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Haiti - Government and Politics

WHEN IT SECURED ITS INDEPENDENCE from France, Haiti moved to the forefront of political history. The Haitian Revolution took place at the same period as the American and the French revolutions, and Haiti was one of the first nations to abolish slavery. In some ways, however, Haiti's political development lagged behind that of other nations. Its government functioned like a protostate compared with the more modern systems that evolved in other states. Authoritarianism, typical among archaic states based on monarchy and despotism, characterized Haiti's political history. Haitian governments historically had lacked well-developed institutions, elaborate bureaucracies, and an ability to do more than maintain power and extract wealth from a large peasant base. Haiti's rural areas, where the majority of the population lives, traditionally has benefited least from government expenditures, and they have suffered for the past 500 years from virtually uninterrupted military domination.

In the late 1980s, the Haitian political system was in a profound state of crisis, which became acute during the waning months of 1985 as swelling popular unrest led to the fall of the Jean-Claude Duvalier government on February 7, 1986. After Duvalier's fall, a series of short-lived governments ruled the country.

In retrospect, the post-Duvalier period may be viewed as a transition to consolidation of longer-term control over the Haitian state by one (or more) of several competing political factions. In mid-1989, however, the political situation continued to be in a state of flux; many claimants to power competed with each other, while Haiti's public institutions languished. Even Haiti's armed forces, the country's most powerful institution, suffered from factionalism, corruption, and a general breakdown in the chain of command. Pressure to overhaul the political system mounted. To a significant degree, the political crisis of the transitional period pitted regressive Duvalierist elements, who advocated complete or partial restoration of the ancien régime, against popular aspirations for change.

The spectacle of five successive governments between February 1986 and September 1988 reflected the nation's political instability. This period witnessed the election of a constituent assembly, the popular ratification of a new constitution, repeated massacres of citizens exercising their political rights- -such as the right to vote in free elections--and battles between army factions. The succession of governments included the decaying, hereditary dynasty of the Duvaliers; the military-civilian National Council of Government (Conseil National de Gouvernement--CNG) led by Lieutenant General Henri Namphy, that underwent several changes in membership, leading to a reduction in the size of, and the civilian representation in, the government; a four-month civilian government headed by President Leslie F. Manigat, who rose to power because the armed forces rigged the election; another government headed by Namphy as military dictator, originating after a coup against Manigat; and the replacement of Namphy by Lieutenant General Prosper Avril in yet another military coup. Threats from army factions and opposition from the old Duvalierist right wing continued to plague the Avril government.

This apparent instability, however, tended to mask underlying political continuities. Before the fall of the Duvaliers, the last crisis of succession in Haiti had taken place in 1956-57, when President Paul Magloire attempted to extend his constitutional term of office. During the period following Magloire's overthrow, five governments rose and fell within the nine-month period prior to the accession of François Duvalier to the presidency. There were also battles between competing army factions during this period. From a longer perspective, the postDuvalier period resembled the nineteenth century in Haiti, when transitory governments held power between relatively long periods of stability.



Although François Duvalier came to power through elections in 1957, he lost all credibility because of a fraudulent re-election in 1961, a rigged referendum in 1964 that confirmed him as Haiti's president for life, and the severe and unrelenting repression he dealt out, primarily through the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale--VSN), or tonton makouts (bogeymen). Duvalier ("Papa Doc") extended his illegitimate rule beyond his death by naming his son JeanClaude ("Baby Doc") as his successor.

Jean-Claude Duvalier came to power in 1971, under the informal regency of his mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier, and a small inner circle of Duvalierists. As Jean-Claude matured and began to assert his power independently of his mother and her advisers, some minor reforms in Haitian life took place. By the late 1970s, Jean-Claude had restored some freedom of the press and had allowed the formation of fledgling opposition political parties as well as the organization of a human rights league. This brief period of liberalization, however, ended with the arrest and the expulsion of a number of union leaders, journalists, party activists, and human-rights advocates in November 1980. Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and leaders of peasant organizations also suffered arrest and intimidation. These arrests heralded a period of heightened government repression that lasted throughout the balance of Duvalier's tenure.

Duvalier's 1980 marriage to Michèle Bennett resulted in Simone Duvalier's exile and created new factional alliances within the ruling group. The Duvalier-Bennett clique amassed wealth at an unprecedented rate during the remainder of JeanClaude 's presidency for life. The concomitant sharp deterioration in the already dismal quality of life of most Haitians prompted Pope John Paul II to declare in a speech in Haiti in 1983 that "things must change here." His call for social and political justice signaled a new era of church activism in Haiti.

The 1983 promulgation of a new constitution--Haiti's twentieth since 1801--and the February 1984 legislative elections, heavily weighted in favor of Duvalierist candidates, did little or nothing to legitimize Duvalier's rule. These efforts were met by antigovernment riots in Gonaïves in 1984 and 1985. In response, "Baby Doc" attempted to manipulate further the "liberalized" system he had established. Constitutional amendments, approved in 1985 by a fraudulent referendum (a traditional Duvalierist legalism), created the post of prime minister, confirmed the presidency for life as a permanent institution, guaranteed the president the right to name his successor, and provided for severe restrictions on the registration of political parties. Duvalierists organized into the National Progressive Party (Parti National Progressiste--PNP) in anticipation of future manipulated elections. New outbreaks of popular unrest shattered Duvalier's plans, however, and he was eventually forced into exile in February 1986.

The popular revolt, known in Creole as operation déchoukaj (operation uprooting), sought to destroy the foundations of Duvalierism. Its strikes and mass demonstrations reflected the Duvalier regime's general loss of support. In response, the CNG annulled the Duvalierist constitution and held elections for a constituent assembly in October 1986. This assembly produced a new constitution in 1987. Haitians overwhelmingly ratified the document by popular vote on March 29, 1987. At that point, a number of observers seemed optimistic about Haiti's potential transition to democracy. This optimism proved short-lived, however.

The Constitution mandated the formation of an independent electoral council. The Provisional Electoral Council (Conseil Electoral Provisoire--CEP), established in early 1987, initially fulfilled this requirement. Relations between the CEP and the CNG, however, weakened, and by June they had degenerated into open conflict over proposed electoral guidelines. The CNG disbanded the CEP, proposed its own electoral council, and abolished an important opposition trade union. This attempt by the military-dominated CNG to control the electoral process met with strong popular opposition. Strikes and civil unrest eventually forced the CNG to reinstate the independent electoral council, which set presidential elections for November 29, 1987, but postponed local elections.

The presidential campaign was a volatile affair. Two presidential candidates were assassinated, and controversy gripped the CEP with regard to the application of Article 291 of the Constitution, which banned participation by Duvalierist candidates. The campaign officially opened in October, with thirty-five presidential candidates registered. The CEP eventually recognized twenty-three of these candidates and disbarred twelve as Duvalierists. In apparent retaliation, Duvalierist provocateurs are reported to have burned CEP headquarters. By election day, about 2.2 million voters--73 percent of the voting-age population--had registered. Voter turnout on the morning of November 29 was reported to be heavy. Balloting was suspended, however, by midmorning because armed paramilitary groups, linked to old tonton makout leaders who were reportedly protected by certain army officers, massacred an estimated 34 voters at the polls.

After the 1987 electoral debacle, the CNG announced the formation of a new electoral council, controlled by the government, and scheduled new elections for January 17, 1988. Four leading presidential candidates withdrew from the race in protest over the military's attempts to control the electoral process. The balloting went ahead as scheduled, however, amid a low voter turnout and allegations of fraud. The CNG's electoral council declared Leslie F. Manigat, of the small Coalition of Progressive National Democrats (Rassemblement des Démocrates Nationaux Progressistes--RDNP) the winner. Manigat took office on February 7. Namphy and the army deposed Manigat on June 20, following a dispute over army appointments. Manigat made the mistake of trying to assert constitutional control over the armed forces rather than serving as a figurehead. In response, Namphy and the army deposed Manigat on June 20 of that same year, and Haiti returned to direct military government for the first time since 1956. Namphy formally rescinded the 1987 Constitution in July 1988.

Human-rights abuses increased during Namphy's tenure as the army did little to discourage the violent backlash of Duvalierist groups. These abuses climaxed on Sunday, September 11, when a group of former tonton makouts entered the Church of Saint John Bosco in Port-au-Prince (pastored by a prominent opposition priest), murdered a number of worshipers, and set the church on fire. On September 17, noncommissioned officers of the Presidential Guard (Garde Présidentielle) ousted Namphy and replaced him with Lieutenant General Prosper Avril. Avril proceeded to purge the army command and the government cabinet in an attempt to solidify his position. In October, Avril arrested fifteen soldiers and noncommissioned officers who had helped to bring him to power.

In early 1989, instability intensified as labor unions and other groups staged demonstrations throughout the country. In an attempt to achieve some sort of stability, Avril convened a National Forum on February 7, with strong participation from centrist politicians, to explore the possibility of re-establishing an electoral calendar. In a further conciliatory move, the government excluded key Duvalierists from the forum. Avril also partially restored the 1987 Constitution on March 13. In line with the Constitution, the government announced the formation of a new independent electoral commission, the Permanent Electoral Council (Conseil Electoral Permanent--CEP). The CEP members took office in April.

From April 2 to 8, factional struggles in the military evolved into two attempted coups supported by old-line Duvalierists, former tonton makout leaders, and high-level army officers implicated in drug trafficking. Key elements of the Presidential palace guard, however, remained loyal to Avril, who survived the coup attempts and emerged with a strengthened hand. In an attempt to head off future challenges, Avril abolished the rebel army units and began to disperse their troops into scattered provincial outposts. Avril managed to retain power, but the events of April 1989 had left the armed forces divided. The domestic situation continued to be extremely unstable, and the future political course of the nation was unpredictable.


Haitian heads of state have often drafted and abolished the nation's constitutions at will, treating the documents as their own personal charters. However, when the 1987 Constitution replaced the Duvalierist 1983 constitution, the popular referendum that ratified the Constitution was free and fair; it demonstrated widespread support for the new document. Nevertheless, the interim governments have not taken the provisions of the Constitution seriously. Through a simple presidential decree, Namphy suspended the document in 1988, and Avril only partially reinstated it in 1989.

The 1987 Constitution is a modern, progressive, democratic document. It guarantees a series of basic rights to the citizenry. It declares the intent to establish democracy in Haiti, and it includes ideological pluralism, electoral competition, and the separation of powers. Several provisions seek to reshape the system and the political tradition bequeathed to the nation by the Duvaliers. In particular, the Constitution reduces the president's constitutional powers, decentralizes governmental authority, and establishes elected councils for local government. Police and army functions are disaggregated. The Constitution also establishes an independent judiciary and subordinates military personnel to civilian courts in all cases that involve civilians. Under the Constitution, individuals are barred from public office for ten years if they have served as "architects" of the Duvalierist dictatorship, enriched themselves from public funds, inflicted torture on political prisoners, or committed political assassinations. The Constitution abolishes the death penalty and focuses on the protection of civil rights through detailed restrictions on the arrest and the detainment of citizens. It calls for the establishment of a career civil service based on merit and for job security, and it recognizes both Creole and French as official languages.

The Constitution establishes three major branches of government--legislative, executive, and judicial--and notes that these branches are essential to a civil state and that they must be independent of each other. Legislative powers are vested in two chambers, the House of Deputies and the Senate. Deputies and senators are elected by direct suffrage. Deputies represent municipalities (or communes), and senators represent geographic departments.

In the executive branch, the president of the republic serves as head of state. A prime minister, chosen by the president from the majority party in the legislature, heads the government. Other components of the executive branch include cabinet ministers and secretaries of state.

The judiciary consists of the Court of Cassation (supreme court), courts of appeal, and other smaller courts. The president appoints judges on the basis of lists submitted by various elected bodies, including the Senate and departmental and municipal assemblies.

The Constitution also provides for several special institutions and autonomous governmental offices that include the CEP, the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, the Conciliation Commission (a body responsible for settling disputes between executive and legislative branches and between the two houses of the legislature), the Office of Citizen Protection (an ombudsman organization established to protect citizens against abuse by the government), the State University of Haiti, the Haitian Academy (responsible for standardizing the Creole language), and the National Institute of Agrarian Reform.

The Constitution contains a number of provisions intended to guide the country during transitions between elected governments. These provisions include the creation of an electoral council with sufficient autonomy to hold local and national elections, free of outside interference. The Constitution calls for the replacement of the provisional council by a permanent electoral council following a transition to civilian government.

When General Avril reinstated the Constitution in March 1989, he created an electoral council according to the constitutional formula, but he also temporarily suspended thirty-eight articles. Under the partially restored Constitution, the president of the military government could exercise power until a presidential election was organized. Legislative powers were similarly suspended pending elections. The suspended constitutional elements included Article 42-1, Article 42-2, and Article 42-3, which require the trial of military personnel in civilian courts for charges of high treason or of conflicts and abuses involving civilians. Other suspended articles refer to the constitutional separation of powers among the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government and the military. These suspensions immunized military personnel against legal charges stemming from the constitutional protection of citizen rights. They also allowed the military to carry out activities that the Constitution reserved for the executive or the legislative branches.


The formally reinstated 1987 Constitution did not accurately reflect the government of Haiti in 1989, however. The only constitutional reform that the Avril government had actually implemented was the new CEP. The reinstatement of the Constitution was essentially a mere gesture and not a restoration of the political process initiated by the 1986-87 constituent assembly. Under the partially restored Constitution, the Haitian president, drawn from the military, actually controlled all executive, legislative, and military functions. In the absence of a legislature, the president ruled by decree. This form of transitional military government also usurped judicial functions.

<>Governmental Institutions
<>The Functions of the State
<>Urban Dominance, Rural Stagnation

Haiti - Governmental Institutions

Avril's military government administered the country through a cabinet that included thirteen ministerial portfolios as of mid-1989. The most powerful of these posts was the Ministry of Interior and National Defense, which combined administrative responsibilities over the nation's armed forces and the police. As of mid-1989, no legislative body existed in Haiti.

A number of military and civil jurisdictions existed throughout Haiti. The jurisdictional system resulted in preferential treatment for the government of Port-au-Prince over the rest of the country. Most institutions were concentrated in the capital city. Moreover, the military either ran or dominated the most elaborate institutions.At the level of departments (départements) and rural communal sections, a military office served as the sole government representative. Thus, both the largest and the smallest subdivisions were exclusively military jurisdictions.

Furthermore, the structure of jurisdictions and the distribution of government institutions were generally asymmetrical. The military subdivisions of departments (i.e., districts, subdistricts, and guard posts) did not correspond to civil jurisdictions such as counties (arrondissements) or municipalities. Units identified as police functioned only in Port-au-Prince. The technical ministries, such as agriculture or public health, generally did not maintain offices at the level of municipalities or rural communal sections. At the municipality level, the most widely diffused national civil institution was the tax office. In any case, most people in Haiti lived in rural sections, where the civil functions of government were virtually nonexistent.

Under transitional military government, the judiciary did not function as the Constitution directed. Moreover, the formal structure of the judiciary was in a state of flux. The Haitian judiciary had usually had a marginal relationship to society, and it had generally failed to protect the rights of citizens. The masses of the citizenry were largely excluded from the duly constituted system of courts and due process. Under the dictatorial rule of François Duvalier, the court system was virtually suspended.

Haiti derived the formal aspects of its legal system from Roman law, the Napoleonic Code, and the French system of civil law. The highest court, the Court of Cassation, consisted of a president, a vice president, and ten judges. It functioned in two chambers, with five judges in each but it would function as a whole when it heard appeals and pleas of the unconstitutionality of laws and decrees. Judges of the Court of Cassation had to be at least thirty years old, had to have practiced law for at least ten years, and had to have held the position of judge or public attorney for at least seven years.

Below the Court of Cassation were four courts of appeal, located in Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Gonaïves, and Cap-Haïtien. The court at Port-au-Prince had a president and five judges, whereas the others had a president and four judges. These courts heard both civil and criminal cases, including all appeals from courts of first instance and criminal appeals from justice of the peace courts when a serious matter was involved. To be appointed to these courts, judges had to have been either judges of courts of first instance for three years or military advocates for at least ten years.

Courts of first instance were either civil tribunals or criminal tribunals. Both were located in major cities. Each court had one judge and various other officers. These courts heard many first-instance civil cases and all criminal cases other than police matters. Judges in these courts were required to have practiced law for at least two years.

The justice of the peace courts were located in each of the country's 126 municipalities and in other places. Each court had at least one judge and other officials. According to the law, a justice of the peace was required to have a law degree, to be at least twenty-five years old, to be in full enjoyment of civil and political rights, and to have completed a probationary period of at least one year. These courts heard all cases involving limited amounts of money, including first-instance cases. They also handled landlord and tenant cases. Their jurisdiction in criminal matters extended only to cases where the penalty did not exceed six months in jail.

In addition, there were special courts that dealt with administrative contracts, property rights, juveniles, and labor conflicts.

The president of Haiti appointed all judges. Those in the Court of Cassation and the courts of appeal served ten years; the others served seven years.

Haiti - The Functions of the State

Most Haitians viewed government functionaries as beneficiaries of patronage and the spoils system rather than as public servants. The state traditionally supported and maintained the established political order and extracted wealth from the population. Citizens therefore expected little or nothing from government. Rather, they saw the state as an entity that confiscated, taxed, prohibited, or imprisoned.

The Haitian government also traditionally served as a source of jobs. Political favoritism and bribery characterized the system. One common Creole expression holds that "Jijman se kob" (court rulings are money). Political scientists have used terms such as kleptocracy, predatory state, government-by- franchise, and autocolonization in their descriptions of the Haitian system of taxation, patronage, corruption, public monopolies, and private monopolies protected by the state.

The state had developed a relatively elaborate apparatus for taxation, but it provided only limited public services. Most Haitians relied on foreign-assistance agencies and on nongovernmental institutions for services provided by most other governments. For example, education was the most elaborate public-service sector, but the majority of children still attended nongovernmental schools. The state's abdication of its role as service provider created a situation in which foreign-assistance agencies served as a kind of shadow government.

Government institutions in Port-au-Prince provided at least the facade of public services through the Ministry of Public Health and Population; the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural "Resources, and Rural Development; the Ministry of National Education, Youth, and Sports; and other ministries. These ministries had no representatives in most rural areas, however, and they provided relatively few services even in Port-au-Prince. Government budgets for public services generally accounted for salaries, but they provided little or no budget support for program implementation.

Aside from the army, Haiti's key state institution had traditionally been the customs house, the primary source of tax revenues. The state also extracted wealth through its control over certain essential services and through public and private monopoly ownership of key commodity-based enterprises. This system contributed to the country's political instability because it politicized important sectors of the country's economy.

Haiti - Urban Dominance, Rural Stagnation

A sharp administrative division existed between rural and urban jurisdictions. The capital city dominated the urban sector. National political institutions and decisions focused on Port-au-Prince, and they were far removed from the lives of most Haitians. References to the "Republic of Port-au-Prince" reflected this reality. The political system affected all Haitians, but changes in government generally had little direct impact on the lives of rural Haitians.

Data from 1984 suggested that the government spent about 65 percent of its revenues in Port-au-Prince, a city with roughly 20 percent of the nation's population. In effect, taxes levied in rural areas paid the salaries of a privileged group of city dwellers.

Foreign assistance also tended to exacerbate rural-urban differences. About 40 percent of all public foreign aid benefited Port-au-Prince.

In rural Haiti, the army was the government. The official role of the armed forces was national defense, but most members of the military carried out police functions. Perhaps the most influential presence was that of the denim-uniformed corps of 562 rural section chiefs (chefs de section) and their assistants. People commonly referred to the section chief and his corps of assistants as leta (the state), although the section chiefs constituted more on auxiliary corps and were not members of the regular army.

The rural section chiefs were usually recruited from a small class of landed peasant families known as gro neg (big man) or gran abitan (large peasant). These families generally had other economic interests in addition to farming, including grain speculation, moneylending, and various forms of commerce. Appointments of section chiefs were usually based on political ties, factional alliances, and bribes. In many cases the positions were inherited.

The role of section chief involved much more than conventional police functions. As the sole government representative in rural areas, the section chief levied taxes and fines, mediated disputes, and served as a civil registry. These responsibilities placed the section chief in a powerful political and economic position. He was well situated to collect bribes; rural police refused to provide services to citizens who did not make special payments to them. The virtual absence of competing power brokers buttressed the section chiefs' positions. The 1987 Constitution set up rural government councils in an attempt to curb abuses by section chiefs and to mediate the interests of rural citizens in the political process. These councils, however, were also subject to graft and corruption.

Centralized authority in the presidency contrasted with the decentralized exercise of authority by local government officials. Port-au-Prince provided no policy direction for local governments, and it did little to monitor them. Few funds were made available to local governments for expenses other than salaries. Certain local officials, such as section chiefs, exercised absolute power within their local jurisdictions. They did not depend on salaries for their income; in a sense, they purchased from the state the privilege of collecting revenues by virtue of their authority and their power to grant favors.


The Haitian political system has historically displayed certain enduring features. The post-Duvalier transition, for example, was similar in some ways to previous crises of succession. Power Maintenance

According to the Duvaliers, Haiti was a republic, wherein power passed smoothly from father to son in 1971. In reality, however, the country resembled a monarchy. This "dynastic republicanism" was merely a new variant of the traditional Haitian system of competition among personalist factions. The dynastic republicanism began when François Duvalier simply extended his term in office beyond its prescribed six years. As Duvalier was well aware, there was ample precedent in Haitian history for this move. Duvalier's immediate predecessors all tried to extend their prescribed terms in office. After extending his term, Duvalier declared himself president. Nine of Duvalier's predecessors had designated themselves chiefs-of-state for life. Duvalier then established the hereditary presidency. Haitian monarchs Henri (Henry) Christophe (1807-20) and Faustin Soulouque (1847-59) had attempted to establish hereditary succession more than a century earlier. In short, the primary goal of most Haitian leaders has been to maintain themselves in power for as long as possible.

<>Army Politics
<>The President
<>Perceptions of Democracy
<>The Mass Media

Haiti - Army Politics

The Haitian army has traditionally played the role of political arbiter. The precedent for this role can be traced to eighteenth-century colonial Saint-Domingue. The early leaders of Haiti established strong military rule during the revolutionary period (1791-1804). The leading general of the revolution, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, declared himself the French governor-for-life in the preindependence constitution of 1801. The French Revolution also affected events in Haiti. At the time that Haiti achieved independence, France was ruled by Napoléon Bonaparte, a preeminent military figure who eventually declared himself emperor. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first Haitian head of state, was also a victorious general who declared himself emperor. From 1804 to 1913, almost all Haitian heads of state were military officers. Military occupation by the United States (1915-34) served to reinforce the central role of military power in society.

The army clearly exercised its power, as the supreme arbiter of political destinies, during the political succession of François Duvalier in 1957. At that point, however, history took a different turn. By 1962, Duvalier had effectively undermined the authority of the regular army by legitimizing the tonton makouts as a paramilitary counterforce, the VSN. The VSN, devoted to maintaining power and repressing political opposition, was considerably larger than the army; it consisted primarily of rural dwellers.

Duvalier's ability to maintain power can be attributed largely to his neutralization of the military as an independent political force. The idea of a paramilitary counterforce also had historical precedent. Soulouque made effective use of the zinglins, precursors to the tonton makouts. During his presidential campaign, François Duvalier organized a private paramilitary group known as cagoulards (hooded men).

For years the VSN has had a strong base of support in rural Haiti; from the same segments of the population that filled the ranks of the irregular military forces known as cacos and piquets during the pre-occupation era. Duvalier's decision to legitimize the VSN was clever, partly because it co-opted disenfranchised groups into the established political system at relatively little cost to the regime. Militia members were volunteers who were even willing to pay fees to local VSN commanders for permission to join the force. Volunteers were familiar with the VSN's opportunities for personal gain through corruption. To raise money, local VSN commanders periodically disbanded their units and recruited new members who would pay to join the force.

Forces that countered military power were set up within the military itself at certain points in Haiti's history. President Sténio Vincent (1930-41) first created a presidential guard in the 1930s, and he had heavy weapons brought into the presidential palace. This guard helped Vincent maintain power for eleven years; it played a key role in the political fates of all of Vincent's successors. The Leopards Corps, created by Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1970s, represented yet another variant of a specialized army corps assigned the responsibilities of maintaining presidential power and discouraging coups d'état.

More recently, Avril's core of support also lay clearly within the Presidential Guard. As of mid-1989, Avril had not fully consolidated his power base, and contenders vied for his position as military chief of state. Avril was also forced to contend with army and nonmilitary groups linked to the tonton makouts. The tonton makouts, although abolished in 1986, were never effectively disbanded. They continued to play a leading role in the politics of the army, and they, together with the Duvalierists, appeared to represent the central obstacle to Avril's consolidation of power. Ironically, these were the same people to whom he owed personal and political debts.

Haiti - The President

The focus of Haitian politics has always been the presidency. Weakly developed separation of powers has reflected this situation. Legislative bodies and elections, which have existed for centuries, have generally only assisted the chief of state in obtaining whatever he wished.

Haitian writers have often described the country's obsession with the presidency in pathological terms. As a young writer, long before he became president, François Duvalier identified the historical "mania for the presidency" as the disease of "presidentitis." Earlier generations of Haitian intellectuals had also bemoaned the destructive social effects of the presidency-for-life. This obsession continued to be an important political issue throughout the twentieth century.

As a result of the life-and-death power he wielded over the citizenry, the president has historically acquired a godlike quality. Presidents rarely represented a coalition of interest groups that joined forces through Western-style debate, compromise over party platforms, and competition at the polls. Rather, the president usually headed a faction that seized control of the state by any means possible, with the support of the army. In the process, the president became the personal embodiment of the state. François Duvalier wrote it in lights on the public square, proclaiming "I am the Haitian flag. He who is my enemy is the enemy of the fatherland." State and nation merged in the person of the president. In Haitian politics, there was no real distinction between state and government. Presidents could therefore claim with some justification that they were the state.Political parties and candidates also focused on the presidency. A plethora of individuals competed for the presidency; no true political parties existed. The emphasis on the presidency has hampered constitutional reforms designed to establish a sharing of power, free elections, and local representation. The emphasis also conflicted with the wave of popular expectations unleashed by the fall of Duvalier in 1986. Heightened expectations for change clashed with the regressive politics of old-line Duvalierists and tonton makouts. This clash contributed to the protracted post-Duvalier crisis of succession.

Haiti - Perceptions of Democracy

The presidency depended on the nonparticipation of average citizens in the political process, except when they had personal ties to a power holder. Presidential contenders often rhetorically invoked the masses in their transitions to power; still, the common citizen played an insignificant role in the day-to-day politics of the country. This situation fueled popular cynicism regarding elections.

Participation in the political arena, however, has traditionally involvedgreat personal risk. The threat of arrest, injury, and death was very real for those who challenged the prevailing government. The fact that political detainees were not entitled to due process of law further magnified this risk.

After the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, everyone spoke of democracy. Some Creole observers have described the post-Duvalier period as diyari demokratik (democratic diarrhea) or bambosh demokrasi (revelry of democracy). Average Haitians expected that life would somehow dramatically improve with the departure of the Duvaliers and that there would be democracy; however, for most Haitians, democracy was only an abstract concept. Haitians had never experienced true democracy, and communities had never had a voice in the political process.

The political role models for most Haitians emerged during the Duvalier era. For many people, post-Duvalier notions of democracy meant only a change in the factions and the personalities of the people in power. For others, democracy meant their finally being able to take their turn at the spoils system. Some people believed that democracy meant an opportunity to do what one pleased--liberty without responsibility (an attitude noted and reproved in Toussaint Louverture's remark, "I have never considered that liberty is synonymous with license"). Many people felt that a democracy should provide everyone with jobs, food, and material goods. In any case, the constitutional referendum in March 1987 and the November 29 elections of that same year clearly demonstrated overwhelming support for genuine change that would lead to a better quality of life.

Haiti - The Mass Media

The mass media in Haiti expanded remarkably between 1957 and 1989; radio led the way. The transistor radio brought news and information to previously isolated rural areas. Since the 1950s, Protestant missionaries have proselytized through their own radio stations. Radio Soleil, a Roman Catholic station, and other radio stations contributed to the fall of Duvalier in 1986.

Approximately two dozen radio stations were broadcasting in Haiti in the late 1980s; slightly more than half of them were in the Port-au-Prince area. There were a similar number of newspapers and other periodicals, including four daily papers with an estimated combined circulation of 25,000, four monthlies, and a dozen or so weeklies. The number of publications varied over time. Some publications were produced irregularly. During the post-Duvalier period, a relatively large number of publications appeared, but many of them published only a few issues before folding.

Two television stations, one private and one public, were broadcasting in the late 1980s. There was also a cable television network. Many wealthy families owned satellite dishes that picked up television signals from abroad. Television played a growing role among the Haitian media, but its influence continued to be greatest among higher-income residents of Port-au-Prince. In general, increased freedom of expression and an absence of formal government censorship or control characterized the post-Duvalier period.

Spoken and written Creole became commonplace in radio, television, and publications, as well as in community organizations and development projects. The production of materials written in Creole expanded exponentially in the late 1980s and increased the participation of the majority of the population in Haitian politics. Creole also became increasingly important in advertising.


During the post-Duvalier period, other developments in the media, party organization, labor unions, and professional associations took place. Understanding these changes is essential to understanding Haiti's political environment. The Tonton Makout Network

The Duvalier dynasty held power longer than any other regime in Haitian history. The duration of the dynasty enabled the thorough entrenchment of Duvalierist institutions and the development of a patronage system. One of the more important of these institutions was the VSN. After the VSN's dissolution, former tonton makout leaders remained at large, and some were politically active throughout the post-Duvalier period. The old makout networks also continued to function within the army. As of 1989, they were the main obstacle to free, fair, and popular elections in Haiti, and thet were the most significant threat to domestic security.

Through the VSN, the Duvalier regime had politicized rural Haiti. The VSN had expanded the president's influence to remote areas, and it had incorporated rural Haiti into a political system once limited almost exclusively to Port-au-Prince. The VSN had assured political control of the hinterlands, but it had given peasants no new voice in the political process. It had created a rural awareness of Port-au-Prince and events there, however, a consciousness of the national political system, and new political aspirations. The VSN had engendered a generalized disrespect for political institutions, and it had heightened expectations of profit from the political system.

<>Political Parties
<>The Upper and the Middle Classes
<>Other Groups

Haiti - Political Parties

During presidential campaigns, political parties organized under the banner of specific personalities. Political parties have existed in name for a long time, but they have not exerted any independent influence on the political system. Rather, parties have served as campaign vehicles for individual politicians.

In the 1870s and the 1880s, the emergence of the Liberal Party (Parti Liberal--PL) and the National Party (Parti National- -PN) reflected the polarization between black and mulatto elites. In the wake of the United States occupation (1915-34), nationalist parties organized around the issue of resistance to foreign occupation. These parties included the Patriotic Union (L'Union Patriotique) and the Nationalist Union (L'Union Nationaliste). During the presidential campaign of 1946, there were many candidates and parties, including the Popular Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste Populaire--PSP), the Unified Democrat Party (Parti Démocrate Unifié--PDU), the Worker Peasant Movement (Mouvement Ouvrier Paysan--MOP), the Popular Democratic Party of Haitian Youth (Parti Démocratique Populaire de la Jeunesse Haïtienne--PDPJH), the Communist Party of Haiti (Parti Communiste d'Haïti--PCH), and a federation of groups known as the Haitian Revolutionary Front (Front Révolutionnaire Haïtien, FRH).

The presidential campaign of 1956-57 included candidates who ran under the banners of the National Agricultural Industrial Party (Parti Agricole et Industriel National--PAIN) led by Louis Déjoie, the MOP led by Daniel Fignolé, the PN led by Clement Jumelle, and the National Unity Party (Parti Unité Nationale-- PUN) of François Duvalier. During the Duvalier years, the three non-Duvalierist parties continued to function in exile in the United States mainland and Puerto Rico.

Both Duvalier governments banned or severely restricted opposition political parties. Consequently, about a dozen opposition parties operated in exile, including Leslie Manigat's RDNP based in Caracas, the Unified Haitian Communist Party (Parti Unifié des Communistes Haïtiens--PUCH) based in France, the National Progressive Revolutionary Haitian Party (Parti National Progressiste Révolutionnaire Haïtien--Panpra) headed by Serge Gilles and based in France, and the Democratic Revolutionary Party of Haiti (Parti Révolutionnaire Démocratique d'Haïti) based in the Dominican Republic and subsequently known in Haiti as the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Haiti (Mouvement Démocratique pour la Libération d'Haïti--MODELH), headed by François Latortue.

During the presidential campaign of 1987, more than 100 candidates announced their candidacy. As of August 1987, twentyone political parties had registered. None of these parties, however, developed a nationwide organization. At the time of the sabotaged elections of November 19, 1987, the race was expected to be won by one of four candidates: Sylvio C. Claude, standard bearer of the Christian Democrat Party of Haiti (Parti Démocrate Chrétien d'Haïti--PDCH); Marc Bazin of the Movement for the Installation of Democracy in Haiti (Mouvement pour l'Instauration de la Démocratie en Haïti--MIDH); Louis Dejoie II, son of the 1957 presidential candidate, representing PAIN; and Gérard Gourgue of the National Cooperation Front (Front National de Concertation--FNC).

The Gourgue candidacy under the FNC appeared to have considerable support in urban and rural areas. The FNC was a loose federation of parties, community groups, and trade unions based on an organization called the Group of 57. The party included the National Committee of the Congress of Democratic Movements (Comité National du Congrès des Mouvements Démocratiques--Conacom), the Patriotic Unity Bloc (Bloc Unité Patriotique--BIP), and Panpra, which had re-established itself in Haiti with the return of Serge Gilles. Bazin and Dejoie also returned from exile to organize their presidential campaigns. Claude's PDCH and the Social Christian Party of Haiti (Parti Social Chrétien d'Haïti--PSCH) led by Grégoire Eugene were the only two political parties organized in Haiti that sought to operate openly during the Jean-Claude Duvalier years. The remaining parties had either formed during the post-Duvalier period or had returned from exile to join the campaign.

Haiti - The Upper and the Middle Classes

The system of public and private monopolies, including parastatals and import-substitution industries, developed under the Duvaliers. These industries generated great wealth for a handful of powerful families in Port-au-Prince, which resulted in politicized economic decision making. This elite sector saw itself threatened by the fall of the Duvalier regime. Under interim rule, volatile competition arose among certain business interests and military factions. Key members of the business community backed Duvalierist presidential candidates who were likely to protect the lucrative business privileges established under the old regime.

Intermediary classes (those between the wealthy elite and the impoverished masses) grew significantly during the Duvalier era. François Duvalier's political strategy of appealing to the black middle class created a new constituency for political patronage, government employment, and the rapid accumulation of wealth through the political system. The growth of the black middle class was closely linked to the Duvalier era, and it contributed to the tremendous growth of Port-au-Prince after the 1950s.

The long-standing tendencies toward the centralization of wealth and of power in Port-au-Prince greatly increased during the Duvalier era. The income gap between upper and lower income groups widened, and rural areas suffered accordingly. Growing rural-to-urban migration, primarily to Port-au-Prince, and emigration, especially to the United States, also had an impact on the political environment and on aspirations for change. The Duvalier era saw an unprecedented level of emigration to North America along with smaller waves of emigration to other Caribbean countries, Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Emigration had an important impact on Haitian politics. Emigrés maintained numerous fragmented political parties in exile. Emigration also caused huge sums of foreign currency to enter into the economy through remittances. It raised Haitians' consciousness of the outside world, and it led to easier upward social mobility for members of the new intermediary classes by alleviating competition for scarce jobs.

Haiti - Interest Groups

The Duvaliers suppressed labor unions. A number of loosely organized unions and federations emerged after the fall of JeanClaude , but labor generally lacked institutional development. Unions exercised little clout in industry. Their importance as pressure groups, however, grew during the post-Duvalier period. Professional and trade associations played an active political role in the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier and during the period that followed. The most active associations represented teachers, students, agronomists, physicians, journalists, lawyers, and engineers. The Association of Industries of Haiti (Association des Industries d'Haïti), representing businesspeople involved in the assembly industry, exercised a great deal of influence over government economic policy. The two Port-au-Prince chambers of commerce--the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti (Chambre de Commerce et de l'Industrie d'Haïti) and the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Chambre de Commerce et del'Industrie HaïtianoAméricaine --Hamcham)--were less active after 1986 than they had been under Jean-Claude Duvalier. The Association of Coffee Exporters (Association des Exportateurs de Café--Asdec) had long exerted influence in politics and the economy.

Approximately ten human rights organizations functioned in Haiti in 1989. Although most formed after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, one had been in existence since the late 1970s. Most of these organizations maintained their headquarters in Port-au-Prnce. A number of them had links to Haitians who lived abroad or who had been exiled during the Duvalier era. Some individuals working in human rights harbored broader political ambitions, and they sought to influence presidential politics.


Throughout its history, Haiti's relative isolation has constrained its foreign relations. Haiti achieved some prominence as a result of its successful revolution, but the governments of slaveholding countries either ignored or decried the country during the first half of the nineteenth century. In the United States, the question of recognizing Haiti provoked sharp debate between abolitionists, who favored recognition, and slaveholders, who vehemently opposed such an action. The advent of the Civil War, however, allowed President Abraham Lincoln to recognize Haiti without controversy. Haiti became a focus of interest for the great powers in the early twentieth century mainly because of the country's strategic location. Competition among the United States, Germany, France, and Britain resulted in the breaching of Haiti's sovereignty and the nineteen-year occupation by United States forces. Subsequent isolation stemmed from Haiti's cultural and linguistic uniqueness, its economic underdevelopment, and from international condemnation of the repressive Duvalier regimes.

Haiti has maintained a long-standing relationship with the United States. Haitians have perceived economic ties to the United States as vital. The United States was Haiti's primary trading partner for both exports and imports, its most important source of foreign assistance, and the primary target of Haitian emigration. A large number of private voluntary agencies from the United States functioned in Haiti. The assembly industry of Port-au-Prince was closely tied to the United States economy. In short, the economic and the political influence of the United States in Haiti was more powerful than the influence of any other country.

Still, contemporary American diplomatic interest in Haiti has been minimal. Washington's interest in Haiti arose chiefly because of the country's proximity to the Panama Canal and Central America. Haiti also controls the Windward Passage, a narrow body of water that could be easily closed, disrupting maritime traffic. In the nineteenth century, the United States considered establishing a naval base in Haiti. At about the time of World War I, the United States occupied Haiti along with a number of other countries in the Caribbean and Central America. Since the 1960s, Washington has viewed Haiti as an anticommunist bulwark, partly because of the country's proximity to Cuba. François Duvalier, exploiting United States' hostility toward the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro Ruz and United States fears of communist expansion in the Caribbean, deterred the United States government from exerting excessive pressure against his own dictatorship.

In the 1980s, the United States expressed a special interest in curbing illegal Haitian immigration. Washington also attempted to curtail shipments of illegal drugs to and from Haiti.

From the 1970s until 1987, United States assistance to Haiti grew. After the violently disrupted elections of November 1987, however, United States president Ronald Reagan suspended all aid to Haiti. In August 1989, President George Bush restored US$10 million in food aid because the Avril government had made progress toward holding free elections and had agreed to cooperate in efforts to control international drug trafficking.

The Dominican Republic was the second most important country to Haiti because the two nations shared a border, but the two countries were ambivalent toward each other. Haiti supplied cheap labor to the Dominican Republic, mostly to help harvest sugarcane. Under the Duvaliers, this arrangement involved an annual intergovernmental exchange of funds for the supply of cane cutters.

For generations Haitians had informally crossed the Dominican Republic's border in search of work. An estimated 250,000 people of Haitian parentage lived in the Dominican Republic. This perceived "blackening" of the Dominican population motivated dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina to carry out a notorious massacre of Haitians in 1937. The border has been an issue of contention in other respects as well. The Haitian economy has proved to be a desirable market for Dominican products, effectively undercutting Haitian production of certain commodities and reducing the domestic market for some Haitian goods. Also, exiled Haitian politicians have readily sought refuge in the Dominican Republic and have gained allies there in efforts to bring down Haitian governments.

Ties with other Caribbean nations were limited. Historically, Britain and France strove to limit contacts between their dependencies and Haiti, in order to discourage independence movements. Haiti's cultural and linguistic distinctiveness also prevented close relations in the Caribbean. As of mid-1989, Haiti did not belong to the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom), and it had not been included in the Lomé Convention, although there had been some discussion with Caricom officials on both points. Haiti also maintained few productive relationships in Latin America.

Other countries important to Haiti included the primary donor countries for foreign assistance, especially France, Canada, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Haiti maintained special cultural ties to France, even though the two countries were not major trading partners. Haiti also enjoyed a supportive relationship with the Canadian province of Quebec, one of the few linguistically compatible entities in the Western Hemisphere; most Haitian émigrés in Canada lived in Quebec, and the majority of administrators of Canadian aid projects came from Quebec. Haiti's memberships in international and multilateral organizations included the United Nations and its associated organizations, the Organization of American States, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

In many ways, Haitians were proud of their history, particularly the accomplishments of such revolutionary figures as Dessalines and Toussaint. However, the nation has suffered both from its uniqueness and from its similarity to other less developed nations. Largely isolated in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti nonetheless has experienced political instability, repression, and impoverishment equal to, or exceeding that of, other Latin American states. As the 1990s approached, Haiti still could not count itself among the democratic nations of the hemisphere, despite the sincere desire of its people for some form of representative government.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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