external occupations could, if

sustained, help the Haitians more effectively create the institutions

of internal popular sovereignty than they have been able to

on their own.

I. The regime change: how complete, how successful?

A. Leadership removal

I n September 1991, in a country whose history is full of coups,

violent overthrows, and attentats, the army overthrew the first

democratically elected president in the country's history. The 1994

US-led military intervention reversed this completely. It not only

restored the president and exiled the military leaders put in place by

this coup, it led directly to abolition of the army itself. Seemingly, the

regime change which restored elected president Jean-Bertrand

Aristide to office could not be more complete.

The completeness of this removal at the senior levels recalls the

first occupation as well, in 1915, when the regime practically self-destructed

before the Americans came in (an enraged elite mob tore

the president literally to pieces, after that president had shot more

than a hundred elite prisoners he had taken hostage).


B. Institutional change

Again superficially, the Aristide regime change was impressive. In

1994 the army was taken off the board. A clean sweep was made of

regime-installed ministers. A new, neutral, and professional police

was created. The judiciary, deeply corrupted over the decades,

proved more resistant to change. Similarly, in 1915 the successive

takeovers by armed bands were ended by the Marines and a neutral,

professional Haitian constabulary created, while the judiciary

resisted reform.

C. Attempts to exorcise the past

The symbolism of the 1994 regime restoration, even if accomplished

at the point of foreign bayonets, marked a clear break with the past.

The results of a democratic election were upheld; a coup d'etat was

repudiated. There was further symbolism: prosecutions of the

authors of an army massacre in Raboteau, a slum in the city of

Gonaïves; a Truth Commission modeled on those of Latin America.

The targets of these prosecutions, however, were not the ones threatening

the fragile new democratic structure.

D. Reemergence of traditional elite politics

The 1994 regime change laid the basis for transcending elite politics.

In 1995 broadly democratic, although imperfect, elections were held

for the parliament. Endnote However, returned President Aristide's popularity

and his untrammeled personal ambitions led him to dispense

with the congeries of small social democratic parties that had

promoted his original presidency. The split within the democratic

camp led to a recrudescence of the old style of politics based on presidential

ambition. The split was widened in late 1995 by the

president's attempt to stay in office past his constitutional term,

which was opposed by both the social democratic parties and the

United States. Since there was still a residual presence of US troops,

the president was forced to peacefully hand over to a successor.

Things took on further hallmarks of a traditional elite struggle for

power when the now ex-president launched a personalistic party to

further his candidacy. Endnote By these moves Haiti was dragged back into

the usual politics of presidential succession that had dogged its

history for nearly two hundred years.

Similarly, from 1915 to 1934 the US occupation provided the

security behind which the elite senate chose presidents, albeit those

favored by the United States, and those presidents peacefully handed

over to successors, although each sought to overstay. Once the

United States departed in 1934, presidents routinely attempted to

overstay but were thwarted by the US-created army, and not until

Francois Duvalier (1957–71) did a president dominate the army and

impose life presidency. Endnote

E. Failure to disperse economic power

The initial nation-building in the wake of the 1994 occupation

prompted a hesitant revival of the economy, opening up opportunities

for both the elite and middle class. However, recovery was soon

choked off by endemic political violence, coupled with an appalling

infrastructure and a judicial system that failed to command confidence

among either domestic or foreign investors. The result was to

check middle-class entrepreneurship and, while creating difficulties

for a number of traditional elite investors as well, to confine opportunities

largely to those controlling the state structure, namely the

president and his party.


F. Struggle of civil society

Post-Duvalier politics (1986 and thereafter) saw a widening role for

civil society and democratic politics, which revived with greater

force after the second US occupation and defeat of the army. The

elected president's gradual devolution into traditional powerholder,

profiled above, led to an independent, opposition role for civil

society, political parties, and the media.

G. Free elections, rule of law, and effective governance

After the 1994 occupation, the quality of governance varied in

inverse proportion to the number of foreign troops on the ground.

Although the foreign presence was not all-determining, it was a

crucial conditioning factor. As the troops were withdrawn, elections

got worse, the police became politicised, and governance as

measured by security and the effectiveness of institutions (parliament,

ministerial government, judiciary) deteriorated steadily.

A similar deterioration set in after the 1934 withdrawal, but

because the first occupation had had nineteen years in which to

work, its achievements stood longer. After 1994, Clinton was beset

on the Haiti issue by the Republicans, who took both houses of

Congress only two months after he went into Haiti. He had to exit

precipitously, having seemingly accomplished his main objective of

stanching the refugee flow. During 1994–96 primarily, behind the

security provided by foreign soldiery, United Nations missions and

twenty bilateral and multilateral donors achieved reasonably free

elections, neutral and professional police, a functioning parliament,

the beginnings of judicial reform, and the rudiments of ministerial

government. Endnote In the ensuing years, as the troops left, each of these

achievements fell away and Haiti returned to its historical pattern of

presidential power-grabbing. By 2002 the World Bank reported that

all its projects in Haiti had failed due to poor governance. Endnote Some $3

billion in aid had been invested since the ouster of Duvalier.

II. Factors behind the failure of regime change in Haiti

A. Was there an alternative elite or constituency on which the inter

vention could rely?

T he restoration of the democratically elected president could be

accomplished by a quick invasion, but the nurturing of democratic

politics which would have broadened the constituency for the intervention

would have required a concerted, long-term occupation and

programme of nation-building which parochial US politics would

not support.

The traditional elite, symbolised by the army coup of 1991, had

already proved grossly incapable of constituting legitimate governance,

and both the first Bush administration and the Clinton

administration treated this regime as a pariah state that increasingly

threatened palpable US interests as it generated refugees. The first

Bush administration, transfixed by President Aristide's leftist

oratory, balked at restoring him to power, but the more pragmatic

Clinton rightly disregarded the oratory and sought, quite unsuccessfully,

to groom Aristide as a democratic leader and reconciler.

Indeed, Clinton's original manager of Haiti policy,Amb. Lawrence

Pezzullo (special envoy for Haiti, 1993–94), sought to broaden

beyond Aristide, whom he mistrusted, by nurturing a balance of

reformed army, reconstituted parliament, restored prime minister,

and presidential restoration. The checks and balances of these institutions

under the 1987 constitution would provide an arena for

democratic politics and a broadened constituency for the US

presence. However, the army and the other actors failed to cooperate

with Pezzullo and Clinton failed to back him up (symbolized most

unforgettably by the October 1993 withdrawal of the Harlan County,

a troopship bearing the original contingent of US and Canadian

military advisers that were to launch the reforms). When in spring

1994 Clinton realised that the refugee onslaught and the discriminatory

treatment of them were threatening real political interests,

particularly in the African-American community, he did an abrupt

policy reversal, jettisoning Pezzullo and treating Aristide as if he

would somehow become a guided missile for US interests.

As Pezzullo recalled in 2002:

To its shame, the Clinton administration caved. It abandoned its negotiating

leadership forged with the OAS/UN team and made a quiet deal

with Aristide which, in effect, ceded policy control to Aristide in return

for an end to the anti-administration lobbying effort. Endnote

The fatal flaw in ceding control to Aristide was that he wanted to

return unfettered by the constraints imposed on the presidency by

the Haitian constitution of 1987, which established a parliamentary

democracy with executive authority divided between a president and

prime minister.

The invasion of Haiti by US troops did further lay the foundations

of democratic politics by removing the army, which had

proved impossible to reform. But after removing virtually the only

functioning institution in the country besides the Catholic Church,

it was incumbent on the invaders to stay long enough to build

countervailing institutions, or the monopolisation of power by the

Haitian presidency, so long the pattern of history, would be sure to


B. To what extent did existing elites remain important?

The 'elite' in Haiti are traditionally considered the mercantile bourgeoisie,

but this was an elite that, especially under Duvalier, was

increasingly stripped of political power. The power elite of Haiti was

whatever grouping, whether army or presidential faction, seized

control of the presidential palace. The 'bourgeoisie' was typically

only one of several kingmakers in this seizure.

While many of the economic elite aligned themselves first with the

army, then with Aristide after he reestablished traditional personalistic

rule, so as to share in the spoils, a more modern-minded

portion cast their lot with civil society, creating progressive business

associations such as the Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy

(CLED) and supplying moderate, democratic-minded prime

ministers such as Robert Malval and Smarck Michel.

By comparison with many countries, Haiti is racially and linguistically

homogeneous, with a shared history of nationhood. The

racial distinction between noir and mulâtre has at times in Haitian

history seemed almost to take on the virulence of the ethnic divide

found in tribal cultures such as Bosnia or Kosovo. On closer examination,

however, this was a distinction always manipulated by the

fierce politics of presidential monopolisation and succession.

C. How consistent was external control? What alternative might

have been pursued?

As has been suggested above, the second occupation wound down

precipitously from the twenty-one thousand troops originally sent

in in September 1994 under the Powell doctrine of overwhelming

force to the full withdrawal of American troops in April 1996, at

which there was a handover to a UN force that lasted another year.

After that it was a dwindling number of police advisers.

This contrasts with the first occupation, which was executed by a

few hundred US Marines and sailors taking over a collapsed state,

and a garrison of nine hundred Marines over the nineteen years of


The second occupation was thus characterized by gross inconsistency

of policy, whereas the first was remarkably consistent through

nineteen years. Differences of perceived US interests, and secular

change in the Zeitgeist, account for this contrast.

The first occupation could cite strategic goals. It filled a vacuum

opened during a world war by political instability; Germany had,

indeed, played an increasingly active role in Haiti before the war.

Haiti was scooped up along with other struggling small states

around the Caribbean. While racism, empire-building, and dollar

diplomacy were all in the mix, the explicit goal of occupation was to

prevent in Haiti the constant rebellions (there had been seven

violent overthrows in as many years before the US takeover) that had

reduced the country to near-chaos.

The only serious US interest for the second occupation was

preventing a rush of Haitians to the Florida shores. The Clinton

administration, just like other administrations since Nixon's, had

mainly relied on cordoning off Haiti as the best way to protect US

interests, for the alternative, active involvement in its internal affairs,

was and still is deemed too risky in the absence of viable Haitian

political structures.

But the flagrant racism of denying Haitian refugees while

admitting Cuban, and the hypocrisy of doing this after having criticised

President Bush for the same thing, were a little too much for

the American body politic to swallow. There was growing dissent

within Clinton's Democratic Party power base, threatening the

Democrats' prospects in the mid-term election. Retaining Florida'

or not losing any more seats to the Republicans'was a key concern.

The African-Americans had the vote and eloquent spokespeople

such as Randall Robinson, Charles Rangel, and John Conyers.

In the narrow sense of temporarily stanching the refugee flow,

Clinton's quick intervention may be said to have been successful. But

the dramatic, fateful decision for invasion'with its trampling on

the principle of sovereignty even with the full imprimatur of the

United Nations'was a decision to solve this problem at the source,

a decision that both President Woodrow Wilson and President

Clinton made, but that only President Wilson seriously followed

through. To redeem this decision with all of its fateful consequences

Clinton needed, once committed, to have applied a long-term

strategy by which American troops would not merely support a

president, but would similarly support the range of actors and institutions

that could have eventually constituted a minimally

accountable, democratic government.

For truly, as the human-rights lawyer Gérard Gourgue has noted,

'In Haiti presidential power is a disease.'And the failure to make any

progress on this issue means that today Haiti is once again bleeding

refugees. Turned aside by the US Coast Guard, they mainly reach the

Dominican Republic or the Bahamas, but the pressure increases.

As noted above, the political constraints on Clinton, symbolized

by 'attack hearings' accusing one of his ambassadors of perjury,

hastened the exit. Back in 1915, the original American occupier of

Haiti, Admiral William B. Caperton, had written to the Navy

Department, 'For the love of anything good or bad, do not send

any politicians down here yet awhile. I would like to say, never

send them.' Endnote Clinton, however, faced them from the very


There was also a larger secular change in Zeitgeist, as the

American public, never keen on empires and foreign adventures,

actively rejected the concept after Vietnam. The American left, which

was the natural constituency for the rights of the abused Haitian

masses, was precisely the sector most sceptical of the American

intervention which was the only effective way to help them.

Thus this healthy and commendable political maturation among

the American public created a situation in which Clinton's intervention

in Haiti was bereft of support on either the right or the left.

There was no constituency for the difficult, long-term nation-building

program the situation demanded; hence it is no wonder

that it was abandoned so precipitously.

The skewing of American politics has proceeded to the point

today that several of the most prominent and liberal Democratic ex-congressmen

have allowed themselves to be suborned by the Aristide

regime, while it is rigidly conservative Republicans in the Bush

administration, still resenting Aristide's early populism, who are his

most outspoken critics. Endnote

As the former US ambassador to Haiti, Timothy Carney, has


Now, what is the problem by which the United States can't figure out

what to do in Haiti? Part of the answer is that the issue has been turned

over almost entirely to special interest groups. And unfortunately, the

most active special interest is the Black Caucus which has produced the

most astonishing nonsense relating to what's going on in Haiti today. Endnote


I t is not therefore, the decision for regime change itself that the

American presidents of 1915 and 1994 should be taxed for. Although

the violation of sovereignty was a high price to pay, it was somewhat

mitigated in both cases. In 1915 there was a world war and sea lanes

to protect, creating the veneer of self-defence. In 1994 that same

implausible rationale was applied to the refugees; however, the

military's violation of their agreement with the United Nations, and

the virtually unanimous support of the General Assembly and

Security Council, bolstered the Clinton administration's moral case.

However, the reliance in 1994 on a returned president, in a

country suffering from presidential 'disease,' was a short cut that has

saddled both Haitian and US politics with virtually insuperable

obstacles. In Haiti it lent the strength of a superpower to already

fierce presidential ambitions. It skewed the balance against political

parties and civil society that had yet to find their moorings among

the population. It alienated and demoralised a population that is

now paying a huge price for its proclivity to place its faith in an individual,

rather than institutions. The resulting regime has a

chokehold on the economy such that there is no feasible way,

whether by aiding the corrupt government directly or by providing

alms through non-governmental organizations, to address the

causes of Haiti's scandalous mass poverty.

The shortsightedness of the right in American politics, evidenced

in this case by ideological rejection of Aristide's early pretend-leftism

and a visceral attack on Clinton's intervention, may be taken as a

given. The right, with control of the White House for more than two

years, has shown much less decisiveness and courage than Clinton in

addressing the Haiti problem; indeed it has done no more than

blindly continue the policy inherited from Clinton. Endnote

It is the left and liberal sectors in American politics that have

discretion, yet have in effect closed their hearts and intellects to the

cause of the impoverished Haitian masses. They have allowed themselves,

by inattention in many cases and greed in some, to be beguiled

by the historical memory of Aristide, the powerholder who once

exhibited the leftist rhetoric that in a poor country like Haiti comes

as naturally as breathing. Whereas this sector ought to be united in an

urgent quest for a model and praxis of international humanitarian

intervention in a country as stricken as Haiti, instead it is confused

and compromised: for every voice that is clear and factually-based on

human rights, there is another that is seemingly or actually suborned

by a regime ruling by political violence. The result of this cacophony

is merely to eliminate the left as a coherent voice of guidance for an

American population, significant elements of which have a strong

natural empathy for the plight of the Haitian people.

Thus the failure to persist in regime change has led to a reversion

to the status quo ante with remarkable rapidity. And it has created a

deeply confused political situation, in both the colonised nation and

the coloniser, that it will take many years, and many innocent lives,

to unravel.

The modern road not taken

The tragedy was all the greater because the means to avoid it lay so

readily to hand. Truly, Pezzullo had been right in seeking alterna-

tives. The alternatives were there in the congeries of social democratic

reformists who no less than Aristide had agitated against

Duvalier and subsequent military regimes. Endnote They were there in a

portion of the formerly retrograde bourgeoisie, which as noted now

awoke to the opportunity they were losing. They were there in the

Haitian diaspora, whose talents placed hundreds of thousands at

professional levels in US society running systems far more complex

than any to be found in Haiti. Endnote

These were genuinely new assets, created by the processes of

political development and migration in the latter half of the

twentieth century, which were not available to Colonel John Russell,

the American high commissioner in 1920'30. What prevented the

United States from using them?

First, it would have required an extended stay by US troops to

shelter and nurture these alternative sources of nation-building

personnel, a stay which for reasons already given the US political

system would not sustain. In the US absence, no other nation was

likely to come forward, nor could a weakened United Nations

provide an independent presence.

Second, were the United States to throw support to the social

democratic parties, it would be supporting not a pretend-leftist such

as Aristide but the real thing. Several of the parties and leaders have

a sincere dedication to socialist and constitutionalist ideals, which

come naturally in a country as poor as Haiti.

In short, to have succeeded in the occupation would have required

the United States to have used its power consciously on behalf of the

impoverished masses of Haiti, in the enlightened interest of the

United States to be sure, but in violation of too many ideological

verities thrown up by a deeply conservative US power structure.

Given the gross asymmetry between US and Haitian power, and

the deep involvement of the United States in Haitian affairs, the

degradation in Haiti can only to a certain degree be blamed on

Haitians. The reversion to personal rule was both predictable and

containable. The ultimate blame for the failure to contain,

neutralise, and transcend it lies not with Haiti, but the United States.

It was perhaps this asymmetry that a poor woman residing in the

sprawling Raboteau slum in Gonaïves had in mind when she

screamed at a recent demonstration, 'America, come and take your

trash back!' Endnote



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