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Whither Haiti?

by Dr. Donald E. Schulz.

April 01, 1996

52 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Dr. Donald E. Schulz looks at the prospects for political stability, democratization, and socioeconomic development. His conclusions are sobering. While by no means dismissing the possibility that Haiti can "make it," he presents a portrait of the imposing obstacles that must still be overcome and a detailed discussion of the things that could go wrong. In a nutshell, he argues that without a much greater willingness on the part of the United States and the international community to "stay the course" in terms of providing long-term security and socioeconomic aid, Haiti is unlikely to make a successful transition to a stable, democratic, economically modernizing nation. (Even with continuing assistance, the outlook will be problematic.) He argues that unless the United States and other foreign donors recognize this and do what is necessary to give the Haitian experiment a better chance to succeed, the "tactical success" that has been enjoyed so far will sooner or later be transformed into a "strategic failure." His policy recommendations, in particular, deserve close scrutiny.

Summary

This study examines Haiti's prospects for political stability, democracy, and socioeconomic development after the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) leaves the country (presumably in 1996). Among the major conclusions are the following:

On the Transformation of the Haitian Political Culture.

    • In Haiti, a political culture of predation has fostered autocracy and corruption, extreme social injustice, and economic stagnation. Since the September 1994 U.S. intervention, tangible progress has been made toward uprooting that culture. For the most part, the past 18 months have been marked by political stability and a sharp reduction of violence. The central institution of the Predatory State--the military--has been dismantled, and new a Haitian National Police (HNP) created. The relative lack of large-scale revenge-motivated violence has been especially encouraging, as has been an extraordinary flowering of political participation. At the same time, presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections have been held. For the first time in the country's history, the presidency has been transferred from one democratically elected president to another.

    • This being said, other signs are not so positive. The June 1995 legislative and municipal elections were chaotic, and the months since have witnessed growing turmoil. There were major riots in November. For a while, moreover, there was doubt as to whether Aristide would step down and hold presidential elections. There has also been a series of political assassinations aimed at both Aristide's followers and supporters of the former military regime, and there is some evidence of Haitian government involvement in the latter. In addition, there are disturbing signs that the Haitian police are reverting to the human rights abuses and incompetence that characterized their predecessors. Social violence--particularly in slums like Cite Soleil, where criminal gangs are increasingly dominant- -is growing, and the HNP gives little indication of being able to cope with it. There is concern, too, about the government's decision to absorb hundreds of ex-military personnel into the police, some in command positions. As a result, the HNP has lost much of the legitimacy it enjoyed at its inception.

    • There is a danger that severe constraints on Haiti's economic development may fatally undermine the country's political development. Socioeconomic conditions are extremely grim and likely to remain so for some time. Under such circumstances, there may well be a disillusionment with democracy.

    • One of the main reasons that Haiti has been able to avoid major violence has been the presence of a substantial international peacekeeping force. Now, however, the UNMIH is downsizing and phasing out. If the violence that Haiti has been experiencing should increase and become more politicized, it would further undermine the prospects for political stability and democratization.
    • The transformation of a political culture requires the internalization of new values and attitudes. But such changes will take years--indeed decades--to complete. Education will be critical. While Aristide has begun this process, it is by no means clear that his successor, Rene Preval, will be able to hold together the centrifugal forces that will continue to pull at Haiti's delicate political fabric.

    • The legitimacy of Haiti's political institutions-- especially at the national level--remains very weak. Haitians are used to thinking of the state as an oppressive force, and it will take time and a radically different pattern of government behavior to change that. Political parties are still highly unstable, little more than vehicles for the ambitions of individual politicians. The police and the courts remain extremely fragile. Weak and/or illegitimate institutions are not likely to perform the functions for which they are designed. Failing that, they will remain susceptible to political subversion, corruption, and destruction. Whether Aristide's charismatic authority will be supplanted by institutional authority remains one of the key issues in Haitian political development.

    • In sum, gains have been made, but there are still enormous obstacles to overcome. Moreover, there are growing signs that the situation is deteriorating--this at precisely the time that U.S. and U.N. peacekeepers are leaving.

On the Role of the United States and the International Community.

    • Haiti's future will in no small part depend on the willingness and ability of the international community- -especially the United States--to use its resources to promote Haitian political and socioeconomic development. There are serious doubts, however, as to whether the country's foreign sponsors are willing to make the kind of investment that is necessary.

    • U.S. policy toward Haiti has been both driven and constrained by domestic politics. Political support in Congress and the public for the September 1994 military intervention and the peacekeeping operations that followed was extraordinarily thin and was conditioned on being able to move in, restore order and move out, while keeping U.S. casualties to an absolute minimum. This structured serious limitations and irrationalities into the policy that now threaten the success of the entire operation. Cases in point include the failure to more aggressively disarm those elements that were capable of threatening public order, and the insistence that Aristide step down, even though he had been deprived of 3 years of his presidency and had the support of most Haitians to continue in office for 3 more years to make up for the time that had been lost. The consequence is likely to be a Haiti that will be more unstable--and potentially anti-American--than it had to be.

    • There is a danger that the United States and other foreign aid donors/lenders, by attempting to impose neoliberal economic reforms on Haiti and suspending aid when it resisted, may push the country into an even deeper socioeconomic crisis. If that occurs, political stability and democracy will probably be among the casualties.

Conclusions and Recommendations.

    • While nothing is inevitable, there is a very real danger that sooner or later the situation will fall apart and Haiti will return to its traditional pattern of dictatorship and chaos. Five scenarios are presented to give the reader an idea of the kinds of things that could go wrong. It is argued that the United States and the United Nations need to be sensitized to these potential developments and devise a long-range plan to avoid them. Otherwise, the tactical success that has been enjoyed so far will likely turn into a strategic failure.

    • The most obvious requirement is for a continuing international peacekeeping presence. This will be needed for at least another year, with a smaller presence probably necessary for several more years-- i.e., until the HNP is firmly on its feet and a competent judicial system is in place. In addition, a rapid response force should be formed to back up the Haitian government, as required. There should be U.S. participation in all these operations to bolster their credibility.

    • At the same time, there must be ongoing foreign support for the Haitian police, including the provision of training and hands-on monitoring and backup in the field. The HNP needs more of everything--more police, weapons, vehicles and other equipment, and especially more vetting. Unvetted ex-military should not be taken into the force, and in general the number of former army personnel should be minimized. (Their presence reduces the legitimacy of the institution and is likely to create problems of control.) Officers who abuse their power must be held accountable. There must be ongoing efforts at professionalization, with an emphasis on respect for constitutionally sanctioned authority and human rights.

    • Of more immediate concern than a coup is the danger that new and more potent weapons might be used irresponsibly or fall into the wrong hands. While the HNP will need heavier arms to deal with emergency situations, these should be closely controlled and limited to specially trained backup units. The general model of policing that should be followed should be based on the cultivation of police-community relations, with the use of firearms a last resort.

    • The Preval administration should accelerate the reform process. The system of centralized state controls that has traditionally sucked resources out of the countryside for the benefit of Port-au-Prince must be dismantled. The peasantry must receive a fair share of the economic pie. Moreover, the stalemate must be broken on privatization, civil service reform, and transparency in the use of public funds.

    • President Preval and ex-President Aristide must continue to cooperate with one another. Without the latter's support, the new President may not be able to govern. By the same token, should the country come apart over the next 5 years there may not be any pieces for Aristide to pick up when he reassumes office (which he presumably will) in 2001.

    • Though President Preval comes from the populist wing of Lavalas, he may be more pragmatic than Aristide. International lenders and donors would be well advised to work with him to find mutually acceptable solutions to Haiti's problems, rather than trying to impose preconceived economic policies on Haiti.

    • In this U.S. election year, both Democrats and Republicans should avoid turning Haiti into a political football, lest the consequences be disastrous.

    • The central lesson of the recent U.S. experience with Haiti is that half-way efforts lead to half-way, ineffective, and sometimes counterproductive results. The danger facing the United States and the international community is that they will have raised Haitian expectations only to dash them through an unwillingness to do what is necessary to give the democratic experiment a real chance of success. If the current deadlock over privatization and foreign aid is allowed to continue, it will lead to further socioeconomic decline. That, in turn, will feed the nationalistic backlash that has already begun, produce more political turmoil, and resurrect the Haitian migration problem.


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