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Posted September 4, 2007
Special to wehaitians.com
Risk, Instability and Political Culture in Haiti


The current situation in Haiti in which a few parliamentarians are opposed the Haitian government can potentially drive the country into a political crisis such as the one experienced by Mr. Préval during his first tenure between 1995 and 2000.

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This time, brutal death A worker from the morgue drops off a body at the main entrance of the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006. The corpse was removed from the morgue on Thursday morning. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos - File, wehaitians.com)

A fraction of the parliamentarians are threatening to take a non-confidence vote against the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis if the government fails to dismiss the government's chief prosecutor, Mr. Claudy Gassant. Most people who look at the situation through a simplistic analytical framework might think like Mr. Edmund Mulet that the legislators and groups of unidentified "ill-intentioned individuals," want to prevent the government from establishing the rule of law in Haiti [1]. Obviously, Mr. Mulet, like most analysts from the UN, adopts a static or linear thinking which why he is misreading the Haitian case.

Above all, let us affirm that the current crisis is not surprising at all. It was bound to happen for several reasons. Many legislators are weak; they have either no political experience or no political education or both. The second most important reason is that no mechanism or process has ever been developed over the last few years to tackle the deeply rooted conflict that has plunged the country into instability and violence. Chetan Kumar (1998) [2] wrote that "Haitians have never has the opportunity to develop common conception of what the country is about. Haitian from all walks of life have never sat down to have genuine national discussion about the meaning of being Haitian, about what kind of historical trajectory their nation ought to follow and about common means for achieving national objectives. In the absence of this genuine national consensus, Haiti has lurched from one crisis to another" (p.34). He concluded that conflict was the main impediment to creating positive change in Haiti. Reconciliation and national dialogue are fundamental policies that should have been given priority since 2004. Unfortunately, in Haiti as well as outside Haiti, aid money has always been considered as the main instrument for lasting changes in a country that has experienced erratic violence for over 200 years.

Mr. Mulet has done a great job during his fourteen months as the head of the UN Mission for Haiti, but I will disagree with his statement that stipulates that the county was stable the last few months [3]. In fact, the last few months the country has been in a process of soul searching. Between instability and stability, there is a transitory period during which a system that has lost its equilibrium is looking for another state of equilibrium. Before reaching this point of equilibrium, the system passes through various levels or grades that constitute a dynamic process. We believe that as long as the risk of political instability [4] is high, then the system has not yet reached a state we can admit as a state of equilibrium. In other words, Haiti is still looking for a way out from chaos to a state of order.

Importantly, the current crisis between the legislators and the Government that revolves around the government's chief prosecutor sheds light over the political dynamics and the political culture in Haiti. Our prime hypothesis is that this incident is a logical outcome of both the political dynamic that has characterized Haiti for decades, and the political culture that dictates the behavior and the choice of the politicians in Haiti.

The systemic perspective

The complexity of the system urges us to develop an analytical tool that will help us to read the situation in a simpler way. We identify the current crisis as a friction within the political system. The system is divided into two levels composed of the following elements:

Level 1 - The apparent elements

* A political fraction composed of individuals from the parliament and the senatorial chambers; * The government of Prime Minister Alexis; * The government's chief prosecutor Mr. Claudy Gassant;

Level 2 - The non-apparent elements - these elements exist by proxy and influence the previous level by 'tentacling' within level 1.

* The local Bourgeoisie, who are pulling strings within both chambers; * The drug lords who often entertain intricate relations with the politicians and the local bourgeoisie.

The parliament is not only a chamber of the lawmakers; it is also a political space where power and money are the major stakes. Mr. Claudy Gassant is not a major actor per se, but he is tackling sensitive issues that directly touch the core interests of the major players in the Haitian society; in particular the local bourgeoisie that has parasitized the country for centuries and its political cronies who use their political power as leverage for increasing their personal wealth. Corruption is another major issue. According to the last report of Transparency International November 2006, Haiti is ranked the most corrupt country in the world.

Corruption is not simply the result of the dysfunction of the institutions. It is not just merely the fact of the greediness of some individuals, but it is a process to have access to greater wealth and other valuable goods. Corruption is a practice that involves not only the bourgeois who pay custom officers off in order to increase their profit on their import businesses, but they also pay lawmakers in order to design laws that benefit them. Politicians also use corruptive practices to divert massive national resources towards their own bank accounts. The civil society organizations are not exempt from the use of corrupt practices to have access to certain privileges. Corruption breeds from the bottom-up to top-down. It is horizontal, vertical and transversal. Just like violence, it has become, in the last few decades, a social norm in Haiti that dictates the nature of social relations.

The initiative of Mr. Claudy Gassant is heroic and courageous, but he is currently at risk. He will either loose his job because the government will have to get rid of him to save itself from being failed by a non-confidence vote. If the government persists and supports its chief prosecutor, it faces the prospect of being called off and Mr. Claudy Gassant will then be washed away by the movement. The chief prosecutor also risks at being neutralized by more violent means. Corruption has created a market that has generated massive amounts of dollars from which a handful of 'clan' members are taking advantage. Many parliamentarians are involved in corruption at one level or another, directly or indirectly. Therefore, it is logical that many politicians and local entrepreneurs would like to undermine the endeavors of Mr Gassant who, without being aware of it, is getting involved in a universe of the Haitian parallel economy and underground polity were he may not get out without trouble.

The second aspect of the crisis is that it is clear that the demand of some of the parliamentarians is exaggerated. The situation could in fact be solved through peaceful means to avoid a political turmoil. It means that this incident is being used as a pretext to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Alexis. Since the end of last year, many parliamentarians were already threatening the government to conduct a non-confidence vote. The international community has to stop counting on the current political parties to manage this country. These parties have already proved their incapacity to run this country. Many people claim that the problem is there are no other alternatives, but this is not true. The practice of the international community has nurtured and maintained these parties which in turn have developed an elitist community that has prevented the emergence of a younger generation of political leaders. Alternatives to these parties could be found if the international community puts pressure on these political dinosaurs to democratize their own political practice.

The current crisis is not to be taken just as an epiphenomenon. It is the symptom of a deeper problem; just like a rash at the surface of the skin. The problem is a complex aggregate of several factors.

The political culture is to be blamed for this self destructive attitude

The first factor is that there are many sectors in the Haitian society that resists any attempt to develop conditions for stability and peace. These parties do not form a homogenous group; instead they have convergent interests based on riches. These parties range from the local bourgeoisie that has tentacles within the political circle to many politicians to the sector involved in illegal activities; in particular the drug lords and their cronies. The main motivation of these parties for resisting the rule of law is essentially instinctual; they have a strong survival instinct. Indeed, stability based on the rule of law creates uncertainty in relation to their power and their wealth. If the government assures to the major players who have stakes in corruption and drug trafficking that the rule of law will not jeopardize their wealth and/or their power then they will not feel threatened by Mr. Gassant and the endeavor of the Executive branch of the government to crack down on past bad practices. In fact, they may even support the policy of Mr. Renee Préval and they may even use the eagerness of Mr. Gassant against their opponents.

After you invest your hard-earned money in Haiti extreme violence-issued President Preval will most likely urge his mobs to savagely attack you, luckily drive you out of the dirt-poor nation in an attempt to ultimately confiscate for example your business enterprise - the Castro's way, the Chavez way.
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Extrme violence Guatemalan UN peacekeepers unsuccessful try to stop angry supporters of Haitian presidential candidate Rene Prval from entering the upscale Hotel Montana in the Petionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday February 13, 2006 to demand that elections' officials declare Preval president. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton - File, wehaitians.com)
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Extreme violence and short-live great contentment Haitian presidential candidate Rene Preval's alleged uninvited mobs enjoying themselves free of charge in Hotel Monta's swimming pool after causing guests to flee. (AFP/Walters Astrada - File, wehaitians.com)

In the current situation, the rule of law enforced with the support of the UN means that the major stakeholders may certainly loose some grip on their outrageous source of income. What are the capacities of these stakeholders to undermine the government? They have the capacity to block the situation that will create a crisis that very well could continue until the next election (2010). In such conditions, the current President (Mr. R. Preval) will, with the presence of the UN in Haiti, manage to conduct small scale initiatives that will patchwork some of the needs of the country, but the general condition of the population will continue on the declining curve; such as what happened during this President's first tenure (1995 - 2000).

The second important factor that contributes to this problem is that the Executive branch does not have the relevant leadership to bring the necessary changes to the way political business is being conducted in Haiti. The UN presence offers to Mr. R. Préval a comfortable cushion, but just like the government of Mr. Maliki in Iraq, he does not take advantage of this condition to expand his leadership and his charisma to reinforce the capacity of the State to engineer a new social order based on new rules of the game. The rule of law will not unfold miraculously. The Executive power, directed by the head of the State, has to take a definitive step towards enforcing and imposing the rule of law.

The current crisis has to be assessed through the framework of the political culture in Haiti that explains the historically recurrent political instability in this country that has been going on for decades if not centuries. Mr. Gassant unquestionably is facing the challenge of uprooting behaviors and attitudes that are shared values among political leaders, the local economical elite and as I have mentioned earlier; leaders from the civil society. As Donald Schulz [5] wrote it, "[ ...] political beliefs, values, attitudes, and behavior--in a word, political culture-matter. [...]". I am quite certain that Haitian readers will feel insulted, but unless they recognize that the cultural facts influence attitudes and behaviors as well as the decision making process in both the political and economical sphere, then no progress will be possible. In order to move forward towards change, one has to recognize what needs to be changed. The decision of the group of parliamentarians to corner the government of Prime Minister Alexis can be defined as a syndrome of "[...] destructive/self-destructive political behavior [..]". (Donald Schulz: 1996). Will they manage in this? All will depend on the Executive branch of the government and its leadership in managing the symptoms of the crisis which is coming ahead.

If the government dismisses Mr. Gassant then the parliamentarians with their allies will definitely develop an assurance in being able to command the Executive branch. This then means that the country will definitely waste the momentum created by the recent reduction of violence in the country. The government needs to negotiate "a way out" of this crisis with the parliamentarians. President Préval maybe able to retain Mr. Gassant, but this could create the conditions for the next crisis which may definitely negatively impact the current government. Certainly Mr. Gassant may be forced to slow down on his eagerness to crack down on the corruption in regards to local entrepreneurs. The situation will be blocked for a few days and the country will go back to its soul searching dynamic, but it will be an apparent resolution because the deeper problem will keep on looking for a way to sour and implode.

This crisis has to be considered as a warning that Haiti is not yet out of the woods. It is not yet time to feel overwhelmed by optimism. There are, within the State and the society, forces that will resist the authority of the State. The government needs to develop its negotiation skills and its capacity to foresee and manage risks. The government also needs to think through its policy thoroughly. Cracking down on corruption and drug trafficking is essential to develop new rules based on governance, etc., but the government has to understand that such an enterprise has to be implemented strategically within a political and institutional framework that will engage all of the stakeholders in the society. Above all, the conflict that has contributed in fracturing this country has to be managed in order not to put the State and the country at risk of instability.


[1] - Haiti senators jeopardizing stability, Say UN envoy, published on Friday, August 24, 2007 in Caribbean Net News, www.caribbeannetnews.com [2] - Building Peace in Haiti, Chetan Kumar, International Peace Academy, New York NY, 1998. [3] - Opt. Cite Note 1. [4] - Reactic is currently working on an issue paper on risk factors and instability in Haiti, to come soon. [5] - Wither Haiti? Donald Schulz, Strategic Studies Institute, April 1, 1996.

Article written by Mr. Lee Chance; Senior Social Analyst for REACTIC

Virginia, August 27th 2007, For further information please contact REACTIC at contactus@reactic.org

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