Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti

Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti

Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti

Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti


Democratic Insecurities focuses on the ethics of military and humanitarian intervention in Haiti during and after Haiti's 1991 coup. In this remarkable ethnography of violence, Erica Caple James explores the traumas of Haitian victims whose experiences were denied by U.S. officials and recognized only selectively by other humanitarian providers. Using vivid first-person accounts from women survivors, James raises important new questions about humanitarian aid, structural violence, and political insecurity. She discusses the politics of postconflict assistance to Haiti and the challenges of promoting democracy, human rights, and justice in societies that experience chronic insecurity. Similarly, she finds that efforts to promote political development and psychosocial rehabilitation may fail because of competition, strife, and corruption among the individuals and institutions that implement such initiatives.


What has dehumanized me has become a commodity, which I
offer for sale.

Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits

In this book I trace the links between military and humanitarian interventions in contemporary Haiti and the nation’s ongoing struggles to consolidate democracy and combat insecurity. I first chronicle the historic roots and practices of terror apparatuses and then describe how the coup regime targeted Haitian pro-democracy activists with cruel forms of domination during the 1991-94 period of de facto rule. I recount how members of the coup apparatus used sexual and gender violence as tools of repression to terrorize the poor pro-democracy sector. I also describe the disordered subjectivities that such traumatic experiences produced in women and men whom I encountered during my work. However, this book does not focus exclusively on the assemblage of sex, gender, violence, and trauma—a negative nexus of power that has plagued sociopolitical realities in Haiti from the colonial era to the present (James 1989 [1963]; James 2003; Renda 2001; Rey 1999). Rather, it describes the processes by which individuals and families targeted for repression formulated new political subjectivities as apparatuses of terror and compassion intervened in their lives.

On December 16, 1990, the citizens of Haiti elected the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide president of the republic. The democratic election was historic after nearly thirty years of the brutal hereditary Duvalier dictatorship (François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, 1957-71, and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, 1971-86) and five years of “Duvalierism without Duvalier,” a period in which Duvalierist armed forces . . .

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