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Chapter 10. Haiti: National Security


Figure from a painting by Prosper Pierrelouis

CONSOLIDATION OF POLITICAL POWER in the hands of strongmen has made the armed forces the institutional pillar of Haitian society. Born of revolutionary violence and plagued by socioeconomic deterioration, Haiti never succeeded in building civilian institutions capable of rivaling military rule.

Part of Haiti's history is the story of competing mercenary bands (cacos) and peasant groups (piquets), who fought a ramshackle military. The United States occupation, after 1915, reversed the collapse of national institutions that had marked this part of Haiti's history. But the most visible product of the occupation, ironically, turned out to be the Garde d'Haïti, which has evolved into today's armed forces, the Haitian Armed Forces (Forces Armées d'Haïti--FAd'H). The military has continued to be Haiti's only truly national organization with any degree of institutional cohesion.

A shrewd autocrat, François Duvalier (1957-71) ruthlessly suppressed all opposition groups. Duvalier purged the army of individuals suspected of disloyalty and brought the remaining soldiers under his absolute control. A powerful paramilitary counterbalancing organization--the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale--VSN), or tonton makouts (bogeymen)--was created to protect the regime and to enforce its directives. François Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, assumed power in 1971 and demonstrated initial political endurance. During Jean-Claude's tenure, a reconstituted officer corps emerged, partly to counterbalance the overwhelming power of the paramilitary forces organized by his father.A vague strategy to modernize Haiti's economic and political structure in the 1970s also led to a brief upgrading of the armed forces. Jean-Claude's regime added a tactical unit (the Leopard Corps), purchased new equipment for the Air Corps (Corps d'Aviation), reopened the Military Academy, and secured a small amount of military assistance from the United States. Yet the authoritarian, and often aimless, governance isolated the regime from national realities, leading to a tide of popular discontent between 1983 and 1985 and to the fall of the regime in February 1986.

Under pressure from the international community, Duvalier fled Haiti. A hastily constructed interim junta replaced him. The junta was put together mostly by the armed forces, the only institution in a position of authority. The junta fared badly in its political mission, however, and the failed and flawed elections of 1987 and 1988 reflected the military's institutional unraveling and its inability to control the nation. A succession of coups in 1988 and a serious intramilitary revolt in early 1989 underscored the gravity of the problem.

The character of Haiti's domestic security situation has attracted considerable international attention. Reports of brutal violence and human-rights infractions have outraged many countries and international agencies. The government's inability- -or unwillingness--to control paramilitary violence and a rise in crime since 1986 have undermined the military's credibility. A growing narcotics network, involving Haitian military personnel has also reduced the credibility of the armed forces.

Behind domestic security problems is an antiquated and unresponsive legal system. The 1987 Constitution separates the functions of the police and the conventional military, but the FAd'H continued to be the government's primary law-enforcement agency. Haiti had no national police force in the late 1980s. The armed forces handled rural security duties, and in Port-au- Prince, police duties were carried out by a part of the army. Several national political crises and budgetary constraints have led to a recent streamlining of FAd'H's operations and to improvement in its administration.

Data as of December 1989