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World

Camille Chalmers "The divorce between two visions of democracy"

Haiti

Translated Sunday 20 February 2011, by Hervé Fuyet and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Camille Chalmers is the leader of the Haitian Platform for an Alternative Development (Papda). Economist and well known intellectual, he decrypts the reasons for the current crisis.

Hum: We are witnessing a new political crisis in Haiti. On what is it based?

Camille Chalmers:
It is the result of the interaction between dominant players with divergent interests and hidden agendas. The disaster of the November 28 elections was predictable. Political groups and civil society had denounced it. In a country with 300 000 dead and thousands of people displaced, it was impossible to hold fair elections. Many voters could not vote, since the voter’s list was directly managed by Ricardo Seitenfus, representative of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Haiti.

Moreover, the abominable earthquake resulted in a massive impoverishment of a population already impoverished. We had a totally unacceptable contrast between the plight of much of the population and the astronomical level of election expenses. Finally the "international community", that is to say the United States, European Union, France and Canada, have exerted pressure on the Haitian government to hold elections. The revolt of December 8 and 9, following the announcement of preliminary results, is an expression of indignation. The divorce between the political sector and the practical realities of the country is the essential element of the crisis. In 1986, Haitians rose up against Jean-Claude Duvalier to end autocracy but also to build a real democracy with qualitative changes. Since then, the dominant forces and the imperialists are trying to recuperate this project and to reinterpret it through a sham democracy, limited and reduced to an electoral game. This divorce between two visions of democracy, two processes is the very heart of the crisis and impasse that this incomplete transition represents.

Hum: Who benefits from this instability?

Camille Chalmers:
Part of the Haitian ruling class accepts it. This instability promotes, for example, the lack of customs control, and paves the way for drug traffickers. According to the State Department, 10 to 12% of drugs entering the U.S. market pass through Haiti. It’s the same for the tax evasion. Tax evasion deprives the State of considerable means. Thus the vast UN bureaucracy justifies the indefinite extension of its peacekeeping force, which is nevertheless both unadapted and oversized. And the international media present it as chaos. But the population rejects this instability. It showed that, during the earthquake, through its self-organization.

Hum: You mentioned the overthrow of the dictator Duvalier. What is the meaning of his return, which came as a "surprise"?

Camille Chalmers:
The public opinion was "prepared" for the arrival of Jean-Claude Duvalier. There was a distortion of history to present his regime as "normal". This operation met with some success since much of the population has not experienced the horror of the two Duvalier regimes. Faced with a very disappointing economic situation, this distortion can feed feelings of nostalgia for a period of imagined prosperity. Duvalier’s return benefits far-right and reactionary elements, who are taking advantage of the current impasse to generate these nostalgic reactions. This found an expression through the candidacy of Michel Martelly (qualified for the second round of presidential elections) who has shown, repeatedly, his affinities with the Duvalier option. Moreover, it is difficult to believe that Duvalier has returned without the French authorities being notified. Duvalier’s return is a set-up linked to the electoral situation: he arrived on the day the second round of presidential elections was expected to take place. Haitian justice reacted well, even if it remained a timid reaction, given the magnitude of the crimes committed by the Duvalier. Historians must work to make sure that young people know what this dictatorship represented.

Hum: Hopes were disappointed when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was driven away by the pressures from the “street" and the interventions from abroad. What would his eventual return represent?

Camille Chalmers:
There is no comparison between Duvalier and Aristide. Aristide is the result of a progressive grassroots movement that wants to change the structures of society. We should take into account the three "Aristide" periods. A leader never acts alone but interacts with a given situation: after the coup (1991), he returned under the protection of a U.S. military intervention (in 1994), after the dismantlement by terror of the popular movement. It is essential to know that to understand the failures and impasses of Aristide, and to demystify his errors. The possible return of Aristide, conditioned by the "international community", would change the internal political balance of forces, because the movement Lavalas (Aristide’s party) has demonstrated its resilience and its organization that has a strong social foundation in popular districts.

Hum: You say that the genesis of the Haitian crisis is the divorce of two visions of democracy. How do you explain that the vision defended by civil society is so little understood?

Camille Chalmers:
From 1986 to 2011, there were significant mobilization cycles. The popular movement has sought to combine and synthesize the claims of political and social order. It is a fabric that lends structure. But it was not transformed into a political movement that could synthesize the social demands as part of a project within a structured organization. This lack of political leadership was a considerable weakness. Therefore the popular movement has been diverted and disjointed. It has also suffered a terrible repression and destabilization through corruption. The distortion of the image of Haiti is such that we do not talk about the tenacity of civil society. Today, the traditional political class has no clear ideology. It is defined relative to the U.S. project. Hence its low resonance in the population. But the State reforms we need require political legitimacy. This is one of the dilemmas of the political crisis in Haiti: the dimension of problems far exceeds the policy instruments, which operate on a superficial basis, remote from the realities of the country.

Interview conducted by Cathy Ceïbe


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