Haiti's twenty-five-year flirtation with democracy: A failed experience!
By Jean H Charles
I remember where I was, twenty five years ago, on February 7, 1986. I was leading, along with community leader Wilson Desir, a parade in Brooklyn, New York, celebrating the departure of the dictatorship that had gripped Haiti for thirty five years under Duvalier pere and fils governance.
In the jubilation that engulfed the Haitian community, joy and good wishes were shared by the whole New York citizenry with the Haitian people.
A nurse from the Philippines wanted to see Marcos and his Jezebel wife Imelda thrown out of her country.
“The people power” born in Haiti would spread like wildfire in the Philippines to chase Marcos out of power in September 1986.
An old man from Poland, tears in his eyes, dreamed with me of a motherland without the militarism under Russian leadership. Lech Walesa would come some years later (1989) to deliver Poland from the grip of the Russian army.
As if on cue, twenty-five years later, another wave of people power, this time born in Tunisia, is shaking the entire Arab world. It is demanding the departure of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt with an iron hand during the last thirty years. He was grooming his son to become the next chief of state, as the people say enough is enough!
Jordan, Syria, Yemen all have their political and social convulsions demanding the advent of a nation that shall become hospitable to all. In this age when the internet, Twitter, texting and other means of fast communication are becoming an effective tool of militancy, the era of dictatorship is fading away at great speed.
The Haitian Constitution promulgated one year after the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier, as well as the successive elections, did not safeguard the nation against the culture of illiberal governance.
Twenty-five year later, to the question whether Haiti is in better shape than a generation ago with the advent of democracy, the answer is a clear and unequivocal no.
There are improvements in the area of freedom of expression, yet there is a deep deceleration in the area of environmental, food, personal, and public health security in spite of massive foreign intervention.
The western style of democracy, with recurrent elections, has been in Haiti a bad vehicle for dispatching essential services and efficient institutions. The concept of nation-building has not been in the lexicon of governmental praxis.
Haiti is still the land of a wide schism between the vast majority (87%) of the population living in a fragile environment, in extreme poverty, without education and formation, versus a minority (13%) highly sophisticated in full control of the political, financial and social level of the society.
A brief vignette of the governments after the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier reveals a pattern of corruption, foreign interference with bad faith, inadequate leadership, and complete indifference to the fate of the population.
I rushed to Haiti after February 7, 1986, to help the military government establish a Haiti hospitable to all. In spite of my personal relationship with the military leader, I was not received as a friend because I came to reconcile Henry Namphy (the military leader) with Gerard Gourgue (the civilian leader) for the sake of the nation, instead of getting into the gossip of the day. Namphy led by a gang of venal military officers would be chased out of office a year later after the burning of a church packed with worshippers.
The transitional government of Ertha Trouillot introduced in Haiti the complete stronghold of the international community into the Haitian res publica, leading to the UN occupation, the advent of the mobster style government of Jean Bertrand Aristide, followed by his nemesis Rene Preval, who wears a velvet glove while presiding over a nation sliding at great speed into an abyss without end.
In contrast to Haiti over the past twenty-five years, the experience of Singapore, Malaysia, China, Vietnam and even next door Dominican Republic, based on the Renan doctrine, with no foreign intervention in following their own footprint has achieved within a generation the building of a nation with a growing middle class, delivering good services with essential infrastructure.
Haiti, at the dawn of a new generation in its experience of democracy, is engulfed profusely with a foreign intervention that seems to sustain the old culture of squalor for the majority and enlightenment for the minority.
Edmond Mulet, the chief UN resident with its machine of deterrence (MINUSTHA), has sided with Rene Preval, the decried president, to sustain a legislature bent on keeping Haiti in a failed democratic mode, postponing the advent of the emergence of true democracy in the nation.
The timing of the transition from one regime to another, the link that could break the chain of injustice, is once again hijacked by a foreign hand with a strong grip, this time with international glove.
At age 25, the Haitian democracy must take a new turn. It cannot be continued nor replicated beyond Haiti’s borders. The complete absence of governmental leadership, supplemented by the so called force of stabilization, has been a recipe for disaster.
Haiti democracy will grow in age gracefully when it takes charge of building its own army (replacing the MINUSTHA) that will protect its environment and its people; when it will root its population in their localities with ethical institutions and adequate infrastructure and when, last but not least, she will take the national determination to leave no one behind!
This is the formula for a successful democracy. So far, the western democracies, the international institutions have prevented these steps from taking root in the underdeveloped countries like Haiti, while they are the staple policy in Europe and in the United States.
The exceptional models of Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam that rely on their own culture, the strength of their people united as one to defend and to enhance the motherland, while treating each citizen as a potential jewel that should be polished for the glory of the nation will soon become the international canvas copied all over the world!
Thomas Friedman, in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, put it best: “Tharir Square (the site of the protest in Cairo Egypt) will be for now on the wave of the future.” The generation in waiting is fighting for a better standard of living, not for a cause but for Egypt or Haiti, starting with each one of them.
Once again, as two hundred years ago, the failure of the international institutions in the last twenty-five years to incubate on their watch, true democracy in Haiti is a lesson for all nations to learn from.
A test of the maturity of the Haitian democratic process: In the tradition of Justice John Marshall, the issue of removing or retaining the Haitian president, who remains in power after its mandate can and should be solved not by street demonstrations or a dicta by the UN resident Edmond Mulet but by the judiciary, the Haitian Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) that will decide whether Rene Preval can remain into power beyond February 7.
February 12, 2011