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 democracy. "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 Aristide. 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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