Michel Martelly’s determination to stake his political fortune on reconstituting the defunct Haitian Army, a controversial issue that does not have the support of the majority, can be defined as an example of true leadership, resolve, conviction and, naturally, narrow-mindedness. As these perspectives are political, therefore ideological, prejudicial and emotional, there is a school of thought which holds that only future generations and historians will be able to make a definite assessment of his action, provided he succeeds in reconstructing the Haitian army. Be that as it may, I nonetheless believe that even an ideologically blinded opponent is capable of making a contemporary and objective assessment of the thorny issue that is likely to profoundly affect Haiti’s future.
Becoming the commander-in-chief of an institution that once rejected him (while an army cadet, he was expelled from the military academy for conduct unbecoming of a future officer) seems to have become an obsession for the Haitian president. Thus, because of Martelly’s emotional connection to the issue, the decision to reconstitute the Haitian Army should be part of a broad consensus. The membership in the presidential commission that is tasked to formulate a plan for the remobilization of the disbanded Haitian army is an indication of his unwillingness to explore that possibility, as it is composed of the who’s who of the reactionary forces in Haiti, most notably the presidency-obsessed jurist Gérard Gourgue. Without a doubt, Michel Martelly has not been proficient at convincing the Haitian people and the international community of the necessity of remobilizing the Haitian Army. His plentiful comments on the issue, thus far, have been inconsistent and contradictory, but unequivocal about his intention to see the realization of his pet project.
Martelly’s initial premise was that Haiti has no external enemies (an absurdity that shows his limited knowledge of Haitian history and poor understanding of the current situation) and the reconstruction of the Haitian Army will provide job opportunities for thousands of unemployed youths (apparently a novel approach to combating unemployment that defies logic.) Unable to get funding for his bizarre project and facing opposition from level-headed quarters, he resorted to playing the nationalist card by incorrectly claiming that a remobilized Haitian army is meant to replace the MINUSTAH, the acronym for the Security Council-mandated occupation of Haiti. Moreover, his claim that the disbandment of the F.A.d’H in 1995 is responsible for the continued presence of foreign troops in the country is disingenuous and downright ridiculous. And, the list of faux justifications goes on and on.
Politicians, being artful at deceiving the public and pandering to particular constituencies, often make outlandish statements that are immediately disregarded or forgotten because of their impracticability or utopian nature. But for many, the deceitful practice continues long after they get elected and the need to deceive has become irrelevant. Michel Martelly belongs to this group of politicians that cannot make the transition between campaigning and governing. More to the point, it was the excesses of the then-Haitian army (gross human rights violations, thuggery and drug dealing) that provoked the US invasion and occupation in 1994 and its disbandment by then-Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, the following year. Unless the man is feigning amnesia, as he was a vocal supporter of the military junta that overthrew the first democratically elected president of Haiti on September 30, 1991, he ought to know that Haiti had an army when the US marines landed in Port-au-Prince in 1994.
Legalists and supporters of a remobilization of the Haitian army may be fretting over the fact that its demobilization in 1995 was done outside of any legal and constitutional norms, but they need to be reminded that a functioning Democracy does not automatically undo an illegal act with another. Fittingly, the 1987 Constitution neither authorizes the demobilization of the Haitian army by a presidential decree, which was exactly what Aristide did, nor sanctions its remobilization through an executive order, which is the road being taken by Martelly. The issue has unfortunately evolved into something bigger than the illegal demobilization of a thuggish army or the vindictiveness of the revanchists. The relevant issue now is whether Haiti can afford an expensive institution that will not contribute to its social, political and economic development.
The notion of an army being a powerful symbol of a sovereign state, which Martelly and cohorts mindlessly believe to be the case, is obsolete in the age of supersonic missiles and stealth bombers. These inveterate militarists need to look at the recent events in Libya to understand the hollowness of their argument. The late Moammar Kaddafi spent billions of dollars building the Libyan army which, in the end, neither protected Libya not his regime from the onslaught of the technologically superior NATO forces.
It should be noted that the issue of remobilizing the Haitian army is a cliché of the division of Haitian society. The elite and its allies favor it while the working classes, which suffered the most under the now-defunct F.A.d’H, oppose it. As anything else pertaining to the divide of Haitian society, there is no middle ground. The solution: ne pas réveiller the chat qui dort. (do not wake up the sleeping cat) Given the magnitude of Haiti’s problems, which has multiplied exponentially since the January 12, 2010 earthquake that physically destroyed the state and killed 2% of its population, even a hypothetical discussion on restoring the Haitian army is unpatriotic and irresponsible.
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