strategies for a developing world…

Baby Doc is Dead, Duvalierism Lives On

steber002In October 1986, the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees (NCHR) and Americas Watch (a division of Human Rights Watch) released a report on  human rights conditions in Haiti. Entitled Duvalierism Since Duvalier, the report chronicled the lack of progress made in distancing Haiti from a disastrous 29-year past fashioned by the Duvaliers (père et fils) who plundered the country and elevated corruption, cronyism and murder to pinnacles unseen in Haiti until their ascent to power.

Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier was forced out of power in February 1986. He returned to Haiti in 2011, after Michel Martelly aka Sweet Micky was foisted upon the people of Haiti by an international community through a brokered electoral scheme that flirted with fairness and transparency but never met this basic standard. President Martelly welcomed Duvalier with much deference. Efforts to try Duvalier for human rights crimes were obfuscated by a meek legal system that finally allowed prosecution on human rights grounds. But Baby Doc kicked the bucket on October 4, 2014. Justice long delayed has turned into justice denied.

We offer you the Executive Summary of the 1986 report which pretty much summarizes the state of affairs in Haiti for the 28 years since 1986. The signature blue denim uniforms worn by the Tontons Macoutes are no longer a permanent fixture of the Haitian landscape. But the mindset that hid behind the dark sunglasses and drove the ruthless behavior remains.


Duvalierism Since Duvalier


In the early hours of February 7, 1986, the world’s only remaining President-for-Life, Jean Claude Duvalier, was spirited away from his domain on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane, ending twenty-nine years of family rule. His departure came in response to a popular insurrection that sought an end to government by cronyism, corruption and terror.

Young Haitian Girl in the La Saline Slum March 1986Duvalier’s legacy is an impoverished and largely illiterate population in a land that has been systematically stripped of resources for twenty-nine years to benefit a small elite consisting of the family, friends and business associates of the Duvaliers. In the process, the two Presidents-for-Life accumulated one of the bloodiest human rights records in the hemisphere, systematically choosing to flout the rule of law. Unfortunately, the United States government repeatedly certified, without basis, that this awful human rights situation was improving, and thus became indelibly associated with the Duvalierist clique in the eyes of the Haitian population.

On February 10, Lieutenant-General Henri Namphy, President of the ruling junta, the National Governing Council (CNG), declared that his regime would be based on “absolute respect for human rights, press freedom, the existence of free labor unions and the functioning of structured political parties.•

Unfortunately, in the eight months time since the CNG took control of Haiti’s destiny, a large gap has developed between officially stated goals and the actual actions of the government. In fact, as the present report indicates, no radical and permanent break with the Duvalier past has yet taken place.

In late January 1986, the United States had refused to certify that the Haitian government had complied with human rights conditions in U.S. law for military aid to that country, citing “serious repressive actions taken by the Duvalier government in late 1985 and early 1986.” Haitians welcomed this indication of a more enlightened policy. Previously, the Reagan administration had routinely certified Haiti despite well-documented abuses. Yet the administration soon rushed to give the Duvalier­ appointed junta its blessing and to offer the officers in charge substantial military aid. In its statement justifying certification, the State Department wrote:

The National Governing Council’s most radical break with the Duvalier past has come in the area of human rights and democracy .The CNG moved quickly to clean up Haiti’s severely tarnished human rights record.

The quick stamp of approval for the CNG has cost the United States much of the good will it obtained by transporting Duvalier out of Haiti. Many Haitians consider that the United States is obstinately allying itself with the junta which is perceived as sustaining Duvalierism without Duvalier. Significant human rights abuses by the Haitian security forces under the direction of the junta suggest that Secretary of State George Shultz was at least too hasty in putting a stamp of approval on the CNG. Evidence of the hasty and erroneous nature of this judgment came early with the resignation of Gerard Gourgue, the junta’ s only respected civilian member, in protest against abuses.

Haitian Prisoner in his cell at National Penitentiary March 1986The findings in this report indicate that there has been scant progress in halting human rights violations by the security forces, in investigating past abuses and in bringing to trial corrupt officials and military officers responsible for past and present abuses. The Secret Police Chief, Col. Albert Pierre and the head of the notorious Tontons Macoutes, Madame Max Adolphe, were allowed to leave the country. Demonstrations that did not threaten life, limb or property have been violently suppressed. The “Leopars,” the elite counter-insurgency force created in 1971 and trained by the United States, have been particularly brutal in dealing with civilians.

The colonels who dominate the current provisional government are in the majority Duvalier loyalists and represent no change from the past. Colonel Williams Regala, Minister of Interior and National Defense, the strongman of the officers in day-to-day charge of Haitian politics, was associated directly with the Secret Police during the 1960s and the 1970s and was also a close personal associate of its former chief Luc Desyr, one of the most notorious torturers and murderers of the Duvalier era.

Significant institutional changes are required to establish the public’s confidence in the government’ s ability to build the infrastructure for democracy. These are yet to be made or even begun. Although the CNG has announced goals for some elections, it does not appear that the provisional government has as yet formulated a plan to bring about these fundamental changes, much less has a timetable for them.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, and the Americas Watch have found that

I. The provisional National Governing Council (CNG) is dominated by a small group of military officers who served the Duvaliers loyally. It has taken few significant steps to transcend the Duvalier legacy of terror, cronyism and corruption. Significant institutional changes are required to establish the Haitian public’s confidence in a new government and in its commitment to building democratic institutions.

2. The military officers now in charge in Haiti have not halted abuses of the Haitian citizenry by the security forces, and they have not undertaken significant reforms within the military. The use of deadly force by the security forces against peaceful dissenters has continued since the departure of the Duvaliers. Official investigations of these killings have not been undertaken. Col. Williams Regala has publicly announced that there is nothing to investigate and that the military actions were appropriate. Military officials have not acted to halt marauding bands of former Tonton Macoutes in rural areas, and have not set a date by which former Macoutes must tum in their arms or face prosecution.

3. Although the military officers who dominate the CNG have responded to public demands by promising a “clean break with the Duvalierist past,” they have not permitted a significant investigation of past abuses as a way to discourage future violations of human rights. There has been no attempt to determine the extent of past abuses, nor the identity of those who committed them, nor the role of the security forces in these abuses. Moreover, there has been no clear order by the army high command that security forces personnel will be prosecuted for further abuses.

4. The show trials of Francois Duvalier’s notorious former secret police chief , Luc Desyr, and of Army Colonel Samuel Jérémie, believed to have ordered the killings of over one hundred civilians in Leogane in January 1986, are not exceptions to this failure to deal seriously with past abuses. The trials were conducted in a way that mocked the rule of law. They seemed merely an attempt to appease the public desire for revenge: little evidence was presented and the prosecutions were conducted so as to avoid an examination of the structure of the repression and the links between the defendants and those still holding power in Haiti.

5. Far from creating an atmosphere conducive to the development of democratic institutions, the CNG has continued to restrict the press and the political parties through edicts announced in late July 1986. It has not repealed repressive laws imposed by the Duvaliers, like the 1969 “Anti-Communist Law,” which gives the government broad license to detain dissenters.

6. Haitian legal, human rights and civic groups are increasingly concerned that the CNG and United States policymakers have no vision of democracy that goes beyond the holding of elections. As U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz said in commenting on the 1984 elections in Nicaragua: •An election just as an election doesn’t really mean anything. The important thing is that if there is to be an electoral process, it be observed not only at the moment when people vote, but in all the preliminary aspects that make an election really mean something.” To make an election in Haiti “mean something,” the country urgently requires a literacy campaign; a period for public education and discussion; and a protracted series of local elections beginning at the level of the rural sections. Elections should be held for a Constitutional assembly to write a new Constitution, but the CNG is going forward with a proposal that includes appointing a group of “notables• to do the job.

1986-03-JMC0097. Though labor unions are permitted, the Haitian government remains hostile to independent organizing efforts. The Ministry of Social Affairs, which oversees labor union affairs, appears to collaborate with employers and does not protect the rights of workers to organize as required by Haitian law.

8. United States policy towards Haiti subsequent to the ouster of the Duvaliers has not helped to advance human rights. The United States has promoted the forms of democracy — that is, elections — without significant efforts to promote the democratic institutions required to give substance to the forms. Also the United States has insisted upon military aid to Haiti, allying itself with a small clique that continues to commit abuses of human fights, even though the overwhelming need in Haiti is for democratic government and development assistance. The United States has not spoken out in favor of efforts to investigate past abuses, nor to punish those responsible, nor to criticize continuing abuses. Rather, the United States rushed to put a stamp of approval on the human rights practices of the Duvalier appointed provisional government.

Note: the entire report can be retrieved here as portable document (pdf).

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