Haiti: The Failure of Politics

By Brian Weinstein; Aaron Segal | Go to book overview

3
Government by Franchise

As surprising as it may seem, 29 years of Duvalier family rule did not leave Haiti with an all-powerful central government capable of penetrating all corners of national life. Nor were specific directives from Port-au-Prince responsible for the pervasive exploitation and oppression. One reason is the traditionally limited goals of government; most Haitian rulers have merely sought to maintain themselves in power and from a distance to extract resources from the population and from foreign donors for their personal bank accounts and safety. Indifference to the obligations of modern government translated itself into a restricted direct government presence. A second reason is the result of what we call "government by franchise," the assignment of government functions and privileges to trusted persons and families within the central government or administrative apparatus as well as in all towns and, most important, throughout the rural areas. In return for maintaining security and for ensuring a flow of resources to the center, thousands of franchise holders were free to extract benefits for themselves as they wished and could.

This political infrastructure with symbolic authority centralized in distant Port- au-Prince but with day-to-day decisions made in a deconcentrated way at the local level cannot be considered a "totalitarian" state in the manner Haitian scholar Michel-Rolph Trouillot has suggested. 1 It was much too flexible, increasingly porous to outsiders' intervention in the economic and social realms, and surprisingly free in matters of religion and culture. More important for an understanding of events after the departure of the Duvaliers is the fact that the system as it was set up could survive without Duvalier. The most prominent supporters of the regime realized that Jean-Claude Duvalier's incompetence, vulgar corruption, and marriage were undermining the system his father had established, particularly as the economy declined, churches mobilized, foreign donors pushed

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