Want to send this page or a link to a friend? Click on mail at the top of this window.
More Editorials
Posted August 8, 2002
miami_herald_logo.gif (4125 bytes)
First published in The Miami Herald
August 8, 2002
Haiti's immutable laws
Don Bohning

In the course of more than three decades covering Haiti, three informal rules of thumb helped keep things in perspective:

• Nothing logical ever happens.

• Hope for the best but expect the worst.

• Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.

Given the continuing downward spiral that began in earnest with the flawed May 2000 legislative elections and accelerated by recent events, a fourth rule might be added:

• When you think that things can't get any worse, they often do.

That's increasingly apparent as the tragic Caribbean country of eight million people spins dangerously toward total anarchy. The precariousness of the situation was both dramatized and fueled last week by a massive jailbreak in Gonaives, a longtime hotbed of insurrection against existing governments.

The central figures emerging from the jailbreak were a couple of well-known thugs -- Jean Tatoune and Amiot Metayer -- at odds with each other until Friday when a stolen tractor crashed through the prison walls to free them along with 157 other prisoners.

Tatoune was serving a life sentence for involvement in a 1994 massacre while the country was under military rule. Metayer, leader of a so-called Popular Organization (subsidized gang) supporting President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was jailed July 2 -- under pressure from the Organization of American States -- for his role in relating against Aristide opponents after a Dec. 17 attack on the National Palace.  

Now the two have joined forces in calling for Aristide's ouster - with police reluctant to move against them and the situation still unresolved -- accentuating again Haiti's continuing social, economic and political deterioration.                                                                          Two years of efforts by the OAS -- including 21 visits to the country by OAS Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi -- to negotiate a solution

photo 114.jpg (22172 bytes)
Amiot Metayer, or Cubain, left, and Jean Pierre, or Jean Tatoune, both escapees, leading an anti-brutal dictator, radical leftist and chief bandit Aristide's violent demonstration in Gonaives on Friday, August 2, 2002. (Photo AP/Daniel Morel)
to the political crisis provoked by the disputed May 2000 elections, are dead in the water, although Einaudi says that he hasn't yet given up.

The OAS mediation effort, as so many things before it that could have benefited the country, is hung up by that destructive Haitian political trait: winner-takes-all with no grounds for compromise.

This time much of the blame is attributed to the Democratic Convergence, a coalition of opposition political leaders with virtually no popular following, which again injected the question of Aristide's presidency into the mix after a formula for agreement apparently had been within reach.

Aristide remains Haiti's most popular figure, but the breadth and depth of that popularity are increasingly coming into question. A large amount of his influential domestic and foreign support -- those who lobbied hard for his 1994 return on the wings of a U.S.-led invasion -- has abandoned him.

Many of the government's recent efforts have been aimed at release of some $500 million in international aid held up as a result of the ongoing political standoff. An acrimonious de- bate last week on a resolution before the OAS Permanent Council asking for release of the aid ended without a vote. Meanwhile, in Haiti lawlessness is rampant, with security a concern for virtually all Haitians, who have no confidence in the country's police.

A report released last month by a three-member, OAS-mandated commission investigating the Dec. 17 palace attack, noted: ''Not only is the [police] force undermanned and under-equipped but also -- lacks the motivation and determination to discharge its duties in a situation of crisis. To these must be added a lack of direction and control and excessive political interference'' in its management. The Dec. 17 attack, it said, ``could not have taken place without the complicity of some police officers from different units.''


The commission said that it also found no evidence that the Dec. 17 palace attack was a coup attempt against Aristide. ''The commission,'' added the report, ``was particularly struck by the weakness of governance in Haiti. There seems to be little conformity with the rule of law, no respect for an independent judiciary, and little regard for a competent law-enforcement system.''

Given the present circumstances, it's difficult to see how the Aristide government can survive the more than three years remaining on his five-year presidential term. And the tragedy is that there is no viable and peaceful alternative in sight other than a negotiated settlement to the political standoff, a prospect that looks more distant than ever.

When it seems that things can't get worse, they often do.

Don Bohning, now retired, was a longtime Latin America editor for The Herald. donbohning@aol.com.

Wehaitians.com, the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
More from wehaitians.com
Main / Columns / Books And Arts / Miscellaneous