Courtesy Reuters

Haiti's Past Mortgages Its Future

Democracy, fair elections, toleration of dissent, multi-party government, checks and balances, constitutions and the rule of law are all foreign to Haiti, the sick man of the hemisphere and the United States’ close neighbor. This summer Lieutenant General Henri Namphy, Haiti’s current strongman and the head of a military junta that has ruled the demi-island nation since dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier was forced to flee in February 1986, ousted President Leslie F. Manigat and tore up the country’s post-Duvalier constitution. "Constitutions are not for Haiti," Namphy said.

II

The Duvalier family, father and son, had run Haiti like a feudal fiefdom for nearly 30 years. Although Baby Doc was less indiscriminately cruel than François (Papa Doc), his father, he maintained a predatory state which terrorized Haitians and returned very little to most of his countrymen. The junta—Namphy, Major General Williams Regala, Brigadier General Prosper Avril and Colonel Jean-Claude Paul—all soldiered for the Duvaliers, and had ties to the corrupt and rapacious elements who used Haiti for private gain. But as officers in the army their role individually and collectively was less central to the dominance of the Duvaliers than the dreaded tonton macoutes, a group of henchmen that functioned as a secret police.

Indeed, the Duvaliers largely shunted the soldiers aside, until the last Duvalier was himself forced out by a massive, popular outpouring of revulsion similar to that which rid the Philippines of Ferdinand Marcos during the same month. Baby Doc’s ouster, aided by a final, vital push by resident U.S. diplomats, permitted the long ignored and despised army to reclaim the power it had lost in Haiti in 1957, with the end of the dictatorial regime of General Paul E. Magloire and the rise of Papa Doc. Unlike its Philippine counterpart, Haiti’s army had not been instrumental in Duvalier’s departure. The junta declared itself an interim government to supervise a transition to democracy, and received the United States’ blessing for this purpose.

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