Haiti Democracy Project

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Behold, Once More, the Leviathan

 

 

By Jean-Claude Bajeux

Executive Director, Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (CEDH)

 

 

To proclaim individual freedom was all well and good.  To separate church and state was all well and good.  To proclaim that all men are created equal – on an August 4th night full of emotion – everyone agreed.  But when the moment came to devise a form of government that would embody these principles, the discussion of the necessary safeguards seemed to go on forever.

 

Separation of powers; checks and balances; regular elections; term limits; the role of open, public debate; the rule of law over men; the standing and privileges of the citizens elevated to public office – the Founding Fathers meeting in Philadelphia consulted their classics well.  Those who pay taxes must be represented, those who disburse public funds must be scrutinized, those who represent a constituency must be accountable to it,… and those who cheat – who break the rules – must be punished.

 

Fifty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (read: “that which applies to all, and everywhere, without exception”), ratified by the 185 countries that are members of the United Nations, one realizes that there are still scoundrels who don’t play by the rules.  As the Trinidadian, Ambassador Orlando Marville, [head of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission,] said in his acclaimed article of June 17, 2000:  “The present government is the result of an election which was manipulated in a way that none of us would accept as normal in our own country.”  This position was reaffirmed with crystal clarity recently by the French Socialist Party, which on December 21, 2001 declared that:  “Only the reestablishment of legitimate authority, through an incontestable electoral process, is capable of restoring some measure of equilibrium in the public realm, for which the Haitian people are still waiting.”

 

This position echoes that of Lyonel Trouillot, in an article published in Le Nouvelliste of July 23, 2001:

 

“What Haiti does not need, is someone who says:: “Yes, but…[it’s Haiti, after all.]” when republican principles are violated.  After having been complicit for far too long in the mechanisms of exclusion that split our country into two, today the meddling of small-minded foreigners, full of good intentions, poses a new danger, in its readiness to rationalize our electoral shenanigans.  Haiti doesn’t need anyone to tell her who is popular (or who was); rather, she needs assistance to construct her institutions in the strictest observance of democratic procedures.  It is with the republic that one must finally vanquish exclusion.”

 

Because that which Jean-Jacques Rousseau once conceived as a contract that had to link all the members of a single society has become, with the passage of time, the general rule, a sine qua non for the well-being of the global community.  Trying to get around it is to put yourself beyond the pale, and this willful withdrawal, particularly for small nations, can only have disastrous consequences.  It means that, guilty in the docket, you are cut off from normal international relations, cut off from legitimate sources of investment.  It’s the renowned “democracy clause,” expressed nowhere more clearly than  in the “Interamerican Democratic Charter,” just approved in plenary session by the members of the OAS in Lima, Peru, last September 11, which follows upon an accord at the 3rd Summit of the Americas (Quebec, 20-22 April 2000) and Resolution 1080, at Santiago du Chili.

 

Its articles 2 through 6 define the characteristics of the Rule of Law, amongst which figure the holding of periodic elections (“free and fair”), political pluralism, and respect for personal freedoms, particularly freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  Here, it is imperative to cite its article 19, which contains the famous “democracy clause”:

 

“The unconstitutional suspension or distortion of democratic order in an OAS member-state, so long as it continues, is an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of its government in sessions of the General Assembly, of the Conference of Foreign Ministers, and of the Organization’s councils, special conferences, commissions, working groups, and other bodies.”

 

 

It was with a feeling of profound distress that I lived through the two days of December 11th and December 17th – days that saw the brutal execution of the journalist, Brignol Lindor; and the arson of the Democratic Convergence’s and member parties’ offices, and of the homes of some twenty citizens, including Victor Benoît and Gérard Pierre-Charles.  A journalist myself, from a family of journalists, director, at various times, of “l’Effort Camerounais,” of “Rond-point,” of “Sondeos,” of “le Voix du CEDH;” and a university professor, as well, whose work is inextricably linked to a daily encounter with books, with the maintenance of archives, of notes, of documents; I experienced the heat of these flames much as I have always felt the heat of the flames that engulfed the great library of Alexandria, or those of the Nazi bonfires that consumed the works of Thomas Mann, or those of the Chilean generals destroying the poems of Pablo Neruda – all the paradigmatic expressions of barbarism.

 

Imagining the distress of these activists, watching their meeting places go up in smoke; of these professors, whose homes represented many decades of work, of savings, and of struggle, and a lifetime of memories; I became aware, at the same time, of the planning that must have gone in to this eruption of pyromania:  the cars, the commandos, the tools and instruments, the orders, and the identification and localization of the various targets.

 

Yet, the depth of the distress that seized me can only be understood with reference to the times in which we live, and the times through which we have lived, in the tragic history of half a century, waiting – for what? – to emerge from a 29-year dictatorship.  I remember clearly the very day when this dictatorship demonstrated its will to free itself from the constraints of laws, of the rule of law, and of justice.  On that day, I beheld the face of the Leviathan, that monster that lives in every State, and is nourished by the avarice of those who govern, by the folly of tyrants, and by the sadism of their minions.  That day, the State officially became delinquent, placed itself beyond the law, and renounced its role as secular arbiter of good and evil, and its responsibility to sanction the latter.

 

It was April 26, 1963, the day of the “assassination attempt” against Jean-Claude Duvalier, in front of le Nouveau Collège Bird.  Coming out at noon from a three-hour philosophy class at Saint-Martial, I was told that there had been a violent commotion downtown.  On Lalue [Avenue John Brown], two bloody corpses, guarded by “the men in blue” were sprawled on the sidewalk, opposite the Sister’s school.  We knew, that on Bois Verna, the Benoît home was in flames: the father, the mother and a maid having been killed; an infant of a few months taken away.  More than 70 ex-officers of the army disappeared that day, “without a trace;” as did other citizens, that chance had put in the wrong place at the wrong time:  André Riobé, the brothers Didier and Paulo Vieux, the young Bance, Benoît Armand (who payed with his life for having the wrong first name), and many others.  The next year, the “Presidency-for-life” officially proclaimed the death of the citizen.  The country no longer had a right to anything but terror and silence, “cured,” as Duvalier announced, “of its desire for elections.”  Worse, after these 14 years, it was still necessary – unbearable insult! – to endure another 15 years of the son, 19 years old at the death of his father.

 

The “change” that finally came in 1986, then, signified, above all, a return to the law, a return to a conception of the State which sees itself as the protector of individual rights, and guarantees to all the protections of the law – against the arbitrary, against abuse, against barbarism (defined as lawlessness), against the madness of unbridled power, “eternal,” predatory and homicidal.  The democratic movement, so ferocious in its opposition to macoutisme, convinced itself, on December 16, 1990, that it had re-subordinated the State to the rule of law, and to the service of the people they were designed to protect; and had adequately limited the State’s power.  They were convinced, even more profoundly, that they had reestablished, at the highest level of the executive, the distinction between good and evil, and had effectively put an end to a long litany of abuses – of which the events of December 26, 1963, are but sad and sinister examples.

 

And behold, the monstrous face of the Leviathan has revealed itself, this December 17, to us, much as it must have appeared in Petit-Goave, to the horror of Brignol Lindor.  Behold, the commandos torching party offices and the homes of politicians, crimes that the Penal Code sanctions with capital punishment (commuted under the current Constitution [which prohibits the death penalty] to life at hard labor.)  Behold, that doing anything to anyone became, once again, permissible, on the pretext that “the people had identified their enemies” (a trope one finds in every brand of fascism!).  Everything became possible again, all citizens became guilty again, simply by existing.  The worst became possible again.  A senator called for the death penalty for the so-called “putschists” – as a legislator, it might have been expected that he would be aware that the Constitution had proscribed it.  The slogan “zero tolerance” continued to wreak its havoc, and the people were asked to remain “vigilant,” and to turn in “those who refuse to believe the official version of events [sic!]).

 

After all, to see the homes of Victor Benoît and Gérard Pierre-Charles burn, was not just to watch the homes of academic colleagues and political comrades burn.  To see homes burn in Gonaïves and in Petit-Goave; to watch as party offices, and vehicles burned; was to entertain the notion that tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, all homes, all businesses, all offices, schools, libraries – that belonged to an opponent, or to his cousin, for that matter – might be consumed by the flames.  And, above all else, it was to see, yet again (“never again!”), the Book of the Law in flames; to watch as the boundary between what is permitted and what is forbidden was erased; to realize that all we had thought was now impossible, because prohibited, had become possible again; to watch as evil was cloaked in the mantle of official impunity, [free to rampage in the very heart of the polity,] day or night.  It was to see all of the men and women of this country stripped naked, waiting only to be slipped into the gas chamber and dumped at Titanyen.

 

That is why, this December 17th, I was neither confused nor disoriented.  I was, and I remain, profoundly troubled:  For I beheld, once more, the terrifying countenance of the Leviathan, realizing that it had still not left me, since that day in April, 1964.

 

And yet, looking around me, I know that those who would have history repeat itself –

this history – are out of step with the times.  Because this world has indeed changed, and its peoples now heed the prophesy of Isaiah, as they intone its verse this Christmas:

 

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:

to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.

 

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

December 25, 2001

 

 

 

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