THREE HOURS OUT OF NEW
York, I start awake to find myself floating over a grotesque landscape -
the sickly, reddish-brown hills of Haiti, wave upon wave of blood-dark corrugations,
thickly marbled with white sand. Haitian peasants have long since uprooted
the once-dense covering of trees and underbrush, selling the wood for charcoal
and leaving bare white canyons through which, month after month, year after
year, the rainwater flows, carrying tons of precious topsoil to the bottom
of the Caribbean.
While in the cities of ''Haiti liberee'' a new political
universe suffers a painful and confusing birth, the land, farmed to exhaustion,
eroding, continues its slow and spectacular death. During the last three
decades - while the nation was ruled first by Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier
and then his son, Jean-Claude - the land began to disgorge its dependents,
sending them streaming to the slums of the cities.
Faced with the trickling away of Haiti, the 35 emperors,
kings, ''presidents-for-life,'' and dictators of every stripe who have ruled
the land have preferred to think of other things. One committed suicide;
one was executed; two were assassinated; seven died in office, and 18 were
The most recent was Jean-Claude Duvalier, who, in
the early hours of Feb. 7, 1986, with his elegant mulatto wife, Michele,
boarded a United States Air Force jet and fled to the south of France. There
he rejoined an expatriated fortune estimated at $400 million to $600 million
-equivalent to about twice Haiti's annual budget -and left behind the poorest
country in the hemisphere and one of the poorest on earth. In 1985, 90 percent
of Haitians subsisted on less than $185, while the wealthiest .5 percent
received almost half the national income of about $2 billion a year.
In Haiti today, the world's first independent black
nation is enduring another of the periods of disorder, guarded optimism
and sporadic violence that so often in its history has bridged the fall
of one ruler and the rise of the next. Expatriate Haitians in Miami and
New York celebrated the anniversary of Duvalier's fall with parties and
parades, but in the capital city of Port-au-Prince - where I was spending
the latest of three visits to post-Duvalier Haiti - the day was greeted
with a deathly silence broken only by the sirens of armored vehicles patrolling
The head of the interim Government, Gen. Henri Namphy,
who had served as Duvalier's army chief of staff, warned last June that
the country was on the PAGE 149 The New York Times, June 21, 1987 ''brink
of anarchy,'' then promised Haitians ''a fair, good and firm transition
to democracy.'' Local elections are promised for next month and presidential
elections in November. Scores of Haitians have been noisily campaigning
for the chair Jean-Claude hastily vacated.
On every corner, Haitians selling mangoes or cassettes
will tell you in disgust that the candidates think only of what they can
steal, just like Jean-Claude; that the very idea of elections is a grim
joke in Haiti - a country in which a vote can be bought for a swig of rum;
so-called political parties flourish for a season before fading away with
the candidate's name, and the notion of politics as a means to further the
public good is utterly unknown.
Partly as a result of this pervasive discontent, the
''official'' process has acquired a shadow, a shifting, amorphous and divided
opposition. The backbone of this ''democratic sector'' is the Catholic Church,
itself divided, which rallied the people during the six months of social
upheaval leading to Duvalier's flight. Hundreds of popular organizations,
claiming to give voice to workers, peasants, neighborhood leaders and others,
form what Leslie Manigat, a prominent presidential candidate, calls the
''counterpower in the streets.'' That counterpower surfaced dramatically
in March, when Haitians overwhelmingly approved a new Constitution that
strips the Government of its power to administer the elections, creating
an independent commission for the purpose; and that forbids ''ex-Duvalierists,''
from running for public office.
Everywhere in Haiti, one hears talk of ''development,''
and vague warnings of Communism finding a breeding ground in misery. Today,
no guerrilla groups are concealed in the Haitian mountains, and in 10 years
Duvalier's overthrow - and the consequent political reshuffling, now in
progress - may be seen as the beginning of real improvement in the lives
of the people. Or it may be recalled as a sign that the country was marching
inexorably toward a long season of bloodletting, what one Haitian journalist
described as the ''Salvadorization'' of Haiti: the familiar cycle of violent
rebellion, brutal repression and prolonged guerrilla war.
It is common wisdom that avoiding such a future will
depend on ''building democracy'' and ameliorating Haiti's poverty, causes
for which the United States will donate more than $100 million this year,
most of it through the United States Agency for International Development.
But the weight of American influence is not without its own risks; it provokes
a deep strain of Haitian nationalism, and thereby aids precisely those forces
the United States, and its allies among the Haitian elite, most fear.
Indeed, for those looking for test cases, Haiti should
be a cautionary tale. Traumatized by a political psychosis that predates
its independence, Haiti today presents vivid examples of the obstacles to
''democracy-building'' and the resiliency of history and class.
SOON AFTER DUVALIER'S
DEPARTURE, A thick growth of graffiti crept over Port-au-Prince. For the
one Haitian in five able to read, a history of ''liberated Haiti'' can be
found scrawled in paint on its aqua and salmon walls.
''Dictatorship Uprooted!'' ''Democracy Peace Justice!''
At the intersection of Avenue Haile Selassie with Avenue Martin Luther King,
are reminders of the first tumultuous weeks, when delirious crowds methodically
stripped bare the great houses of the dictator's cronies, and mobs beheaded,
stoned or burned The New York Times, June 21, 1987 alive the more murderous
of his denim-clad Tontons Macoutes militia.
''I stood and marveled at the justice of the people,''
Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an influential priest, told me. ''These Macoutes,
they were the devil incarnate. The people were doing God's work.'' Meanwhile,
the most notorious criminals escaped the country, apparently with the interim
Government's connivance, underscoring what Haitians had known all along
- that the justice of the mob was the only justice they could expect.
How to control a land long ruled by terror, when the
terror is abruptly removed? Driving north of the capital one day, I witnessed
a highway robbery: groups of men balanced on the hoods of moving pick-up
trucks as they looted the back of a great tractor-trailer of donated flour,
while a soldier hanging out of its cab fired his rifle wildly at them, the
whole bizarre hybrid creature - the big 16-wheeler struggling to twist free
like some great fish beset by parasites - hurtled along at 50 miles per
Afterward, a furious army captain, one of the 7,000
or so soldiers and policemen who suddenly found themselves, after the Tontons
Macoutes had been disbanded, with an unruly populace of 5.5 million to manage,
shouted at me: ''It is disorder! Next time we will shoot them down like
Driving around the Champs de Mars park, I stopped
near the Bois de Chene, one of the ravines, deepening with each rainfall,
that have been eroding Port-au-Prince.
The walls of this ravine had been shored up with concrete.
Twenty or so young men were cleaning out the mud that recent rains had left,
working in traditional Haitian ''coumbite'' style: standing elbow to elbow,
each man carried his shovelful a few inches before he dumped it in front
of the man beside him, in this way slowly passing the mud down the line.
The Ministry of Public Works was paying them $3 a day.
I asked about the interim Government. ''Duvalier is
gone, but the Duvalierists are still here!'' The candidates? ''They think
only of power, never of the country!'' ''We want a president who is popular,
and revolutionary!'' a young man added, noting that all the talk of ''uprooting''
Duvalier is misleading. ''The Duvalierist system was not uprooted,'' he
said. ''Only the top of its head was cut off.''
I drove down to the port to see the statue of Columbus,
who discovered the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican
Republic. Or rather, to see the pedestal, the statue itself having been
slung into the sea by unknown parties who left a scrawled message: ''Pas
de blancs en Haiti!'' (''No whites'' - or foreigners - ''in Haiti!''). Haiti's
first constitution, in 1804, declared that ''no white man will set foot
on Haitian soil as owner or master,'' a provision reaffirmed in succeeding
documents until the American Marines arrived in 1915, beginning an occupation
that would last until 1934.
Later, I passed the slum of La Saline, a vast catacomb
of rusted sheet metal, partly obscured now by billows of smoke from the
charcoal-fed cooking fires. Near one entrance to the bidonville - tin-can
city - where the paved road ends and the dirt track and open sewers begin,
are carefully printed a few simple words: ''Nothing Has Changed.''
AS ONE MOUNTS the road
to the chic suburb of Petionville, higher and higher above the boiling city,
the air grows cooler and the ranks of the great houses begin. Here cluster
the Beautiful People of Haiti: graceful, rich, and most of them light-skinned.
The cafe-au-lait complexions, the startling green or blue eyes, are legacies
of the sexual preferences of the French colonial masters, who made of Haiti
one of the richest colonies in the world before the slaves they ruled revolted,
throwing out the last of the French in 1804.
''In Haiti, with all our poverty and misery, we have
had one striking success: we have been able to create a true elite,'' Georges
Salomon tells me. Salomon served as Foreign Minister and Ambassador to Washington
under Duvalier. ''The talent and charm of this elite is something we should
be proud of.''
Even before independence, the beginnings of today's
elite were well in place. Many of the mulatto sons of French planters and
their slave women had been educated in France; some already owned plantations
themselves. After the revolution, the land was redistributed to the former
slaves, and Haiti became a nation of small landholders.
''The only way of getting an income out of agriculture
without being a peasant was by taxing the goods produced . . . and this
source could be tapped only by government,'' wrote Mats Lundahl in ''Peasants
and Poverty,'' his study of Haiti's economy. ''. . . The former landowning
classes went into politics instead. . . . The administration was turned
into a generator of legal and illegal incomes accruing to the followers
of the politicians who happened to be in command at the moment. . . .''
Duvalier was only the latest boss of the kleptocracy. Meanwhile, the country
has remained divided between the strongly African peasant world containing
three-quarters of the population - illiterate, Creole-speaking, voodoo-practicing,
isolated - and a Europeanized, French-speaking, Catholic urban elite.
The charm of the Haitian elite is on full display
on Saturday nights in Petionville. The restaurants brim with well-dressed
people, chattering in French and English. A beautiful, cultivated woman
remarks that Jean-Claude and Michele were ''nouveaux riches, of the very
worst sort.'' But now, adds another woman, Petionville residents are frightened:
''When there is the smallest rumor of some demonstration in town, the grilles
on the shops slam down and the mothers rush to pick up their kids from school.''
An elderly mulatto woman says that ''what this country
needs - if you'll pardon the cliche - is a good dictator. Look at what Trujillo
accomplished in the Dominican Republic. I know, I know, he killed many people.
Of course. But at least he built a country. The Duvaliers killed as many,
and look at what they have left us.''
As she speaks, I picture the harsh concrete world
of the National Cemetery down below, where beggars languish in the shadows
of the brightly-colored tombs, and a ruined heap of white bricks is all
that remains of the grave of Francois Duvalier. Mobs had swarmed over the
tomb but apparently found it empty - the son having taken his father with
In 1957, the mumbling, bespectacled doctor was elected
president - with the good wishes and presumed electoral help of the army
officers presiding over that ''transition to democracy.'' During the next
15 years, Duvalier engineered a black nationalist ''political revolution''
that left perhaps 30,000 dead and hundreds of thousands exiled before he
bequeathed the country to his son, then a very fat 19-year-old, in 1971.
The elder Duvalier, the black nationalist who had
written about Haitian voodoo and drawn much support from the countryside,
had created the Tontons Macoutes as a revolutionary mass movement and used
them to smash the power of the army, to kill or exile many of the elite,
and to expel or murder the foreign-born clergy.
Jean-Claude, dreaming of an ''economic revolution,''
had urged many elite technocrats to return; had opened the country to foreign
businesses; had become dependent on American aid and thereby vulnerable
to American pressure to reduce human-rights violations. Finally, he allowed
the clergy to raise its voice; as the economy collapsed, poor Haitians began
LESLIE DELATOUR, A 39-year-old
economist, formerly with the World Bank, is now one of Haiti's most powerful
officials - certainly one of the most unpopular - the Minister of Finance.
A slender man with wire-rimmed glasses and a mustache, Delatour looks and
acts like a graduate student - which he was, first at Johns Hopkins, later
at the University of Chicago - and his radical ''free-market'' economic
policies helped transform him into a national demon soon after his appointment
in April 1986.
''Look,'' he says, at his two-story home just below
Petionville, ''the fact that Duvalier left has not overnight increased the
overall wealth of this country.''
Almost alone in a stagnant interim administration,
Delatour has acted boldly to confront Haiti's catastrophic economic situation.
He has stanched the hemorrhaging of public funds, closing, amid enormous
protest, two large state enterprises - a cooking-oil factory and a sugar
mill - that had helped serve as conduits from the public treasury to private
pockets. He has reduced the tariffs that protected the monopolies making
up Haiti's structure of ''crony capitalism'' and slashed export taxes on
coffee and other commodities.
Delatour claims to have eliminated ''the fundamental
and systematic plundering of public resources,'' by cutting ''the massive
allocation of funds that went to the National Palace'' and ferreting out
thousands of ''zombie checks'' that have traditionally been issued in the
name of nonexistent public employees, to be claimed by others who receive
several checks, or who never work at all.
Delatour's policies have delighted his former employers
at the World Bank, as well as officials in the United States and the other
countries and international organizations that contribute more than a third
of the money Haiti's Government will spend this year. But for many Haitians,
this ''Chicago boy'' is the orchestrator of the ''American plan'' for Haiti,
the man trying to realize Jean-Claude's dream of making Haiti into ''the
Taiwan of the Caribbean'' by ''selling the country to the Americans.''
By closing state enterprises, his critics say, Delatour
has put Haitians out of work and made the country more dependent on foreigners.
By slashing tariffs, he threatens domestic industry. And by failing to stop
the huge influx of black-market goods into the country since Duvalier left
- especially rice, sugar and cigarettes -he has gone far toward destroying
what is left of the Haitian peasant economy.
''When I hear these people talking about dependency
and so on, I say all this is bull,'' he says. ''This country's going to
be dependent regardless of who's in power; the only thing that is in question
is whether it will be dependent on the Americans or someone else. Cuba and
Nicaragua are clear examples of this.''
Delatour claims to have decreased the cost of living
for all Haitians by destroying the monopolies that the Duvaliers distributed
like Christmas gifts to their friends. ''Those on the left hate my guts
for ideological reasons, and those on the right because they have a problem
with a guy who doesn't like monopolies,'' he says. ''I want to make sure
that the next president can't just call the state flour mill and say, 'Send
$10,000 to Captain So-and-So over at the barracks,' so later the captain
will be more likely to obey his president when he orders him to go arrest
and torture someone in the night.''
''As far as the guy in the street is concerned,''
he concludes, ''what Delatour is doing doesn't affect him -except that the
cost of the basic things he needs is going down.''
HE'S LYING, YOU know.
You cannot believe this devil who sells our country.'' Father Aristide leans
forward until his face looms inches from my own. I have descended to the
noisy, echoing hallway of the Church of St. Jean Bosco.
''What you see over there is only one end of a structure
of corruption,'' Aristide says, gesturing in the direction of La Saline
slum nearby. ''You must understand the 'American Plan,' the plan of Delatour
and the rich. First, they want to destroy our agriculture: to destroy our
rice and all the crops Haiti produces. Why? So the people will come here
from the land to work in those American factories for almost nothing.''
Out near the airport, two large industrial parks -rows
of hangarlike buildings surrounded by chain-link fences - stand as the crowning
glory of Jean-Claude Duvalier's ''decade of development.'' At Pine Brook
Lingerie Company - which has closed since I was there - I watched Haitian
women adroitly sewing black lace trim on bright red silk. The material had
been flown in that morning and would shortly be flown out again in the form
of sexy ''teddies,'' destined to enhance the charms of daring American women.
Haiti is one of the world's leading producers of bras and other ladies'
underwear, but no local materials are used. Haiti is a leading producer
of baseballs, but no Haitians play the game.
''Do you know there is a factory out there with 800
workers,'' Aristide says, ''and every worker must assemble 1,343 electronic
pieces to earn his $3 a day, and every piece sells for $12? You can imagine
how good this is for America. What is the difference between the $3 they
pay the Haitian and the $50 they would pay an American? I'll tell you.''
Aristide pushes his face very close to mine. ''The difference is our blood!''
But they are jobs, aren't they, jobs in a country
in which unemployment exceeds 50 percent? ''Yes, yes, they are jobs,'' Aristide
says angrily. ''And after Duvalier left, the owners became frightened of
unions and we lost 12,000 of them. As long as we depend on such jobs, we
aren't independent. For me, the first step in solving our problems is that
we have an independent country.''
For Aristide, as for other prominent opposition leaders,
the kind of development envisaged in the United States Agency for International
Development and World Bank reports, the development pursued by Delatour
and endorsed by many of the presidential candidates, is nothing more than
a sanitized version of Jean-Claude Duvalier's American-aided ''decade of
To see Aristide preach in Creole on a Sunday to a
packed church, a white-robed figure hectoring a congregation full of adoring
faces, is to observe him directly further what he calls ''a democratic process
that is being written within the framework of struggle.'' He speaks of repression
and misery and the short-sightedness of the rich. And he speaks of guns:
Vive la guerre! So that we will all have bread.
Vive la guerre! So that we will all have houses.
Vive la guerre! So that we will all have land.
Aristide waits for ''a collective uprooting, a second
Feb. 7.'' Right now, he says: ''Duvalierism is wrapped around the people's
throat. They are struggling to breathe in democracy, like oxygen, but those
in power won't let them. The Government may be pregnant with these elections,
but you cannot expect such a government to produce a normal baby.''
THE MAIN STREET in La
Saline has a concrete open sewer now. But on a hot day, the stench - of
raw sewage, greasy cooking smoke, sweat - still overpowers you. On the day
I first visited La Saline, I was greeted by two skeletal gatekeepers, toothless
women in dirty floral dresses who were sweeping the black earth, staggering
in and out of the billowing cooking smoke as if enacting a scene from Dante.
They guarded the mouth of a shanty-metropolis that
seemed to stretch out endlessly, like a vast smoking hive. Overhead, black
high-tension wires cut through the air trailing bits of blackened plastic:
tattered kites, the ragged playthings of the ragged children of La Saline.
On that first visit, these children - naked, big-bellied,
with the dark red hair that signals extreme malnutrition - danced around
me, surrounding me, finally frightening me with their shouting, laughing,
relentless entourage: ''Blanc! Blanc! Give me a dime!''
Your first visit to La Saline shows only degradation.
Skinny beings lurk everywhere: people crouching on their haunches, eating;
half-naked women bathing themselves with basins of dirty water; emaciated
people struggling at the act of love.
Your second visit reveals an elemental economic life.
Men pound out tin cans to make oil lamps; women pack tiny bits of detergent,
enough for one wash, in bits of plastic, which they resell for a penny;
men carve wood sculpture to sell to merchants at the Iron Market downtown.
A shirtless man, his chest glistening, feeds bits of scrap metal - tin cans,
twisted wire, part of a crankshaft - into the mouth of a glowing cauldron.
Long before you see it, you know by the blackened
earth that you are nearing the great charcoal storage yard. ''Haiti loses
15,000 acres of land annually to erosion,'' Linda Morse of the United States
Agency for International Development had told me,. ''and still 40 million
'tree-equivalents' are consumed every year.'' Many of those ''tree equivalents''
come to La Saline, carbonized and packed in huge dirty bags stacked as far
as you can see.
Women carry the bags, which weigh at least 100 pounds,
balanced marvelously on their heads (and thus old Haitian women are stooped,
their spines deeply curved). As I survey the mountainous dark landscape
of geometrically stacked bags, a group of mostly naked children threads
its way through, one tiny girl dressed only in a tattered raincoat of fluorescent
On the streets of Port-au-Prince, questions about
politics elicit resentment and disinterest; in La Saline, they evoke mute
incomprehension. Candidates, elections, government - why should this blanc
ask them about such things? Near the glowing metal cauldron, I ask about
Freedom, the neighborhood committee responsible for the new sewer, whose
headquarters lies 200 yards away. One man thinks he's heard of it. Another,
frustrated, finally cries out in guttural Creole, ''Don't you understand
that this is the last place in the country? The end of the earth? These
people, they think you're a devil.''
AT A HOTEL IN Petionville,
I attend a fund-raiser for Marc Bazin. After a sumptuous buffet supper,
the crowd -the women in gowns, the men in fine suits - settle back to hear
the great man, the leader of the Movement to Found Democracy in Haiti, speak.
A tall, big-shouldered man with a deep voice, Bazin
talks about good government, about sacrifice, about the need for Haitians
to master their own fates. He keeps his hand in the pocket of his checked
suit-jacket, a mannerism I thought partly accounted for his nickname, the
''Haitian Kennedy.'' But it is due equally to his view of government, his
call to Haitians to build a country that does not yet exist, he says - not
because Haiti is fated to be poor and miserable, but because of the failures
and cupidity of past leaders.
It is an appealing speech, especially to an American.
Bazin is regarded as the ''American candidate,'' and many in the popular
organizations deeply hate him. Educated in Paris and Washington, he is a
modernizer and a technocrat who spent a distinguished career at the World
Bank. When I tell him that many think the military will ''negotiate'' the
elections, he seems deeply offended.
''I am trying to build support for the electoral process
through my candidacy,'' Bazin tells me. ''We need more social justice if
we want this country to remain stable. The way to achieve that is through
honesty, competence and dedication to the public good.''
Yet Bazin's policies are essentially those that have
earned Leslie Delatour (who worked under Bazin during the latter's brief
tour as Duvalier's Finance Minister) such widespread antipathy. In particular,
he would continue eliminating the tariffs and other protections of the local
market - ''to de-Duvalierize the economy, dismantle the entire system by
which those connected to the Government were making money at the expense
of the Haitian consumer.''
But what about the contraband, the cheap sugar and
rice and other products that were destroying the peasants and other local
producers? ''I fully support the principle of making the cost of living
cheaper for the average consumer. But you have to do these things gradually.
You can't just do it like a commando raid, which has been Delatour's mistake.''
Bazin would continue Delatour's efforts to eliminate
corruption, and to make the well-to-do pay taxes. ''Haitians have been undemocratic
not because they were necessarily fascist, but because they were dishonest.
I might not make the country rich, but I will make it just.''
BAZIN'S APPEAL IS essentially
to what he calls the ''responsible elite'' - ''Haitians who live in cities,
speak French and wear shoes,'' as an American diplomat put it - who he hopes
will recognize his obvious qualifications, his honesty, his experience.
But like the other serious candidates of the center, Bazin's shoulders are
burdened by the weight of history, and the basic social - and political
-facts that come with it.
Any president who emerges next November must govern
under a popular Constitution that, in its careful and relentless circumscription
of executive power, reads like a negative print of the last 30 years. It
re-establishes, for example, the independence of the army, which had been
rendered virtually powerless by Papa Doc. The officers will have the power
to select their own leader without interference from politicians, and the
next in line is Namphy's No. 2 man, the widely-hated Minister of the Interior,
Gen. Williams Regala.
General Regala told me the army was ''the guardian
of a way of life, of the integrity of the nation. When political institutions
begin to collapse, the army has a duty to take over.'' Whoever the next
president is, he will face what was, before Duvalier, a recurrent problem
for Haitian rulers - the separate power of the army. As in so many things,
Duvalier dealt with that problem decisively - by creating the Tontons Macoutes.
WHEN I THINK OF the future
of Haiti, two resonant scenes come to mind. In the Artibonite Valley, north
of Port-au-Prince, I asked a group of straw-hatted peasants what they thought
of Duvalier's overthrow, and received blank looks. Finally, one tall shirtless
man shyly ventured that, yes, they had heard that Jean-Claude had left,
but no one knew why.
A few days later, at a rally for one of the presidential
candidates, Hubert de Ronceray, in the slum of Cite Soleil, a young woman
suddenly stood up and confronted the man who promised to do something for
''When you are president, you must not just go to
parties in Petionville, like the other presidents do, driving up there in
your big car, talking only to rich people,'' Claudette Fleurisme shouted
in peasant Creole, her voice quavering. ''You must think of us. We have
nothing: many children with nothing to feed them, no schools to send them
to, no work to do. Our children are hungry, and we have nothing to give
The suave, Paris-educated politician, a former Duvalier
official, was clearly not accustomed to hearing such speeches in the Haitian
slums. Claudette grew up in the country. But there was a drought there,
and she was starving. She is 18 years old and has eight children. That she
spoke at all - not only that she could overcome her fear, but that she felt
her words might somehow make a difference - represents a slender bit of
change. It is change that will be difficult to stop, though it is impossible
to say what form it will take.
''I like what he said,'' Claudette said of the candidate
later. ''But I don't know what he'll do.''