Haiti: A Wobbly Cauldron Supported by Three Legs
By Patrick Sylvain, Contributing Editor
Mar. 20, 2012
The March edition of the Boston Haitian Reporter.Following the demise of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, Haiti enlisted a series of measures to heal the wounds of its venomous past. A new, more democratic constitution was written in 1987, Aléxandre Pétion’s red and blue flag was hoisted to re-invigorate the republic, and an electoral process was attempted to establish a representative democracy. Unfortunately, in Haiti, where power is traditionally lopsided, the practice of institutionalizing participatory democracy is often overtaken by leanings toward winner-take-all mentalities and practices. Despite preventive actions, the landscape unwittingly inclines toward dictatorship and corruption.
One fundamental problem with governance is the fact that Haiti has never been fully democratic. The subjugation of the masses has been perpetuated by not only the policies and practices of Haiti’s elite (both political and economic) but also by members of the international community. Foreign hands are perpetually mired in the workings of the nation’s governmental, economic and social affairs, often to their own benefit, as they propel Haiti to an unstable future.
Former US President Bill Clinton is the purse holder and most experienced politician and technocrat operating in Haiti today. He wields a formidable power to calibrate and recalibrate political outcomes in Haiti due in large part to the nation’s social fragmentations, structural deficiencies, and vulnerability to the imposed will of members of the international community.
Furthermore, his designations as UN special envoy and Co-Chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission give credence to his role as interlocutor and power broker in the Haitian political and economic milieu.
While Clinton’s intentions for Haiti can easily give way to negative speculation given his past actions (in his own mind, his intentions may be of benefit to the Haitian people), there is much to say about the incapacity of a nation to exercise its own sovereignty. The failures of Haitian government have diminished its potential to have a true stake in its self-governance is unfortunate and is a direct result of its inability to uphold the principles of democracy. Regardless of intention, if we had been benevolent guardians of our sovereignty, and respectful of all social strata within the nation, Bill Clinton would have never been considered a factor in the affairs of an independent nation.
Nonetheless, Haiti has become the new political laboratory for technocrats, politicians, and musicians with inflated egos who want to usurp national power. In the Haitian lab, Clinton is one of the chemists who concocted a ghastly potion for the nation.
One then has to wonder, is there a role that Bill Clinton plays in Haitian politics that extends the scope of his U.N. mandate? Does he serve as the de-facto president of the country given his unbounded reach into Haiti’s internal affairs? Is the return of Duvalier a return fraught with symbolic connotations to the political order that Clinton experienced when he visited Haiti in the mid-1970s? Or, is Clinton simply animated by the prospects of redemption following his role in the devastation of Haitian rice crops for the benefit of American agribusiness?
Certainly, as Paul Farmer noted in his latest book, Clinton was instrumental in getting much needed medical supplies to the earthquake-ravaged zones of Haiti. His power opened a lot of avenues, “Clinton had brought the surgical supplies and generators and anesthesia, as we’d asked”. Clinton is indeed a mover and a shaker, a power broker who gets things done, although he has in the past, enacted policies that were utterly devastating to Haiti.
So, what now? Clinton’s latest aspirations for Haiti are noble to say the least. In Back to Work, his latest publication, he sets out “to rebuild and diversify the economy there in the aftermath of the earthquake.” He aspires the materialization of a relevant system of education, healthcare, government services, etc… so that the system might “provide predictable rewards to citizens for hard work and honest dealings. Haiti is now trying to build such systems.”
However, the likelihood of a substantial manipulation of Haiti’s fragile system remains unlikely.
Jean-Claude Duvalier and Michel Martelly
Former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who once held the seat of state-sponsored corruption and terror in Haiti, returned from his exile one year following the 2010 earthquake. Today, Duvalier roams freely in Haiti and even holds court with both Bill Clinton and current President Michel Martelly. Strangely enough, the international community, led by the purported champions of democracy, has remained silent on this issue.
Martelly is known to be a proud Neo-Duvalierist. His election to the presidency during a time of national crisis is argued by many to have been forced and mathematically re-numbered by the international community with the hopes of establishing Haiti as a source of cheap labor and a site for the extraction of its already meager natural resources. The government of Haiti under Martelly is so entrenched in the old Duvalier paradigm, that even former Prime Minister Garry Conille found himself unable to function within it. Where governance is concerned, Haiti has reached a new low in its level of disrespectability.
That Martelly has sympathies with Duvalier is discouraging, but it is perhaps more troublesome that appointed arbiters and intermediaries are also bedfellows with such a contemptible fixture of Haiti’s past. In a sense, rekindling that savage past has launched an assault on memory, and on decency.
Countless disappearances and state-sponsored violent acts committed against the Haitian population during the Duvalier regime poses questions about the promise of an equitable and just society in light of Duvalier’s uncontested return. Some attribute his reemergence to the actions of Bill Clinton, who perhaps seeks to publically and politically castrate Martelly’s predecessor, René Préval.
Re-orientation for perceived stability
The cordiality displayed in the interactions between Clinton, Martelly and Duvalier may indicate the centralized nature of power while sending a message that the shenanigans of the Lavalas and Inite camps will not be tolerated. Yet, the Lavalas camp is trying to display its legitimacy as a power broker by occupying the streets and reminding the world that Aristide is also a political force on the terrain.
The importance of this tri-persona power relation in the political affairs of the state and nation, has to do with the re-orientation, a reshaping of the political landscape so “stability” could pave the way to foreign investments and the purported aggrandizement of the economy for a potential middle-class that will be geared towards a lasting and meaningful societal re-foundation.
Therefore, is Bill Clinton the supreme engineer of the Haitian political landscape? Is the presence of Duvalier necessary to buttress the Martelly presidency that proclaimed Haiti is open for business? If so, what business? The assembly lines of women who work under the most denigrating conditions because respectable and adequate alternatives are not even an option, to provide for their children.
We’ve moved from the plantations to the factories under the heat of the strongmen economic whips, where the dignity of an entire nation is soiled for the interests of morally corrupt elites that erroneously refer to themselves as members of the bourgeoisie, when they are nothing short of high-end resellers.
A possessing-class that corruptively dominates politics, but does not produce anything that could create a middle-class, and sadly, they are as dependent on foreign aid as the exploited poor who is forced to accept the most inhumane of conditions because the national purse is dependent on the international community that never cared.
“I didn’t succeed in every endeavor, and I made some mistakes in trying,” said Clinton.
Well, the Martelly endeavor is proof that the Clinton equation has failed in so many measurable ways as the Martelly administration chokes democracy to reinvigorate the Duvalier doctrine of a strongman politic that runs counter to the nation’s needs to build institutions that would move the country toward a viable future.
One could hope that foreign intervention for the presumed intent to uphold democracy would yield results that could have the semblance of actual democracy, but involvement by these power players is inevitably marred by contradictions. Haiti must not only build back better. It must be governed by ethical Haitians – properly chosen by the sovereign citizens of Haiti.
Patrick Sylvain is an Instructor of Haitian Language and Culture at Brown University.