Haiti: A Step Toward its Dictatorial Past

By Henry "Chip" Carey

The devastation of the January 2010 earthquake is still obvious everywhere you look in Port-au-Prince and that includes its politics. It took Haiti 21 months after the catastrophe to confirm a prime minister. The legislature rejected President Michel Martelly’s two previous nominees, an example of the pattern of un-governability that afflicts Haiti’s “unending democratic transition.” A divided government, or what the French call cohabitation, has been the norm in Haiti in the quarter-century since the end of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s dictatorship. Haiti has been unable to establish a stable political party system and routinely opts for charismatic figures in presidential elections, like the current president, a former compa music star. While the confirmation of the prime minister would normally be a step forward for the country, Martelly’s choice for PM may signal that an autocratic coalition of traditional elites may try to push Haiti back toward the country it was during the nearly 30 years of dictatorship under the Duvaliers.

On October 5, 17 Senators approved Martelly’s nomination of Garry Conille, with nine opposed. A full cabinet and governing plan will also soon be confirmed, and the long overdue task of rebuilding the country can begin. The previous government under former President Rene Preval neglected many duties after the earthquake, including failing to attend meetings with foreign donors, headed by Bill Clinton, to decide how to manage the billions in funds pledged to reconstruct the country. While having a prime minister is important, Martelly chose the wrong man to help the Haitian people.

Martelly nominated Conille as prime minister even though he does not meet the legally mandated residency requirements for the position. If the law is going to be overlooked, then there are many qualified Haitians living in the diaspora who are not the son of Dr. Serge Conille, minister for sports and youth under the Duvalier dictatorship. Martelly chose Conille partly because of his experience working with the United Nations Development Program, which included time liaising with the government of post-earthquake Haiti. However, Conille’s connections suggest sympathy for the reformation of those behind Jean-Claude Duvalier and the coup regime of 1991-1994. Conille is married to a daughter of the late Marc Bazin, a technocrat who served as a minister under Duvalier, and later as prime minister under the civil-military junta that governed for three years after the 1991 coup that exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When Martelly decided to run for president of Haiti, he apparently turned to remnants of the Duvalier dictatorship to secretly finance his well-oiled, professional campaign. The huge campaign contributions, which appeared to come from nowhere during the election cycle, were not declared, as required by Haiti’s electoral law. The secret contributions could facilitate what could become another nightmare for Haiti.

In return for these contributions, Martelly has clearly reached an understanding with his benefactors to reinstate the army. President Aristide abolished the army in 1994, two months after he returned from exile with the assistance of a U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping mission. During the Duvalier dictatorships of both Papa and Baby Doc, the army intimidated and extorted money from the population. The U.S. does not seem concerned about this happening again, even though some of the same people are in charge.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was permitted to return to the country by the Preval administration just a few months before the recent presidential elections, allowing him to meet the five year residency requirement should he want to run for president four years from now. (Aristide arrived days before the vote for the same reason). Jean-Claude has not faced any apparent legal effort to hold him accountable for his numerous crimes against humanity during his nearly two decades in office. Baby Doc’s son was even given a job in the Martelly administration. Other leaders of the dictatorship and their children have also taken prominent positions throughout the government since Martelly assumed office.

Political appointments since Martelly’s inauguration include Claude Raymond’s son, the current deputy director of immigration. The father was the dreaded chief of army staff and minister of the interior and defense in both Duvalier cabinets. Constantin Mayard-Paul, the attorney for Claude Raymond and Papa Doc’s godson, has a son, Thierry Mayard-Paul, who is the president’s chief of staff. Another brother, Gregory Mayard-Paul, is a legal adviser. Both sons were childhood friends of the president, who has had lifelong connections with the Haitian elite. These key players in the Martelly administration have brought in Duvalierist connections in the Ministry of Finance, including, Josefa R. Gauthier, the daughter of Adrien Raymond, Duvalier’s foreign minister and brother of Claude Raymond. Daniel Supplice, minister of social affairs and ambassador under Duvalier, was coordinator of the Martelly transition team, was part of Aristide’s opposition a decade ago. Health adviser Dr. Pierre Pompee was special ambassador and plenipotentiary to the Holy See under Duvalier.

Martelly’s Duvalierists have also reportedly been advised by Stanley Lucas, the Haiti representative of the International Republican Institute, who, according to the New York Times, orchestrated the armed rebellion against President Aristide in 2003-2004. Following the rebellion, Lucas was removed from his position.

Haiti has a divided government, which means that the head of state (president) and the head of government (prime minister) will try to rule without the support of former President Preval’s Lespwa Party, which has a plurality in the legislature. So how was Conille, the third candidate for prime minister, finally confirmed? The explanation is not difficult to fathom. Conille, the son of a Duvalier minister, enjoys the deep pockets of an authoritarian coalition that hopes to reestablish the dreaded Haitian army that helped cause the terror that defined Duvalier’s reign.

At a recent press conference, Martelly said, “I picked Garry Conille, he is my suggestion,” to counter claims that Conille was the pick because he is the son of a Duvalierist and would bring in support from the old elite. When asked by an AP reporter about his Duvalier connection during last Thursday’s press conference, Conille dodged the question by insulting the AP reporter, saying, “I would have expected you to ask a more intelligent question.” A more intelligent question, in a country like Haiti, could not have been asked.

The Duvalierists will now try to reestablish the army. The U.N. might even train and monitor such a force if asked by the president, who could also ask the U.N. Mission to leave Haiti if the latter does not accept the army’s reinstatement. Of course, the parliament may not agree to a new army, but that would not stop the president from issuing a decree to create it, just as Aristide decreed its abolition in December 1994.

Advocates of the army in the Martelly administration will speak about how the U.N. peace-building mission stigmatizes Haiti by occupying the country with foreign troops. The trouble is that Haiti’s army has a consistent history of suppressing civil society. In the past, the army has been the biggest enemy of democracy in Haiti, and Martelly is advocating the return of an institution that has haunted the country for nearly a century.

Martelly first announced his plan for reestablishing the army at his first press conference in Washington soon after becoming president. The only convincing justification for an army made by Martelly is to overcome Haiti’s stigmatized identity. However, the only other country in Latin America without an army is also its strongest democracy. With no standing army, Costa Rica is the only state in the region to have had no interruptions to its democratic rule. Much more likely are the various nefarious goals that Duvalierists would like to achieve by gaining the means of coercion to produce patronage for a new political movement based on extortion and intimidation, just as Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier created a national civil militia which quickly became a paramilitary terror force. Duvalier created the force to offset the power of the army, which “selected” him as president in the 1957 election. The neo-Duvalierists now want an army to offset the power of the national police force, which has been improved somewhat under the tutelage of the U.N. peace-building mission. Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier established the Ton Tons Macoutes, a paramilitary force, because he could not control the army. Now, the reverse is being proposed—controlling the National Civil Police established by Aristide with an army loyal to the elected president.

Martelly presumably wants an army that he can control, because he cannot control the police, which have been led by an incorruptible leader for the past seven years. Like Aristide, Martelly would like to pretend to be democratic initially, possibly even giving the U.N. a large role in training the original forces. After a few years, the U.N. could be asked to leave—just as the U.N. mission to the National Civil Police withdrew under Aristide—and Martelly could replace the new army leadership with a Duvalierist crony.

If this happens, the cycle of dictatorship and destruction for the Haitian people will begin again.


Henry "Chip" Carey is Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University in Atlanta. His two forthcoming books are: Privatizing the Democratic Peace: Policy Dilemmas of NGO Peacebuilding (Palgrave MacMillan) and Reaping what you Sow: A Comparative Examination of Torture Reform in the United States, Israel, France and Argentina (Praeger).

[ Photo courtesy of United Nations Development Program]

Related posts