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Military In Haitian History

Consolidation of political power in the hands of strongmen has made the armed forces the institutional pillar of Haitian society. Born of revolutionary violence and plagued by socioeconomic deterioration, Haiti never succeeded in building civilian institutions capable of rivaling military rule.

The origins of Haiti's military lie in the country's revolution. A decade of warfare produced a military cadre from which Haiti's early leaders emerged. Defeat of the French demonstrated Haiti's considerable strategic stamina and tactical capabilities, but Haiti's victory did not translate into a successful national government or a strong economy. Lacking a strong constitution, Haiti was usually ruled by force. The armed forces, who had been united against the French, fragmented into warring regional factions. The military very soon took control of almost every aspect of Haitian life. Officers assumed responsibility for the administration of justice and for municipal management. The country was in its earlier days "an immense military camp." Without viable civilian institutions, Haiti was vulnerable to military personalities, who permanently shaped the nation's authoritarian, personalist, and coercive style of governance.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the army either failed to protect the central government or directly caused the government's collapse. Rural insurgent movements led by piquets and cacos limited the central government's authority in outlying areas. These groups carried on war into the twentieth century; they were finally put down by the United States Marines in 1919.

Prolonged instability weakened the military. By the end of the nineteenth century, Haiti's military had become little more than an undisciplined, ill-fed, and poorly paid militia that shifted its allegiances as battles were won or lost and as new leaders came to power. Between 1806 and 1879, an estimated sixty-nine revolts against existing governments took place; another twenty uprisings, or attempted insurrections, broke out between 1908 and 1915. Part of Haiti's history is the story of competing mercenary bands (cacos) and peasant groups (piquets), who fought a ramshackle military.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Haiti's political problems attracted increasing foreign involvement. France, Germany, and the United States were the major actors; the latter occupied the country in 1915. The United States Marines disbanded Haiti's army, which consisted of an estimated 9,000 men, including 308 generals. The United States occupation, after 1915, reversed the collapse of national institutions that had marked this part of Haiti's history. The United States administration of Haiti (1915-34) brought order and resulted in some economic and social development. At the same time, the United States overhauled Haiti's disintegrated military infrastructure.

In February 1916, the Haitian Constabulary (Gendarmerie d'Hati) was formed. United States Marine and United States Navy officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) commanded the group. The Gendarmerie attempted to secure public safety, initially by subduing the cacos; to promote development, particularly road construction; and to modernize the military through the introduction of a training structure, a health service, and other improvements. During the occupation, the United States made an unsuccessful attempt to modernize Haiti's armed forces. The military continued to be Haiti's only truly national organization with any degree of institutional cohesion.

The Gendarmerie became the Garde d'Hati in 1928; the Garde formed the core of Haiti's armed forces after the United States administration ended. The most visible product of the occupation, ironically, turned out to be the Garde d'Hati, which has evolved into the armed forces, the Haitian Armed Forces (Forces Armes d'Hati--FAd'H). The United States sought to establish a modern, apolitical military force in Haiti. On the surface, it succeeded; the organization, the training, and the equipment of the Garde all represented improvements over the military conditions existing before the occupation. What the United States did not (and probably could not) reform was the basic authoritarian inclination of Haitian society, an inclination antithetical to the goal of military depoliticization.

Some professionalization of the army continued for a few years after the United States occupation, but Haiti's political structure deteriorated rapidly after 1934, weakening civilmilitary relations and ultimately affecting the character of the armed forces. After the coup of 1946 and after Colonel Paul E. Magloire's election to the presidency in 1950, the army again assumed a political role. This development divided the army internally, and it set the stage for Franois Duvalier's ascent to power in late 1957.

A shrewd autocrat, Franois Duvalier (1957-71) ruthlessly suppressed all opposition groups. Duvalier purged the army of individuals suspected of disloyalty and brought the remaining soldiers under his absolute control. A powerful paramilitary counterbalancing organization--the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la Scurit Nationale--VSN), or tonton makouts (bogeymen)--was created to protect the regime and to enforce its directives.

Franois Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, assumed power in 1971 and demonstrated initial political endurance. During Jean-Claude's tenure, a reconstituted officer corps emerged, partly to counterbalance the overwhelming power of the paramilitary forces organized by his father.A vague strategy to modernize Haiti's economic and political structure in the 1970s also led to a brief upgrading of the armed forces. Jean-Claude's regime added a tactical unit (the Leopard Corps), purchased new equipment for the Air Corps (Corps d'Aviation), reopened the Military Academy, and secured a small amount of military assistance from the United States. During the three decades of despotic Duvalier rule, a parallel security force, the VSN emerged. The Duvaliers maintained control of the country through this brutal force, which was independent of the armed forces. Both Duvaliers lacked military experience; still, they managed to neutralize the army's influence through intimidation, bribery, and political maneuvering. The Duvaliers also managed to stave off a number of low-level opposition plots and invasion attempts, mostly during the 1960s.

The authoritarian, and often aimless, governance isolated the regime from national realities, leading to a tide of popular discontent between 1983 and 1985 and to the fall of the regime in February 1986. Under pressure from the international community, Duvalier fled Haiti. A hastily constructed interim junta replaced him. The junta was put together mostly by the armed forces, the only institution in a position of authority. The junta fared badly in its political mission, however, and the failed and flawed elections of 1987 and 1988 reflected the military's institutional unraveling and its inability to control the nation. A succession of coups in 1988 and a serious intramilitary revolt in early 1989 underscored the gravity of the problem.

The character of Haiti's domestic security situation attracted considerable international attention. Reports of brutal violence and human-rights infractions have outraged many countries and international agencies. The government's inability -- or unwillingness -- to control paramilitary violence and a rise in crime since 1986 have undermined the military's credibility. A growing narcotics network, involving Haitian military personnel has also reduced the credibility of the armed forces.

Behind domestic security problems is an antiquated and unresponsive legal system. The 1987 Constitution separates the functions of the police and the conventional military, but the FAd'H continued to be the government's primary law-enforcement agency. Haiti had no national police force in the late 1980s. The armed forces handled rural security duties, and in Port-au- Prince, police duties were carried out by a part of the army. Several national political crises and budgetary constraints have led to a recent streamlining of FAd'H's operations and to improvement in its administration.

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