Haiti's Political Conundrum

Guest post by Prospere Charles PhD, Executive Director of the 1804 Institute

Haiti’s politics are complicated. Haiti is a Republic and Haitians are supposed to elect their government through free and fair elections. Elected officials receive a mandate to work on behalf of the Haitian people. They promote Haiti’s interests both locally and abroad, facilitate the development of Haitian communities and foster social progress throughout the country.

From the process of selecting the government through the process of governing, however, Haiti has not been a shining example in the region. In fact, for a major part of its 212 years history, Haiti has been either under a direct military rule or a civilian dictatorship. The process of choosing a government for the people, by the people has not been an established tradition in the first black republic of the world. Only approximately three times in Haiti’s history there have been some sort of “commonly acceptable political elections.” In these instances, a majority of Haiti’s electorate went to the polls to elect their representatives, but the resulting government usually would not last long. 

Perhaps emboldened by their apparent popular support, those government would first make it a priority to clean up Haiti’s public institutions from the so-called old guards, i.e. those individuals whom they believe were in charge of managing the country’s public affairs in prior administrations. Those old guards are usually well entrenched and financially connected with the economic elite. Most of them, through their public functions, would establish preferential relationships with individuals from the elite, creating policies that would benefit the already privileged, bestowing on them favors and advantages not necessarily reserved for other groups in Haiti’s society. These practices would understandably create an uneven playing field favoring the haves against the have-nots, creating the conditions for social tensions to rise and persist. The political landscape is therefore engulfed with nepotism and bigotry, staffed with functionaries who work at the behest of private interests.

When Haitians demand change and replace a bad regime with members of the opposition, soon after the status quo re-establishes itself and more often than not, for the worst. The change event occurred only at the level of the people, replacing one public figure with another public persona; but the system of corruption still remains. The incapacity (or unwillingness) of political leaders to find the correct formula to lift the Haitian people up from poverty is mind-boggling. Those who come into the political arena with a message of hope and changes are soon defeated and discouraged to never entertain such an endeavor again. 

Every year the fight against hunger and corruption takes a step backwards with more corruption and more poverty. On one hand, the haves, the few, the politically connected, the powerful, believe they are entitled to be at the top of Haiti’s societal construct, and that the government should work in their favor. On the other hand, the have-nots, the many, the poor masses, believe they have been cast away from opportunities and economic advancement. The lack, or total absence, of policies that facilitate their social development relegate them to substandard livings conditions. They feel condemned to stay in their social ranks, hence, they leave the country en masse, realizing that their constant state of revolts and requests for change have not produced any fruit. This is just one aspect of the political dynamic that has been regulating Haiti’s political structures for almost two centuries and with a not-so-promising prospect in the horizon.

Another aspect of Haiti’s political environment is the strong meddling of foreign countries and international entities in Haiti’s affairs. There is a persistent perception among Haitians that some western countries, such as the United States, Canada and France, have not been true friends of Haiti as they publicly claim to be. Many Haitians believe that these countries would do anything to reinforce their dominance over Haitians and their natural resources and to keep Haiti from becoming what it was meant to be from the beginning: a shining example of freedom and black power for former colonies in the Americas to follow. These perceptions are not merely the fruit of a fertile imagination or conspiracy theories; they are based on historical facts and hard truths that have been documented by qualified researchers and authors for decades.

Thirty years of studying and experiencing a phenomenon can contribute to one’s understanding of it. When it comes to the causes of Haiti’s poverty, the modus operandi of this phenomenon can be found in its political system. My soon-to-be published book on “The Causes of Haiti’s Poverty” will go deeper into this issue, but for now, just days after Haiti’s third strike at a presidential election process that started over a year ago, let’s remind ourselves that among the causes of Haiti’s miseries, a failed political system stacked with leaderless leaders is high on the list.


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