The Third U.S. Intervention and Haiti's Paramilitary Predicament

By Carey, Henry F. | Journal of Haitian Studies, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Third U.S. Intervention and Haiti's Paramilitary Predicament


Carey, Henry F., Journal of Haitian Studies


How should we make theoretical sense of Haiti's instability in the past two decades? The central hypothesis of this study is that the 29-year Duvalier dicatatorship was stabilized through the paramilitary. In the past two decades, unofficial and illegitimate paramilitaries have continued to be a constant factor in Haitian politics, each of them attempting to secure partisan political power, but none with a monopoly on coercion. Consequently, the type of institution that was most able to stabilize Haiti from 1957-1986, albeit at a horrendous cost, has been the most prominent de-stabilizing force since that time.

Morris Janowitz once explained that weak regimes often enhance their chances of survival by utilizing paramilitary forces. What he called "enhanced regime consolidation," Janowitz hypothesized that, if constitutional methods and regular forces fail to maintain stability, the military must adjust its use efforce to maintain itself in power.1 A ruling coalition has to be expanded to build a "minimum level of political consensus," whose strength will depend on the types of institutional and political adaptations used to manage developing political crises. If past military structures prove unsuccessful in managing intense civil-military and other conflicts, then, after a period of "political learning," the ruler may decide that the best way to dominate the state and civil society is to reduce the scope of his or her goals and to rely increasingly on paramilitary forces to consolidate the regime. These paramilitary forces expand, no matter what type of regime exists: quasidemocratic, junta, or a single dominant leader. By relying on paramilitary forces, which lack supervision and accountability, stability is achieved at the cost of the rule of law.

Janowitz underscores that paramilitarism is a worldwide trend in which elites rely upon paramilitary forces, a la Clauswitz, "as political elements in continuous internal bargaining."2 Janowitz noted that the use of paramilitary forces had greatly expanded over the first postcolonial decade in new countries, as well as in the old military regimes of the Western Hemisphere.3 "The role of paramilitary agencies in the internal security operations of a developing nation articulates with the political tactics of the regular military's leaders."4 They are not particularly concerned with traditional, nonpolitical crime.5

Joel Migdal's concept of the "politics of survival" suggests why paramilitary threats also emerge from outside regimes, which feel insecure and adopt defensive mechanisms that others find threatening. This occurs where the established patterns of interaction throughout society strongly resist assertions of state authority. According to Migdal, "these struggles are over whether the state will be able to displace other organizations in society that make rules against the wishes and goals of state leaders."6 Conflicts between state officials and local "strongmen" result in some of the latter exerting their superior power against the state. In a weak state, strongmen can have much more at stake and more resources than leaders, and can successfully fight the state's new initiatives and repression. This battle over sovereignty often results in the strongmen consolidating their resources against future state attempts at reform. Reformist efforts, as Tocqueville suggests, induce more resistance, which in turn inspire a ratcheting up of the state's coercive power.

In theory, the best way to reduce state terror and terrorism by anti-system forces is generally through deterrence, democratization, equitable economic development, and development of the rule of law through efficient and just policing, due process, and effective prosecution in the courts. These tasks, under conditions of inefficient government (or what we will argue is tantamount to anarchy), are too risky in the short term for security-conscious leaders to attempt. In the absence of effective state institutions and protection of human rights, Haitians have established gangs and paramilitary forces or utilized vigilante street-justice and lynchings, while rulers have armed themselves as well.

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