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Haiti’s failed 25 years experience with democracy

The Haitian pundits often talk with pride of the fight to preserve the acquisitions of the democratic era in Haiti that started with either the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier on February 7, 1986, or the vote for the Constitution on March 30, 1987, or the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 7, 1991. Whatever date one cares to choose for the birth of democracy in Haiti, it has been a deformed child with no incremental growth to show for its mature age of 25 years old.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol

In fact, an educated observer as well as the common man will indicate that Haiti has regressed in the past 25 years. It has graduated with an F from the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere in 1987 to the poorest nation of the world in 2012, according to a study by the Wall Street Journal.

There was euphoria on the day after the expulsion of Jean Claude Duvalier on February 7, 1986. The rest of the world took note, Philippines and Poland followed suit and dislodged their dictators. Haiti engaged into a democratic orgasm or banboche as it was called. A new Constitution was drafted and adopted on March 30, 1987. After several convulsive periods of political adaptation, a popular leader, a former priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide was elected as president. He turned out to be one of the most controversial figures that Haiti has ever had as president, preaching and applying a policy of dividing the poor sector against the wealthy ones. The concept of noblesse oblige that sustained a fragile ecosystem of relations for generations suddenly broke down.

The middle class built up their walls a bit higher cutting the chain of solidarity that maintained a nation together and the poor were organized into a band of hooligans or chimers as they were called, ransoming people and the state for mere survival existence, remaining poorer as the days passed.

Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced to depart by the military on September 30, 1991. But he was rescued by the international community, taking up residence first in Jamaica and later in Washington DC. From there he ruled Haiti with funds provided to him by the American government with Haitian assets and remittances from the government controlled phone company, Teleco. An embargo was imposed upon the fragile economy of the republic by the United Nations under Resolution 940 on July 30, 1994, crippling its growth then and decades later. Elizabeth Gibbons in Sanctions and Human Rights and Democracy under Assault characterized the embargo “a tragic event”.

With an armada of 20,000 American troops dubbed Operation Uphold Democracy, Jean Bertrand Aristide was returned to Haiti on October 15, 1994. His disruptive policies of pitting one group of the Haitian family against the other intensified. This time it was the whole Haitian society that forced his departure to exile in South Africa on February 29, 2004.

Through a succession of temporary governments more bent on putting their hands on the spoils of the nation for themselves and for their cronies, Haiti regained the democratic rails with the election of Rene Preval, Aristide’s former prime minister, as its president. For eight years from the noblesse oblige natural penchant of Haitian ethos he ruled Haiti with the sense of neglect oblige as a policy.

Haiti’s fragile ecosystem and fragile economy took a dive down where those successive natural disasters, inundation, hurricanes and finally earthquake put it on its knees that only God’s faith of the Haitian people can explain why this nation still exists.

I am walking with amazement amongst those Haitian merchants, men and mostly women, in the open market spreading their wares hoping for a sale that will bring the bacon home for the kids who represent for them their fortune. I wish Haiti could cut a deal with the government of Cuba to bring every day a boatload of Cubans to Haiti seeking the usual daily sundries that the industrious Haitian women, negatively called Madam Sara, have negotiated from Suriname to Panama in large and varied quantities.

Using the lowest standard of evaluation, I could not find any positive indices from past executive, judiciary or the legislative branches that benefited the Haitian people during those last twenty five years. The Haitian ethos of valuing hard work, honesty, civic duties is almost dissipated. The only double sword positive aspect of this lost generation is that the Haitian population has grown from 6.7 million people in 1987 to 10 million people today, 2012, in spite of or because of the multitude of catastrophes.

Haiti is still and more so the land of exclusion, where the largest part of the population that inhabits the country side is foraging without support of institutions and infrastructure from the government and the international organizations. They have invaded with intensity the cities with the same neglect of the government, squatting on land reserved for preserving the eco-system intact.

The more audacious ones have invited themselves without authorization to Florida, The Bahamas, Dominica, the Dominican Republic and now Brazil and Mexico, seeking a more clement hospitality mat.

The Haitian curse is this political class that is still claiming it has the right and the acumen to dictate the future of Haiti. The party-controlled legislature is into a logjam with the presidency over the issue of the permanent or transitory Board of Elections clouding the prospect for new elections of collectivities’ mayors as well as one third of the Senate.

The transition from dictator to true democracy is the question of today’s world. In the year 2012 we are back to the era of 1888, when the great empires were being dislocated, the Prussian as well as the Ottoman Empire was giving place to the creation of new nations. Today, the Soviet Empire as well as the hold of former Arab leaders upon the Muslim people is being relaxed and these rulers are being forced into exile, prison or death.

Who will stand up to guide these countries into nations, where the individual right of each one is protected and where the incubation of each person is the business of the government from an excellent education to a career in the arts or science producing income that enrich the nation and the individuals?

In return, the individual will be taught to become a true citizen with responsibilities toward the common good. This is the challenge for international organizations like the UN and the EU as well as governments like the United States, Japan and China for peace and prosperity in this world.

The example of Haiti is once more significant for the world. It had shown to no avail to the rest of the world in 1804 that each citizen counts in the future of a nation; it tried again to teach again to the world in 1986 that government must be hospitable to its own citizens.

It is still searching its own path towards a better future for its gallant men and women. May at least and at last the gods of peace and prosperity be its lot!

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