TROUILLOT: U.S.-HAITI POLCY HURT BY INFORMATION GAP By Steve Libowitz Hopkins anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot has been troubled by what he considers the serious gap between the available knowledge about Haiti and the knowledge on which U.S. government officials, including the president, are basing their foreign policy decisions. In a report to the Ford Foundation last year, the Haitian-born professor recommended that the foundation's money would be well spent helping to bridge this information gap. "Not only are policymakers making mistakes," he wrote, "but they don't even know what to ask." Foundation directors agreed and asked him to head the effort. Initially hesitant, Dr. Trouillot finally created a project, which he directs and which the Hopkins Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History administers, in collaboration with Georgetown University. On July 14, Dr. Trouillot traveled to Washington to conduct the first meeting of the Johns Hopkins-Georgetown University Haiti Project, which will provide policymakers and others involved in contemporary Haitian issues a venue for receiving and sharing up-to-date and accurate information. "If you ask policymakers to point out Haiti on a blank map, I tremble to think how many would not know where it is," said Dr. Trouillot, who was named the first Krieger Eisenhower Distinguished Professor earlier this year. "Haiti, and the Caribbean in general, has not historically been an important region for policymakers. You don't advance your career by being an expert on the Caribbean." Born into his country's intellectual elite, Dr. Trouillot shared schooling and a social environment with many of the leaders responsible for Haiti's past and current economic and political situation. He shares his father's and uncle's highly regarded reputations as a historian, publishing in 1990 _Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism._ "I was booed by the elites and middle classes in Haiti when I first suggested that our nightmare had not ended with the fall of the 29-year Duvalier regime," Dr. Trouillot said, "but the French version of the book, read by the lower classes, became a best seller there." Although most of his family eschewed politics, preferring to maintain a critical distance, his stepmother, former Supreme Court judge Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, was named Haiti's president to succeed Duvalier and help stabilize the country in preparation for the democratic election that would ultimately bring Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. "Ertha was the product of the same sort of syndrome that swept into power Cory Aquino in the Phillipines," Dr. Trouillot said. "She was the widow of a well-known lawyer and intellectual and was herself a respected lawyer and judge. However, with the democratic process in place, she now keeps a very low profile." Dr. Trouillot, who consults informally with the international liaison office of President Aristide, considers himself neither a supporter nor detractor of the exiled leader. "For better or worse, he is the only one who can untangle the mess in Haiti," Dr. Trouillot acknowledged, "because, for the first time, the peasant and urban lower classes have spoken up and democratically elected their candidate." He admits that there is no evidence that Aristide will make any difference in Haiti, or even that he can govern. "But he is in a most special position as the first and only person ever elected by the Haitian people, so any long-term solution must start from where we are now," he said. What steps the United States should take to retun Aristide to power is not Dr. Trouillot's specific concern. "Of course I care about what happens to the country, and I still have family and friends there," he said. "But I also must distance myself in order to provide the perspective that's so sorely needed by those who can answer that question." That perspective is the primary goal of the Hopkins-Georgetown Haiti Project. In the collaborative effort, modeled after Georgetown's Cuba Project, Hopkins' Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History will have the leading role selecting and presenting the ideas and research of noted scholars. Gillian Gunn at Georgetown will incorporate key government officials responsible for Haitian policy into a study group and sponsor the actual briefings on their campus. "The Hopkins-Georgetown Haiti Project has no policy agenda and will propose no solutions," Dr. Trouillot said. "Our aim is strictly to raise awareness and to facilitate dialogue between scholars and government agencies that are often making policy out of concert with each other." To carry out its goals, the project has established a study group of officials who represent the broad spectrum of the government. Officials plan to meet every six weeks for off-the-record briefing sessions, some with guest speakers on predetermined topics of timely interest. The project will complement these briefings with a series of briefing papers, which will provide current, in-depth analysis on key policy issues. Robert Maquire, whose writings have focused on the Haitian peasantry, rural and grass-roots development, migration and boat people, and social and economic relationships, will prepare the first briefing in his capacity as a visting scholar at Hopkins this fall. The Ford Foundation has underwritten the Hopkins-Georgetown Haiti Project with a six-month, $50,000 grant with an option for an additional year. Time enough, Dr. Trouillot hopes, to bring insiders up to speed on the precarious world around them. "The president and his policymakers should know that the economic blockade is not really exacerbating the refugee problem or hurting the poorest classes in Haiti. The poor have little to lose, and the refugees are leaving because their lives seem so hopeless. It is the middle class that is getting hurt the most. And the elites are mostly inconvenienced. It may take them a few more hours and a couple hundred dollars more to fly to Miami, but that's not a problem. "History, and my own experience with these people, suggests that the military junta will not be bluffed or swayed by Clinton's blustering and blockades," Dr. Trouillot said. "He can threaten to put nuclear warheads on ships in Port-au-Prince. They will be moved only when they are physically forced to." As to whether the United States should lead an invasion of Haiti to restore Aristide and democracy, Dr. Trouillot is ambivalent. "The U.S. stake in Haiti right now is the refugees," he said, "but Port-au-Prince is going to explode one day from all of the political and economic tensions pulling at it. The question becomes, then, do we take action now or later, and I don't have that answer. I hope the answers I do have prove valuable to those who must make those decisions.
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