By Michel Laguerre

The following was published in 1995 in Journal of Third World Studies 12(2):472-476

Laguerre, Michel S. The Military and Society in Haiti. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993. x + 223 pp.

By Robert Lawless

A prolific writer on Haiti and the Caribbean, the author of such well-known books as Voodoo Heritage (1980), Urban Life in the Caribbean (1982), American Odyssey(1984), Afro-Caribbean Folk Medicine (1987), Voodoo and Politics in Haiti (1989), and Urban Poverty in the Caribbean (1990), Laguerre quite correctly complains that few anthropologists have done research on modern military organizations and that "if we are to understand and explain the functioning of Third World societies, a focus on the military cannot escape us indefinitely" (p. 1).

Laguerre's theory of civil-military links rests on an analysis of the interactions among three sets of delicately balanced relationships: "Those obtaining between the military and civil society, between the military and the civilian government (or military government), and between the civil society and the civilian government. An unresolved conflict in one or more of the relationships is potentially capable of offsetting the balance of forces and leading to military intervention" (p. 12).

After an introductory chapter Chapter Two looks at civil-military relations in the 19th and early 20th centuries when Haiti was predominantly a militarized society. Many sources for this chapter are obscure and usually in French, and Laguerre gives a quite useful summary. Chapter Three investigates such relations during the first U.S. occupation of 1915-1934. As is well known, the U.S. Marines destroyed the old revolutionary army and created a new military whose primary purpose was to repress the Haitian people. The professionalization, centralization, and bureaucratization of the military actually increased the likelihood that the army would intervene in political affairs (p. 184). The occupation also resulted in the fusion of the army with the police--a problem that bedeviled Haiti until 1995 when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was finally able to implement the provision in the 1987 Constitution separating the two (with the help of the second U.S. occupation of 1994-1995).

Laguerre continues his thesis--and makes an original contribution to the reading of the first U.S. occupation--by suggesting that the shift to an all-volunteer, professional army allowed civil society to emerge for the first time in Haitian history. Ironically "civil society saw its task as one of liberating the country from US occupation" (p. 81). Just as the military grew in opposition to France, the civil sectors developed autonomy in opposition to the United States.

In Chapter Four Laguerre discusses the importance of the military intervention of 1946, which he characterizes as the first of the "centralized bureaucratic- administrative coups" (p. 90). He points out that "the intervention was made possible because of alliances of the army leadership with civilian politicians and because of the support of the masses" (p. 93). This period from 1934 to 1957 probably best illustrates Laguerre's thesis.

Chapter Five concentrates on how Francois Duvalier neutralized the army by creating a presidential guard, closing the military academy, selectively promoting and retiring officers, and creating a paramilitary organization. There is some confusion in this chapter about the civilian militia and the tonton makout. Laguerre correctly points out that the tonton makout cross the lines between civil and military sectors, and his point about the shifting of the center of civil society toward Duvalier might have been better illustrated by a focus on Duvalier's creation of a civilian militia. Indeed, a close reading of Chapter Six in Michel-Rolph Trouillot's 1990 Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism could have strengthened this chapter. (Trouillot's important study is curiously missing from Laguerre's bibliography.)

Military intelligence is discussed in Chapter Six. Chapter Seven focuses on corruption. In Chapter Eight Laguerre analyzes the brief Leslie Manigat administration in 1988, which is a subtle and complex interpretation of a case study of the coup d'etat and a further example of Laguerre's civil-military thesis. Illustrating the complex demands of his approach, Laguerre argues, "We must distinguish between fundamental causes and the precipitant or trigger factors, establish the links between the former and the latter, and analyze the interaction between regime vulnerability, the state of the economy, the organizational structure of the army, and the level of tolerance of key foreign nation" (p.165). Laguerre was in Haiti as the time of the coup and refers to this chapter as "the first full account of a coup d'etat in Haiti" (p. 166).

As Laguerre's analysis makes clear, "The civilian government thinks that it is its constitutional duty to [control the military]. The army thinks that it is its military duty to maintain the autonomy of the [military] institution because if the civilian government collapses, the military would remain the ultimate government to save the nation from chaos" (pp. 190-191). Laguerre points out that the army is an "enclave government in reserve" (p. 191) that has administrative entities in the provinces, diplomatic representatives abroad as military attach=E9s, its own judicial system, and its own chancellery in Port-au-Prince. When the army perceives its own status as a "government" jeopardized, then the chances are greatly increased that it will overthrow the "other government." Also necessary for this action, as Laguerre points out, is some support from some sectors of the civil sector. The leaders of the coup against Manigat took their support from the unreconstructed Duvalierists--thereby permanently allying the army, for the next five and a half years of its existence, with the most reactionary, anti-democratic forces in Haiti.

In the final chapter Laguerre identifies six patterns of civil-military relations:

  1. military control for the protection of the state against foreign invaders
  2. military control for the management of a crisis
  3. civilian control through the demilitarization of the nation,
  4. civilian control through the professionalization of the army,
  5. civilian control through the co-optation of the army, and
  6. civilian control through the democratization of the state.

Laguerre concludes,

"An imbalance of forces . . . is likely to trigger a disequilibrium that is to the advantage of the military, the manager of the national means of violence" (p. 199).

He then considers the predictive value of his model with eight propositions. One option missing is the abolishment of the army--which seems to be what Aristide is carrying out despite the opposition of both the remaining Duvalierists and the United States.

Laguerre mentions in passing a few events that occurred after Manigat's 1988 ouster, but the book effectively ends in the summer of 1988, robbing Laguerre of the opportunity to illustrate how his model would explain the control exercised by the extraordinarily murderous three-year military regime headed by Raoul Cedras, which was terminated only by the U.S. military takeover of Haiti beginning in September 1994. "Imbalance" seems much too meek a concept for handling a situation in which the de factor government simply denies, through immediate and violent destruction, any organized platform from which civil society may express its discontent.

This book is, of course, must reading for anyone interested in Haiti. It is also required reading for those interested in the role of the military in the Third World. Anthropologists concerned with war and peace will find much of interest in it. And anyone looking for an example of a focused book will learn from Laguerre's work; it is a paragon of appropriate thesis presentation with each chapter contributing to the principal argument and with no extraneous material interfering with the central assertion and the supporting premises.


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