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iconCONFLICTS Updated January 4, 2010

Section Contents:  The Impossible joint national project: 1804-2004 | Contemporary economic and political perspectives | The development of an intensified crisis situation in 2004 | Haiti as a threat to security

The Impossible joint national project: 1804-2004

The creation of the Haitian state dates back to 1804, which makes it one of the oldest independent states in the Americas. As the first black republic and the location of the first formal slave uprising, Haiti was ostracized at the time of its independence by the greatest powers of the time (the United States only recognized its existence sixty years after independence). Colonial powers saw the successful emancipation of this rich sugar and coffee colony as a threat and even though its independence was won through armed conflict, it had to be bought - the former settlers were to be compensated to the tune of eight hundred million Euros.

Following the victory of Toussaint Louverture, the hero of independence, the successive leaders tried to rebuild the plantation economy. The economy, based on having large properties that would produce commercial goods, helped raise the funds to reimburse the price of independence. Leaders of urban centres in the West and the South, mostly Mullatos, were able to develop themselves through the long rule of President Jean-Pierre Boyer. They were able to put into place commercial and fiscal policies that were to their own benefit and taxed the common farmers.Together with freed Blacks (former military personnel who had been rewarded with plantations) they formed a new elite of landowners.

The plantation economy, which required a disciplined labour force in order to succeed, reinforced the authoritarian ruling structures left behind by the French. This, along with the fears that the western powers would attempt to retake control of the country and the "class aspirations of Haitian leaders," has had the effect of entrenching a despotic tradition of rule that all presidents, including Aristide, have perpetuated. It is thus not surprising that Haiti has been marked by recurring political crises: the American occupation and the public resistance to it between 1915 and 1934; the dissolution of forward-looking governments and the establishment of a new kind of government - dictatorship. The Duvaliers' dictatorship, from 1957 to 1986, reinforced the structure of a state that was exclusively based on the army.

Contemporary economic and political perspectives

During the last thirty years, the country underwent two periods of economic growth that benefited only a small part of society and therefore failed to have any significant impact on the disparity and poverty faced by the majority of the population. In fact, during the first period from 1970 to 1981, inequalities grew and the standard of living of the rural population decreased. In addition, several authors have highlighted the failure of structural adjustment and stabilization programs modeled along the lines of the so-called "Washington Consensus".

Upon the fall of the Duvaliers in 1986, Haitians were crying out for democracy. Unions, student movements and other civil society organizations started pushing for democratization and social justice. However, the years from 1986 to 2004 proved to be a downward slope; the term "a never ending transition" became a fixture in discourse and practices. At the same time, political polarization became ingrained, with the passions of generally illiterate crowds further exacerbated by charismatic leaders wanting to reproduce the tentacles of the dictatorship.


The development of an intensified crisis situation in 2004

In 1990, during general euphoria surrounding the dawn of democracy, the priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to power himself by winning an election landslide. He had been put forward by a coalition of social democratic parties and had been very active politically with his anti-American speeches as well as his actions taken against the government. People in urban slums and rural areas that had always been excluded finally came to power through Aristitid who represented them. This impulsive intervention occurred on the backdrop of speeches and hateful acts against the country's ruling and political class.

In September 1991, Aristide was ousted in a military coup. The economic and political elites had become concerned about their fate under a president so close to the grassroots and called on the Haitian army, whose underlying goal in the past had been to look after the interests of those who had always been in positions of power. A military junta led by General Raoul Cedras took over the leadership of the country.

Following the military coup, an economic and commercial embargo was placed upon the country and the international community called for the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Finally, in 1994, Aristide returned to power a few months before the end of his time in office thanks to the efforts of the international community under the auspices of US forces, which, within a very short period of time, neutralized the Haitian army.

The return of President Aristide and the constitutional order corresponded with the second period of economic growth. Privatization and liberalization combined with a reliance on international cooperation and an increase in domestic revenue and remittances generated an average growth rate of 2%. The positive effects of this increase were quickly counterbalanced by the negative effects of demographic pressure in an urban setting devoid of adequate infrastructure, leading to rising insecurity in urban areas.

In 1995, René Préval, Aristide's former Prime Minister and heir apparent, was elected President. Five years later, in 2000, President Préval and his Prime Minister Jacques Édouard Alexis held so-called general elections in a general disorder that easily helped Aristide back to power. These elections, characterized by the abstention of the opposition parties, were so highly contested by parties as well as political leaders that they were the starting point for the next level of the crisis leading to the fall of Aristide in 2004.

From 2000 to 2004, political tensions worsened. Aristide fuelled the conflict through his speeches and his actions. Aristide's overzealous chimères, or militia, knocked everybody around - students, universities, unions, university presidents, and political parties. Splinter groups and armed insurgencies took root all over the country. Port-au-Prince was constantly up in flames. Dead bodies littered the roads, the sewers, and the landfills. Haiti descended into complete chaos and those who were able to do so left the country behind and fled to the Dominican Republic. At the end of 2003, during Aristide's fall in 2004, the sociopolitical crisis reached its peak and became not only explosive, but an untenable situation. Meanwhile, institutionally, the situation was worsening especially given the fact that Aristide was entwined with the chimères, who had to do everything in their forces to keep him in power as a condition of their own survival.

The international community, beginning with Haiti's "friends" - Canada, Venezuela, France, the United States, the OAS, CARICOM buckled down to try to resolve the issue.

CARICOM tries to find a solution

Upon seeing Haiti's multi-dimensional crisis that ravaged the country in 2003-2004, CARICOM (which includes 14 countries from the surrounding region) mobilized its efforts and resources to help Haiti overcome this deadlock. They tried to negotiate some sort of institutional way out of the crisis.

Behind the scenes diplomatic work brought about intense negotiations that resulted in a Plan of Action signed by President Aristide and four CARICOM heads of government with the support of the US, Canada, the OAS, and the EU. The plan indicated that the President would stay in power until the end of his term (in February 2006) and that a new, neutral and independent Prime Minister would be appointed.

The political opposition, civil society and the business community declined to participate in any negotiations that did not address the issue of President Aristide's departure. Their concerns grew when Haiti's former armed forces began reconstituting themselves as the "Cannibal Army", occupying all provincial cities and heading for the capital.

On 26 February 2004, the Permanent Council of the OAS adopted Resolution CP/RES. 862 (1401/04) which, in light of extreme violence and the growing threat of insurgents, requested the UN Security Council to take "necessary and appropriate urgent measures" to address Haiti's crisis. On 29 February, prior to the Cannibal Army's arrival in Port-au-Prince, American diplomats persuaded Mr. Aristide to go into exile. The chimères (militias) that he left behind dug into the few businesses and industries that had survived. A social crisis went hand-in-hand with the political and institutional crises.

CARICOM member countries were concerned about reaching some kind of consensus on a way out of the crisis. Moreover, CARICOM, confronted by the international power grab, refused to recognize the new transition government (2004-2006) and requested that investigations be held into the reasons and conditions behind this intervention that was seen as ambiguous and confusing by many stakeholders and observers. Initial official motivations for the use of military force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter was suggested by political scientist Cary Hector, who argued that "the situation in Haiti constitutes a threat to international peace and security and to stability in the Caribbean, especially through the potential outflow of people to other states in the subregion".


Haiti as a threat to security

Towards the end of the 20th century armed conflicts occurred in a number of Central American states. In many of these countries, present-day rates of violence remain very high. Scores of armed groups or gangs are at work, especially in urban areas. Haiti is no exception; however, it is only in Haiti where these armed gangs are seen as having the potential to destabilize the state. Urban violence has grown rapidly during the last two decades. It inhibits the country's development. At the same time, the root causes of this violence are complex and context-specific. It is therefore impossible to point one's finger at a single factor.

Many studies have revealed the various beliefs and motivations of the armed groups that were operating and still operate in the national capital region:

(…) aggressive gangs (…) control most of Port-au-Prince's slums and (…) benefit from a varying degree of political and criminal support. Many are manipulated by parties who were close to former President Aristide and his Lavalas movement, others controlled by anti-Aristide movements, from elites within the business world, drug traffickers or other criminal organizations. Without the presence of an army, another armed group made up of former rebels and former Haitian Armed Forces members had an alarming presence in the provinces. These groups have thousands of arms in their possession.

Below, we will shed light on some of the various origins of the acts of present-day violence in Haiti that have contributed to this regional threat as well as becoming a barrier to the country's development.

Political Origins

Political violence runs throughout Haiti's past. It reached an unprecedented level under the regime of the elder Duvalier, who used it to silence all political opposition. During Aristide's first term, youth groups, who were loyal to Aristide, were given arms and received military training in order to counter the effects of any attempts at destabilization. The provision of arms went on into his second term (2000 to 2004). Members of the Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d'Haïti, PNH) would have participated in violent acts that occurred during the contested elections in 2000 that were not recognized by the OAS.

Drug trade origins

The Island of Hispanola and its poorly-guarded coastline provide an ideal place to smuggle illegal drugs. The increased drug production and trade in the South and consumption in the North has created a world-wide problem so large that in 1994, Haiti had the unfortunate reputation of being the second-largest hub of cocaine trafficking in America. It was suspected that the entourage of President Aristide during his second term of office were involved in drug trafficking in Haiti. It is estimated that approximately 10 tonnes of cocaine were trafficked through Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 2005. In 2006, US authorities identified 159 flights heading to Haiti and the Dominican Republic that were transporting drugs from South America.

Other individuals from various political circles also had the reputation of being involved in trafficking controlled substances. From March to May 2007, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) undertook two operations to reduce this kind of trafficking. 40% fewer flights carried drugs during this period compared to the four proceeding months. There was, however, a total of 1,135 kilograms of cocaine found in aircraft that had landed in Haiti. The end result was a considerable decrease in drug trafficking by air coming from Colombia and Venezuela at the expense of those going to the Dominican Republic.

Recruits from the Haitian National Police were trained by the JIATF-S (Joint Inter Agency Task Force, South: DEA, FBI, CBP) in the war against drugs and the refoulement of illegal immigrants (more than 1000 people were caught attempting to cross the seas north of Haiti in 2007).

Socio-economic origins

Globalization and overarching neo-liberal policies contributed to the increase in social polarization since the beginning of the 1980s. Research and data from Latin America and the Caribbean have called into question the cause and effect relationship between poverty and violence. Instead, statistics show that inequality and exclusion (unequal access to education, employment, health and infrastructure) add to poverty and encourage violence. Moreover, in these contexts of extreme inequality, poor living conditions of the urban poor increase the potential for conflict and criminal activity.

One of the consequences of trade liberalization under the younger Duvalier's regime and the failing Haitian state at this time was the significant erosion of its traditional role of controlling the flow of goods and tax collection in Haiti, leading to a sharp increase in smuggling of goods by organized criminal groups.

Gender-specific demonstrations

A recent study done by the Inter-American Development Bank shows that the general perception of female victims of violence, counsellors and community members is that rates of violence in Haiti are very high and that there is a link between social violence and inter-family and sexual violence.

In fact, the fragile political and socio-economic situation in the country created conditions that favour an increase in violence and crime (rape and kidnapping). Data collected by organizations such as Gheskio, Kay Fanm and Sofa show that, over the years, reported cases of sexual violence have skyrocketed. Underage girls more and more frequently become victims of gang rape. Organizations working in the field can only provide limited responses because of difficulties in documenting alleged cases, the institutional, technical, and financial shortcomings, the lack of coordination between involved organizations, the lack of ratification of bills negotiated between women's organizations and the 46th legislature as well as for other reasons.

The accumulation of these brutal threats increasingly affects Haitians, particularly women, and risks affecting the sub-region. It has once again pushed the international community to intervene in February 2004 with the announced intention to, this time, take the time required to find a lasting solution.


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