When I came to Haiti I was instructed by my Haitian mother and my Haitian aunts not to get involved in politics.. I had come to Haiti for musical inspiration so the instructions seemed simple enough to follow. Jean Claude Duvalier was President for Life; the year was 1985.
Four months after my arrival in Haiti, Duvalier fell and I witnessed the period of dechoukaj which was a period of revenge aimed at participants of Jean Claude's system of governance. It was this period which made me understand what response a brutal dictatorship could illicit from the Haitian people. There was so much anger in Haiti that people were being burned alive, necklaced by burning tires.
I grew up in New England though I was born in Puerto Rico. My father was from Greenwich Ct. I had never previously seen nor experienced the kind of social brutality that was going on in Haiti during this period; nevertheless I followed my family's instructions: "Don't get involved in politics".
In November of 1987, Haiti attempted to hold a democratic election and rather that have an outcome they considered unacceptable, the Haitian army massacred people and the election was aborted. After brutally killing dozens of Haitians, the army shot an ABC reporter, killed a Dominican journalist and started chasing other journalists around town.
A week before that same election, I had re-opened the Hotel Oloffson. I had about 8 rooms and they were all rented out to journalists. I could only imagine that at any moment, the Haitian army was going to come up the front steps and shoot us all. From that day on I made a decision to "follow" politics so I could have an idea of what was going on and if necessary escape. I've been following Haitian politics ever since.
On the social media tool called TWITTER, I recently said that Duvalier appeared to be a middle of the road dictator. I said this for the simple reason that I thought that after Duvalier left, things in Haiti were going to improve. What I never imagined was that the leaders who came after Duvalier were going to take Duvalier's concepts and use them to their own benefits. Its important to note that in Haiti someone who is opposed to a politician may simply be envious of the politician's position.
The most famous Duvaliarist political phenomenon was known as the TonTon Macoutes. The macoutes were a paramilitary organization that was also responsible for internal espionage. Post Duvaliarist Haitian leaders seemed to buy into this concept as a necessity. The most "anti" Duvaliariste president of all, Aristide, had his Chimeres; Cedras had FRAPH, Namphy and Avril had the Zenglendos and more recently, Preval came up with the INITE party which is a political party AND a paramilitary organization. The INITE party runs for office, votes illegally and shoots people while the International Community turns a blind eye.
Which regime was the most brutal? Well that probably depends on how many people you personally know who were killed, raped, tortured or jailed. Duvalier was in power for 15 years! Has anyone ever done a per day repression rate? During Namphy we had the '87 election massacre where people were being shot and macheted. The first coup against Aristide in '91, led by Cedras/Francois, and the period following, was as intense a murder spree as any period I've lived through. Operation Baghdad during the Latortue regime was the period when Aristide's gangs were chopping off heads of policemen. During this same period, Latortue's policemen were driving around town with black ski masks, killing and arresting people. Recently, prisoners in Aux Cayes were forced to lay down on their stomachs and they were then shot; this being one of Preval's low points.. Burning and shooting at radio stations may have been started by Duvalier but several governments later adopted the practice..
When Duvalier left, Haiti was supposed to get better but it didn't. Certain families adopted economic practices that destroyed the lifestyles of tens of thousands of people. I call this economic repression. The living and sanitary conditions in Port au Prince could be considered social repression; illiteracy could be considered academic repression. How can we accept government negligence when people need treatment for cholera and don't get it, or people in certain neighborhoods are buried alive under earthquake rubble and there's little or no response? One year later and people are still buried under rubble..
I could go on and on. They say Jean Claude left with hundreds of millions of dollars and yet they say the same for Aristide and Preval.
Jean Claude was awful and unacceptable but so was what followed and that is the point I tried to make by calling Jean Claude "middle of the road".
Hopefully we can take a turn for the better. In the meantime I ask everyone to remember Jacques Roche or Jean Dominique or anybody you may know, whenever someone brings up the term "torture" or "freedom of the press" in Haiti. We must change as a society. We must recognize our faults in order to move on. We can't govern with Hate. We can't live lies and imagine one side's brutality is ok while another's is unacceptable. Governments have to learn to serve the population not themselves..
Port au Prince, Haiti