A brilliant trogon, absolutely willing to defend the forest, Haiti soldiers on. At what? It is pretty hard to parse through the mediatized and actual humanitarian catastrophe that Haiti today hosts, and pinpoint a specific reason why the republic is suffering. Some would say that it is a curse. Others that Haiti was not ready to govern itself when it became a nation-state that first of January of 1804. The truth, friend, is that Haiti’s misery today is the product of an unfortunate circumstance: the rapprochement of Haitian comprador elites and American government after 1915, and it being devoid of both popularity and humanism, an entente that burdens and represses the Haitian poor and disenfranchised masses. To answer “ at what?”, at resistance, and also compliance sadly.
Haiti’s agonizing political present is a product of how central the capital city of Port-au-Prince became after the American occupation of 1915 – 1934. Capital city of a relationship that is not working for the Haitian republic, Port-au-Prince is unable to govern Haiti and prosper as it is held hostage by a suffocating dialectic: political complicity with the USA as a state that represses nation and opposition versus radical dissent as state and opposition.
Before the American occupation, several cities in Haiti, such as Jacmel and Cap-Haitien, dominated national life as major urban centers. In an effort to dominate the country from one central location, the Americans focused on building Port-au-Prince with Haitian treasury dollars. Buildings were erected left and right, as the beginning of the contemporary era of Haitian history.
The capital city became the capital of Haitian-American political relations led by complicity, whose main features are armed repression and oligarchic capitalism, that continues to dominate Haitian life. Haitian elites came to conspire with the American government as the new “leaders” of the Haiti as an American colony. These new leaders, the great example during the occupation being Louis Borno, and after the occupation, Elie Lescot and Stenio Vincent, became puppet governments of the US, as it was and still is the case all around the world.
Port-au-Prince was newly, and still is, segregated. For this complicity, the wealthy are the main economic agents as oligarchs.
They, those who have become wealthy through conspiracy with the Americans, live, work, and play in excluded areas. The middle class, a spectrum living in relation to both French culture and American influence, live, work, and play in specific areas. Finally, the poor, the largest class, anti-American government, live, work, and play in other areas. These areas, neighborhoods, are the public spheres that produce political parties and politics in Haiti, where the lower middle class, teachers, civil servants without lineage or patronage, and the lower class belong to a single public sphere. These spheres, and only these spheres with some exceptions, separate and distinct as if parallel polities, are the breeding grounds for national bureaucracy depending on the President and the cartel in power.
After the Americans left in 1934, Port au Prince continued to host this dialectic, infinitely exacerbated. This dialectic continues to dominate Haitian politics to this day. Radical dissent is generally what is popular in the public sphere of the masses, and “modernist” pro-Americanism from the puppets of American government and the enterprise that it promotes.
Why is radical dissent so popular in Haiti? It is the vanguard of a human rights battle that has long existed in Haiti. The Haitian poor are considered similar to what the dalit are in India: foul and untouchable. They live in peripheral areas of Port au Prince where starvation, prostitution, but also humor, and life reign. This human rights battle, the rights of the poor, who are mostly dark skin black people, is waged by radical dissent.
Radical dissent has let Haiti down. Radical dissent has come to power, first in 1957 with Francois Duvalier, or Papa Doc, a doctor, poet, anthropologist, and labor leader, before his reputation as a bloodthirsty dictator, and then with Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1991. This radical dissent has never been able to formulate a new state, or even a new voting / participation system whether it be democracy or not, and has more than often quite simply continued to use the state apparatus born out of the American occupation to remain in power and produce a new class of itself, “it in power”. Why? Perhaps to leave the lower class public sphere, full of material incertitude.
This radical-dissent-in-power class is always unable to govern Haiti towards prosperity because it is rooted in a balancing act that attempts to maintain power and not stimulate production, or use the same state it rallied against. This lack of production “obliges” these governments in power to tax, formally and informally, in order to fill its coffers, and continue the relation with the US (as part of a balancing act.) Thus, Haiti is never liberated from this dialectic: the end of such a relationship with American government and its focus on promoting American supremacy and enterprise by producing the means for a rupture.
Adolf Alzuphar is a community organizer in LA.