Finishing the Unfinished Revolution: Strengthening Democracy and Development in Haiti
In my most recent article, I argued that the Haitian Revolution which produced the first Black Republic in the world was one of the most important revolutions in history. Never before had humankind witnessed an enslaved people rising up to defeat the super-powers of the day to achieve self-determination and nationhood. But as we discussed, the Haitian people have never really been permitted to fully realize the potential of this improbable triumph because the western slave masters were determined that these "uppity" Africans would be punished for shattering the myth of white supremacy. So, Haiti's path to democracy and development has been thwarted by denigration, isolation, marginalization and the chronic intervention into its affairs by foreign powers.
Haiti has also had its internal contradictions, not the least of which has been a small mullato elite who owns the vast majority of the land, resources and wealth and has callously neglected or ruthlessly crushed the aspirations of the Haitian masses. This has often occurred in collaboration with and at the behest of foreign powers. This was certainly the case during the "Cold War" when the U.S. backed the draconian dictatorship of the Duvaliers with no regard for the regime's brutal suppression of democracy and human rights. Indeed, the competition within the elite to gain power for self-aggrandizement and the perennial tension/conflict between the "masses and the classes" have retarded the process of developing a sustained culture of democracy and people oriented development in Haiti. Chronic political instability and economic underdevelopment have been the order of the day. In a real sense, the Haitian Revolution is an unfinished revolution; a Black Republic that has been reduced to being "the poorest nation in the western hemisphere."
Therefore, the critical imperative of the 21st century for Haiti and its allies/friends abroad is to finish the unfinished Revolution. And, this process must begin with a change in behavior by the U.S. and the western powers that have consistently trampled on the aspirations of the Haitian masses. In this regard, the U.S. government must take the lead by nurturing and supporting rather than interfering with and disrupting the fragile process of democratization in Haiti - including events of the most recent past. Secondly, the U.S. must demonstrate its respect for Haiti and the Haitian people by ending the racist, discriminatory and insulting policy towards Haitian refugees. Haitian refugees to this country should be treated the same as Cuban refugees; granted expedited hearings, Green Cards where appropriate, and a path to citizenship.
As this article goes to press, Trans Africa Forum has issued an urgent alert appealing to friends of Haiti to mobilize to block the deportation of some 30,000 Haitians who have been held in U.S. detention facilities. These refugees should be granted Temporary Protective Status (TPS) immediately. It is also important to halt these deportations because included in the mix are Haitians with criminal records who are being sent back because of immigration violations. Without a process for re-education, re-orientation and orderly re-entry into Haitian society, these deportees are prone to associate with or create criminal enterprises that can pose a threat to Haiti's security/stability. The U.S. Government must adopt a policy and process for the orderly re-entry of deportees that have run afoul of the law in this country.
In addition to major reforms in policy towards Haitian refugees and deportees with criminal records, the U.S. government can take several steps to significantly enhance and accelerate the process of democracy and development in Haiti.
Under the Jubilee Initiative, the U.S. should forgive hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, much of which was incurred during the regime of the Duvaliers. Ridding Haiti of this burden would be an enormous boost to the economy. In addition, working in a coordinating manner with Haitian authorities, the U.S. should devote significant resources to drug interdiction. Currently Haiti is a transshipment point for drugs between Columbia and markets in the U.S. In a desperately poor nation, the lure of profits from such a lucrative enterprise can engender pervasive corruption and degeneration of institutions of government, including the police and the courts. The U.S. must spare no effort to prevent Haiti from becoming a narco-state. Closely tied to this critical initiative is the urgent need to assist Haiti to build a viable, effective, politically neutral National Police Force and an efficiently functioning, impartial judiciary. Police and judges must be reasonably compensated to avoid the corrosive seduction of the drug traffic.
In terms of economic assistance, the U.S. must take the lead within the international community by sending aid for health, education, housing, infrastructure and other essential social programs directly to the Government as opposed to funneling it through Non-governmental Agencies (NGOs). Because of political instability, corruption, the lack of transparency and occasionally to punish particular Governments, the U.S. and the international community have directed aid via NGOs. This has had the effect of seriously undermining the capacity of the Government to meet some of the most vital needs of the country, thereby rendering it impotent and irrelevant in the eyes of the people. With successful efforts to improve systems of transparency and accountability under the current Government, this debilitating practice must end.
Finally, there are two additional public policy proposals which the Haiti Support Project (HSP) of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) feels are of paramount importance. Massive unemployment/joblessness poses the greatest threat to stability and security in Haiti. While the passage of the HOPE Act to provide incentives for the manufacturing sector in Haiti was an important step, in essence it is a "trickle down" initiative which will take time to have maximum effect. In the meantime, millions of Haitians languish in poverty without jobs or the prospect of attaining employment in the near future. A huge number of the jobless are also young people who absent productive alternatives can become easy prey to the illicit economy.
Faced with this potentially combustible situation, HSP has strongly recommended that the U.S. and the international community collaborate with the Government of Haiti to create a massive New Deal, Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) type public works program that would put a minimum of 300,000 - 500,000 Haitians to work building, repairing and maintaining highways and bridges, building schools, hospitals and health care clinics, restoring historical sites, cleaning up the environment and undertaking massive reforestation projects. Taking a page from countries like Brazil, Haiti should also engage workers in projects that lay the foundation for a green economy. Education and vocational training should be an integral part of such a program in order to prepare the participants in the program for gainful employment in permanent careers as Haiti's economy expands.
In addition to a WPA, CCC type public works program, Haiti needs to create a National Strategic Highway Authority. One of the most frustrating and economically crippling realities in Haiti is the seeming inability to build and maintain a system of roads and highways. It is absolutely axiomatic that business/commerce in Haiti will not thrive, including the crucial cultural-historical tourism sector, until the most vital highways can be paved and maintained on an ongoing basis. Accordingly, the Government should identify the highways which are most crucial to Haiti's business/commercial development and designate them Strategic Highways. Rather than rely on the existing process of bidding out the construction and maintenance of these highways to the private sector, for a definable period, the Government would create a public authority charged with building and maintaining the nation's Strategic Highways. In so doing the life sustaining arteries of the economy will always be open for business!
While these policy prescriptions are not exhaustive, if adopted, they would go some distance in this crucial period in propelling Haiti along the path of sustained development. But, these proposals will count for little unless Haiti addresses some of its internal political contradictions. Chronic political instability must give way to a vibrant, resilient and sustained democracy.
From its inception, the tension/conflict between the wealthy elite and the impoverished masses has been a dominant theme in Haitian history. Moreover, while the passion for freedom and fierce fighting spirit to achieve it were characteristics which enabled the Haitian freedom fighters to defeat Napoleon, that same passion too often has manifested itself internally in political factionalism, zero sum politics and a winner take all attitude. Put another way, Haitians find it difficult to compromise and reconcile with each other when it comes to issues of politics, power and governance. This condition has been exacerbated by the intrusion of outside forces in nation's affairs, including the most recent disruption of Haiti's nascent democracy.
The corrective is to develop and nurture a culture of democracy which creates an agreed upon framework for promoting national goals and working out differences. Though the nation's constitution is helpful in this regard, ultimately enhancing the culture of democracy requires a systematic and sustained period of national reflection and dialogue among the political class and the masses of the Haitian people to constructively examine its political culture, the successes and failures of past regimes and foster justice and reconciliation. There must emerge a critical mass from all strata within society dedicated to bridging the political divides that have historically hampered Haiti's capacity to achieve a stable and enduring democracy. In this endeavor, the U.S. and the international community must be committed to nourishing this process as opposed to opportunistically operating to undermine and destroy it.
People of African descent, America and the world owe a debt of gratitude to Haiti for being at the forefront of the struggle for freedom and human rights through the Haitian Revolution and the declaration of the first Black Republic in the world. Now it is time to collectively pay that debt by rolling up our sleeves and respectfully aiding the Haitian people to finish the unfinished Haitian Revolution!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. He is the host of An Hour with Professor Ron Daniels, Monday-Friday mornings on WWRL Radio 1600 AM in New York and Night Talk, Wednesday evenings on WBAI 99.5 FM, Pacifica New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and http://stateoftheblackworld.blogspot.com. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org