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#3878: Time for Consensus Building : Chamberlain comments (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

Alix Cantave has made a very important point.  What can be done in Haiti
_now_ to start getting things going in the right direction?

The best and closest example of a healthy attitude is perhaps the Dominican
Republic, where the two losing parties in last week's elections decided in
the interests of the country, political and social peace etc. to allow the
winning party candidate (social democrat Hipolito Mejia) to win even though
he was 0.13% short of the 50% the constitution requires for a (first round)

It's difficult to imagine this kind of generosity in the current state of
Haitian political habits and attitudes.  The answer is indeed
reconciliation and compromise.  That doesn't mean allowing assassins to go
unpunished or letting Cedras et al. back into the country.  It means
getting rid of the "petit chef" mentality of the politicians (especially in
the République de Port-au-Prince), as manifested in the one-man "political
parties," for example.  I can't imagine this happening any time soon,
unfortunately.  Then there's the sick mentality, especially among the
elite, that even when something good _does_ happen (something simple like
building a road), it's immediately decried, sometimes even denied.  In any
society, that attitude leads nowhere, produces nothing.  

I recently spent a few weeks travelling round Bolivia, Haiti's number two
re "that phrase" (poorest country etc.).  I was impressed that amid the
poverty, and the plague of the military, a far greater willingness to work
for solutions, to dialogue effectively, to move things forward was evident
at all levels of the population.  There was a state of siege while I was
there, with riots, roads blocked etc.  The way the situation was resolved
was instructive.  Stronger institutions, literacy etc. undoubtedly helped
that along, but I couldn't think of any major examples of such
_willingness_ to find a solution, translated into reality, in recent
Haitian history.  Bolivia of course is the country which suggested to Haiti
the compromise model of "capitalization" of state bodies by which the
government retained formal control instead of handing them over entirely to
the private sector.

But I am falling into the old Corbettland trap of responding to a call for
concrete solutions with a fine-sounding discourse and analysis of the
problem, instead of the much harder job of pointing to concrete action that
might be taken.  

First, let's stop wasting time on blaming outside forces for everything. 
They are of course responsible for some things, but going on about them
merely means less energy is left to devote to what can be done _in_ Haiti. 
Unless of course you believe that _nothing_ can be done because it's all
Their Fault (Uncle Sam etc).

Then make a serious effort at teaching people to read and write.  This
would strengthen civil society, which would lead to more democracy.  Some
people like to point to the greater level of violence in Jamaica than
Haiti.  What they do not mention is that Jamaica's far greater literacy and
stronger institutions mean that alongside the violence there is recourse to
justice and participation of citizens in the destiny of the country.  There
is none in Haiti right now.  The fact that everyone voted for Aristide is a
kind of democracy, but one that depends of a god-figure, which isn't
anything to do with democracy.  Aristide is killed and it all collapses. 
Yet the foreign defenders of Aristide insult us all by pretending (often
for their own sinister ends) that this is a calmly thought-out democratic
choice as in countries better off in all aspects.  It is simply
desperation.  I sincerely hope Aristide will deliver some goods, but very
few in his position do, for all the reasons we know.  So get on with
building (allowing) a civil society to grow -- literacy, tolerance, not
unleashing a wave of vengeful arrests as soon as the election is over.

One great hope for building a civil society is the growing network of
community radio stations all over the country.  These of course are getting
smashed up by the agents of "old politics" who don't like their power
challenged.  Some peasant movements and "grassroots" organizations are
positive elements, but too often they get captured by the "old politics"
and the petits chefs and, at worst, degenerate into the casseurs and
chimères seen in Port-au-Prince in recent months.  The community radios are
especially important to support because they are low-cost agents of
education (which are likely to increase pressure for literacy programmes). 
The movement gets little publicity but thankfully some outside funding, to
bodies like CRAD and SAKS.  Then there are useful organisations like
Corbetteer Kevin Pina's Cariborganics, which tries to market farm produce
with greater benefit to the farmer.  Can anyone compile a list of really
useful NGOs, Haitian and foreign (among the hundreds of them in Haiti) --
the most productive, the most significant for building a solid civil
society, the priority ones?

All these organisations need to be vigorously encouraged and supported,
since the state shows every evidence  of being unable to reform itself in
any short term to be of much use to Haitians.  Someone needs to be brave
and make another list of all the positive, forward-looking, productive
parts of the government structure which need to be encouraged at all costs.
 However, this would involve such immense political incorrectness that most
would shrink from doing that.

I don't think the outcome of the elections provides any incentive for
consensus-building.  God and his foot-soldiers have won and as we've seen,
the arrests have already begun, the fear and hostility of the elite will
increase and that ape-man Jesse Helms will start grunting again. 
Polarisation as before.  The same old winner-takes-all attitude rules.  So
the political class and the elite have to be got around and a civil society
built.  Politics is about greed, civil society is about much less greed. 
Go for the second and hope to change the first.  The second will also
strike far more of a chord, get far more of a response from the population.
 It's just that in the absence of much civil society, people are in
desperation going for the god-figure, like any normal human beings
anywhere.  Tolerance is what's most needed, as Cantave points out, and that
doesn't come through the current "Messiah politics."

Cantave asks how the elections could help "start a process of consensus
building."  If there was a level-headed opposition of non-jokers in
parliament, that would be a start.  But that may not happen.  Don't forget
that any run-off contests (parliament only) on June 25 will, as before, be
won on extremely low turnout, hardly an advertisement for democracy. 
Parliament however has steadily got better over the 14 years since  the
Duvalier hiatus.  Along with the clowns and nonsense behaviour, quite a few
members are very serious and good traditions and practices are quietly
being built up.  

The Internet.  How quickly can this be fashioned to emerge from Pétionville
to serve the mass of Haitians, either providing them with services or else
coming into their own hands?  There are so many possibilities and maybe the
technology is not quite there yet (the cheap web-access and e-mail only
models which are upcoming).  It is happening all over the countries of the
South, though slowly and of course to the background of the doomsayers
proclaiming that it will all only widen the gap forever etc.  Mobile phones
in the hands of a few Bolivian peasants, and working folk paying a pittance
to look up human rights documents in cybercafés (in many towns) were things
that surprised me.  Everyday developments by definition always run far
ahead of theories, doctrines and armchair theorists, most of whom have a
big stake in seeing that their theories remain valid as long as possible. 
The best way to do that is to pretend nothing changes and to ignore or deny
new developments (just like the embittered Haitian elite when a road gets

        Greg Chamberlain