Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 13, 1995

Haiti's Fledgling Democracy Hinges on Middle Class Commitment

By Mike Field

     Lack of resolve among the Haitian middle class may present a
serious obstacle in that country's fledgling efforts at creating
a democratic society, warned a high-ranking Haitian minister to
the Organization of American States. Speaking in French before a
small audience at the Homewood campus's Mudd Hall, deputy chief
of Haiti's mission to the OAS Guy Pierre described a "withering"
of commitment on the part of Haiti's middle classes that may
endanger the fragile transition process from autocracy to

     "The need to participate in the international economy raises
a number of difficult questions," said Pierre, who spoke with
simultaneous English translation provided by professor of
anthropology Michel-Rolph Trouillot. "The sense of innovation is
absent among the Haitian bourgeoisie," he said, suggesting that a
fear of the economics of a free society could prevent certain
segments of the middle classes from aligning with the newly
restored democratic government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand

     Pierre's speech was sponsored through the Hopkins-Georgetown
Haiti Project, a joint cooperative effort between the two
universities designed to encourage free, open and nonpartisan
dialogue and research on Haiti. Prior to his address, Pierre
emphasized that he was present to offer his own personal beliefs
in an academic setting, rather than to present official
government policy. 

     "Although the forces for democracy have existed in Haiti for
more than 200 years, the problem is now much more complex than
even at the beginning of the century," Pierre said. "How do you
break the ties between the local bourgeoisie and the entrenched
power structure? And how do you successfully integrate the
Haitian economy into the world system? These, I believe, are the
two major problems confronting the efforts to build democracy." 

     An 11th-hour replacement for Haitian Ambassador Jean
Casimir, who had been called back to Haiti on government
business, Pierre spoke for  about 15 minutes from prepared notes.
With him on stage at the front of the lecture hall were
Hopkins-Georgetown Haiti Project members Gillian Gunn and Robert
Maguire. Dr. Trouillot, director of both the HGHP and of the
Hopkins Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and
History, acted as translator and coordinator of the presentation.

     "The distribution of wealth is at heart of Haiti's
problems," said Dr. Trouillot in a wide-ranging question and
answer period after Pierre's remarks. "In Haiti today you have a
bunch of monopolies supported by state power creating outrageous
fortunes. It will take a lot of courage and will be extremely
difficult to face these problems and work out some solution." 

     Dr. Maguire , a Hopkins visiting scholar with the
Hopkins-Georgetown Haiti Project, recently returned from a
fact-finding visit to Haiti. He described an uneasy peace that
exists between the supporters of Aristide and members of the
former regime, particularly around the issue of past human rights
violations. To date, the Aristide administration has adopted a
cautious policy of reconciliation, choosing not to convene a
planned human rights commission to look into charges of torture
and summary executions by members of the former government. 

     "There is a general feeling in Haiti now that reconciliation
without justice is like the cake without icing," Dr. Maguire
said. "Trying to bring these various elements of Haitian society
together has created a very rocky marriage. There will be lots of
fights there in the future."

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