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Nation Building 101

The case of Haiti at the dawn at its Bicentennial

An assessment

Key points :

1- The 1804 Haiti revolution should be seen in its proper context : i.e. an event of global proportion and of worldwide consequences.

2- The 1804 Revolution was much more profitable to the rest of the world than it was for Haiti. It is languishing until today into a defacto apartheid system.

3- Haiti two hundred years of self government enjoyed very little progressive governance. Apart from the nation building policies of Toussaint Louverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe (1800-1815), the remaining governments from Alexandre Petion to Jean Bertrand Aristide have used Haiti as their private enterprise dedicated to the benefit of their cronies and their family.

Haiti life story in a nutshell can be described in this vignette :

a- fifty years (50) of bad education in its formative years, with the governance of Alexandre Petion and Jean Pierre Boyer (1846)

b- one hundred years (100) of corrupt governance with presidents who could barely read and write. ( 1946)

c) fifty years (50) of populist and dictatorial regimes that kidnapped the concept of nationhood in order to satisfy the venal desire of remaining in power and ransacking the national treasure (1946-2004)

The salvation for Haiti will stem from a policy that I have defined as a possible solution for achieving peace, stability not only in Haiti but also in the LDC countries. It called for the concept of nationhood as defined by Ernest Renan the French philosopher. The shared vision of the future must be accepted and enforced by all, including the civil society and the government to enjoy a stable and democratic nation.

I dare to say that this concept by itself can accomplish what the communism and the socialism have boasted to realize (a just society) but have failed miserably. Haiti in 2004 can accomplish a second revolution by embracing the concept of nationhood (a country hospitable to all including the majority peasant population). It can also share this concept with the rest of the world, uplifting millions from squalor.


Jean H Charles [1]

At the dawn of Haiti Bicentennial, it is fitting to stop, reflex and ponder on where Haiti has been, where it is now and where it is going ? The majestic feat of the Haitian Founding Fathers - Toussaint Louverture- Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe to break away from 300 years of slavery is nothing but spectacular. It should be recorded as a universal event that shapes the conscience of the world, for the best and forever.

Haiti has sounded the alarm for the liberation of oppressed people everywhere, at a time when the Christian Church was silent, when the Literature of the learned sages gave their endorsement to rationalize the concept of slavery.

(Voltaire : "in the tropics at some point apes had subdued some of our girls and the Negro race had thus come into existence"

Montesquieu : "it is improbable that we should have to assume that those black beings over there are human, because, if we have to consider them human beings, we might as well believe that we ourselves are no longer Christians).

The rest of the world owes an eternal debt to Haiti and to its Founders. The citizens of Haiti, the descendants of those Titans must greet each other with the motto : Honor, Respect and Glory. They must also receive from all people of the world the same reverence of : honor, respect and glory !

Haiti glorious past lasted only the span of the bloom of a rose. Toussaint Louverture who had the support of the young United States in his quest for nationhood was taken into the trap of the megalomaniac Napoleon Bonaparte. He was kidnapped, thrown out into a cold jail and died a year later, in France. The torch of Liberty was passed on to Jean Jacques Dessalines ; he carried the mission with gusto and bravado when his brethren assassinated him on October 17, 1807

Henry Christophe who fought in Savannah to facilitate the American Independence, succeeded Dessalines in bringing the torch of liberty to another high, equal to the mighty Citadel he built on the top of a mountain to repel future foreign invasion. But his comrades in arms misunderstood him. He killed himself out of desperation of not being able to carry its mission of nation building.

The initial abysmal downfall of the creative Haitian inspirational Revolution had its origin in a change of government in the United States. John Adams the second American President was supportive of Toussaint Louverture, providing him with arms to combat Britain and France. He bestow Toussaint with favorable commercial treaties, opening up the American market for the commerce of molasses enriching on both sides of the Atlantic the merchants of Rhode Island and the coffers of planters in Hispagnola. Being rich like a Creole was a "cool aspiration "for many Americans at that time. Toussaint Louverture succeeded in rebuilding the economy of the island to the scale equal to the colonial prosperity. He was respected by both white and black in his nation building skills.

Thomas Jefferson who succeeded John Adams sided with Bonaparte in his plan to restore slavery in the island. The fact is, Bonaparte with the blessing of the new American foreign policy embarked on a major expedition to bring Hispagnola back into the then world order : the subjugation of black people into eternal slavery. Through his Foreign Minister Talleyrand, Bonaparte instructed the British and the American that the expedition to Haiti was being conducted in the interest of Western Civilization It was a crusade against the barbarians.

The Haitian Founding fathers succeeded in reversing the course of history. Haiti exploded into birth, forcing the march towards Black Emancipation in the United States some sixty years later. Bonaparte plan, to use Haiti as the jewel corner in building a colonial Empire in the Western Hemisphere, was defeated. As such Jefferson obtained from Bonaparte the surprise deal of the bargain price of 15 million dollars for the Louisiana Purchase, a by-product of the Haitian successful revolution.

The new Republic was soon seen as a black sheep all over the world. To start with, France demanded and received an amount equivalent to 21 billion dollars for indemnity to recognize Haiti independence. The United States waited until 1860 with the advocacy of John Brown and Frederic Douglass to send its first Ambassador to Haiti. The countries of Latin America such as Columbia, Venezuela and Bolivia received money and arms from Haiti in their struggle for independence. Yet, they all have shunned Haiti from participating in international conferences and in financial transactions. Germany, France, and Holland interfered with Haiti politics to extract, blackmail, and extort vast sum of money from successive Haitian governments. Such resources could be used for national development.

Finally the United States in 1915, under the pretext of preventing mayhem and national chaos, invade Haiti to protect the financial interests of City Bank. To their credit the American occupation introduced Haiti to a public health infrastructure and a public security apparatus by organizing the Haitian army. But critics are unanimous to conclude that the American technicians sent to Haiti were very poor in nation building skills. They reinforced the prejudice against dark skin Haitians by promoting and aligning mainly with the elite mulatto. In fact, the Americans did not seed deeply the roots of democracy in Haiti by failing to empower the paysantry.

Using the yardstick set by the French Historian, Ernest Renan to measure the conditions for building a nation, we find that you need a defined territory, peopled by citizens, which glow in the same historical past and dream of the same vision of the future.

The Haitian people are all proud of their historical past, but they definitely do not share the same vision of the future. Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe wanted to create a nation where the children - black and mulatto, former slaves and freemen would have their place at the same table enjoying the fruits of liberation through diligence, hard work and equal opportunity.

This concept was not shared amongst the rest of the Founding Fathers ; they saw in the new Republic a continuation with a slight revision of the colonial regime practice. Education should be a privilege reserved only for a few. Ownership of the land should be confined to the generals, their immediate family and to those who possess title before the independence. Economic dominance and political power was to be exercised by the very few with the right last name.

Indeed the following presidents, Alexandre Petion and Jean Pierre Boyer who led Haiti formative stage during the next fifty years, stamped the country with the virus of easy life or"laissez graining and map roolee (faking diligence). That culture is still prevalent today. The State treasure and resource became a source of looting or "dechoukaille" by those who can put their hands on the key. The citizenry expected every thing from the State without learning to put its own contribution in building a nation. The Haitian process of development entered into a vicious circle where the seed is eaten before it is planted.

President Mbke of South Africa in a soul searching address to the Caribbean Chief of States probed the question of why Haiti fared so low in its self governance. Beyond the usual cliché of victimization, it is important to look into the Homo sapiens Haitianis to seek why the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 have produced vibrant democracies while the Haitian Revolution of 1804 has degenerated into a failed state.

The American founding fathers, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin have individually and collectively framed and shaped the psyche of the young America. They have instilled the virtues of pluralistic tolerance, pragmatism and community cooperation. The United States is a patchwork of self-governed communities.

In contrast, Haiti formative years were shaped by two rulers (Alexandre Petion and Jean Pierre Boyer) who lasted (50) years but had a scant view of education and of nation building. The mass of former slaves went into the mountains where they still resided with no service from and no demand to the Haitian governments.

Haiti languished for the next one hundred (100) years with presidents who could barely write their names, but were led by invisible hands and different factions that need to share the spoils of the national treasure for their personal benefit. Last but not least, Haiti in the last fifty- (50) years has suffered the kidnapping of the concept of nationhood by the emergence of a new type of rulers who used the mantra of populism and of reaching out to the neglected.

Yet, Dumarsais Estime, Francois and Jean Claude Duvalier and Jean Bertrand Aristide cared only for their political cronies and of maintaining themselves in power at any cost. As a result they have pauperized not only the small middle class but have sinked the country deeper into misery, while forcing the local intelligentsia to leave and remain outside the country for the foreseeable future

Estime is still one of the most cherished Haitian Chief of State. Yet a cursory review of his mandate indicates that the Haitian peasantry was slowly enriching itself through the program of selling banana to the Standard Fruit Company. Estime, to satisfy his political ambition of buying off the Haitian Senate, nationalized the Standard Fruit Cooperative Market and distributed the buying outposts to influential Senators ; within a year the whole operation came to a close, putting in motion the pauperization process of the rural peasants.

Francois and Jean Claude Duvalier introduced in Haiti the concept that the Haitian peasantry is a force to be reckoned with. While they catered to the lower instincts of the masses by arming them and bringing them to the Capital for their many intimidating rallies, they both failed to create good schools, good heath clinics and road infrastructure in the country side. The immediate and the long term result are the massive emigration of the Haitian brain force towards the United States and the Canada with the strong internal peasant migration towards Port au Prince creating shantytowns all around the cities.

Jean Bertrand Aristide took power with the slogan that the rocks that glazed in the sun will now enjoy the cool feeling of those rocks long immersed into water. Indeed the masses have stand up behind him at his election, and his return from exile .Yet the result of his governance is on the negative side. Using the victimization process, the government has squandered millions of dollars in foreign Aid. It has lost the good will of the populace and worst it is postponing at best, say, preventing through bad governance and organized insecurity the return of the large mass of the Diaspora that is ready and willing to invest in the Haitian reconstruction. at the eve of the Bicentennial

Indeed Haiti today, is still the land of a revisionist colony. Eighty-five (85%) of the population still lives in a de facto apartheid system. The 555 rural counties of Haiti have no running water, no decent schools, no functioning health clinics, no roads, no electricity, no telephone, no post office box and no designated share of the national budget. Desperate, those peasants flood the shanty- towns of City Soleil (Port au Prince), La Fossette (Cape Haitian), and Raboteau (Gonaives). They are now at the gates of the cities, opening up a new shantytown at the rate of one a month into any available open space. They are also selling all their belonging to secure passage into a clandestine leaky boat for a trip towards a better future in Little Haiti, Belle Glade, Pahokee, Immokalee, Delray Beach or Fort Pierce, Florida.

The state of Haiti at this present time is in a shamble. At the eve of its Bicentennial, the mood for celebration is at a dime light. The first generation of émigrés, those who left Haiti in the 60’ at the peak of the state sponsored terrorism of the dictatorship of the Duvaliers, are now at the age of retreat. Armed with financial and intellectual muscle they are ready to help in the rebuilding of the nation. But they are now parked in Hollywood, Boca- Raton, Kendall, Wellington or Kissimmee, awaiting the appropriate wind of security, peace and democracy from Haiti to land in the motherland.

That wind had been shut tight since 1956. The country has known for the past 50 years, the dictatorship of the Duvaliers, the militarism of the Namphy, Avril and Cedras. It is now under the illiberal democracy of the Lavalas regime. The international aid has been curtailed because of the imbroglio between the Government and the Opposition concerning irregularities in the past legislative election. Irrespective of such foreign aid, it is the right of each citizen to expect at least the services of public security and of public health from its government. Those two basics needs, are not met in Haiti. Cape Haitian, the tourist capital of the country is in state of squalor so vivid that the city is off-limit to the thousand of cruise ship vacationers who visit Labadie every week. Yet Labadie is located at only fifteen minutes from Cape Haitian, a world heritage site. Foreign investment, voire expatriate transaction is seeking a better climate.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Convergence (the Coalition of some 184 organizations and political parties) is embarking into a "caravan of hope". Its leaders go from cities to cities sharing the Covenant for a new Haiti. While the schedule of the caravan and the harassment of the government supporters against that caravan are well publicized, there is little publicity about the content of the covenant. Does it contain a revised and extended version of the Lavalas slogan that : the cool water should be spread to all, including those who knew the cool and fresh feeling and to those who never taste it ? Did it include first and foremost the plan for building a nation with an affirmative action program on behalf of the Haitian peasant class ?

The rogue nature of successive Haitian governments is well documented, the impact or the lack thereof of the international organizations in facilitating the improvement of the lot of Haitian peasantry is deconcerting The last major involvement of the United Nations in Rural Haiti was in 1940 with the Marbial experience. The USAID major involvement in rural Haiti ended in 1963 with the closure of the integrated project Pote Cole in the northern part of Haiti.

Since Haiti is 90% rural, the highest rate in the world according to the Swedish economist and scholar on Haiti Mats Lhundal, one would expect that the policies of the major donors would be to force rural development on the recipients for the grant money. The concentration of the not for profit organizations in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti is an indication that the priorities are not in the right place.

The Haitian middle class, ten per cent of the population, has homes in Boca Raton and a mountain villa in the cool hideaway of Fermathe or Laboule.(Port au Prince) He shops in Miami and vacations in the Dominican Republic. The concern should be on and above all for the peasantry. Significant improvement in the lot of the Haitian masses could be seen if a coordinated effort was made by the European Community, the USAID, and the Canadian Agency for Development, Japan and the Republic of Taiwan on rural Haiti. They can jointly and individually urge each NGO to adopt one to three rural counties ; backed by their financial and technical expertise Haiti would soon flourish.

Furthermore, the United States government in using some creative planning can and should divert 10 to 25% of its interdiction at sea budget for a rural renaissance project in the Haitian country side. The vista of those migrants who took the sea for a better future towards Florida would soon disappear. It is smarter and cheaper to stop the clandestine migration at its source. Making rural Haiti hospitable and attractive for the paysant is the quickest way to put an end to internal and external migration

In the end, the future of Haiti is in the hand of the Haitian people themselves. The more than two dozens trips by the Organization of American States to solve, to no avail, the political issue, is a clear indication, that the creation of a nation, hospitable to all is the business of its own constituents.

The people of Haiti must face the requirements of Nation building 101. It calls for the acceptance of and the militancy towards equal opportunity for all, albeit through diligence and hard work from each

It demands that no child be left behind with the best education made possible by the Government and by the private sector.

It includes the development of the resources of each locality with the view that the locals enjoy first the benefits of their environment.

It calls for nurturing a moral and civic compass amongst the citizenry so the spirit of brotherhood and of fraternity is the concern for all.

Last but not least it demands, enhancing and protecting the environment for the enjoyment of future generations.

I dream of a 2004 Haiti.One that is inspired by the Titans of 1804 in accomplishing the task of creating a nation hospitable to all, rich and poor, black and mulattoes, rural and city folks. This proud Haiti will continue to create a better world for all, a world where the African brethren will be urged to forgo their tribal culture of killing each other while the resources of their land is stashed in Switzerland by agent provocateurs.

A world where the African transported into the West Indies will understand their land is prime real estate to be cherished and valued, where the sun, the sand and the spice are prime commodity for the benefit of its citizens first and foremost.

Last but not least, the African American brothers and sisters in the United States will use the strength of their education, their talent and their money to share the skills that will uplift not demean the human race in general, the world black population in particular.

The lesson for Haiti is the same as for Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe Mexico or Argentina. The process of rebuilding calls first for a momentum from all the segments of the society to forge the same vision of the future. The United States, at its creation in 1776, did not contain the concept of equality for the large black population. It was only in 1860, that Abraham Lincoln went to war in the South to impose the vision that Black American should be equal to White American in term of pursuit of justice, welfare and happiness. Yet we have to wait one hundred (100) years for the true implementation of that concept with the ratification of the Civil Rights Bill under President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It was the beginning of the true creation of the American Nation. Since then, the United States has accomplished much more in the last forty years for the emergence of the Black American population than any Black nation has done for its citizens in the last two hundred years.

South Africa under the De Clerk regime was not yet a nation ; it is only with the election of Nelson Mandela that the vision of one country, one people, was being crafted for a brighter future for all, black and white. Indeed, the entire continent of Africa is peopled with non-nation countries. Whether it is Rwanda where one million Tutsis were butchered by their brethren ; whether it is Nigeria where tribal fights caused dozens of death daily ; Whether it is Liberia where the descendants of the pioneering Black Americans look down upon the natives fueling a lasting civil war ; the lesson is clear, creating a true nation is the condition sine qua non for peace and prosperity in a country. .

President George W. Bush and Ambassador Paul Bramer III in the nation building process in Iraq must first call for the education of the Iraqis in seeing that the Shiites, the Sunni Muslims, the Kurds, and the Baathists are members of the same Iraqis family. The vista of Iraqis looting, state hospitals and state universities is a clear indication that the concept of nationhood has not been taken place in that country. Alongside with security, creating the concept of nationhood must be on the high priority list for the United States if they want to be successful and exit gracefully in their policy of implementing democracy forever in Iraq.

The same principle applies to Afghanistan. The fast road to bring about democracy and development to the country is to instill the notion that all Afghan including warlords land have the same right and the same obligations. Good school, health clinics and opportunity for all. The security system cannot be confined to the City of Kabul.

Furthermore the task of repairing the wrong of the past cannot be delegated to a charismatic, messianic, demagogic leader who uses the concept of nation building to oppress the opposition groups in the country. Saddam Hussein has used the Bahatist party as a weapon of destruction upon the rest of the population. Robert Mugabe is using the veteran soldiers as its instrument of weapon of destruction upon the white population and the opposition parties. The Bolivares in Venezuela could be seen in the same light as instrument of mass destruction upon the opposition members.

Fast forward to Haiti, the subject of our focus in nation building 101, the Bicentennial Jubilee is a window of opportunity to start over in the right path. Haiti needs a government that teaches its citizens that all the sectors of the society, city and rural people must share in the budget for education, health, infrastructure, habitat and economic stimulation. To catch up with 200 years of desolation and neglect, an affirmative action program on behalf of rural Haiti must receive the support and the cooperation of all.

There is a Haitian proverb that says : The days before the event will tell you about the success of the day of celebration. At the dawn of Haiti Bicentennial, the light is on the dim shift. According to that Haitian proverb, the 2004 Celebration will be at best subdued at worst, a non-event in Haiti. Yet there is no reason for the celebration not to take place in full force in the offshoots of Haiti, in Florida, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The States of Florida and of New York are home to some 400.000 Haitians each, while Massachusetts and New Jersey have around 200.000 Haitians each.

The Haitian liberation against slavery was an uplifting event for the whole universe. As such, the Bicentennial cannot and should not be the business of only the Haitian people. It is fitting that the Governor and the Legislature of Florida (and by extension, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts) use this window of opportunity to look into the State of the Haitian Diaspora within their Commonwealth. A bird sight view of Florida a la De Tocqueville would indicate that the state of the Haitian Diaspora is not on the bright side. Traveling on Route 80, from West Palm Beach to Fort Meyers two cities noted for their extraordinary quality of life, you face the desolation of Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay, and Immokalee all with a large concentration of Haitians.

Those outposts can become centers of mixed-use industry, manufacture services and of course agriculture. A joint initiative from Governor Bush and the Florida Legislature can lead (with proper tax incentives) foreign corporations to invest in those blighted areas. In promoting the renaissance of Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay, Immokalee and Fort Pierce, the State of Florida would improve the lives of the Haitian migrants. Above all, it will enrich the State by eliminating those dark spots in a canvass of developed and manicured cities, towns and villages.

It was two hundred years ago that another invasion of Haitians transformed the State of Louisiana into a Creole preserve, where Mardi-Gras, jambalaya, fine cuisine, made a "big easy" culture where tourists flock today en masse to enjoy the taste of good life.

Florida with its tropical vegetation that reminds us of Haiti, with its large Haitian population eager to contribute its culture to the American ethos, is the best training ground for Haitians to learn the process of rebuilding their own country. (Ditto for New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts) By using the Bicentennial of Haiti Independence as a window of opportunity to make the life of the Haitian migrants an uplifting one, America will present a deserving thank you note, to a gallant country. It has projected to the world some two hundred years ago that man and woman, whether black or white are God made creature endowed with spirituality, intelligence, and the urge for love, dignity and justice.

[1Jean H Charles, MSW, JD. is executive director of AIDNOH Inc, (Association for the integrated development of the North of Haiti Inc ) a non profit organization dedicated to curtail the immigration of Haitians to South Florida by making Haiti more hospitable to the Haitian people in particular those living in the country side. E-mail :