By Robert Maguire and other

October 11, 1999

Occasional Paper #23. Providence, Rhode Island: Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, Brown University, 1996. xvi + 137 pp.

Reviewed by Robert Lawless
Department of Anthropology
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas 67260-0052, U.S.A.

Robert Lawless

With a 1996 publishing date and with events in Haiti changing from day to day it may seem at first glance that this book was out of date the day it was published. Such an evaluation, however, is far from accurate; there are many lasting lessons to be learned from the experience that international agencies had in Haiti. As the authors state, '93The purpose of this volume... is to make recommendations to improve the functioning of the major international actors--governments, militaries, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)'94 (p. vii).

Another in the series of case studies conducted by the Humanitarianism and War Project, this book is based on interviews with some two hundred persons involved in various aspects of the Haiti crises. The interviews in Haiti took place in January 1996 after the election of President Rene Preval but before his inauguration. Others interviews took place in Washington, D.C., New York.

The major author of the study is Robert Maguire, who has been involved in Haiti for the past 20 years. He is currently the representative for Haiti of the Inter-American Foundation and carries the responsibility for development program support Haitian grassroots efforts. He is probably best known to Haitianists for his 1981 Bottom Up Development in Haiti.

The title refers to the fact that Haiti was in many ways unlike other crises in that the international community sought to free a people held hostage by its own political and military leadership (p. ix), or, as I have phrased it, Haiti was a country occupied by its own army. Haiti was also a case of the first international intervention that disposed a military junta and reinstalled the democratically-elected authorities.

After an excellent introductory section that summarized the recent history of Haiti, the authors in Chapter 1 examine the February 1986-September 1991 struggle for democracy that ensued after the end of the 29-year father-son Duvalier dictatorship that culminated in February 1991 in the installation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. Aristide was ousted in a military coup in September 1991, and Chapter 2 covers the period of military rule, referring to the regime as de facto (as did also the Haitians). Except for the Vatican no other government recognized the military de facto administration, which ruled with extraordinary brutality. Chapter 2 includes the diplomacy and sanctions that were intended to remove the illegitimate regime. Eventually military force was used, and Chapter 3 covers military intervention, peacekeeping, democratic restoration, and reconstitution from October 1994 to January 1996. An Afterword relates events through June 1996.

Chapter 1 details the fact that after the end of the Duvalier dictatorship a struggle developed between Duvalierists, who wanted a reversion to the status quo; the elites, who supported a modicum of change; and the vast majority, who wanted a radical break with the past. The authors state, The international community by and large became identified primarily with those groups and institutions united to thwart the aspirations of most Haitians (p. 13). The most effective outside contribution of the international community during this period was during the election of Aristide when UN and OAS observers monitored the electoral process. Yet the heavy emphasis on the elections themselves rather than on viable longer-term political processes limited the accomplishment (p. 28).

Chapter 2 points out that during the three years after the military coup international aid and foreign governments sought to dislodge the military through political pressure, combined with punitive economic measures and eventually the threat of force. Humanitarian actors sought to assist and protect those held hostage (p. 29). The authors suggest, however, that by dealing with the de facto regime as though it were legitimate worked to consolidate the military's control.

Some have argued that the Haitians themselves should have been allowed to overthrow the military regime, but the authors clearly believe that military intervention by the international community was the only way that this barbaric regime could have been eliminated. While the authors believe that the international community was at its most effective in dismantling the de facto regime, restoring the constitutional authorities, and providing basic security and electoral processes, they point out that the international community, particularly the U.S.A., had a politically-driven time frame and that the fast-paced approach also undercut laborious efforts to put into place more self-reliant, participatory, and sustainable institutions (p. 86).

In the final chapter major finding and 31 recommendations are grouped under eleven thematic headings. Some of the recommendations are rather obvious, such as suggesting that in rallying behind constitutional authorities in countries challenged by forces without political legitimacy, the international community should take full advantage of resources at its disposal--including appropriate coercive measure under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (p. 89). Other recommendations are quite thoughtful, such as the point that although the OAS was eventually ineffective, the Haitian experience demonstrates that regional organizations are necessary to keep issues before the international public eye. This book recommends that the regional and UN institutions work together (pp. 89-91).

It would seem to me that the major finding is that despite ambivalence and even contempt for the Aristide government in some international quarters, the legitimacy of the constitutional authorities proved the determining factor in retaining substantial outside support and eventually triggering concerted and effective international action (p. 87). Such a perception bodes well for democracies around the world. Indeed, the swift response of the OAS to a potential military coup in Paraguay in April 1996 was apparently a result of lessons learned in Haiti.

Robert Lawless Wichita State University


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