Haiti in 3D: Democratization, Decentralization, Development

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Table of Contents


Part I: Democratization in Haiti

Part II: Decentralization in Haiti

Part III: Development in Haiti

Epilogue/ Conclusion



About the Author


Like Haiti, few nations have faced development challenges. The Caribbean state, which gained independence from French colonial domination more than 200 years ago, has survived numerous foreign intrusions, ongoing political unrest, and catastrophic natural calamities. What was once the richest colony in the Americas has become the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere due to the interaction of these forces.

The relationship between the United States and Haiti has a long and rocky history, including a nearly twenty-year, at times murderous, occupation in the early 20th century. The two nations have a sometimes tumultuous relationship yet nevertheless have strong economic and social links.

Haiti in 3D strives to provide answers to issues about Haiti’s history and future in a socio-political and economic climate that is favorable to the long-term prosperity and well-being of Haitians. Haiti in 3D strives to provide answers to issues about Haiti’s future in a socio-political and economic climate that is favorable to the long-term prosperity and well-being of Haitians. We will examine Haiti’s lengthy experience with democratization, decentralization, and development.



  • What is the history of Haiti?

On the island of Hispaniola, which includes the present-day nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Spanish colonizers first arrived in 1492. French traders established an outpost on the western third of the island in the early 1600s, and many decades later Paris acquired it as the colony of Saint-Domingue. Haiti, the first postcolonial Black republic, rose to prominence as a model of racial equality, self-determination, and abolition. The indigenous population was mostly wiped off after the French came in the seventeenth century to carry on European exploration and exploitation in the Western Hemisphere. Africans (mostly from West Africa) were subsequently transported as slave labor to produce raw items for global trade. In the eighteenth century, Haiti, also referred to as “the pearl of the Antilles,” was regarded as France’s richest colony.Former slaves Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines staged a revolt against French control in the late 1700s that resulted in the establishment of Haiti in 1804 by resisting their exploitation. Haiti, the first postcolonial Black republic, rose to prominence as a model of racial equality, self-determination, and abolition. One of this revolution’s most significant results was that it compelled Napoleon Bonaparte to surrender Louisiana to the United States in 1803, which led to a significant territorial expansion of the American nation. When Haitians gained their freedom in 1804, they replaced the French-assigned name of Saint Domingue with the Taino name of Haiti, or Ayiti in Kreyl.

The culture and history of Haiti are intricate, rich, fascinating, and turbulent, with tales of resistance, uprising, and instability. But Haiti’s resiliency is one of its main characteristics. Haiti battles relentlessly to maintain its strength despite enslavement, numerous coups, different occupations, and military. “Ayiti se tè glise” (“Haiti is a slippery land”) and “Dèyè mn, gen mn” are only a couple of the many proverbs that describe Haiti and its existence (“Behind the mountains there are mountains”).

For African-Americans in the United States during the nineteenth century, Haiti was a glimmer of hope since it was the first black independent nation and had a tale of a successful slave uprising. Because white Americans were concerned that Haiti’s existence threatened their economy, which was based mostly on slavery, the United States, like France, did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1862. Martin Delany and James Theodore Holly, among others, spearheaded a number of emigration organizations that urged African-Americans to relocate to Haiti. Nearly 20% of free blacks from the northern United States went to Haiti before the Civil War, despite the fact that most who relocated there later returned to the United States because of linguistic and environmental difficulties.

The two countries became connected as a result of this movement between Haiti and America. However, many African-Americans opposed the occupation of a sovereign state when the United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, rewrote the country’s constitution, and in many other ways contributed to its enduring instability. Under the direction of Executive Secretary James Weldon Johnson, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) wrote a number of letters for The Nation criticizing American injustice in Haiti. The famous poet Langston Hughes visited Haiti in 1932 and had a meeting with Jacques Roumain, one of the leading intellectuals in Haiti at the time. Hughes wrote about his travel to Haiti and his encounter with Roumain in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey, published in 1956.Hughes was deeply moved by Roumain and ultimately translated his groundbreaking novel, Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la Rosée), into English. Such discussions between African-American and Haitian intellectuals took place before phrases like “transnationalism” and “Black national consciousness” were commonly utilized.

Even today, there are still many connections between Haiti and Louisiana in terms of their culinary cultures, languages, buildings, religions, and music.

  • Haiti’s Economy

According to Britannica, Haiti is by a wide margin the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Three-fifths of the population may be unemployed or underemployed, and about four out of every five people there live in abject poverty. First via extensive colonial exploitation and later through unplanned expansion and corruption, Haiti’s meager resource base has been decimated. There are a few global firms operating there.

Although agriculture is the main sector of the economy, domestic food production has lagged behind consumer demand. Up to one-fifth of the food consumed in Haiti is imported, or occasionally smuggled in from the Dominican Republic or the United States. Because imports have lowered the country’s overall food prices, more people are being forced to move to urban areas and the nation’s struggling farmers are becoming even more impoverished.

The majority of Haitians work almost every day in the so-called “informal” sector, which includes street vending, odd jobs, working abroad (and mailing remittances to family members in Haiti), and engaging in illegal activities like smuggling. Conventional steady wage-earning positions are much less common than casual jobs or self-employment.The nation serves as a key hub for the transshipment of illegal drugs from South America to the US. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw significant remittances from Haitians working abroad; in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, remittances increased rapidly as the economic contribution of Haitians working abroad exceeded that of foreign aid and foreign direct investment.

The major sector of the Haitian economy is agriculture, which employs around two-thirds of the labor force but only contributes about one-fourth of the country’s GDP (GDP). Haiti’s fishing grounds and soils are in danger. More over two-fifths of the land is under cultivation even though just one-fifth of it is thought to be suitable for farming. Significant issues include soil erosion (especially on rarely terraced mountain slopes), ongoing drought, and a lack of irrigation.

Rice, cassava (manioc), plantains and bananas, corn (maize), yams and sweet potatoes, and rice are among the crops that many farmers focus on for sustenance. Some meals are offered for sale in roadside markets and in rural areas. The main cash crop in Haiti is a mild arabica coffee. It is sold by Haitian farmers via a network of middlemen, investors, and trading companies. Although sugarcane is Haiti’s second-largest cash crop, the country has been importing sugar since the late 1970s.

Since there was a great need for fuel to process sugarcane during the French colonial era, and there is still a large demand for charcoal in Port-au-Prince and other metropolitan areas, deforestation has become a significant issue in Haiti. Attempts to lessen reliance on trees for fuel have faced significant challenges from political instability and inadequate finance. Due to social and political upheaval and the pressing need to fund other infrastructure projects, a number of large-scale reforestation initiatives that had been planned had to be put on hold. Only a small portion of Haiti’s land is currently covered in forests. The most prevalent animals are goats and cattle, with less pigs and horses. There is some production of poultry. Haiti saw a significant outbreak of African swine flu in the late 1970s, which resulted in the complete eradication of the Creole pig population in the nation by 1982. As a result, many peasants lost their only source of income, albeit replacement pigs were later brought.Because of the custom of relocating to the interior after independence to avoid the possibility of a French invasion, Haitians have historically not fully utilized their fishing resources and have instead relied on agriculture for survival. However, there are some fisheries in various canals and tiny ponds all around Haiti. The north-flowing currents off the shores of Haiti transport significant migrations of deep-sea species such bonitos, marlins, sardines, and tuna, despite the fact that most fishing boats are small and inadequately fitted.

Factors That Have Threatened Haiti’s Development

Since gaining its independence from France, a variety of factors have threatened Haiti’s development, including outside influence, local political corruption, natural disasters, and diseases.

Intervention from abroad and debt. After gaining independence from France in 1804, foreign powers continued to interfere in Haiti. Only until its former colony agreed to make reparations that would be worth $22 billion today did France finally recognize Haiti as an independent nation in 1825. Up to 80% of Haiti’s income over the ensuing 120 years was used to pay off this debt.

Only in 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln was promoting emancipation both at home and abroad, did the United States officially acknowledge Haiti. Later U.S. administrations mostly have a strategic perspective on Haiti. At the start of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson sent Marines to Haiti in an effort to reportedly restore political stability because he was concerned about German influence expanding in the Caribbean. Seven presidents of Haiti have either been removed from office or killed in the five years preceding. The United States was in charge of Haiti’s security and finances for almost two decades. Additionally, it imposed forced labor, censored the press, and overthrew presidents and legislatures that disagreed with American presence. In uprisings against the U.S. government, some 15,000 Haitians perished; the worst uprisings took place in 1919 and 1929. As part of his Good Neighbor Policy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew American troops from Europe in 1934.Following the American evacuation, there were several unstable regimes, which culminated in 1957 with the installation of a dictatorship led by François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Their twenty-nine-year reign was marked by human rights abuses that cost the country thirty thousand lives or went missing, as well as corruption that emptied the country’s finances. The younger Duvalier was forced to leave the country in 1986 as a result of widespread protests and international pressure, paving the door for a new constitution and democratic institutions.

Haiti has struggled to escape its centuries-long legacy of authoritarianism, disregard for human rights, underdevelopment, and extreme poverty since the overthrow of the Duvalier government in 1986. Widespread corruption continues to be a barrier to eradicating that legacy.


Mimi Sheller delves into peasant democracy in Haiti’s early republic in her book chapter “the army of sufferers.”;Although metaphorically located on the “periphery” of the nineteenth-century world system, the Republic of Haiti was at the heart of the democratization and de-democratization processes that shaped the Atlantic world. ‘ The very existence of Haiti as the first American republic to be liberated not only from colonial rule but also from slavery defined the period.

The parameters of a global struggle for freedom and citizenship for all former slaves and their descendants. However, outside of Haiti, there is only a minor historiography of the post-revolutionary period (with a few notable exceptions), and Anglophone interest typically jumps glibly from Haitian independence to the US occupation of 1915-30). These teleological accounts, framed as a story of failed government and continuous coups, easily slide into the dismal Duvalier years, Haiti’s plummeting impoverishment, and the recent instability of Haitian democracy (cf. Diederich & Burt 1986; Wilentz 1989; Weinstein & Segal 1992). Anthony and Maingot (1996) would even attribute Haiti’s ongoing political insecurity to the long-term failure of “national norms” as a result of the country’s violent decolonization. If some choose to see the Haitian Revolution as a critical step toward universal freedom (cf. James 1989), these more critical narratives imply that it left permanent scars that never healed.

  • What went wrong with Haiti’s self-liberation project? 

Unlike other groups freed from slavery who struggled to assert their new citizenship rights, the Haitian free peasantry is frequently described as politically apathetic, socially disorganized, and overly enamored of caudillo leaders (e.g., Mintz 1989:298; Stinchcombe 1995:252, 286). This conclusion is based in part on a reading of nineteenth-century sources, many of which concluded that the Haitian people were not ready to govern themselves. “Haiti is in its infancy,” British Consul General Charles Mackenzie (1970:xi) charged, “and the population formed out of discordant materials is precisely in the state that anyone conversant with the history of Mankind might have predicted.” According to this viewpoint, the Haitian Revolution was a triumph of African “barbarism” over French civilization, and the Haitians were accused of being politically immature and incapable of good governance (Sheller 1999; cf. Nicholls 1974). Even today, despite the best efforts of outside forces like the U.S. military to “uphold” or “restore” democracy in Haiti, the country’s “political culture” is frequently blamed for the country’s democratic failure.

The well-known account of Haiti since Duvalier by Amy Wilentz serves as a classic illustration of this narrative of failure. Wilentz (1989:207) claims that “cults of personality and a reliance on spoils and revenge have characterized Haitian politics,” regardless of how sympathetic she may be to the plight of the Haitian people. She criticizes those who have characterized this ineffectiveness and violence as “an African trait,” but she suggests that it originated in Haiti’s distinct history of “slave revolt,” which she asserts was led by men who had been purposefully denied an education by the French. Even today, despite the best efforts of outside forces like the U.S. military to “uphold” or “restore” democracy in Haiti, the country’s “political culture” is frequently blamed for the country’s democratic failure.

The well-known account of Haiti since Duvalier by Amy Wilentz serves as a classic illustration of this narrative of failure. Wilentz (1989:207) claims that “cults of personality and a reliance on spoils and revenge have characterized Haitian politics,” regardless of how sympathetic she may be to the plight of the Haitian people. She criticizes those who have characterized this ineffectiveness and violence as “an African trait,” but she suggests that it originated in Haiti’s distinct history of “slave revolt,” which she asserts was led by men who had been purposefully denied an education by the French.

It would appear that these benighted serfs are simple pickings for autocrats like Duvalier. In addition to ignoring Haiti’s lengthy constitutional history and its highly esteemed and accomplished nineteenth-century intellectuals, this account also ignores the social origins of democracy and bases its conception of Haitian political culture on a number of fundamental presuppositions. Here, Haiti’s (and the Hispanic Caribbean’s) limitations on democracy act as a counterpoint to the ostensibly deeply democratic political cultures of the British Commonwealth Caribbean or the United States (cf. Dominguez, Pastor & Worrell 1993).

Because of the British West Indies’ gradual process of emancipation, inherited British institutions, and colonial tutelage, democracy is seen as more viable there (Payne 1993). However, I would contend that this dominant interpretation of Haiti’s dysfunctional political culture is itself a byproduct of the hostile diplomatic response to the surprise of a successful slave revolution in the midst of a thriving slave-based transatlantic economy. The political evolution of Haiti after independence was influenced by a larger global anti-democratic reaction to the abolition of slavery in many post-slavery states in the Americas, including both the United States of America and British colonies like Jamaica. It has been acknowledged that colonial policy in the British West Indies resulted in restrictions on democracy, particularly through the implementation of Crown Colony Rule.Similarly, it is acknowledged in the United States that the post-Reconstruction reunification of North and South deprived freed slaves of the freedom they were promised (Foner 1988; DuBois 1992; Marx 1998). I want to argue that Haitian democracy was also curtailed (rather than simply being absent). Sidney Mintz (1989:297) was referring to the twentieth-century post-occupation period when he said, “Seemingly mute and invisible, apparently powerless, the peasantry of Haiti reminds one of Marx’s famous dictum that peasants possess organization only in the sense that the potatoes in a sack of potatoes are organized.” The author continues, “However, it is also clear that a century ago the national government was responsive to the peasantry in ways that it has not been since, and that peasant political resistance did, in fact, once manifest itself.” What effects does this earlier era of political strife have on our comprehension of Haiti’s democratic development and the post-slavery Americas more broadly? A closer look at the interactions between elite discourses on democracy and popular political movements suggests that the Haitian peasantry in the nineteenth century had a widespread radical democratic ideology. This essay aims to show that the original egalitarian, anti-colonial, and anti-slavery principles of the Haitian Revolution did not merely fade away in the years following independence. Peasant democratic republicanism survived the fallout of self-emancipation from slavery in the form of a popular vision of racial equality, civic fraternity, and national liberty that was expressed through the Piquet Rebellion and other instances of mass public mobilization in support of democratic citizenship.

This article will concentrate on Haitian discussions about popular political participation in the context of the Liberal Revolution of 1843 and the Piquet Rebellion of 1844. It is based in part on a larger comparative historical study of the roots of democracy in the post-slavery Caribbean (Sheller 2000). Political ideologies of freedom and democratic participation were fervently expressed during the liberal challenge to President Jean-Pierre Boyer’s authoritarian regime. During the revolutionary period of 1843–1844, a peasant movement demanding black civil and political rights and a more democratic constitutional government arose. They identified as “the Army of Sufferers,” and because of the sharpened pikes they used for self-defense, they later came to be known as the Piquets. In some ways, the events of this era were portrayed as a conflict between “black” and “mulatto” factions; however, this interpretation ignores other political issues that were at play, which are essential to comprehending Haiti’s teetering history of democracy. 

My research suggests that Haitians have long struggled to enact democracy from the bottom up, in contrast to notions of democracy in the Americas as a top-down process of “tutelage” or as a managed “transition” fostered by external economic or military intervention. In Haiti in the first half of the nineteenth century, the ideology, institutions, value, and desire for democracy were all in place and functioning. Therefore, the apparent failure of democracy in Haiti cannot be attributed to the absence of democratic instruction (which was allegedly available in the British West Indies). This article traces the popular movement for constitutional reform and democratization in Boyer’s Haiti and makes the argument that, contrary to what is implied in all theories of democratic tutelage, the reason why democracy failed in Haiti was not because of popular apathy or uneducated ignorance, but rather because of institutional failure to subject the military to civil control. This militarization was primarily a result of the international situation, which called for a defensive reaction to the Great Powers’ hostile diplomacy, rather than being an inherent aspect of Haitian political culture. The identification of the national and international forces that have worked to keep Haiti impoverished and backward has received far too little scholarly attention, as Mintz (1989:267) notes. The country’s disadvantageous standing within a global economic and political system that was founded on slavery, colonialism, and militarism provides the best justification for the apparent “failure” of democracy in Haiti. It was that system that failed democracy throughout the Americas, not just in Haiti. I hope to demonstrate how political actors in Haiti debated various institutional setups and worked to enact a constitution that was even more democratic than the one in the United States at the time by focusing on a period of intense debate over democratization and popular rights in the Republic of Haiti. I follow the Haitian fight for democracy through three stages of the revolutionary situation of 1843–1844, starting with the ideological and institutional contexts for a democratic alliance opposed to President Boyer. First, the liberal revolution itself, which forced Boyer from office and sparked a brief resurgence of democracy. Then came the “revolution within the revolution,” in which a powerful black landowner family inspired the smaller southern landowners and farmers to oppose racial injustice and the persisted “aristocracy of the skin.” In the third phase, armed peasants took the initiative and demanded economic reform, land reform, and protection of their constitutional rights as Haitian citizens. This movement was led by a charismatic popular leader named Jean-Jacques Acaau. The sad paradox of Haitian history is that the country’s successful struggle to end slavery left the new republic with all the necessary components for democracy, save for one, and that is the most essential one: the submission of the military to civil authority. The international context clearly had a significant impact, just as it has in more recent attempts at democratization. If we take a step back and consider why the military was such an important part of the Haitian government in the nineteenth century (Rueschemeyer, Stephens & Stephens 1992; Paige 1997). The French government was under intense pressure from the old colons and their resentful heirs, who floated plans for the military conquest of Haiti up until the 1840s, and France refused to recognize Haiti’s independence.Following suit, the United States held out until 1863 following its own emancipation proclamation and exerted pressure on the South American republics to isolate Haiti. Britain followed suit and would not recognize Haiti until 1838, after it had abolished slavery. The construction of high tariff barriers against Haitian exports like coffee strengthened this international diplomatic quarantine of the “black republic.” As a result of these policies, countries that controlled the global economy based on the slave trade—countries that were seriously threatened by the existence of a free society—were able to thwart the indigenous democracy in Haiti African Republic (see Sheller 1999).Therefore, treacherous diplomacy, the imposition of debt, and harsh European and North American policies of selective economic embargo and protective tariff walls choked Haiti’s experiment in republican self-government. In this way, Haiti served as a testing ground for future North-South relations as well as a guide for how to restrain anticolonial emancipation movements.While this has been happening, attention has been diverted from the role of the so-called “champions” of democracy in stifling democratization where it was a blatant threat to colonial interests by portrayals of Haiti in Europe and North America as primitive and politically immature, incapable of establishing “modern” political institutions. Sidney Mintz (1989:297) notes that North American hegemony “may have played a bigger role than has generally been recognized in the isolation of the Haitian peasantry from national decision-making” with regard to the twentieth century in Haiti. Reclaiming Haiti’s long history of popular democratic struggle—and the Western powers’ steadfast opposition to that struggle—puts the history of democracy in the Americas in a fresh perspective. When we re-calibrate the narrative and concentrate on hidden turning points, the plot thickens in contrast to the temporal and spatial construct of “Western democracy,” from which the anachronistic “backward” islands of the Caribbean have been excluded. According to Barrington Moore (1966), the fight between an ascendant bourgeois class and an agrarian elite is not the only prerequisite for the establishment of democracy (cf. Paige 1997). The post-slavery peasantry in Haiti vociferously defended democracy.Democratization always takes place within an international framework in which several causal mechanisms interact, rather than being just an internal process of class conflict. Secondly, rather than being a straightforward progressive linear story, it has an uneven temporal development, taking both backward and forward steps. Thirdly, rather than constantly emerging from either the national or the global “center” out to the periphery, its ideological and social beginnings lie in a wide range of dispersed places and splintered conflicts in many different regions of the world, including the Caribbean post-slavery.

  • Repression And The Rule Of Law’s Failure

A new Constitution that established a social compact between the Haitian government and its inhabitants was approved by a large majority of Haitians in 1987. The 1987 Constitution of Haiti, which was largely a result of the post-Duvalier euphoria, includes the typical protections for human rights seen in a contemporary state.   All international treaties ratified by Haiti are included in Haitian law according to Article 276.2, which also guarantees the rights to life (Article 19), freedom of expression (Article 28), freedom of association, and assembly (Article 31). For instance, Jean-Claude Duvalier endorsed the American Convention on Human Rights in 1977, and it is now incorporated into Haitian legislation. The Code of Criminal Procedure, which was first adopted in 1835 and still serves as the theoretical foundation for Haiti’s criminal justice system today, is based on the Napoleonic Code, which is the legal code that governs the country’s courts.But this justice system hasn’t worked so effectively. Philippe Texier, a UN Special Rapporteur on Haiti, came to the following conclusions:

The traditional justice system… failed to fulfill its function. The judicial authorities’ independence is poorly protected, and their authority is severely constrained. They have failed to exonerate anyone for any of the innumerable atrocities that have been committed over the previous few years.

In his 1994 report to the UN General Assembly, Dr. Bruni Celli, the UN Special Rapporteur on Haiti, made essentially the same argument. The virtually total lack of independence of the court and the police from the Haitian military forces is masked by the many other causes of this failure, including the poor education and training of judges and the cheap wages that encourage corruption. Only the two largest cities, Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien, have a police force that is theoretically distinct, and in these police units, both the commanders and the agents are military personnel. The nation lacks a police academy.

The Haitian army regulations assign the duty of upholding law and order to the section chief, the lowest level of the army hierarchy, in rural areas that are divided into 515 communal parts. Understanding the army’s influence over Haitian society since the Duvaliers depends on these section leaders. A section head has the authority to decide a resident’s life or death, hence they are also essential to the study of human rights violations in that section. For the areas under his control, he frequently acts as the de facto executive, legislature, and judiciary. Instead of referring matters to the courts, section heads make arrests, hold detainees, hold trials, and arbitrate disagreements.

The chief usually hired a number of attachés in order to recuperate the initial expenditure because the position was frequently obtained through bribery. The section chief was paid by the attachés in exchange for the opportunity to work for him and afterwards benefit from the position of power it provided. Extortion networks, receiving money in exchange for the release of prisoners, and imposing arbitrary fines all became accepted methods of income generation for the attachés and the section chief.

President Aristide was able to appoint the end of the section chief system during his limited time in office. It was going to be replaced with a rural police force that would be governed by the Ministry of Justice. However, he was overthrown before parliament adopted the statute establishing the new system. By November 1991, the section chiefs had been reinstated by the de facto government. The section chiefs then started gradually expanding their role. The murders, disappearances, rapes, and other human rights crimes that were prevalent in Haiti after the coup d’état were frequently committed by the attachés.

After the coup d’état, tens of thousands of attachés, frequently ex-Tontons Macoutes, reportedly joined the 7,000 members of the armed forces. Under the Duvaliers, the army and the Macoutes were balanced against one another to maintain the dictator’s personal power; however, over the past three years, with the suspension of the constitution, these two forces have effectively combined to form an unified machinery of repression. They were effectively united by a common foe, those who backed President Aristide.

A political arm of the repression was established in the final year of the de facto regime. The Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti (Front pour l’Avancement et le Progrès d’Haiti, or FRAPH) was established by Emmanuel Constant, the son of a François Duvalier army commander, Jodel Chamblain, a former soldier, and Tonton Macoute, who is alleged to have participated in the November 1987 election massacre. According to the army, FRAPH openly supports François Duvalier, and “its operations, including public demonstrations, violent thuggery, and assassinations, are condoned”Small parties that supported the de facto regime were tolerated, but the political opposition was suppressed, most notably those who supported President Aristide, giving FRAPH an unopposed platform on the streets and in rural areas. Since FRAPH is present in every communal area of the nation, many people enlisted as a sort of paramilitary protection. Many members are attachés and former Tontons Macoutes.



What is decentralization?

Decentralization is the “transfer of responsibility for planning, management, and the raising and allocating of resources from the central government and its agencies to field units of government agencies, subordinate units or levels of government, semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations, area-wide, regional, or functional authorities, or non-governmental private or voluntary organizations,” according to Rondinelli (1989). In essence, decentralization broadly refers to any transfer of power from the national level of government to sub-national levels with the ultimate objective of enhancing resource allocation and improving governmental responsiveness to local demands (Bardhan, 2002; Conyers, 1984; Oates, 2006; Ramirez et al., 2006).

The roles and responsibilities of various government actors can also be redefined thanks to decentralization, allowing for “the development of a comprehensive national policy framework that, while allowing adequate scope for local governments to adopt strategies that reflect local conditions and preferences, will ensure broad coherence and direction in regard to national development” In Miller (2000)

  • The Dichotomy:Centralization-Decentralization

Hutchcroft (2001) argues that while decentralization policies are frequently desired to support democratic and developmental goals, they are frequently implemented by policy players without first “defini[ing] more clearly what is meant by the terms ‘centralization’ and ‘decentralization'” (Hutchcroft, 2001). Currently, literature has a propensity to portray centralization and decentralization as either-or political realities, despite the fact that real-world situations frequently show a combination of the two (Kee, 1977). The concern, according to several studies (Azfar et al., 1999; Miller, 2002; Oates, 2006; Prud’homme, 1995; Rondinelli, 1990), is less about whether or not decentralization should take place and more about which governmental tasks should be decentralized, within which sectors, and to what location. All governments, in actuality, “have a mixture of centralized and decentralized functions” Despite this, there is no general consensus over the precise nature of decentralization or the best method to employ. Thus, it appears that the contradiction between centralization and decentralization is untrue.

One of the above-mentioned worries about decentralization is that it can be vulnerable to local capture, in which a strong local elite takes control of the expanded authority that has been transferred to subnational governments (Brutzkus, 1975; Smoke, 2001; Weingast, 2009). This serves as another evidence that any decentralization strategy must be successfully implemented for a strong central government to exist. To offer oversight in stopping damaging opportunistic actions on the part of local interests, a powerful central authority is required. Decentralization, according to Bardhan (2002), is crucial for transitional and developing economies since unitary governments’ need for complexity to manage vast regions frequently results in ineffective or corrupt governments.

Decentralization opponents claim that while more centralized forms of administration are better suited to produce economies of scale, decentralization has the potential to widen regional imbalances (Azfar et al., 1999; Kee, 1977; Prud’homme, 1995). According to the theory, while local governments can work to reduce income disparities within their communities, regional disparities across different jurisdictions are best addressed by the federal government due to the potential for spillover effects under centralization (Bird, 2003; Oates, 2006). Decentralization is also thought to encourage interjurisdictional competition, which can exacerbate regional imbalances (Prud’homme, 1995).The majority of developing nations’ central governments are not focused on providing efficient services, nor do they “perceive citizens as their customer and as a result they do not define their principal functions as meeting citizens’ needs and desires” (Rondinelli, 1989). Instead, central administrations continue to be preoccupied with the creation of capital-intensive infrastructure without much care for the upkeep of these projects after their terms in power (Rondinelli, 1989). The decentralization theorem presents a hurdle since decentralization proponents presume that the federal government cannot or is unwilling to deliver varied public goods in accordance with local interests. The majority of central governments in developing countries do not prioritize providing efficient services or “perceive citizens as their customer and as a result they do not define their principal functions as meeting citizens’ needs and desires,” which prevents them from defining these as their primary goals (Rondinelli, 1989). Instead, central governments continue to be focused with building capital-intensive infrastructure while showing little concern for maintaining these initiatives after their tenure in office (Rondinelli, 1989). Since decentralization proponents assume that the federal government cannot or is unwilling to provide a variety of public goods in accordance with local interests, the decentralization theorem provides a challenge.

However, eschewing the dichotomy between centralization and decentralization provides an opportunity to “reshape interactions between capital and rural in diverse situations around the world” (Hutchcroft, 2001). It’s critical to remember that decentralization does not render the central authority obsolete. It also doesn’t want to lessen its importance. In fact, the possibility of decentralization’s success is increased by a powerful center. Prud’homme (1995) asserts that a sizable section of the literature on public finance supports the view that the central government should continue to be solely responsible for the redistribution of wealth, despite opposition from researchers like Bird (1993). Therefore, transferring responsibility and power to local governments is crucial.“that have the critical mass required to use them effectively” and “the powers transferred from central to local 25 governments [do] not jeopardize the efficiency of the central government”

  • The Port-au-Prince Republic

As the first black republic in history, Haiti broke away from the colonial world order in 1804 when it proclaimed its independence from France. However, there are still examples of urban primacy in pre- and post-colonial Haiti that are similar to the patterns of spatial development seen throughout the Caribbean (Laguerre, 1987). However, the legacy of racial and socioeconomic stratification left behind by the post-colonial period in Haiti led to the development of a newly independent but problematically classist society, which Lundahl (1989) and Fatton (2002) identify as a predatory state. In this system, the state’s outward appearance served mainly to serve a small, light-skinned elite who used patronage to amass wealth and power, leaving darker-skinned Haitians to fend for themselves and allowing personal gain to take precedence over the long-term advancement of society (Fatton, 2006). The poor black masses, known as moun andeyo, were consigned to rural areas as a spatial consequence of Haiti’s socioeconomic and sociohistorical reality, while the wealthy elite, known as moun lavil, ruled Haiti’s central city (Cross, 1979; Truillot, 2000). Despite the fact that their agricultural output continued to play a significant role in the Haitian economy, members of the rural people of Haiti were effectively excluded from capital city decision-making processes and did not receive full citizenship rights. Additionally, “it seemed [to be] part of the political élite’s policy to leave the roads in disrepair and the rural districts cut off from the capital and the outside world…[as] an effective vehicle for social and political control” (Yarrington, 2015). It is still unclear how to resolve these significant and enduring intergroup conflicts in Haiti’s postcolonial regime. The concentration of governmental institutions and resources in Port-au-Prince today serves to perpetuate the city’s dominance, which in turn promotes urbanization trends that force poor, rural Haitians to seek out marginal jobs in the city (Fatton, 2006). For these reasons, Lundahl (1992) contends that a thorough analysis of the political and socioeconomic factors that have shaped the Haitian state is necessary in order to examine modern-day Haiti. However, it is crucial to recognize the geographical manifestation of these truths.

The primate city’s “functions both as a core where rural migrants relocate to and as a periphery from which urbanites migrate to the United States” is another crucial aspect of the city (Laguerre, 1987). Without a doubt, Port-au-Prince serves as the principal entry point for immigrants seeking to move to diasporic areas in cities like Miami, New York, Montreal, and Paris, among others. Additionally, it serves as the entry point for the majority of foreign companies that operate in the country’s business and nonprofit sectors (Laguerre, 1987). To better comprehend “the structure of local economies and labor forces, trade composition and flow, foreign investment and its forward and backward linkages, municipal political systems, and so forth,” close attention to these network dynamics is required (Kasarda and Crenshaw, 1991). The creation of “viable secondary and tertiary cities,” which will lead to “the decentralization of public services,” will ultimately have to be a key factor to take into account for the Haitian state to better serve its existing populations (Kasarda and Crenshaw, 1991). 

Decentralization, State Reform, and Haiti’s 1987 Constitution

Bird (2003) and Schroeder and Smoke (2003) emphasize that “before studying any component of the process,” the objectives and context of decentralization within a country, as well as the component portions of the systems and dynamics inherent in that country, must be understood (Bird, 2003). Decentralization as a development mechanism rose to prominence in Haiti with the fall of the 29-year father-son Duvalier regime in February 1986 (Lundahl, 1991; Truillot, 1990). The succeeding 1987 Constitution calls for a reconstruction of the Haitian state in order to move away from its dictatorship past. Decentralization and participatory democracy are cited in the constitution as being essential to this reform (Cantave et al., 2000). Decentralization’s pledge to “ensure the separation and the harmonious distribution of the authorities of the state at the service of the fundamental interests and priorities of the Nation” is announced in the constitution’s preamble (Constitution of 1987; Smucker et al., 2000). The Constitution calls for a new Haitian state that aims to serve these communities and their respective populations through administrative and territorial reforms, acknowledging that the concentration of power and resources in the hands of a select few has resulted in the disenfranchisement of rural areas outside of the capital.

The language of the agreement is meant to guarantee that every area of the nation has access to fundamental public services and the right to fully participate in governmental matters. Decentralization in the context of Haiti is thus defined as: 

  • The central government sharing its authority with local and regional authorities as well as providing them with the resources (technical and financial) required for them to participate in the state’s decision-making processes; 
  • The establishment of local and regional assemblies and councils to be presided over by leaders for whom the populace has the unhindered and legitimate right to vote; The establishment of local and regional councils to be headed by representatives from the private sector;
  • The ability of local and regional leaders to actively participate in developing and implementing development plans for their territories in order to improve public service delivery, as well as the right of these localities to generate revenue from their populations in support of these communal development plans while receiving financial and technical support from the central government in these efforts;

A complete reform of the Haitian state that profoundly alters the relationship between the government and the governed, resulting in the full participation of all Haitian people in all aspects of Haitian life (Cantave et al., 2000, Articles 71 and 84.4).

  • 1987’S Creation of Territorial Collectivities

Haiti’s decentralization will be based on the Constitution of 1987’s creation of collectivities territoriales (Constitution of 1987-Article 61; Cantave et al., 2000). The collectivities were established to improve the way the state provides services and to give people a way to interact more directly with elected officials at all levels of government through the central government itself. The collectivities are physical boundaries that establish local and regional jurisdictions with corresponding assemblies and councils. In contrast to communes, which are made up of several communal sections, and departments, which are most like counties in the United States, section communales, or communal sections, are the most local geographic units in Haiti.

The Constitution of 1987 states that each collectivity was intended to function separately from but in conjunction with the others. The constitution established a council for the administration of the communal sections (konsèy seksyon kominal – KASEK or CASEC) at the level of the community section (seksyon kominal), as well as an assembly of the communal sections (asanble seksyon kominal – ASEK or ASEC).

During general elections, voters will choose representatives for each of these. A commune’s administration was to be overseen by a council known as the konsèy minisipal. General elections were also scheduled to include the konsèy minister.

However, the communal assemblies (asanble minisipal) were to include all of the village representatives in addition to a representative who was indirectly chosen from each ASEC (delege du ville). (Cantave et al., 2000; Constitution of 1987, Article 87.2; Ramirez et al., 2006) The departmental assembly (asanble depatmantal) was to be made up of members indirectly chosen from the communal assemblies of each of Haiti’s ten departments, and the departmental assembly4 would then elect one of its members to serve on the departmental council (konsèy depatmantal). In addition, the departmental council would designate one of its members to join the interdepartmental council (konsèy entèdepatmantal). As stated in Article 87.2 of the Constitution of 1987, the interdepartmental council is tasked with working with the executive branch of government to develop studies, plans, and projects that will advance the “decentralization and development of the country from a social, economic, commercial, agricultural, and industrial standpoint.” This task furthers the spatial and administrative dimension of decentralization.

The territorial collectivities were established by the constitution as a means of decentralization throughout Haiti, but it did not specify their roles, the procedures for their councils and assemblies, or the resources they would use to carry out their development plans (Cantave et al., 2000; Ramirez et al., 2006). The actual councils and assemblies have never been created (Ramirez et al., 2006). This is especially troubling because “the Constitution strongly relies on the installation of assemblies as the key to decentralized governance, and to the diminution of executive power at the center” (Smucker et al., 2000). According to Ramirez et al. (2006), “the [Interdepartmental Council] has direct access to the executive and the national cabinet without going through Parliament and is one of the most feared institutions of the decentralization framework because of its impact in both the executive and legislative branches of the government” (Ramirez et al., 2006). One of the main reasons that the political will for decentralization as a concept is difficult to come by among central government officials is that the Interdepartmental Council would present both real and perceived challenges to the concentration of power at the central level (within both the executive and legislative branches). This is true even though “political will is without a doubt the pivotal factor in decentralization” (Smucker et al., 2000; Interviewees 2017). In general, it was believed that decentralization would increase power sharing between levels of government and territories, advance governmental development goals, and improve the provision of public services across the board in post-Duvalier Haiti. Decentralization is frequently desired in emerging nations generally due to the ultimate accomplishment of such goals. However, decentralization in Haiti has not yet been fully put into practice. The political will to implement these changes has also been hindered by the fact that most local government regulations passed since the 1987 Constitution are frequently conflicting and occasionally insufficient (USAID, 2018). Many of them have features that are unlawful because they directly conflict with the Constitution’s mandate for more local autonomy, such as mandating that the federal government oversee development money. Other legislation have only been enforced partially.

  • 1996 Decentralization Laws

The 46th legislature benefited from a sense of hope and a renewed commitment to democracy following the 1994 return of President Jean-Betrand Aristide from exile and the peaceful elections that took place in 1995, but before the crippling political crises that would emerge in the late 1990s (Olson et al., 1999; Ramirez et al., 2006; Smucker et al., 2000). Nevertheless, notwithstanding the exuberance of that time, the emergence of three decentralization laws in 1996 shows how challenging it is to realize the constitutional promise of a decentralized Haitian state.

First, the April 4th, 1996 Law on the Organization of Communal Sections aimed to put into practice the constitutional obligations for local representation and enhance local governance. The primary problem with the bill was that it was dependent on the passing of other pieces of legislation, making it ineffective on its own. Other difficulties include “an electoral requirement to elect slates (cartels) rather than individuals…[which] tends to undermine the principle of localism and locality representation with the section,” in that external factors like national political affiliations take precedence over local interests (Smucker et al., 2000). Additionally, winning cartels are frequently rife with internal strife and disagreements, which limits their capacity to effectively govern (Smucker et al., 2000; USAID 2012; Interviewee 2017). This is because three-member mayoral cartels frequently form entirely on the basis of power consolidation rather than, for example, on the basis of shared philosophical leanings. The law’s vagueness on how much independence local authorities are allowed to have in light of other provisions mandating central government oversight is one of its other flaws. Concerns about the lawmakers’ commitment to decentralization for Haiti’s urban areas are also raised by the rules pertaining to the organization of communal section governance, which do not provide an analogous framework for urban communities (Smucker et al., 2000).

The Fils-Aimé Law of 1996, which established the intergovernmental transfer Fonds de Gestion et Développement de Collectivités Territoriales (FGDCT), or “the fund for the operation and development of the territorial collectivities,” was the most important decentralization law of this period (Ramirez et al., 2006; USAID, 2018). The act was initially introduced by Alix Fils-Aimé, who was the deputé (parliamentarian) for the Port-au-Prince communes of Kenscoff and Petionville6. First, the law was intended to redefine administrative procedures and duties across the whole Haitian state, together with its explicit budgets and compensation. Second, Fils-Aimé made an effort to improve local funding for planning studies that may promote growth across each of Haiti’s ten geographic divisions. Thirdly, the law was intended to promote investments based on business alliances with Haiti’s diaspora inhabitants, taking advantage of their steadfast connections to the communities they left behind through, for example, hometown associations, neighborhood projects, and constant remittances. In a May 2017 interview, Fils-Aimé revealed to me that the core of what he proposed was that, as a starting point, it was necessary to provide the financial means to stimulate development. After the creation of the departmental development plans, however, his intention was to deal more directly with decentralizing the state. According to Fils-Aimé, decentralization is a technique used to unite populations and give them chances to responsibly pursue their own development. Since the 1987 Constitution, Fils-proposed Aimé’s law was the first overt attempt to improve the autonomy and development of Haiti’s communities. Prior to its implementation, local governments lacked the authority to determine their financing sources and the amount of money they could anticipate from the federal government each year (Olson et al., 1999). The FilsAimé bill was also the first proposal by a politician in Haitian history.

Contrary to his initial proposal, Fils-FGDCT Aimé’s law was actually a general-purpose intergovernmental transfer with the aim of assisting administrative management training programs and the administration of ill-defined development plans. It was published in Le Moniteur on July 18, 1996, under the name Fils-FGDCT Aimé’s law. A decision was taken at the executive level to include Fils-proposal Aimé’s in the budgeting process rather than consider it as a stand-alone law since it was believed that the executive arm of government in Haiti alone had the authority to make financial decisions. As a result, Fils-Aimé was not given the chance to present a case or win support for his idea in parliament; just parts of what he offered — parts chosen by the executive branch — were enacted into law.

The third of the 1996 laws, which was released in September of that same year, contained particular information about how the FGDCT would be financed as well as how the funds would be distributed (Ramirez et al., 2006; Republic of Haiti, 1996; Smucker et al., 2000).Curiously, the law that established the FGDCT also required an eleven-member committee to oversee it (although this provision was eliminated by presidential order on January 11, 1999), and transferred responsibility for managing this intergovernmental transfer to the Ministry of Interior (Smucker et al., 2000). Since the Interior Ministry “does not apply any criteria to allocate FGDCT resources,” Ramirez et al. (2000) conclude that the FGDCT is not only ineffective in meeting the needs of local governments, but also that “the [Interior] Ministry never has distributed the total amount of allocated resources.”FGDCT has transformed from being a line item in the central government, subject to the whim of decision makers at the expense of the communes it was initially intended to support, into a line item that hinders local development as opposed to fostering it as intended (Denizé, 2002; USAID, 2012; USAID, 2018).

According to Smucker et al. (2000), the “central government allocation of cash is the definitive litmus test of central government political will” when discussing the effects of fiscal decentralization and enhanced local governance in Haiti (Smucker et al., 2000). Surprisingly, the authors assert that “without waiting for new enabling legislation to be passed, Parliament may considerably advance the cause of decentralization via the budgetary process alone” (Smucker et al., 2000). According to Smucker et al. (2000), the financial process is also the easiest tool to use to encourage decentralization at the center.This idea calls into question whether fiscal decentralization in Haiti is possible in the absence of a political framework, on the basis of efficiency and better allocation.

 United States-led decentralization efforts in Haiti


Bilateral support for decentralization in Haiti from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began in the 1990s with the launch of its Democracy Enhancement Project (DEP), which ran until 2000 and included at least two local governance programs, including PACTE (Programme Appui aux Collectivités Territoriales) from 1995 to 2000. Despite multiple instances of political unrest and instability in the late 1990s and early 2000s, USAID has recently helped Haiti decentralize through the LOKAL (Limiyé ak ganizasyon pou Kolektivity yo Ale Lwen) program.In the “2005–2010 plan under the Governing More Effectively and Democratically Strategic Objective with the more focused objective of making local governments more democratic, transparent, and effective in providing services to their communities,” LOKAL was one of the USAID/Haiti initiatives (USAID, 2012). The program cost a total of $13,683,091.8 from December 2007 to January 31st, 2011. LOKAL prioritized enhancing the policy and legal framework for decentralization, supporting local government stakeholders’ capacity to effectively manage local affairs and provide public services, and encouraging citizen participation as a way to boost transparency in the program’s target communities. The program was plagued by political unrest at the beginning of 2008, then three subsequent tropical storms that year, and finally the disastrous January 2010 earthquake that occurred at the start of the program’s third year. After the earthquake, LOKAL redirected funding towards a nine-month Municipal Recovery program, assisting in restoring the operational capacity of the program’s participating communities in the quake-affected areas while establishing efficient means for local stakeholders to quickly disseminate public information (USAID, 2012). The earthquake highlighted the crucial role of local actors since they could more easily determine the needs and wants of their communities in the early aftermath of the quake, when central government functions were severely hindered (Interviewee 2017).

Therefore, attempts to improve participatory planning, municipal budgeting, and income mobilization were revived in the final year of LOKAL’s operations, with measurable progress (USAID, 2012). Given that tax rolls in Haiti are frequently out-of-date due to shortcomings in information management, a lack of public administration tools and technical expertise, and a lack of coordination between the tax authority and local governments, attempts at revenue mobilization highlighted local tax collection as a potential area for gains. The two primary revenue sources for municipal governments are business taxes (patente) and property taxes (Contributions Foncières sur les Propriétés Bâties [CFPB]), so it makes sense that “increasing revenues from these taxes holds great potential for allowing municipal governments to fulfill their service delivery and public investment responsibilities,” particularly in light of the aforementioned lack of transparency and insufficient allocation of the FGDCT i. (USAID, 2012).The LOKAL program developed a methodology and set of technologies to support fiscal management and tax collection at the local level using the commune of Saint Marc and Carrefour as pilot locations. Conducting a property census and valuation, computerizing tax rolls and management systems, and providing technical help to improve the operating capability of the tax office were among the tasks (USAID, 2012). This increased Saint Marc’s tax roll from a starting point of 6,000 homes to 18,943 properties, resulting in a 159 percent increase in property tax revenue in the fiscal year 2011. Business tax receipts rose from $10,636 to $23,693 in fiscal year 2011—an increase of almost 123 percent. Comparatively to the $40,376 it had collected at that point the year before, Carrefour was able to produce almost $117,154 in property taxes during the first quarter of fiscal year 2012. (USAID, 2012). With regard to the institutionalization of annual budget preparation and revision at the municipal level, this significant move even led to collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Interior and Territorial Collectivities (USAID, 2012).Through participatory planning and the creation of municipal assistance initiatives, LOKAL made early attempts to answer the question of whether these increases in local revenue actually led to better public service delivery. A chance to gain “practical experience in the design and implementation of public service improvement initiatives” was intended to be given to local stakeholders (USAID, 2012). Additionally, transparent local public financial management, development planning, and project implementation were to be achieved through mutually reinforcing components of the municipal investment planning process and project development (USAID, 2012).The 2012 LOKAL final report notes that the “most accurate assessment of increased local government capacity would have been time-series data during the course of the project including a control group” (USAID, 2012). Therefore, despite having a distinct design, my study is innovative in its attempt to address the question of whether USAID’s initiatives to boost local revenue have truly increased local authorities’ capacity to provide their populations with better public services.


The five-year, $19.8 million LOKAL+ program worked closely with nine municipalities to improve tax collection, management, and service delivery. It also collaborated with central government organizations to strengthen the legal foundation for tax collecting. The goals of the program were more explicitly to:

▪ reinforce the capacity of local governments to provide services, 

▪ mobilize fiscal resources to pay for public services, 

▪ improve access to central government funds and resources, 

▪ improve the national legislative framework for decentralization, and 

▪ increase transparency, oversight and accountability of local governments (USAID Haiti, 2015; USAID, 2018).

LOKAL+ functioned over a “turbulent period of time disturbed by an inordinately protracted electoral process,” despite the fact that the majority of its activities required the involvement of local politicians (USAID, 2018). Local elections that were supposed to take place in October 2010 were postponed until 2011 as a result of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which had a magnitude of 7.0. When he assumed office in early 2011, Haiti’s then-newly elected president Michel Martelly decided against holding these crucial elections and instead appointed interim executive agents in mayoral positions all around the nation.  LOKAL+ functioned over a “turbulent period of time disturbed by an inordinately protracted electoral process,” despite the fact that the majority of its activities required the involvement of local politicians (USAID, 2018). Local elections that were supposed to take place in October 2010 were postponed until 2011 as a result of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which had a magnitude of 7.0. When he assumed office in early 2011, Haiti’s then-newly elected president Michel Martelly decided against holding these crucial elections and instead appointed interim executive agents in mayoral positions all around the nation.A decentralization framework bill was passed by the Senate in 2013 at the national level, but “the bill languished in the Chamber of Deputies for the rest of the year and all of 2014” (Interviewee, 2017; Interviewee, 2018; USAID 2014). Due to the late 2016 holding of the national and local elections, Parliament was dissolved in 2015. Despite being placed to the legislative calendar of the Parliament in May 2017, the decentralization framework law had not yet been put to a vote as of November 2018. (USAID, 2018). Additionally, “elections for these offices were 10 years late” when local elections for the CASECs, ASECs, and delege du ville were eventually held in 2016. (USAID, 2018). Last but not least, there are a number of additional international aid organizations trying to improve local government capabilities across Haiti, and their initiatives also include a local income mobilization component (Interviewees, 2018;Joseph, 2018). These organizations include the French government, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Haiti, the World Bank, the European Union, the Canadian government, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (Interviewee, 2018; Joseph, 2018). At the same time, a representative of the central government and each of the four LOKAL+ stakeholders firmly asserted that USAID was the first international organization to support local income mobilization in Haiti through the LOKAL+ initiative.Additionally, according to a report by Oxfam International, “It also seems that other funders have taken use of the PACTE11- LOKAL+ experience in incorporating the tax aspect to better develop their programs in terms of local government” (Joseph, 2018).

How US-backed foreign intervention contributed to Haiti’s disaster?

Throughout its history, the United States has been involved in various foreign interventions, and in some cases, they have made conditions worse than they found them. Haiti is one such country. Justifications for US intervention overlook the fact that Haiti has rarely, if ever, been permitted to govern its own affairs.

Disaster or foreign intervention—which occurs first in Haiti? 

According to conventional knowledge, or first-world wisdom, calamity always strikes first.

It is assumed that Haitians are unable to run their own affairs. Either the government is inefficient, corrupt, or both. If left unattended, Haiti would deteriorate into a humanitarian crisis with disease, violence, and death. At that point, Haiti’s so-called allies from around the world—primarily the US, along with Canada and France—are compelled to send their most powerful and specialized forces to the country’s aid.

That’s the way people are currently thinking. A “multinational fast action force” would be sent to Haiti by the international community, and another UN peacekeeping mission would follow in the medium term. The US has already provided people, armored vehicles, and undisclosed “items” to help the Haitian police fight a coalition of criminals that has taken over the nation. It’s possible that the US will send troops to the fast response force. If history is any indication, many innocent bystanders will be caught in the crossfire.

From Haiti, the perspective is often different: foreign intervention leads to catastrophe. Although this concept may seem illogical and unsettling to most Americans, it has the wonderful advantage of being supported by actual data. After all, Haiti was founded by enslaved people who were determined to free themselves from the French’s genocidal yoke, also known as foreign enslavement. Since then, it has had a great deal of invasions and intrusions, including a 19-year US occupation from 1915 to 1934. The US occupation argued that it was for Haiti’s own benefit. Its effects included enriching American elites and preparing the way for the Duvalier dictatorship to take power.

Without a doubt, Haiti is experiencing a dire crisis—possibly the worst in our lifetimes. The key petroleum terminal for the nation is blocked by the gang conglomerate, which has effectively stopped all activity. Without gasoline, nothing works. A sizable water bottling company briefly stopped operations. Hospitals have lowered capacity or closed their doors. The majority of people can no longer afford the skyrocketing costs of necessities like rice. The ministry of health declared the return of cholera earlier this month. Some of my acquaintances who are still in Haiti (those with some means have left) have expressed their desire for intervention and the return of order.

However, essential information is ignored by the narratives the US employs to support intervention: Haiti has rarely, if ever, been permitted to run its own affairs.

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a guy strolls past two automobiles being used as barricades to close off a thoroughfare.

More gunshots mean more bloodshed. Aid organizations in Haiti caution against calling for foreign forces

The intervention has been requested by Haiti, according to headlines. That is incorrect. Ariel Henry, the premier of Haiti, has asked for it. After President Jovenel Mose was assassinated in July of last year, Henry essentially anointed himself prime minister. He was involved in the murder of Moses but has never held any constitutional authority.

He is despised by the people he purports to speak for. His sole supporters are outside of the nation. The US has pushed for the previous 15 months that the opposition, a coalition of leaders, activists, and well-known groups from civil society, negotiate with him.

The previous significant intervention was likewise sparked by a “request” from an unelected official. In response, the UN sent Minustah, a peacekeeping force, to “stabilize” Haiti following the US-supported overthrow of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. For 13 years, it remained.

It is now difficult to distinguish between the humanitarian catastrophe and international intervention in Haiti. They are caught in an endless circle. A clear example is cholera. Despite several class action lawsuits, the UN has never made up for the harms it caused even when it apologized. (These were rejected in the US based on the immunity of the UN.) As a form of voluntary restitution, the UN established a $400 million trust fund to aid cholera sufferers and upgrade sanitary systems, but only a sliver of that amount was raised.

Subtly, intervention – or the threat of it – has been utilized during the past ten years to support leaders that do not reflect the will of the Haitian people. President René Preval was given a forced exile threat in 2010 by the head of the UN mission in Haiti if he did not accept the disputed results of a first-round election. Michel Martelly was elected president as a result of that election, and it was later discovered that his administration had misused or improperly managed billions of dollars in PetroCaribe program funds.

Over the past ten years, intervention has been subtly used, or the threat of it, to assist leaders who do not represent the will of the Haitian people. In 2010, the chief of the UN mission in Haiti threatened to exile President René Preval if he did not accept the disputed results of a first-round election. Afterwards, it was determined that Michel Martelly’s administration had mismanaged or handled inappropriately billions of dollars in PetroCaribe program funds, leading to his election as president.

Since its independence from France, Haiti’s progress has been threatened by forces ranging from foreign involvement to domestic political wrongdoing, natural calamities, and diseases;

  • Foreign intervention and debt

 Liberation from France in 1804 did not signify the end of foreign intervention in Haiti. France only recognized an independent Haiti in 1825, when its former colony agreed to pay reparations totaling $22 billion in today’s dollars. Over the next 120 years, up to 80% of Haiti’s GDP was used to repay the debt. Only in 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln was supporting emancipation both at home and abroad, did the United States acknowledge Haiti. Subsequent US administrations saw Haiti primarily from a strategic standpoint. At the start of World War I, fearful of expanding German power in the Caribbean, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched Marines to Haiti, ostensibly to restore political stability. Seven Haitian presidents had been deposed or slain in the previous five years.The US handled Haiti’s security and finances during the almost two-decade occupation. It also imposed racial segregation, forced labor, and press censorship, as well as deposed presidents and legislatures that opposed the presence of the United States. Approximately 15,000 Haitians were slain in rebellions against the US authority, the worst of which took place in 1919 and 1929. 

As part of his Good Neighbor Policy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew US soldiers in 1934.

  • Political unrest

 The withdrawal of the United States was followed by a series of unstable governments, culminating in 1957 with the installation of a dictatorship led by François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude. Their twenty-nine-year administration was marked by corruption that drained the nation’s resources and human rights violations that killed or disappeared thirty thousand people.Massive demonstrations and international pressure prompted the younger Duvalier to abandon the country in 1986, paving the way for a new constitution and democratic institutions.

However, political unrest remained. The country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was toppled in coups in 1991 and 2004. Both triggered United Nations-backed military invasions by the United States.

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which was commanded by Brazil, was established in 2004 with the goal of restoring order following the overthrow of the Aristide administration. Allegations of American interference on Michel Martelly’s favor cast doubt on his victory in the 2011 presidential election. After twice delaying the presidential election and more than a year of rule by decree, he eventually announced his resignation. When Jovenel Mose’s official election was delayed until early 2017 due to charges of fraud against Martelly’s successor, Haiti was left in a political void.

Massive demonstrations and requests for his resignation occurred throughout Moise’s presidency in response to rising petrol costs, the elimination of government subsidies, accusations of corruption, a deteriorating economic crisis, and questions about the legitimacy of his administration. Moise was assassinated on July 7, 2021, which was the culmination of the protracted societal turmoil. Initially, numerous mercenaries, many of whom had undergone U.S. military training, were detained by U.S. officials on suspicion of being involved in the murder. However, only three men have been charged thus far because Haiti’s own investigation has stalled. Massive demonstrations and requests for his resignation occurred throughout Mose’s presidency in response to rising petrol costs, the elimination of government subsidies, accusations of corruption, a deteriorating economic crisis, and questions about the legitimacy of his administration. On July 7, 2021, Moïse was assassinated as a result of the significant civil unrest. A number of mercenaries, many of whom had undergone U.S. military training, were first detained by U.S. officials on suspicion of taking part in the murder, but as Haiti’s own investigation has stagnated, only three men have been charged as of yet. Ariel Henry, who was appointed prime minister just days before the murder, assumed office as president in the interim. Henry has now drawn suspicion after Haiti’s senior prosecutor said that Henry was in contact with a major suspect.Henry himself was the target of an assassination attempt in January 2022. A presidential election was planned by the government, but it was repeatedly postponed.

  • Natural catastrophes

Compared to other Caribbean countries, Haiti experiences more natural disasters due to its location on a geological fault line in an area vulnerable to powerful storms. Due to extensive deforestation, Haiti now experiences mudslides and flooding twice as frequently as the Dominican Republic.

Additionally, a variety of variables, such as a dearth of urban planning, poor housing and infrastructure, huge coastal populations, and a pronounced reliance on subsistence farming, increase the impact of disasters.A significant earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 near the capital left 1.5 million people homeless and killed roughly 220,000 people. Basic reconstruction expenditures exceeded the nation’s yearly GDP at $8 billion. Drought caused crop losses of 70% between 2015 and 2017, and Hurricane Matthew destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, livestock, and houses in 2016. In August 2021, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake devastated the southern peninsula of Haiti, damaging 30% of local dwellings, killing over 2,000 people, and forcing tens of thousands more to flee their homes. Days later, Tropical Storm Grace worsened the damage by dumping copious amounts of rain, causing flash flooding, and setting off landslides.Mismanagement of aid programs and epidemics have made things more difficult. Malaria and dengue are rife, and following the 2010 earthquake, UN peacekeepers from Nepal brought cholera with them. Since then, cholera has killed 10,000 people and sickened nearly one million more. Meanwhile, detractors claim that nongovernmental organizations mismanaged billions of dollars in charity.



UNCTAD argues this policy on a new approach to the rebuilding and reconstruction of Haiti’s economy after the 2010 earthquake;

External shocks, even minor natural calamities, have consistently posed a risk to the stability of Haiti’s economy. The magnitude of the earthquake in 2010 was different. In addition to the enormous immediate destruction, there had been three decades of stagnant development, during which time salaries had fallen, and more than a million Haitians, or 11% of the population, had left their country. The combined effect tipped Haiti into a position of socioeconomic crisis from which it will be challenging to emerge without a new beginning. Contrarily, the earthquake offers a chance to learn from the past and forward a more strategic and inclusive policy agenda, one that aspires to transition the economy from recovery to a more sustainable path of economic growth and development.

  • Future-oriented Lessons

Any long-term development strategy must take into account the current local conditions, resources, and limitations. After a catastrophic shock, national ownership and policy flexibility should be prioritized in order to promote experimentation and learning in keeping with the reality of functioning in a precarious and unreliable socioeconomic environment. Midway through the 1980s, Haiti was granted a conditional multilateral loan, as part of which the nation had to lower its tariff protection on rice and other agricultural exports and open its markets to global competition. In 1995, a second round of tariff reductions became effective. Haiti reduced import duties on rice from 50% to 3% in a decade, making it the Caribbean region’s most open nation. As a result, massively subsidised rice from the United States flooded the marketplace, driving down prices and quickly reducing local rice production. Similar trends were observed in other sectors of the rural economy, such as the dairy industry, where imports of milk grew 30-fold between the middle of the 1980s and the late 1990s while domestic production fell precipitously.

With an average MFN tax of just 2.8%, Haiti has one of the most lenient import regimes worldwide. Although the applicable tariff level has been fixed and will be further decreased on a preferential basis under the new CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, the MFN bound rates are higher.

But trade still makes up a small portion of Haiti’s GDP. For instance, only 13% of the country’s income came from international trade in 2008. Exports are still mostly reliant on the US market and a small number of garment products, making the nation extremely sensitive to outside shocks.International trade, notably through regional and South-South linkages, will be crucial to the rebuilding process. In order to restore and reorganize its trade-related institutions and regulatory frameworks in accordance with local requirements and capacities, Haiti must develop a comprehensive trade policy. To assist build a more dynamic investment-export nexus, this will entail breaking with recent policy practice and forging considerably tighter connections between trade, industrial, and macroeconomic policies. It will also entail the need to swiftly identify export-oriented sectors in the aftermath of a disaster, particularly those that may help the poor by providing employment and income and having the ability to produce the surplus required to fund the development of productive capacity. These industries would need active assistance from the government and the international community.The international community should take prompt measures to increase market access for Haitian exports, especially by offering extensive and active support to assist Haiti in utilizing current duty-free and quota-free status. To increase Haiti’s export and production capabilities, the international community should also take into account offering complete flexibility in the application of trade-related rules. Before the recent earthquake, a substantial population shift from rural to urban areas—especially Portau-Prince—was encouraged by the agriculture sector’s continuous collapse.

The government provided incentives (tax holidays, duty-free imports, and the establishment of four industrial parks), but expectations that the service sector and the nascent garment and assembly industries would grow to match the huge rise in job seekers proved to be overly optimistic. Additionally, there were few connections between these industries and the rest of the economy because most producers chose imported inputs, which were invariably more affordable and of higher quality. Few plants used domestically manufactured glue, thread, sisal, and textiles.Lower tariff revenues as a result of all of this have significantly affected resource mobilization. According to estimates, low-income nations like Haiti often only recover 30 cents of every dollar lost in trade tax revenues through other means. The very drastic reduction in average tariffs has had a particularly large impact on Haiti. The rather predictable outcome has been economic stagnation—in fact, real per capita incomes actually decreased by 40% between 1985 and 2007—a vast informal economy and rising unemployment, a gap between the rich and the poor that is only growing, and a constant undercurrent of political tension and sporadic violence.

  • Rebuilding state capability

A new development strategy for Haiti needs to place economic security as its main objective. That will probably include extending economic prospects (in both the rural and urban sectors) outside of Port-au-Prince in the medium term and adding construction jobs. The disaster’s most significant aftereffect has been the estimated 500,000 individuals who have returned to their rural homes. This is a significant chance to revive agriculture and undo the harm caused by premature trade liberalization and the disregard for domestic productive capacities.

At least until the local ability to provide essential commodities and services has been restored, cash transfers to impacted households, like the UNDP’s newly implemented and already successful “cash for work programme,” may be one urgent solution to assist enhance security. These enable households to identify their most pressing needs, can provide support in a quicker, more transparent, and more affordable manner, and are better able to maintain recovery.

To generate quick and more inclusive growth, investment levels must be increased in both the public and private sectors. Infrastructure development, increased farm productivity, support for low-skilled manufacturing, and the provision of basic services could provide the links and synergies needed to create a more positive cycle of development.

Rebuilding the State’s ability to generate revenue will be a key challenge. The State won’t be able to finance funding for new democratic institutions, improvements to human welfare, increased public security, lowered social tensions, and an investment push without a solid domestic fiscal base. This is a significant difficulty in a nation where before the earthquake, tax revenue made up barely 11% of GDP. The increase in the average tariff that occurred in early 2010 as a result of Haiti implementing the CARICOM common external tariff should be beneficial. Modernizing customs with the aid of UNCTAD’s ASYCUDA program can also have a significant impact.But donors must also act promptly to enhance fiduciary capability and responsibility and route a larger portion of their money through the State’s budget allocation mechanism.

  • A new approach to international cooperation

While Haiti’s ability to mobilize local resources will be crucial to its long-term growth, bridging the immediate resource deficit will largely depend on outside financial and development aid. As a result, both the Haitian government and its citizens as well as international aid organizations from both rich and developing nations will share responsibility for Haiti’s recovery. However, if recovery is to last, it is crucial that development cooperation be planned so that accountability gradually passes to the Haitian State. In order to bridge the gap between national rates of saving and the high rates of investment necessary to accomplish Haiti’s development goals, particularly the MDGs, development aid should be utilized.

International cooperation will need to be generous in order to have an impact, and it should avoid accruing any additional debt. In a previous policy brief, UNCTAD recommended that any future funding attempts begin with canceling Haiti’s existing multilateral debt. The greatest multilateral donor to Haiti, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the finance ministers of the major industrialized nations have indicated their desire to go in that route. The cost of reconstruction in Haiti has since been projected by the government to be $11.5 billion, and it is crucial that the majority of this money come in the form of grants.

However, a successful recovery strategy includes more than just the generosity of donors. A piecemeal approach will not work because the entire process will take some time. An integrated strategy to macroeconomic, industrial, and trade policy is required to repair the harm to productive capacities, kick-start economic recovery, and encourage investment dynamism while also regulating aid flows. Additionally, it should demonstrate Haiti’s ownership of the process and take into account the sensibilities, interests, and skill sets of the Haitian people. Ownership and political wiggle room are important to Haiti just as they are to any other nation.

As an LDC, Haiti currently benefits from some trade preferences, but as was previously mentioned, these should be expanded and incorporated into a more comprehensive set of development strategies. Services where the nation already has a competitive edge should receive special consideration right away, especially those that involve the mobility of people. An estimated 20% (US$ 1.4 billion) of Haiti’s GDP comes from remittances generated by industries like construction, healthcare, entertainment, tourism, business, and professional services. The size of the Haitian diaspora is undoubtedly a loss for the nation, but the remittances they send home can be a vital source of funding for its recovery. However, doing so will necessitate policies that lower remittance transaction costs and direct them toward profitable industries.

By increasing access to capital and opening up new market opportunities, this would make the productive sectors more competitive on a national and international scale. Additionally, it might support amplifying Haiti’s voice in key multilateral and regional economic talks.

Cooperation among emerging nations is becoming increasingly important to the new global cooperation. Since the earthquake, several other developing nations, including China, India, and Mexico, have pledged major support. In the case of Haiti, a number of developing nations from the area, including Brazil, Cuba, and Venezuela, have contributed technical aid and support in kind. The largest bilateral creditor to Haiti, Venezuela, has stated that it plans to erase its $300 million in debt.

Brazil has been especially quick to mobilize the international community in support of a more integrated approach to security, humanitarian aid, and social and economic development—an approach that is also mindful of local ownership—and to scale up support to its already sizable commitment under MINUSTAH. Many individuals have realized that the earthquake presents a chance to reorient Haiti’s development, put it on a path toward inclusive growth, and enable it to depend more and more on its own productive capabilities. But for such a road to be established, Haiti and its international partners require a plan with benchmarks that are appropriate to the immediate situation but clearly indicate a structural transition over the long term. It will be crucial to learn from the past and look beyond the conventional development cooperation box while creating a blueprint.

  • Rethinking Peace Building in Haiti

In their article, Timothy Donais and Amy Knorr examined the most effective means of achieving peacebuilding in Haiti;

The timing is right to reevaluate Haiti’s peacebuilding challenge more than three years after a devastating earthquake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince. As was already established, the earthquake and the ensuing humanitarian crisis understandably took peacebuilding off of both the international and domestic agendas, but the root causes of Haiti’s ongoing instability are still largely unaddressed, and armed conflict is increasing, especially in the urban slums of Port-au-Prince (Muggah and Kolbe 2012).

Coming to terms with the conflict’s unusual nature is essential to comprehending the task of establishing peace in Haiti. Although the nation “has had to deal with many of its effects: human rights abuses, population displacements, a devastated economy, and protracted stretches of international intervention,” as Yasmine Shamsie has remarked, Haiti has never actually been at war (Shamsie 2008, 414). Class has traditionally been the most noticeable and destabilizing division in Haitian culture. The stark class disparity in Haiti, one of the most unequal countries on the planet, has been a major cause of social and political unrest ever since Duvalier’s death. Class conflict in Haiti has become more latent than manifest with the expulsion of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the political scene and the dissolution of his Fanmi Lavalas movement (the movement, which encouraged the political mobilization of Haiti’s urban and rural poor but became the bane of much of the elite and middle class in the country). However, the nation’s urban slums, with their appalling socioeconomic conditions, continue to serve as an incubator for class conflict (Willman and Marcelin 2010).

Beyond the continuing realities of poverty and inequality, an often cited factor contributing to Haiti’s instability is the country’s weak, dysfunctional, and frequently predatory public institutions. Political competition in Haiti has long been seen as a zero-sum game between political elites vying for the right to, in Robert Fatton’s words, “devour public resources for their exclusive private gain,” as he has argued. The state in Haiti has long been seen as a place of private opportunity rather than public service (Fatton 2006, 122– 123).

More recently, when political parties have used the disenfranchised and underprivileged for their own political objectives, the zero-sum character of political contestation in Haiti has mixed with grassroots poverty in explosive ways. Urban gangs in Port-au-Prince emerged as a phenomenon that was inherently political, according to Michael Dziedzic and Robert Perito, who claim that “powerful elites from across the political spectrum, from… Aristide to the bourgeoisie, exploited gangs as instruments of political warfare, providing arms, funding, and protection from arrest” (Dziedzic and Perito 2008, 2). Even though UN peacekeepers’ aggressive intervention in key Port-au-Prince slums like Cite’ Soleil beginning in 2006 disrupted complex systems of patronage between political elites and gang leaders, many of the key gang leaders who were apprehended and imprisoned during this time later escaped in the confusion of the 2010 earthquake, sparking a resurgence of gang activity.

The Haitian conflict is fundamentally a continual crisis in the relationship between the state and society, resulting from the historical absence of a social compact that would have allowed for the management and, if not complete resolution, of social conflict. The emergence of stable democratic politics in Haiti has long been thwarted by the interaction of macro-level political instability with micro-level, gang-dominated violence, on top of a social context of extreme inequality, severe poverty, and chronic underdevelopment. If these issues are not addressed, they may continue to do so.There is a strong case to be made for a parallel, ideally complementary strategy of social reconciliation and repair while the establishment of effective, public service-oriented institutions, such as the Haitian National Police (HNP), remains a key component of any broader peacebuilding strategy in Haiti.

Understanding the causal processes that allow for progressive social, political, and economic development is equally as crucial as understanding the root causes of conflict and instability in Haiti. In reality, one of the major theoretical gaps in the current peacebuilding attempt may be the lack of a compelling and widely recognized theory of how peace is produced. There are numerous ideas of “peace causation” in the absence of a single unifying theory. In the prevalent liberal narrative, for instance, peace develops when liberal democracy’s institutional underpinnings are gradually put in place and start to channel conflict in nonviolent ways while also influencing the larger political culture in favor of peace. Institutional transformation is an important corollary that promotes economic growth and decreases conflict as people find gainful employment and start to take an active role in the development of the new political order (Sambanis 2010, 154). According to these ideas, the international effort to create a stable, lasting peace in Haiti has historically been top-down, with the majority of outside aid going toward creating a state level with capable, responsive, and democratically accountable institutions. Even though Haiti has had its fair share of bad luck lately, the fact that the overall strategy of peacebuilding through institution building has generally produced dismal results cannot be ignored.With a few notable exceptions, like the Ministry of Health, Haiti’s governmental institutions continue to be ineffectual, inefficient, and universally despised; at the same time, it is still extremely difficult to achieve self-sustaining economic growth.

Liberal ideas of peaceful change diverge significantly from those developing in the broader field of conflict resolution, which place a greater emphasis on sociological theories of individual, interpersonal, and intergroup transformation. As parties and individuals in conflict are persuaded to think differently about themselves and about those with whom they are in conflict, such theories tend to situate change at the attitudinal level.The main goal of conflict transformation, according to Lederach (2003), is not to discover quick fixes for urgent situations but rather to develop innovative platforms that may simultaneously treat surface issues and alter underlying social structures and relational patterns. Conflict resolution must start with changing relationships because conflict is fundamentally a relational idea, mostly through discussion processes. Although these theories can be used at all conflict levels, they have gained particular importance as a way to involve non-elites at the grassroots or community level (through so-called Track II or Track III procedures) in more extensive peacebuilding efforts.

While the liberal peacebuilding paradigm’s institutional focus may be replaced by a focus on the individual and the interpersonal as the fundamental starting point for sustainable peacebuilding, there are still concerns about the practical ability of microlevel approaches to collectively add up to produce macrolevel change (Twose 2009, 140). For instance, Sandrine Lefranc (2011, 34) questions the “underlying, individualist, relationalist notion of social functioning and transformation” present in many bottom-up strategies, especially those where dialogue assumes a key position. Bottom-up approaches tacitly adopt a “flat” image of society, as consisting of little more than a myriad of interrelated individuals, she argues, which generally ignores deeper structural circumstances that perpetuate inequality and injustice.According to her, bottom-up approaches undermine any transformative potential they may have by prioritizing a peace practice based on the idea of transforming relationships rather than one focused on addressing larger structural barriers to peace. By doing this, she claims, bottom-up approaches leave existing, conflict-generating systems of power unchallenged and intact. There is a significant risk that bottom-up peacebuilding efforts in a situation like Haiti, where the relationship between violence and poverty is profoundly entwined in structural forces mostly at the national and international levels, would have palliative rather than transformative effects.Mary Anderson and Lara Olson make a similar distinction between individual/interpersonal and socio/political levels of engagement in their discussion of community-based peace practice, concluding that “the single most important connection for significant change is that whatever is done be translated into socio/political action.” Without such action, it appears that significant and long-lasting reforms necessary for peace would not take place (Anderson and Olson 2003, 58). Putting the “up” in bottom-up peacebuilding (Hemmer et al. 2006) through integration tactics that connect grassroots activities to higher-level dynamics and processes is necessary to overcome such limits.

An developing perspective concentrating on state-society connections and democratic citizenship practices falls between and possibly connects these two theoretical orientations towards change, one focused on altering institutions and the other on transforming social relations.Although the liberal peacebuilding model places a strong emphasis on democratization, post-conflict peacebuilding efforts have more success in creating new governments than in ensuring that those governments are answerable to and subject to accountability by the very citizens they are meant to represent. From the standpoint of democratic citizenship, then, governing the governors is just as crucial as choosing them in the first place, and making sure that political power is not only enabled but also controlled takes democracy beyond the electoralism common in most contemporary contexts for peacebuilding, including Haiti. This entails creating effective institutions of governance as well as changing incentive structures to ensure that governments pay more attention to social needs and the larger public interest. At the same time, this implies giving citizens the power to hold their governments more accountable for their actions and to demand more from them.According to this definition, peace results from “an effective democratic process that allows citizens and the government to negotiate shared demands, commitments, and expectations” (Menocal 2010, 4). There have been increasing requests in recent years for the state-society nexus to be given greater and more explicit attention by the peacebuilding enterprise. Kora Andreiu, for instance, makes the case that in order to increase local legitimacy for the larger peacebuilding enterprise, “one… needs to go beyond state-building and towards an intentional strategy of what we can call “society-building”” (Andreiu 2010, 547).


The promise of upward dynamism inherent in the very idea of “bottom-up” peacebuilding has proven difficult for community-level peacebuilding efforts to realize, just as conventional peacebuilding processes have struggled to bring the benefits of state-level institution building down to the local level. In fact, as the dialogue-development nexus in St. Martin shows, even in the absence of the larger ambition of advancing “peace writ large,” the objective of fostering peace and enhancing peacebuilding capacity at the local level cannot be easily achieved without strategically interacting with higher-level political and economic issues and actors. In other words, even while partner communities’ internal dynamics are unavoidably complicated, community-level peacebuilders cannot afford to be only focused on them. The need for integrated peacebuilding is just as important at the local level as it is at the national level.

Those involved in grassroots peace work must also be fully aware that the comparatively bland language of “engagement” may in fact conceal the inherently contentious – and frequently fiercely contested – politics at the core of any peacebuilding enterprise. They must also be aware that those negotiating on behalf of “the local” typically do so from positions of weakness rather than strength. Political power and life will very certainly need to be reorganized in order to achieve durable peace, and individuals in positions of control are unlikely to relinquish either without a fight. Similar to this, given the power imbalances present, vertical integration may easily lead to the top co-opting the bottom, depriving the former of its crucial advantage and transformative potential. However, recent research on hybridity and peacebuilding reveals that the liberal peacebuilding agenda is far from omnipotent and is virtually always adapted and adjusted in response to local and national dynamics (Mac Ginty 2011). In order to better engage communities and other collectivities in peacebuilding as an evolutionary process as opposed to a revolutionary one, bottom-up techniques may be seen as a strategy. However, as we’ve attempted to show, bridging the gap between the local and the liberal will require more candor on the part of national and international actors regarding local processes and actors, as well as a willingness to allow, as Oliver Richmond (2009b, 339) has suggested, “the non-liberal and the liberal to engage with each other to produce a new hybrid, rather than the attempted removal of the local and its substitution by the liberal.”

In the particular case of Haiti, recent years have seen an increase in the focus on local dynamics as a vital component of long-term peacebuilding, and this trend is likely to be reinforced by the growing understanding of the significance of state-society relations in peacebuilding and statebuilding contexts. As we have demonstrated, however, bottom-up peacebuilding efforts in Haiti continue to be largely fragmented; they are neither vertically integrated with the larger statebuilding effort nor horizontally across the various communities involved. This raises concerns that the overall impact of peacebuilding efforts in Haiti will be significantly less than the sum of its parts. Bringing the different components of the peacebuilding web much closer together may be the crucial next step in the practice’s continued evolution, both in Haiti and worldwide.

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