Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 179 | Junio 1996



The End of the Army: An Enormous Step

Haiti’s revolution of the last ten years has worldwide importance, out of proportion with the size of such a small country, one of the poorest on the planet. One gigantic step in this revolution has been eliminating the army created by the United States.

Gérard Pierre-Charles

For a decade now, Haiti has been undergoing a true democratic revolution. It is an anti oligarchic revolution, one of broad popular participation, in support of universal suffrage and citizenship for all and of the broadest possible exercise of democracy. All of this is in the context of a renovating national project of state modernization, social justice and economic development.

This long episode in the people's march toward freedom and justice, another step toward Latin America's secular utopia, did not pass along the "great avenues" of a dreamed of legality or the "shining path" of armed struggle. Rather, it followed a rocky and uneven itinerary, full of false steps and shaky ground, populated by old and clever devils equipped with the most sophisticated of arms, a field laid with unforeseen traps by those trying to convince us that this is the "end of history" and hence there is no road out. It is an itinerary in which popular inventiveness had to be expressed, in which a people with empty hands, unravelling knots then stretching out the cords to make bridges, had to summon up all the intelligence needed to be able to make use of all the forces in the international sphere that had, until then, been at the service of oppression.

Like Other Revolutions

Today, with the electoral victory of Lavalas candidate René Préval, who assures that the democratic project will continue, this decades long struggle, with all its reverses, defeats and notable advances, has made a qualitative leap.

At this moment, the richness and depth of this peaceful movement for social change is clear. It is a movement that reproduces many roots of the anti oligarchic, democratic, national and popular or populist revolutions that have taken place in Latin America since the beginning of the century.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the Haitian process demonstrated a number of the elements of the problematic transition process, like those seen in the period following the totalitarian military regimes in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. There are also marked similarities to the recent processes in Central America, characterized by violent social conflicts which came to a head in full fledged military conflicts. In the end, the weight of international actors (the OAS, the UN, Mexico, France, Canada, the US, Spain) contributed to a negotiated solution of the crisis.

Some phenomena, however, are unique to Haiti's crisis. One is the importance of popular participation, which was sustained over nearly a decade of political conflict in the midst of a system wide crisis. This effervescence broke all the molds promoting a "restricted democracy". It gave way, through free elections, to a broad based regime headed by the charismatic leader and priest Jean Bertrand Aristide, who swept to office in 1990 with 67% of the vote.

The installation of a legitimate, broad based government with popular support broke with the mechanisms of control and political exclusion, leaving behind the well known molds of "tutored democracy" and touching off a violent enterprise of totalitarian restoration by the military, the armed extension of the country's most conservative sectors. The resulting regime lasted for three years. Although the dynamic of change seemed stagnant during that time, the global significance of the decade of historic mutation remained unaltered.

The military regime quickly came into conflict with the requirements of the new world order in its violation of a respect for electoral decisions as well as for the principles guaranteeing human rights. These contradictions were fueled by the international legitimacy of world support for the constitutional government, as well as by the population's passive but tenacious resistance. Particularly effective and surprising was the way the Haitian boat people systematically elbowed their way onto the US political stage.

Global Transcendence

All these factors upset the traditional relationship of mutual support between the most conservative forces in the US and the Haitian military oligarchy. The latter, with its traditional links to the Pentagon, refused to negotiate or seek a political solution to the crisis, even when the civil establishment the White House and State Department was pressuring for negotiations that would permit it to conserve the most essential aspects of the system and save the military institution.

In this context, then, the return to democracy took place with US military intervention, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 940. Given its origin, the way it was carried out and its multinational context, it resembled something like psychological warfare. In mid September 1994, over 20,000 men armed with sophisticated weapons, backed up by combat planes, helicopters, etc., were able to achieve their strategic objectives without causing either casualties or material damage to either side.

This action contrasted with the classic interventions that have taken place on the continent over the last century against people fighting for their freedom, which ranged from open intervention and covert armed operations to military actions. The international action in Haiti, backed up by the presence of troops from different countries, coincided with the historic movement of the Haitian nation in favor of both the rule of law and social change.

This political military operation was not carried out against the Haitian people, but rather at the will of the Haitians, expressed in their sustained support for Aristide and his return to power. Thus, the operation had an unusual level of popular support, expressed in the streets and on the walls of the country. Nevertheless, it also created an environment that facilitated the conditions for a "tutored democracy" aimed at neutralizing the uncontrollable factors in the process and invalidating, in the meaning imprinted by the neoliberal world project, the people's historic struggle for full, popular sovereignty.

The Haitian case has worldwide transcendence beyond its actual weight in terms of our country's strategic value, geographic size, natural resources, development level and even definition of ideological political factors. Despite everything, Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the face of the earth, was a key focus of world attention from 1991 to 1994.

Constitutional Novelties

The period of transition, and also of important democratic gains, was marked by notable achievements in constitutional, institutional and international terrain. The constitutional innovations are a legacy of that period.

The 1987 Constituent Assembly brought together all the demands that had led to the fall of the dictatorship in 1986 as well as to a sociopolitical effervescence unprecedented in the country's history. It introduced significant innovations into the system, in the sense of a profound liberalization of political practices, moving beyond simple representative democracy.

Among the constitutional innovations, the following stand out:

* The adoption of a semi parliamentary regime that tends to reduce the role and possible distortions of presidentialism by granting broad powers to Congress and to the Prime Minister, whose function as a governmental head introduces a factor of equilibrium into the very heart of the executive branch and its relations with the legislative branch.

* A prohibition against presidential reelection and against any referendum that would modify the length of the presidential term.

* The setting of rigorous conditions on the application of any constitutional amendment, which neutralizes any attempt to manipulate the Parliament to modify the Constitution.

* Administrative and municipal decentralization, conceived of in an overall vision that facilitates the modernization of the state institution and makes use of civil participation in public administration as well as in the appointment of judges, and the formation of a Permanent Electoral Commission.

* The obligation imposed upon the state to promote literacy, agrarian reform and the institutionalization of the Creole language.

* The adoption of a disposition against impunity which would prohibit those responsible for crimes and serious violations during the Duvalier years from having access to public office for 10 years.

The 1987 Constitution, massively approved by the population, has been transformed into a key instrument of democratic construction. It is the framework of legitimacy within which struggle by the popular majority for full participation in political life and against the remnants of totalitarianism takes place. Springing from this constitutional frame of reference, the struggle of the majorities seeks to recover, on behalf of civil society, the spaces of power arbitrarily conquered by the military and held as a lasting legacy of Duvalierism.

Supreme Power

The Haitian army was a creation of the US occupation between 1915 and 1934. While other countries in the Caribbean suffered US Marine invasions, in Haiti [as in Nicaragua] the US built a "National Guard" which, at the end of the occupation, became a Praetorian guard at the service of its founders.

Since that time, the army has become the backbone of the system, faithfully carrying out its original mission as the oligarchy intended. Bastion of the status quo, it used repression to combat the democratic movement on both ideological and political terrain, thus smashing popular demands for the rule of law and free elections.

And so the army became the supreme decision making power in the country. It began to hypertrophy and undergo every imaginable sort of deformation and perversion until it reached the point of setting itself above the law of the country. In effect, it became an internal occupation force at the service of the oligarchy and foreign interests. Its omnipotence, linked to the system of privileges that its members enjoyed, gradually turned it into a calamity for democracy. It brought down the governments of Elie Lescot (1940 46) and Dumarsais Estime (1946 50), putting the country under the control of General Magloire in 1950. He was thrown out of office some six years later by his own comrades in arms, who put the nefarious Francois Duvalier into power in 1957.

In part to protect and cushion himself from the all powerful military institution, Duvalier decided to organize his own paramilitary corps, the Tontons Macoutes, which acted as the key force of repression during the long Duvalier regime. With the army's complicity, Duvalier virtually dismantled the institutions, principles and practices of the Haitian state.

The regime lasted for three decades, personified by Presidents Francois Duvalier and his son Jean Claude. In 30 years, the fragile foundations of Haiti's democratic edifice its Constitution were destroyed; the parliamentary and judicial systems were dismantled; public administration was subjected to rules of exclusivity, favoritism and corruption; the army came wholly under the sway of the Tontons Macoutes; and the people were ruled by terror.

Duvalierism breathed new life into the most arbitrary practices and deformations of 19th century Haitian despotism and militarism, while the regime also appropriated for itself the novelties of modern militarism including anti Communism, the national security doctrine and low intensity warfare. Thus it became a superpower that acted with the most sophisticated of weaponry in a country where the most minute details of everyday life were subordinated to the whims of its sick dictator.

With the toppling of the young Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986 by one sector of the army, the system continued, but now with the military itself holding the reins. At all levels, its members were infected by the virus of fascism, as was an entire generation of officials and intellectuals, bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie, along with many popular sectors raised, conditioned and molded by totalitarianism.

With the defeat of the Duvalier dictatorship, the army began to identify with the governmental institution it sought to control. Thus, between 1986 and 1994, with the successive coming to power of three de facto governments, Generals Henri Namphy, Prosper Avril and Raoul Cedrás involved a number of officers in their project of domination, clearly evidencing their will to submit the nation to their tommy gun mentality.

Propelled by ambition, they were able to manufacture two civilian governments: that of Leslie Manigat, named President in February 1988 through a caricature of elections in which only 6% of the voters participated; and the provisional government of Ertha Pascal Trouillot, named before the Supreme Court at a time when the military had lost so much legitimacy that it had no other alternative than to seek some semblance of legitimacy.

Tenacity of the People

Through all these irregularities, people made full use of civil combat petitions, denunciations, demonstrations, general strikes, etc. They understood that the vote, in the framework of effective universal suffrage, could well constitute an effective weapon with which to achieve part of the desired change. This conviction became a political decision when, in the spring of 1990, the UN decided to advise the government on the holding of elections, thereby responding to demands made by certain democratic forces seeking guarantees in the face of repeated acts of violence by the military against free voting. The UN presence created the conditions for massive civic participation in the December 1990 elections, which in turn paved the way for a democratic alternative.With the people's votes, the oligarchic candidates including those backed by Washington were defeated, and Jean Bertrand Aristide, the young leader who had emerged from the social movement, was elected President.

Aristide's victory did not respond to the oligarchy's interests. It also displeased the military and its allies both local and foreign who, conspiring against legality, were planning the bloody coup of September 30, 1991. General Cedrás imposed a regime of force, in an ineffective attempt to restore totalitarian and military power.

With the nation submerged in illegality for three years, militarism, in a particularly bloody way, fed off a hard fought social war between the people and the army.Supported by their total electoral legitimacy, the unarmed people became stronger and took to using the most diverse and creative forms of civic resistance imaginable to defend their rights and move toward authentic change. They were able to rely on the militant support of over a million Haitian immigrants in the United States, as well as on international opinion supporting the struggle for a return to democracy.

War Against Everyone

Those responsible for the coup forged a political military alliance made up of officers and ex officers, known as the Revolutionary Front for the Advance of Progress in Haiti (FRAPH). The FRAPH became a mouthpiece for ultra nationalism and fascism, a despised instrument of terror. This grouping, which held street demonstrations of armed men, was headed up by Emmanuel Toto Constant, son of a former general. According to information subsequently made public, he was a CIA agent who had acted in the most classic Cold War style in Haiti before the coup.

With an army made illegitimate by illegality and violence, the officers plunged their de facto government into international isolation and exacerbated the existing contradictions in society. They created an atmosphere of virtual war against the people, leaving the country with 5,000 dead, 40,000 refugees and 300,000 internally displaced people. They turned to powerful sectors of the oligarchy as well as to all the webs of repression and control so carefully spun during the Duvalier decades, and to the most conservative sectors in the Dominican Republic and the United States. They even made use of drug trafficking resources and every sort of technical military means imaginable.

This powerful coalition of the forces of the past was able to impose itself for three years, despite official condemnation by the majority of governments throughout the world. But the resistance continued to express itself. The extreme violence of the military forces tainted the whole nation with blood, deepened the crisis within the state and led to generalized corruption. The military institution was transformed into a den of gangsters, causing an internal breakdown of the chain of command and system of discipline. The total inability of the military forces to find any solution to the crisis thus became woefully evident. This in turn led to a wholesale international discrediting of the military institution, creating the conditions for the rupture of its system of international alliances and, hence, to its inevitable decline.

The dismantling of the army over the course of 1995 unquestionably constitutes an essential element in the state's democratic transformation. It began with the intervention of foreign troops, which represented both a military and a psychological blow to the armed forces. The same day the intervention began, the population, well aware of what that represented, began destroying military posts throughout the country, forcing the military to surrender, disperse, or retreat in some cases to the Dominican Republic.

The army could not be saved, despite proposals made by certain sectors of the international community, in particular the Pentagon, which advocated that a reduced force of some 3,000 men remain in place. Three months after his return, President Aristide, through decrees and administrative decisions mandating removals, firings, transferrals, retirements, etc., had sent most of the 7,500 strong army home. Only a contingent of some 500 former officers remained, all of whom had been cleared of any accusation of wrongdoing.These 500 were integrated into an Interim Police Force of 1,500 men, to last only until the new National Police was trained. Thus, this extremely powerful army, born of US intervention, passed into the pages of history, after lasting decades and acting against both its own people and history itself.

Beginning with this dismantling, as well as with the legal measures that sealed its definitive decline by depriving it of funds and other provisions, a constitutional disposition is to be adopted that will consecrate the army's definitive disappearance. This would make Haiti the third country in Latin America (after Costa Rica in 1948 and Panama in 1993) to
liberate itself from its own armed forces.

The New Police

Parallel to the disappearance of the army, a new police force began to be formed under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, inspired by wording in the 1987 Constitution that calls for the separation of the army and the police, historically blurred into one functioning body of oppression and fueled by the worst kind of gangsterism. This separation of the two bodies was a demand shared by broad sectors of the Haitian population.

The new police force has a democratic vocation. Its members began being recruited at the start of 1995, after a call went out from the Ministry of Justice. Over the course of the year, a total of some 5,000 new members were recruited. They come primarily from popular or lower middle class sectors and are selected based on merit. Each new member must have at least a high school education and receive a four month training session taught by US, French and Canadian trainers.

Because they have grown up within the context of this long transition and are being trained according to democratic criteria, it is to be expected that these new police officers will become a modern force at the service of democracy. Nonetheless, despite the confidence that they generally inspire among the population, the conditions under which they have been trained have led to some fears regarding their national vocation, as well as to questions about the persistence of behaviors inherited from the past. Systematic, patriotic education of these new police officers, and their subsequent appropriation of democratic values, is one of the most spressing tasks of this revolution that is re founding Hai

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