In 1994, U.S. troops helped to return Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office after he was ousted in a military takeover. Since that time, he has ruled through partisan mobs and rigged elections. As a result, national political consensus is fragmented, human rights abuse is rampant, and governing institutions are dysfunctional. Rather than fulfilling earlier promises to reform, Aristide has spent his country's scant resources lobbying U.S. lawmakers to restore aid directly to his administration. In the short-term, his gambit may be paying off. Some U.S. congressional supporters and newspaper commentary writers are calling for the United States and international donors to renew direct assistance, arguing that Aristide was democratically elected and that withholding donations hurts the Haitian populace. 1
On September 4, 2002, the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution giving Haiti a two-month "window of opportunity" to apprehend human rights abusers, improve judicial and police functions, and establish a new independent electoral council in exchange for a recommendation that international funding be restored. The Bush Administration, the European Union, and the World Bank are doubtful that Haiti's government will be able to comply with the offer. None of their big-dollar assistance programs seem to have had a significant impact and little, if any, of the funds given to Haiti have been accounted for.
Giving Aristide a blank check would lift Haitians' hopes, only to dash them when the resources are inevitably squandered or stolen. On the other hand, sitting on the sidelines and expecting Haiti's leadership to produce reforms will only fuel the current disintegration of the state and society and accelerate the exodus of refugees. Governance in Haiti will improve only when national leaders agree to be held accountable and when a new order is cultivated, incorporating community consensus and control. To help encourage such a transformation, the United States, in coordination with other international donors, should:
Haiti gained independence in 1804 after slaves overthrew French colonists and defeated an army sent by Napoleon. Despite its heroic birth, Haiti has experienced continuous rebellion ever since. Instead of building a new state from grassroots consensus, Haitian leaders adopted the previous model of imposing order from above. Haiti's first ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared himself emperor and was killed by a mob on his way to put down a rebellion. Over the next 190 years, a succession of autocrats assumed power and left office through ousters and violence.
Following an uprising in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. Marines into Haiti and the United States imposed outside rule for 19 years. While U.S. intervention improved public health, expanded national infrastructure, and paid off Haiti's debts, local officials served as figureheads. As a result, occupation left few lasting reforms beyond the establishment of more professional security forces.
When a country doctor named Francois Duvalier was elected president in 1957, he replaced U.S.-trained troops with young followers who were less likely to challenge his authority and organized bands of vigilantes named Tontons Macoutes (Volunteers for National Security) to enforce loyalty in rural villages. He remained in office until his death, leaving the regime to his 19-year-old son Jean Claude in 1971. Malfeasance, epidemics, and unrest stirred up by Jean Claude's opponents prompted the Reagan Administration to ask him to step down. When he refused, riots triggered a coup that was followed by a series of interim governments. During this turbulent period, Haiti adopted its first truly democratic constitution. 2
In 1990, a fiery ex-priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president with 67 percent of the vote in what foreign observers declared a fair contest. Yet Aristide soon created a partisan secret police and exhorted street gangs to eliminate his political opponents--including members of the armed forces--in a practice called "necklacing." 3 In less than a year, his presidency collapsed into violent confusion and his own security chief General Raoul Cedras replaced him with a military junta. The episode triggered a huge exodus of Haitian rafters, 41,000 of whom were interdicted at sea. 4 Later in Washington, Aristide reportedly obtained access to frozen assets, including long-distance telephone fees due to the Haitian telephone monopoly, and spent some $55,000 a month lobbying U.S. officials to support his return. 5
When Organization of American States and United Nations efforts failed to restore Haiti's elected leader, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution empowering member states to use any means necessary to restore Haiti's constitutional order. Acting with good intentions, the United States led a multinational force to Haiti in September 1994 to pressure the ruling generals to step aside. By October, Aristide was back in office.
But this effort, Operation Restore Democracy, was not the success many predicted. The Clinton Administration's objectives--to restore democratic rule, to slow the exodus of Haitian rafters, and turn over peacekeeping duties to the United Nations by February 1996--were too ambitious for a country that had never known democracy or peace. Moreover, the vehicle for achieving these goals was to support a leader whom Washington barely understood.
Back in power, the former priest surrounded himself with chimeres--mobs that harassed and attacked opponents of his Fanmi Lavalas Party in a manner reminiscent of Duvalier's Macoutes. In 1995, U.S. officials even had to persuade Aristide to abandon the local tradition of staying beyond one's term of office to allow René Préval, his handpicked candidate and elected successor, to take office.
Following flawed parliamentary elections in 1997, President Préval--at Aristide's behest--blocked a new vote until most assembly seats expired and then dissolved parliament, leaving himself and a handful of unconfirmed cabinet officials to carry out Lavalas policies unopposed. When legislative, local, and municipal elections were finally held in May 2000, Aristide and Préval reportedly pressed the independent Provisional Electoral Council to exclude nearly a quarter of the votes cast, using a formula that violated two articles of Haiti's constitution. 6
The dispute over the legitimacy of Haiti's parliament, dating from the Préval administration, led the Clinton Administration to suspend direct U.S. assistance, a policy the Bush Administration has continued. The European community and multilateral institutions did likewise, resulting in holds totaling about $500 million. Subsequently, Aristide was returned to office in November 2000 in a questionable vote that the opposition and OAS observer mission boycotted, and in which the estimated turnout was between 5 to 15 percent. Instead of coming to an agreement over new elections and adopting minimal standards of accountability, Aristide again hired a Washington lobbying firm to dislodge frozen aid, calling its denial economic terrorism. 7
In fact, some $100 million donated by the United States had already been lost. None of the money spent on elections--at $6 million to $8 million apiece--left behind any lasting electoral infrastructure. A professional police force of 6,000, initially trained by U.S. and Canadian officers, dwindled to about 3,000--most of whom are now partisan loyalists and who do little to protect Haiti's 7.8 million people. 8 After a new Coast Guard was set up to help apprehend drug traffickers, transhipments through the island actually increased from 10 percent to 14 percent according to a GAO study. 9 In 2000, some 80 percent of those in prison were simply awaiting trial from Haiti's "reformed" judiciary.
Over the last two years, the OAS has attempted to broker an agreement with both Aristide and the opposition on more than 20 occasions, discussing formulas that ranged from removing a few senators in contested seats to holding entirely new elections. Intransigence on both sides has blocked success. On September 4, 2002, in an effort to breathe new life into what has evolved into a dialogue largely with Aristide, the OAS adopted Resolution 822. In it, the OAS promised to recommend that international donors resume loans and aid, if in two months the government would prosecute those who authored the attacks and murders of political opponents, strengthen the police and the judiciary, and name a credible electoral commission--dropping previous requirements for an electoral accord with the opposition known collectively as the Democratic Convergence. (See sidebar: Dealing in Bad Faith.)
Departures of key ministers reflect on Aristide's ability to meet these conditions--at least concerning human rights and the rule of law. On September 20, 2002, Haiti's minister for electoral negotiations Marc Bazin resigned, faulting the president on human rights and economic policy. And on September 29, Justice Minister Jean Baptiste Brown stepped down, complaining that he found himself "unable to substantively address serious issues such as professionalization of the Haitian police and fighting against impunity." 10
If Haiti was pillaged by the Duvalier family, it has been battered by political turmoil ever since. According to the World Bank, real per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) declined about two percent per year during the 1980s. During the 1990s, it fell 2.5 percent per year. The lack of a functioning, transparent government and widespread corruption deserve much of the blame. The World Bank's 1998 Poverty Report put it more bluntly: "Haiti has never had a tradition of governance aimed at providing services to the population or creating an environment conducive to sustainable growth."
Last year, according to The Heritage Foundation's 2002 Index of Economic Freedom, Haiti, with nearly 8 million people, generated little more than a $2.9 billion gross domestic product, which amounts to $371 per capita--one of the lowest figures in the hemisphere. 11 In 1999, it imported $800 million worth of goods and services (half from the United States) while its exports only totaled $359 million. Adult literacy is now estimated at 48 percent, while unemployment stands at about 60 percent. Millions of adult Haitians eke out a living in subsistence agriculture in one of the most environmentally degraded places in the world, while only about 30,000 reportedly have jobs in manufacturing or assembly industries. Electricity is available for only a few hours a day and 80 percent of the nation's water supply is contaminated.
Thus far, direct assistance to Haiti has failed because the current government has followed the extra-institutional governing patterns of previous regimes: intimidating opponents, coercing entrepreneurs, and making empty promises to the nation's majority poor. While some Haitian elites view the situation with alarm, most remain largely silent, fearing retribution and attacks on their businesses. Sensing little momentum for change among the country's leaders, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended curtailing the United Nations International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH) in November 2000. 12 In 2001, he stressed that any resumption of aid could not take place without a resolution to the political crisis.
Grants channeled solely to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been more effectively spent to the point that the country probably could not function without them. NGOs maintain public health clinics, run schools, support grassroots civic organizations, and operate needed agricultural extension services. In FY 2000, the U.S. Agency for International Development disbursed $79.8 million in such assistance and, in FY 2001, $67 million--making the United States Haiti's largest donor. 13 But according to the World Bank, such programs are "short-term solutions" that do best at providing humanitarian relief and building minor infrastructure while leaving national institutions largely untouched. 14 More to the point, excessive reliance on them removes incentives to develop effective homegrown services.
Since returning to power, Aristide has used violence to intimidate opponents and enforce political discipline, resulting in death for some and exile for others. During the parliamentary, municipal, and local elections held May 21, 2000, President Préval and Aristide reportedly pressured 84-year-old Provisional Electoral Council chief Leon Manus to confirm a fraudulent vote count in favor of Lavalas candidates. "At the top governmental level, unequivocal messages were transmitted to me on the consequences that would follow if I refused to publish the false final results," he declared. Refusing to do so, he resigned and fled to the United States. 15
Established in 1995, the Haitian National Police (HNP) was intended to be an nonpartisan security force to replace the pro-junta military. Yet, in his second term of office, President Aristide politicized it, filling key positions with Lavalas party loyalists. 16 Although the police are not always abusive, they often stand by while partisan gangs commit crimes. A typical example of this occurred in May 2001, when a pro-government mob surrounded a house where the opposition Democratic Convergence was meeting in the city of Les Cayes. The mob threw rocks and fired weapons. Nearby police took more than an hour to respond. When they arrived, they arrested the Convergence leader inside, at first claiming they were protecting him, and then later stating that a complaint had been filed against him. 17
Now Aristide turns to mobs to do what the police cannot. His "zero tolerance" policy announced in June 2001 made it unnecessary to bring suspects to court if citizens or police caught them in a criminal act. According to Human Rights Watch in its 2002 World Report, "his words were widely interpreted by Haitians as an invitation to vigilante justice and police violence. Human rights groups reported that in the months following the speech, dozens of suspected thieves were killed by mobs."
Sadly, gang attacks have claimed the lives of others as well. Last December, Brignol Lindor, news director of Radio Echo 2000 in Petit-Goâve, was hacked to death by a partisan group. A few days before, the town's deputy mayor Dubay Bony reportedly called for "zero tolerance" to be enforced against a list of political opponents that included Lindor. An inquiry carried out by the Haitian Press Federation found that members from the popular organization, "Domi Nan Bwa," close to Lavalas, admitted committing the murder. In 2001 alone, 40 journalists were attacked or threatened and a dozen were forced into exile, according to the French-based Reporters Without Borders. 18
Ironically, the same mobs that Aristide unleashed on opponents are now involved in internecine power struggles. Some are competing for supremacy as Lavalas supporters. In others, discontent over unfulfilled promises and fears that Aristide may be purging some followers have created rebellion. Last August, street thugs in Gonaïves broke a former Lavalas militant out of jail and simultaneously released 158 prisoners, sparking riots that lasted more than two weeks. 19
Propping up Haiti's faltering government with blank checks will only deepen the country's misery, inviting funds to be pocketed by self-serving leaders and paid out to violent supporters. Another armed intervention would only impose a new fix at great cost, possibly with similarly disappointing results. After all, the Clinton Administration did both in backing a little understood politician in his bid to reclaim a lost presidency--committing $3 billion and 20,000 troops. It then compounded its difficulties by pursuing a quick-exit strategy that encouraged a subsequent multilateral pullout before functional institutions could be established. Now is not the moment to repeat those mistakes.
Denying aid while expecting Haiti's leadership to produce reforms by themselves only encourages the current disintegration of the state and the accelerated flight of refugees--impacting Caribbean neighbors, such as the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, as well as the United States. Last year, the Dominican Republic deported some 12,000 Haitian migrants and the rising tide of drug smuggling from Haiti prompted President Hipólito Mejía to double his military forces across the Dominican-Haitian border. 20 The Bahamas and the United States also receive asylum seekers, but more worrisome is the erosion of public security, extreme poverty, and attendant disorder that make Haiti a potential playground for international drug traffickers, criminals, and even terrorists.
Haiti's only hope for improvement is through targeted, supervised assistance to build institutions at the national level and sustained efforts to promote accountable, democratic governance at the community level. The challenge is to check authoritarian impulses of those who would unfairly impose their will on others and create space for democratic leaders and budding entrepreneurs. Some of the foundation has already been laid. In 1987, Haiti adopted a workable democratic constitution. Opposition parties exist and might eventually gain a foothold if they are permitted to reach out to a grassroots constituency. Independent media continue to broadcast and print, despite government and partisan intimidation. Moreover, Haitians are hardworking and their cities feature vibrant marketplaces where free choice is practiced on a daily basis.
In 2004, Haiti will celebrate its bicentennial as an independent republic. It would be nice if it could achieve some measure of progress by then. However, promoting a level playing field to enable democracy and transparency to flower could take decades. Unsupervised aid to the regime will not solve any problems, but rather will make them worse by putting money into the wrong hands. Assistance through NGOs buys time, but leaves no lasting solution. Only a sustained and coordinated commitment by the international community to provide direction will help establish the security umbrella necessary to ensure that the practices of compromise and consensus can take hold.
the interim, disaffected officials from the current government,
dissidents, and the unemployed poor will continue to flee to the
United States, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas--wherever
they think their chances of survival and earning a living are
better. They will be competing with hundreds of thousands of
migrants fleeing violence in Colombia, misrule in Venezuela,
economic meltdown in Argentina, and other American states with
troubled economies or simmering disaffection. Helping all of these
hemispheric neighbors resolve their difficulties is a daunting task
and U.S. policymakers will face hard choices in deciding how
where to employ scarce resources.
If Haiti's government accepts targeted assistance with supervision, the road to peace and prosperity will still be long. For one thing, the tradition of winner-take-all politics and economic predation hangs like a pall over any outcome. For another, the countryside is an environmental disaster; and depleted resources are forcing what was once a
rural society into cities where there are few jobs, promoting social fragmentation. But if Haiti's leaders do not accept conditions and instead choose to go on ruling with impunity, the road will also be steeply uphill. Existing businesses may pull out of Haiti's turbulent economy and the state could dissolve amid worse violence and chaos. In that case, Haiti's progress will depend almost entirely on small steps at the local level to encourage the kind of consensus that one day would allow ordinary Haitians to determine their own future.
Stephen Johnson is Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
2. Approved on March 10, 1987. The charter reduced the president's authority, established separation of powers, provided for electoral competition, and guaranteed basic rights. However since adoption, it has been suspended, restored, and, in practice, ignored.
12. In doing so, Secretary-General Annan condemned Aristide's missteps and decried the tug-of-war between the Lavalas Party and its political opponents. See United Nations, "United Nations International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti," Report of the Secretary-General, A/55/618, November 9, 2000.
15. The two-round election reportedly cost the United States $23 million to help set up. See Mark Fineman, "Haiti Election Offers Voters No Choices," The Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2000. Manus also claimed that Lavalas only won five of the 17 contested seats in the Senate outright, as opposed to 16 claimed by the government. See also "Haiti Defies Critics, Lets Elections Stand," Associated Press, July 20, 2000.
16. Following President Aristide's inauguration for a second term in February 2001, Haiti's internationally regarded Judiciary Police director Mario Andrésol was replaced by a man described as the president's chaffeur, then pursued by gunmen who turned out to be fellow officers, and detained on suspicion of inciting a coup--all presumably on Aristide's orders. During his tenure, Andrésol uncovered money-laundering plots and confiscated drugs from persons close to Aristide. Mark Fineman, "Haitian Lawman Released," Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2001, p. A-3.
19. Amiot Metayer, head of a Lavalas support group called the "Cannibal Army," charged that Aristide was treating his supporters like criminals and called for his ouster. After the prison break and riots that rocked Gonaïves, Metayer and his followers resolved their differences with Aristide and declared renewed allegiance to the president. See "Metayer Calls for Aristide Overthrow," Radio Signal (Haiti), August 6, 2002 on the Haiti Democracy Project website at http://haiti.cjb.net (October 16, 2002); and "Latest from Gonaïves," Signal FM (Haiti), August 13, 2002, also at http://haiti.cjb.net (October 16, 2002).
21. For an incisive critique of this strategy, see Georges A. Fauriol, "Haiti Alert--Searching for Haiti Policy: The Next Ninety Days," Center for Strategic and International Studies, Hemisphere Focus, Volume IX, Issue 3, June 19, 2001, at http://www.csis.org/americas/pubs/h010619.htm (December 18, 2001).
22. Supervision should be maintained until a climate exists that ensures the independence and safety of electoral officials and poll workers. The United Nations provided such oversight for elections in Mozambique in October 1994.
23. According to James R. Morrell, Director of the Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project, the current aid cutoff may not hold up to Aristide's calculated strategy to exploit "natural sympathy for the hemisphere's poorest nation." He also concludes that the policy of aid denial, although principled, may be too passive to keep Haiti's problems at bay. See Morrell's report "U.S. Policy Options Toward Haiti," Haiti Democracy Project, September 10, 2002, at http://www.inxil.com/~haiti/beta/beta2/page.php?cat=art&articleID=158 (October 9, 2002).
24. "President Proposes $5 Billion Plan to Help Developing Nations," Remarks by President George W. Bush of Global Development at the Inter-American Development Bank, Washington, D.C., March 14, 2002.
25. The Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act of 2002 was introduced October 16, 2002, in both the U.S. Senate (S. 3123) and the House of Representatives (H.R. 5560). It would amend the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act to allow Haiti additional trade preferences, provided its government makes continual progress toward establishing a market economy, the rule of law, and policies to reduce poverty and improve education, Moreover, the bill implores Haiti to combat bribery and corruption, protect human rights, and deny support for terrorists.