Academic journal article Social Justice

Democracy and Society in Haiti: Structures of Domination and Resistance to Change

Academic journal article Social Justice

Democracy and Society in Haiti: Structures of Domination and Resistance to Change

Article excerpt

With the inauguration of president Jean B. Aristide on February 7, 1991, a promising development in the national history of Haiti took place. Six million men and women showed their willingness to fight for their country's right to a place at the great table of humanity. The military coup d'etat of September 30, 1991, shattered this democratic experiment with extreme violence, resulting in thousands of dead and injured. With the installation of a de facto military regime, which hides behind a civilian facade, the country has come to a standsfill. Civil liberties are suspended, public funds depleted, living conditions for the masses even further degraded, and international cooperation suspended. Not since 1915 has Haiti known a crisis of such serious proportions.

The difficulties in finding a solution to this crisis lead to all sorts of interpretations, some of them racist: Haitians lack chromosomes; certain character traits produce an attitude of resignation or prevent them from finding a collective solution to their problems. Other comments refer to Haiti's atypical history as a nation, or to historical, geographical, or racial inevitability; or responsibility is attributed to foreigners and external meddling in our troubled affairs. However, we also must admit that very often even those who sympathize with or support the cause of the Haitian people find themselves confused in their efforts to understand and interpret events in Haiti.

The Republic of Minorities: An Obstacle to Development and Democracy

The present situation is only a phase, though a decisive one, in the lengthy and painful process of the nation's development. For a very long time indeed, this development has been tramelled by a confluence of internal and external factors that historically have molded the country's socioeconomic and cultural structures and generated powerful impediments to its progress. At the same time, these factors have conditioned the forms of popular struggle and resistance. Moreover, the very nature of the current crisis provoked by the military coup and the difficulties in resolving it may be explained by the entrenchment and resiliency of the structures of domination, which have been challenged by the masses for the last few years, particularly since the December 16, 1990, election of Aristide. These structures constitute the background from which the coup d' etat and the police state emerged.

Social Polarization

The annual per capita income of $300, which makes Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, demonstrates the reality of living conditions for most people. Ninety-five percent of the rural population lives below the absolute poverty level; three out of four children suffer from malnutrition; 80% of the population is illiterate. It is pointless to list here all the statistics regarding health, education, infrastructure, or other elements of society. In spite of their eloquence, the numbers politely mask the inhuman living conditions of people who, living on the brink of disaster, must use their wits on a daily basis to create, produce, and survive in order to safeguard their integrity and dignity.

However, it must be emphasized that while the average annual per capita income is ridiculously low, it falls to barely $40 for peasants and rises to $120,000 for a small minority. Four thousand families (one percent) control the country's capital and 44% of the national revenue. Their lifestyle and display of affluence would scandalize even certain strata of the bourgeoisie in powerful Western societies. There is an astronomic disparity between living conditions of these super-rich and those of the mass of impoverished men, women, and children condemned to a dehumanizing existence. Thus, two worlds and two lifestyles live side by side, their differences well articulated in the dynamic functioning of the social system. The presence of the one explains the existence of the other, while the violence inherent in this situation makes Haiti one of the most explosive areas on the continent. …

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