Columns, Under the Radar

Rebuilding The Haitian State Necessitates A New Political System


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a working lunch with former Haitian President Michel Martelly, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2011. Sitting to Secretary Clinton’s left is USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. [State Department photo]

By Max A. Joseph Jr.

It is becoming obvious that each passing day, and each politically-related scandal in Haiti makes the case for a thorough reorganization of the Haitian state which, under the existing environment, seems incapable of fulfilling its basic responsibilities. Indeed, the state’s overreliance on foreign assistance, its inability to organize well-timed and credible elections, the weakness of its institutions and endemic corruption are evidence that the present structure is defective and could never work. Can the Haitian people afford to stay the course and await a miracle?

I am of the view that the Haitian people can no longer afford to participate in this charade, given that their future and that of their country would remain cloudy as long as the present system endures. Unless we start dismantling this impractical and rotten political structure, not reforming it, the pathway to a stable and prosperous Haiti might have to go through a protracted and brutal armed conflict. Such unpleasant outcome would not be beneficial to anyone, even the country’s tormentors. Why is it so difficult for the economic elite, the political class and the international community to understand that marginalizing a vast majority of Haitians will not bring social stability and progress to Haiti?

Incidentally, one of the least addressed issues relating to Haiti’s perennial struggle to achieve prosperity and stability for its people is conceivably the most relevant. No one, it seems, has ever questioned the inappropriateness of Haiti’s misguided embrace of western institutions, lock, stock and barrel, even though such course of action contradicts the country’s founding legacy. The 1987 Constitution, the latest version of a western-based political system, is a prime example of the hazard associated with embracing foreign ideas and not formulating our own. The Haitian intelligentsia has become so enamored with western values and political institutions that they could not imagine Haiti embracing its own traditions and building its own system of government.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President of the Republic of Haiti, Rene Preval enter the President’s private office at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince for a meeting before the press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti April 16, 2009. [State Department photo]

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President of the Republic of Haiti, Rene Preval enter the President’s private office at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince for a meeting before the press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti April 16, 2009. [State Department photo]

Whatever the present system intended to create has not worked and will never work, because the vast majority of Haitians is not prepared to let a foreign concept decide the order of their needs. Historically and presently, the everyday needs of the masses (foods, shelters and, later on, the right to an education) always take precedence over theoretical concepts that promise hypothetical way of life, where liberty and happiness would reign supreme. The abject poverty and daily hunger affecting millions of Haitians cannot be alleviated by “so-called unalienable rights”, which the proponents of the present system insist are actually the only solution.

Haiti presently needs a political system that prioritizes the urgent needs of its citizens as opposed to one that dictates the order by which social, political, and economic progress should take place. A generation ago, many Haitians genuinely believed that a western-style democracy would bring the needed changes in Haiti. However decades into the experiment, which encompasses brutal military coups, the illegal occupation of Haiti and countless political crises, it is obvious the system is fundamentally flawed or ill-suited for the country.

Western-style democracy, whatever its virtues, has its shortcomings. Proponents however arrogantly dismiss such reasoning on the ground that it is better than all the others, although the notion of its universal appeal is evidently overrated. For instance the version being practiced in Haiti is unresponsive to the people’s needs and conducive to lawlessness, incompetence and impunity. Have the Haitian people benefited from the so-called “unalienable rights” emblazoned in the 1987 Constitution I am not anyone could believably answer in the affirmative.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush  and Haitian President Rene Preval attend a press conference at the collapsed National Palace. Presidents Clinton and Bush are in Haiti for one day visit. Photo Marco Dormino

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush and  former Haitian President Rene Preval attend a press conference at the collapsed National Palace in 2010. Photo Marco Dormino

The truth about political systems, be they totalitarian governments or western democracies, is that they are invariably conceived by controlling elites for their benefit at the expense of a gullible and expendable majority. For instance: the celebrated freedom of speech, which epitomizes the notion of universal and unalienable rights, is merely a conduit for settling quarrels within those elites, not a tool that can be used by the masses to bring about institutional changes in dysfunctional, totalitarian or democratic societies. Look no further at England’s Magna Carta (1215), the world’s oldest written constitution, and you will get the point.

Politics stops being an honest undertaking whenever politicians start believing in their ability to singlehandedly transform societies. Haitian politicians remain the “poster child” for this megalomaniacal tendency. Not surprisingly Haitian history is replete with those self-professed geniuses who, at various intervals, thought that only they could find a cure to Haiti’s chronic instability, social dysfunction and economic doldrums. The 128 political parties and 54 presidential candidates in the 2015 election are a testament to this destructive behavior.

The time is ripe for Haitians to start thinking outside the box and create a political system designed to neutralize Haiti’s undesirable peculiarities. We cannot build a viable state with a system that rewards spoilers, infiltrators and inept politicians, who hold disproportionate influence in the people’s lives yet could not even get their own family members to vote for them. A collective presidency within a system of proportional representation would negate the cult of personality and do away with the flight-by-night political parties that have become a staple of electoral politics in Haiti.

At this stage, it is unconscionable that anyone would advocate staying the course in the face of such monumental failure. We owe it to ourselves, our ancestors, and future generations of Haitians to change course because Haiti’s very existence is at stake.

Aug. 17, 2016

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