Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 25, 1994

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
     "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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