DECEMBER/JANUARY 1986-1987 - VOLUME 7 - NUMBER 15 / VOLUME 8 - NUMBER 1
B R I T A I N ' S T W I L I G H T
Haiti After Baby Doc
by William Steif
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The Duvaliers are gone, the Tontons Macoutes dispersed. General Henri Namphy, appointed chief of the ruling National Governing Council (CNG) by President-for-Life Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, jawbones about democracy and jobs.
There is an explosion of free speech and free press here, some of it wildly irresponsible. More than a dozen politicians prepare to seek the Haitian presidency in the election Namphy has pledged for November, 1987. Demonstrations continue in the cities of Cap Haitien and Gonaives and there is a growing anti-Yankeeism.
But most of all, there is an oddly unfinished quality to the Haitian revolution of last winter, if the demise of 29 years of Duvalier dictatorship can be called a revolution.
The figures, for what little they're worth, are disturbing.
In the first six months of 1986 Haiti's exports to the United States dropped 8.2 percent to $190 million.
U.S. and United Nations economists here say the Haitian economy has been "rather flat." Adds one economist: "There's no confidence in the business sector, there is rising crime and the electoral process is uncertain."
The surest index is what has happened to the "assembly industry" centered in and around this city of more than 800,000 people. The industry consists of plants to which unfinished U.S. goods are shipped for finishing, then re-exported duty-free to the United States. Baseballs stitched by thousands of Haitian workers paid about $3 a day, are a prime example. Some of the plants have been set up by large U.S. firms, some are joint U.S.-Haitian ventures, some have been set up by Haitian entrepreneurs to subcontract work from U.S. companies.
A year ago the assembly industry employed between 50,000 and 60,000 Haitians. Today, the economists agree, the assembly industry has 10,000 to 15,000 fewer workers. A.C. Nielsen Co., which had a big coupon-sorting operation employing about 1,000 workers, decamped for Mexico. Other firms have moved to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, which occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola - Haiti is crammed into the western third. Many subcontractors are no longer coming here: Wages are low enough but the U.S. firms fear instability and they can find pay scales nearly as low elsewhere in the Caribbean or Latin America.
Economists estimate the Haitian rate of unemployment and underemployment at 50 percent of the workforce. There is anecdotal evidence documenting the worsening conditions. There are, if anything, more "tiny touts" and women begging on the streets.
The agricultural scene, where about three quarters of the nation's workers are concentrated, is not quite so dismal, primarily because there were good rains in the 1985-86 growing season, resulting in good rice, corn, bean, sorghum and sugarcane crops on the small subsistence farms throughout Haiti. The coffee crop was good, too, but there was no "windfall," says one economist, "even though coffee prices were higher." The traditional coffee families are back in control, now that Baby Doc's father-in-law, Ernest Bennett, has fled the country - in the last five years of Duvalierism, Bennett managed to corral a quarter of the coffee exports.
Haitian farmers also remain in the mango business, thanks to the U.S. State Department. In the summer of 1985 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that Haitian mangoes could no longer be shipped to the United States, starting September 1, 1985, so long as the shippers for him and the other two CNG members, Col. Williams Regala and an old-time politician from Cap Haitien, Jacques Francois, to step down. Namphy, considered the CNG's spokesperson, is regarded as honest, sincere and naive, while Regala is considered the CNG's strong man.
Namphy's latest pledge, made in late October, is to start an interim economic revitalization program. He hopes such a program will put more than 10,000 Haitians to work. He is seeking $40 million in international aid for the program, which so far lacks specifics. But he says: "It would be illusory to think we could promote economic and social development without sacrifices."
Namphy so far has maintained his timetable for democratizing Haitian society, but the October 19 election was a flop. Of the 2.9 million eligible Haitians 18 or older who were supposed to pick 41 members of the constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, only 5 percent turned out.
In seven of the nation's 41 geographic districts there was only one candidate, and in one district no one would run. Presidential politicians shunned the vote and a week before the election a coalition of organizations representing lawyers, journalists, businessmen and other professionals called for a boycott. Some of those who voted did so a half-dozen times; others found the process too difficult because the ballot required the voter to write in the district's name, the local community's name and the preferred candidate's name. Three of four Haitians can neither read nor write.
In addition to the elected constituent assembly delegates, the CNG is naming 20 more, and a preliminary committee of nine experts already has been at work drafting a constitution. The assembly is to meet in Gonaives to review the draft.
According to Adrien Douyon, a former Haitian Supreme Court president and one of the nine drafters, the main goal of the new document is to reduce executive branch power "because that's what led to the dictatorship of the Duvaliers." Justice Minister Francois Latortue concedes the new constitution, the twenty-third since Haiti became independent from France in 1804, will be a cut-and-paste job "without much originality."
Namphy's CNG in June issued decrees creating a council to organize rural areas and to create an independent body to receive the views of all citizens; in July it issued decrees on organization of political parties and of the press; in September it decreed creation of the constituent assembly, though it didn't get around to organizing the October 19 vote until a week or 10 days before it was to take place.
The rest of Namphy's timetable is:
Some political parties already are registered and such potential presidential candidates as Leslie Manigat, Thomas Desulme, Marc Bazin, Louis Dejoie, Jr., Sylvio Claude, Hubert de Ronceray, Gerard Gourges, Gregoire Eugene and Raphael Bazin are organizing. A neo-Duvalierist group, the Democratic Union of Patriotic Forces under Martine Michele, has applied for party registration. But the Communist Party, under Rene Theodore, is reluctant to apply, fearing the requirement for 5,000 signatures and addresses would provide a I "hit list" for any future government.
If the Namphy government is able to keep to the timetable and democratic elections are held in 1987, then the country may be able to begin the long struggle toward economic development. Namphy is already encouraging those who fled under the 29-year reign of Duvalier to return home and help begin the process of rebuilding. A recent \arnphy speech pleaded with many of the one million Haitians overseas, mainly in the United States, Canada and Fran; c, to return home. Few have done so. Says one Haitian businessman: "Those who come back take one look around, see things are the same and leav."
Per capita income in fiscal 1986 continues to hover around $370, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Infant mortality - death in the first year of life - was above 130 per 1,000 live births. Diarrhea, tuberculosis and malaria - the latter supposedly wiped out during the U.S. Marines' occupation of the 1920s and 1930s - are still killers here.
The Duvaliers left virtually no institutional framework here, no governmental structures on which their successors can build. Although the United Nations has made some noise about providing help, little has come through. The Organization of American States has done nothing. And the Reagan administration, preoccupied with other problems, has barely glanced this way. 13
William Steif is a freelance writer based in the Virgin Islands.