J. Wiarda: Ayiti Se Yon Ka San Lespwa

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Haiti As A Hopeless Case By Howard J. Wiarda
Haiti as a Hopeless Case
Howard J. Wiarda*
Americans are not used to dealing with, or even thinking about, hopeless

We have always been a hopeful, optimistic, pragmatic, and problemsolving
people; our forte has been to see a problem, go in, solve it, and get outthe
quicker, the better.

Think of World Wars I and II, the 1989 capture of
Manuel Noriega in Panama, or the first Iraq war. But not imbroglios like
Vietnam, Iraq II, Afghanistan, Somalia, or Haiti.

Hopeless cases leave us
flummoxed, impatient to leave, and frustrated.

Haiti is one of those hopeless cases.

This is hard for the U.S. government,
the many NGO's working in Haiti (Non- Government Organizations; Haiti
is often referred to derisively, as the "Republic of NGOs"), and the thousands
of well-meaning religious groups and do-gooders who descend on Haiti with
every, recurrent crisis.

I have nothing against NGOs, religious groups, and
do-gooders, and, in the right circumstances, are among their staunchest

All I want is for these groups, and the rest of us, to have realistic
expectations of what can, and can't, be accomplished in Haiti.

Over the last two and a half decades Haiti has become a quasi-permanent
ward of the UN, the OAS, and the U.S. Its economy--what there is of one--
is a shambles, it has a weak or non-existent civil society, it lacks basic
infrastructure, and its institutions such as parliament or the civil service are
either out of commission or do not function as Western institutions should.

On top of these problems came the devastating earthquake of January, 2010,
which killed upwards of 200, 000 people, left Haiti even more devastated than
it had been previously, and precipitated a new round of foreign interventions
and hand-wringing over how to "save" Haiti.

The six month anniversary of
the earthquake is a good time to take stock of Haiti's recovery efforts.

I myself don't believe we outsiders can save Haiti.

I am happy to contribute
in the wake of the earthquake to short-term humanitarian relief efforts, but I don't
think the longer-terms and very expensive (upwards of $100 billion) efforts
to rebuild Haiti can succeed.

For the real problems in Haiti are long-term and
cultural, more precisely political-cultural issues which, rather like Iraq,
Afghanistan, or Russia for that matter, take a hundred or more years to correct--
three or four generations, not three or four years as the aid agencies hope.
Moreover, in Haiti's case, we are afraid even to talk about political-culture
issues because of political correctness fears, most particularly, the fear of
being charged with "racism." But if we cannot even talk about the basic issues
in Haiti, how can we hope to solve its problems?

This fear of even talking
publicly about the key issues even while going ahead with a massive rebuilding
project that will not solve any of Haiti's underlying problem is the major factor
in my pronouncement that Haiti is "hopeless."
Elements of Haitian History
I have been traveling to Haiti since 1962. Having written both my MA thesis
and PhD dissertation on the next-door Dominican Republic and traveled to Haiti
frequently (and been shot at there; no fun, I've decided) I think I know Haiti
pretty well. Herewith some interpretive comments.

The island of Hispaniola, once greater wealth was found in Mexico and
Peru, was long characterized by colonial neglect.

But at least on the eastern end
of the island Spain created some (limited) institutions, fostered the early stirrings
of civil society, and Westernized (Hispanic but still Western) the population.

In sharp contrast on the western one third of the island, the French
established a rigid, slave-plantation economy.

At one point sugar-producing
French Haiti was the richest colonial possession in the world.

But the French
never educated the slaves, never built institutions or civil society, and never
Westernized the mass population.

Hence when Haiti's slave revolt succeeded
in 1804 it was left with no institutions, no economy, no civil society, and a
complete vacuum of infrastructure.

Haiti was born with its economy in tatters: the plantations had all been
burned and its top soil was soon eroded.

There was nothing left on which to
build, neither an economy or a functioning country.

Haiti's nineteenth century
leaders compounded the problems by exterminating the remaining whites,
massacring the few educated mulattoes, and repeatedly going to war against the
Dominican Republic on the pretext that it was planning to reintroduce slavery.

Haiti was born as a nation with no foreign friends.

As the first "black republic"
in a world that still widely practiced slavery, Haiti's revolution was feared
and reviled by all the colonial powers.

Imagine the reception accorded the
first Haitian emissary to Washington in the pre-civil war period.

It is hard to convey to outsiders who did not experience slavery or all this
history how powerful is the anti-French and anti-white sentiments in Haiti.

missionaries, government officials, and civil society representatives tend to
believe that if we just treat Haitians decently and as equals, they will respond
and we can create a modern Haiti.

But Haitians, while personable and affable,
are very suspicious of whites, suspect their motives (reinforced by well-publicized
attempts during the recent crisis to take away their children for adoption), and
are often hostile not just toward whites but toward white, Western, civilization.

How can you modernize and develop Haiti if even the basics of Westernism,
such as transparency, efficiency, and honesty are rejected?

In the twentieth century we had the American military occupation of Haiti,
1915-33, which failed to develop the economy and similarly failed to develop
infrastructure or institutions, with the exception of the Haitian National Guard
which served as the stepping stone to power of future Haitian dictators, most
notably Francois ("Papa Doc") Duvalier, 1952-71. Duvalier was one of the
world's worst tyrants, whose regime is perhaps best captured in Graham
Greene's The Comedians.

Duvalier was a medical doctor who also practiced spiritualism and voodoo--
endearing qualities to lower-class Haitians.

In Haiti voodoo, enriched by both
Catholic and ancestral African rites for over three centuries, is both fatalistic
and tied to the past.

It is not a belief system that leaves much room for shaping
either present or future.

When mixed with the country's unique historical
experience, Haiti's religious culture takes on a defensive inner-directed
character that is far removed from Max Weber's "Protestant Ethic" of
entrepreneurial risk-taking, hard-working, get-ahead individualism.

Duvalier, a noir in Haitian terms, as opposed to the historically dominant and
better educated mulattoes, was also an apostle of Negritude, a philosophy of
political racialism that had gained popularity in France, French-Africa, and
the U.S in the 1920s and 30s. The Negritude movement, which later evolved
into a rationale for black power, involved a commitment to the distinctive
character of Haiti's African heritage and a rejection of the superiority of
European culture.

These attitudes, shaped by past slavery, Haiti's unique history
as an outcast among nations, and racial pride, help explain the country's
August 2010
*Dean Rusk Professor of International Relations, Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602,
(706)542-6705, wiarda at uga.edu; Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C.; and Public
Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.
continuing unwillingness to accept outside (i.e., white, Western) advice and
ways of doing things.

Former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide understood--and played upon--Haiti's
racial-cum-class-cum-social tensions better than anyone in recent history.

His "Lavalas" movement, which means "cleansing" or "washing away"
(including at times in blood), was heir to Haiti's slave past, its history, and its

His message of liberation "from misery to poverty with dignity" was
enormously appealing in Haiti--and still is.
Even though Aristide is currently exiled in South Africa there are strong
pressures to bring him back, especially among the American black community
and the black caucus in Congress.

But Aristide is not above dipping his hands
in the public till, he and his followers have used violence, including necklacing,
against political foes, and, as a "Rousseauian democrat" who believes he alone
is the embodiment of the Haitian General Will, Aristide has not endeared himself
to the American or international policy community.

Aristide's story is familiar
in Haitian history: a brilliant intellectual who is totally inept at governing.

Elements of Haitian Culture and Sociology
Haiti has long been deeply divided between its urban elites, who tend to be
mulattoes, educated, and globalized, and its rural masses who are mainly
illiterate, parochial, and patrimonial.

Most Americans and NGOs in Haiti
deal almost exclusively with the mulatto elite who often speak both French and
English, but that excludes 90 % of the Haitian population who are mainly
traditional, nonwestern, and speak only creole.

Georges Fauriol has offered a masterful explanation of Haitian political culture
which he sees as a hybrid of four components: West African ethnicity and
culture, French colonial and slave society of the eighteenth century, a marginal
brand of Catholicism mixed with African beliefs, and a superficial overlay of
American ways of operating which began with the occupation of a century
What is remarkable says Fauriol, one of the few real experts on Haiti, is
that the African and nonwestern features have remained for the most part
unaltered for the vast majority of the population since they were first imparted
in the eighteenth century.

He goes on to say that the vitality of this traditional,
patrimonial, primarily rural and illiterate culture and environment has survived
now for over two hundred years in virtually unchanged form, even in the face
of continuous economic decline, the total failure of Haiti's venal political elites
and the mulatto middle class, and repeated foreign interventions of which the
current earthquake-inspired NGO and international takeover of Haiti is only the
most recent
Haiti may be seen as a spiritual heir to the French revolutionary tradition of
1789, but without the resources or institutions to ever live up to that ideal.

record of interaction with the outside world is one of rejection and tragedy.

Its history is one of dictatorships alternating with anarchy and repeated forced
attempts to establish and consolidate democracy.

Its history leads it to be
demoralized, often aimless and fatalistic, without the cement of civil society
or functioning institutions, and divided by an elite that seeks only to advance
its own interests and a long-suffering mass whose fury only occasionally rises
to the surface.

Entrenched, traditional political culture makes real change all
but impossible.

What is to be done?

The weight of history and culture hang heavily over Haiti, more than is the
case with other nations.

Here we have a slave-plantation society, perhaps the
world's cruelest, in the eighteenth century; an outcast among nations in the
nineteenth century rejected (including in the U.S.) on purely racial grounds; a
nation bereft of educated and non-self-serving elites; never really educated or
Westernized; repeatedly intervened and beaten down by outside powers; the
poorest (by far) and most miserable nation in the Western Hemisphere;
essentially a West African culture and society, never modernized, cast down
in the midst of another continent that never wanted or recognized it. Thus seen,
the primary problem of Haiti is not bricks, mortar, and rebuilding from the
earthquake, however notable those efforts are, but first and foremost a change
in Haiti's political culture.

Haiti provides a useful case study of the age-old dispute: do you change the
culture first in order to change the institutions and thus bring democracy and
progress; or is it sufficient to work instead with existing institutions (the
Preval government) in the hope that reconstruction and economic stimulation
by themselves will eventually change the culture?

The obvious answer is, in
the absence of strong, workable institutions in Haiti, you have to change the

Otherwise, as is already happening, all your assistance efforts will be
wasted, frustrations will again rise, and Haiti will be left no better off than

Who can change Haitian culture?

Well, Marxism-Leninism, probably can,
but both Cuba and Marxism are spent forces, they do not want to take on
Haiti and probably could not succeed, and in any case, the U.S. will not
permit it to happen.

Forty years of an honest, efficient, strong, government,
a la Lee Quan Yew in Singapore, could do it; but recall that Haiti has no
topsoil, no industry, and virtually no manufacturing, no port facilities, no
banking, and few educated people.

And certainly with its politically-correct
orientation and fear of being labeled "racist" if it dares to tamper with Haiti's
primarily Creole culture, the United State will not solve Haiti's problems.

And that is why we conclude Haiti is a hopeless case. We can continue
to throw money at it and probably that is useful to a certain extent--at a
minimum it puts some money into the Haitian economy and makes us feel

But to really transform Haiti, it is the political culture that will have to
be changed--and that, we know is a very difficult, controversial, and long-term

Fauriol, "Haiti: The Search for Democratic Governances," in Howard
J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline (eds.) Latin American Politics and
Development (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 7th ed., 2010).

Issues in Foreign Policy, Comparative Politics and International Affairs
is published through the Department of International Affairs, University
of Georgia.

The views expressed are those of the author and not the
Department, University, or CSIS.
© 2010 by Howard J. Wiarda
If you missed any of the previous issues, please contact Ms. Ann
Kryzanek at kryzanek at uga.edu
Dean Rusk Professor of International Relations, Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602,
(706)542-6705, wiarda at uga.edu; Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C.; and Public
Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C

J. Wiarda, August 6 2010, 11:51 PM

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Don't listen to this kind of hopeless message about Haiti. Those messages, just like words that have been saying about... read more >
Haitian Author Jean Pe, 7-Aug-10 2:53 am


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