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9131: On benevolent dictatorship: Antoine comments (fwd)

From: GUY S ANTOINE <guyantoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

 - On Benevolent dictatorship

 Jean Poincy has been nothing but consistent in the political views he has
expressed on the Corbett list for the past 5 years at the very least. I, for
one, have had numerous heated exchanges with him on two key points
I have found myself completely unable to ever agree with him even part
way: 1) his belittling of the Haitian character; 2) his occasional and
sometimes passionate defense of a dictatorial regime in Haiti, such as
that of Francois Duvalier, in spite of his professed contempt for the
government of the son, Jean-Claude Duvalier.  Today, I do not feel the
need to reengage in our previous battles on these issues.  The Corbett
archives (any day now...) should readily give access to our arguments
on those scores and my "emotional" testimony of growing up under
Papa Doc, which explains in part, I admit, my abhorrence of nolstagia
for that most backward and murderous regime.

Although Haiti has seen many advances on the front of human rights
since then, a decisive victory over kleptocracy, public mismanagement,
criminal impunity, insecurity, and misery remains as elusive as ever.
Jean Dominique most certainly lost his life for c-o-n-s-i-s-t-e-n-t-l-y
pointing this out.  Today, the failure of Haiti's judicial system to prevail
over differences with other branches of government in a matter so
crucial to our confidence as a people, raises some very disturbing
questions.  I refuse to accept the notion, however, that all of those
weaknesses are intrisic to the "Haitian character", which Poincy has
consistently belittled.  While living in the United States for the past
thirty years, I have been exposed to elements of kleptocracy, public
mismanagement, criminal impunity (of the highest order), and poverty
in the American system as well.  I hesitate to include "insecurity" in the
same breath, not only in deference to the current tragic circumstances,
but also because it is absolutely certain that this was above all the one
characteristic that made living in the U.S. most desirable.

That security was never perfect, as racist elements within certain
communities, including notably big city police forces coupled with
mayoral insensitivity, have made life quite a risky proposition for
some U.S. residents of targeted ethnicities.  That security was
simply greater than anything I have known to exist in Haiti, wishful
thinking to the contrary.  Security is peace of mind, and whether
one lives in the fear of "zenglendos" or "tonton macoutes" does not
make a heck of a lot of difference.

In any case, I maintain that the main difference between Haiti and
the developed world does not appear to be so much attributable to
differences of national characters, but almost exclusively to the strength
of our government institutions.  I believe that in the long run a democratic
way of government reinforces those institutions while any dictatorship
(benevolent or not) tends to seriously undermine them. Democracies
are institution-oriented while dictatorships are by definition first-person
games (L'Etat, c'est moi!)

 So in my view, the real question to be debated is not that of the Haitian
character, but that of a true understanding of the historical forces that
have made of Haiti what it is today, and how best to counteract them.
Belittling the Haitian character is scapegoating of the the worst kind.
More than that, this perspective certainly does not give anyone the
incentive to organize with what, inferior minds.  Given the same set of
opportunities, I firmly believe that the Haitian character measures with
that of any other in the world.

Generally, when Haitians of all stripes pine for a "benevolent dictator",
what they truly wish for is a strong government with the political will to
advance democratic priorities (institution-building), over opposition to
its agenda (hence the notion of strength).  But this is the real dilemma,
which I believe Poincy may have been pointing to: HOW do you achieve
order (and democracy) in a chaotic state without resorting to measures
that would be judged anti-democratic?  This is not at all comparable to
achieving order in nations that have already accepted the rule of law
and respect for their Constitution!!  Our American and European friends
need not feel superior.  Let History be our guide...

Poincy likes to point to Henri Christophe to promote his ideas of the
desirability of a benevolent dicatatorship.  While I am also an admirer
of  Christophe's VISION for his kingdom, I also deplore some of the
means he adopted to achieve his ends.  Again, the eternal question is:
does the end justify the means?  Out of a state of slavery, is a state of
virtual slavery the price to pay for progress in the world?  As difficult
a proposition as that is already, I should also point to Poincy that in
fact, Henri Christophe's legacy failed, for not having any permanence.
And so, perhaps, because he did not win the hearts and minds of the
people he ruled over.  However, I would prefer to let Michel Rolph
Trouillot, Alex Dupuy, and other Historians on this list place this in
greater perspective and historical accuracy than I could provide.

This brings up another point.  How many Haitian people know something
about their history beyond the rudiments they learned in school, or the
pages of  Dr. Dorsainvil's Histoire d'Haiti, with the distinct influence of
the Brothers of Christian Instruction?  History is a poor guide to those
who view it only as an instrument to celebrate their political independence,
or to glorify/vilify their political leaders.   Haiti's intellectual class
almost entirely failed to go beyond the circle of academia  to provide
average Haitians some truly informed and critical perspectives of their
History.  Two noted exceptions: the efforts of Bayyinah Bello in Haiti
and those of Jean Julien in New Jersey with the publication of his oral
History of Haiti on a series of 7 CD's, most importantly in Kreyol, our
national language.

 Not having the ability to persuasively refer to instances of progressive
government within our own History, a surprising number of Haitians
point to the relatively recent example of Trujillo in the Domican Republic,
for having had in heart and in deed the development of his country,
and so in spite of his dictatorial ways and his abominable trashing of
Haitian nationals.  Alternatively, they point to Castro as THE EXAMPLE,
per excellence, of a benevolent dictatorship.  As Poincy points out,
benevolent is not equivalent of saintly. For the sake of making sure that
we are all talking about the same thing, let me state that I assume that
when Poincy talks of a "benevolent dictatorship", he means a form of
government which is dedicated to the global improvement of a country's
social structures, even if this is to be accomplished by means not
to regimes of a brutal nature, with no perception of  any sort of

This line of argumentation is persistent, and it is not at all hard to
why.  Who could deny the structural advantages our Dominican neighbors
enjoy compared to the ever nascent or debilitated Haitian infrastructure?
Who could deny that the Cuban population is much healthier and better
educated under the Castro regime than previously was the case, and so in
spite of an ill-advised and most dictatorial embargo enforced against the
people of the island?  On the international front, today Haiti is in the
position of receiving structural help only from one country, and that is
Cuba!  In those circumstances, one should well understand the desire
for a "benevolent dictatorship" versus a democracy of "blah... blah...

As I stated previously, I don't give in to that impulse while I fully
appreciate it.  We need to see the fruits of democracy, or it will
be rejected altogether.  In today's world, this calls not for isolation but
international cooperation.  Haiti has a noose around her neck. We cannot,
with any probability of success, continue to tell her to behave while we at
once continue to tighten the stranglehold.

Guy S. Antoine
Windows on Haiti