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    Haitis Governance Challenges and the International Community

    Andrew S. Thompson1

    To non-Haitians, navigating traffic in Port-au-Prince, particularly during rush hour, can

    be a harrowing experience, even for the most seasoned of drivers. The roads, to put it

    mildly, are not easy to navigate. There are no lines separating one lane from another.

    Regulatory signs directing the flow of traffic are notably absent. Gridlock is common.

    The potholes and there are many are both deep and wide, while many of the cars and

    trucks are barely road-worthy. And yet, the traffic does move forward, albeit seemingly

    chaotically. At the end of the day, the tap-taps the trucks that pick up pedestrians for

    a small fee do bring people home.

    There are parallels between traffic conditions in Haiti and the present

    international reconstruction effort. They are, to some degree, an appropriate metaphor for

    the entire country. Haiti suffers from a host of deeply-rooted ailments, not the least of

    which include weak state institutions, endemic poverty, systemic human rights violations,

    a culture of impunity, high levels of criminal activity, and widespread environmental

    degradation. The popular revolution of 1986 that ended twenty-nine years of Duvalierism

    brought with it a tremendous sense of optimism and hope that Haiti would make the

    successful transition from dictatorial to democratic rule. Sadly, the transition has, to date,

    been less than smooth. In the two decades since the passing of the constitution of 1987

    a document that entrenches democratic norms and prohibits the re-emergence of

    authoritarian rule the political system has remained largely dysfunctional, unable to

    prevent either the concentration of power in the hands of the few or deter against the use

    of violence as a means for solving conflict.2

    1 This paper is a draft and is not to be cited without the permission of the author.

    The most recent episode of political

    instability occurred in February 2004 with the insurrection led by former military officer

    2 For two excellent accounts of the roots of political turmoil in Haiti, see Robert Fatton, Jr., The Fall of Aristide and Haitis Current Predicament, and Suzy Castor, La difficile sortie dune longue transition, both in Haiti: Hope for a Fragile State, Yasmine Shamsie and Andrew S. Thompson (eds.) (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier Press/Centre for International Governance Innovation, 2006), 15-24, and 111-27.

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    Guy Philippe, an assault that led to then-Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristides

    departure from office, and prompted the United Nations to intervene in Haiti for the

    second time in less than a decade.

    The poorest and arguably most volatile country in the Americas, Haiti can

    routinely be found towards the bottom of the list on virtually all indexes that attempt to

    quantify and rank state fragility. Rightly or wrongly, the common perception is that Haiti

    is the basket case of the new world, a country with so many strikes against it that it is

    difficult to imagine a better future than either its past and present. While perhaps overly

    pessimistic, this view is, sadly, not unfounded. By most measures be they political,

    social, economic, and environmental Haiti scores amongst the worst in the world. The

    difference between Haiti and most other fragile states, however, is that the tiny Caribbean

    country that occupies the western half of the Island of Hispaniola has been the object of

    considerable international attention, both through decades of massive amounts of foreign

    aid and, more recently, two UN-led military interventions in the last two decades, neither

    of which has resulted in more than a tenuous stability for Haitians. And yet, despite all of

    its political, economic and social problems, life in Haiti does go on, albeit seemingly

    chaotically. At the end of the day, Haiti remains a country rich in potential, a country

    whose future does not necessarily have to be automatically pre-ordained to be as bleak as

    its past.

    This paper is about Haitis governance challenges and the responses of the

    international community, specifically the UN, on the fifth anniversary of the anti-Aristide

    insurrection of February 2004. On one level, it is a humble attempt to better understand

    both the obstacles that are inhibiting the emergence of a more prosperous and cohesive

    society, and the ways in which various actors, both domestic and international, are

    attempting to overcome them. After all, Haiti has been and remains, by most measures,

    the quintessential weak state, a prime example of the inherent difficulties associated with

    peace-building initiatives aimed at fostering a democratic civic culture and a climate of

    security for all. On another level, however, it is about the ascendency of new actors in the

    Americas since the end of the Cold War. Traditionally, the main external actors in Haiti

    have been the Big Three from the North the United States, France and Canada

    countries that, for a whole host of reasons, have a vested national interest in a stable

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    Haiti, and which, for better or worse, took the lead in the UN/OAS sanctioned efforts to

    restore order and democratic rule to the country following the first military coup dtat

    against Aristide that lasted from 1991 to 1994. Since 2004, a new grouping of states from

    the South has risen to the forefront of the current UN mission. Referred to throughout the

    hemisphere as the ABC countries Argentina, Brazil and Chile it is these actors who,

    also for a whole host of reasons, have taken on much of the responsibility for ensuring

    that Haitis governance challenges do not cause it to once again veer off the path towards

    stability. Hence, a second aim of the paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts

    roughly five years after the current UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was

    established in June 2004, to determine whether there is a distinctly Latin American

    approach to peace-building. But more than this, it is attempt to make sense of the

    changing geo-political dynamics within the Americas, particularly between the North and

    South, as seen through the lens of the current international reconstruction effort in Haiti.

    Haitis Governance Challenges

    As Robert Fatton has argued on several occasions, the historical roots of Haitis

    instability can be traced back to the period when Haiti was a French colony. In order to

    ensure that the plantation economy would be profitable, the French established an

    authoritarian system of rule. Following independence in 1804, the countrys elite

    maintained this system. As a result, Haiti has had a history of deep class and racial

    conflict (those in power tend to be mulatto or blancs), conflict that has been

    perpetuated and buttressed by a dictatorial political system of strong-man rule in which

    power lies in the hands of one individual, the president. Under this system, violence has

    become the favoured means for resolving and instigating problems.3

    Contemporary Haiti has had trouble shedding this system of rule. Beginning in

    1957, Franois Papa Doc Duvalier and his infamous Tonton Macoutes ruled Haiti with

    tremendous cruelty. In 1971, Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier took over following the

    death of his father, and for a time conditions in Haiti improved. However, Baby Docs

    3 Robert Fatton, Jr., The Fall of Aristide and Haitis Current Predicament, Haiti: Hope for a Fragile State, Yasmine Shamsie and Andrew S. Thompson (eds.) (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006), pp. 15-17. See also, Robert Fatton, Haitis Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002).

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    presidency was marked by a series of confrontations between the military and civilian

    authorities, as well as widespread economic stagnation. The combination of political

    unrest and economic desperation fuelled anti-Duvalier sentiments across the country. In

    January 1986, revolution erupted, forcing Duvalier to flee the country and seek asylum in


    After twenty-nine years of Duvalierism, the political situation in Haiti has been

    slow to improve. The transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s was

    marred by periods of tremendous violence and political instability, marked by five

    different military and civilian governments in the first four years after Baby Docs

    departure.4 The 1990s proved to be an equally difficult decade for Haiti. Jean-Bertrand

    Aristides internationally recognized election victory on 16 December 1990 brought

    renewed hope that Haiti had emerged from the chaos of the previous half-decade to

    become the hemispheres newest democracy. But the hope was soon dashed. Many of the

    countrys elites soon lost what little patience they had for either representative

    government or Aristides economic reforms. On 1 October 1991, General Raoul Cdras

    and his Front pour lAvancement et le Progrs dHaiti (Front for the Advancement of

    Progress in Haiti, FRAPH) staged a military coup dtat against the newly-elected

    President, forcing him into exile. Cdras and his supporters controlled Haiti for roughly

    three years, during which time a

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