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Haiti president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is gone -- but unfortunately not forgotten, as he complains that the Americans made him leave Haiti. American armed forces are occupying Port-au-Prince and some outlying areas, hoping to pull out quickly, as soon as the situation is stabilized. Will the country break down into total anarchy? History gives us the most probable scenario.
The last time American armed forces were sent into Haiti was in 1994. That move brought temporary respite to the violence and anarchy, but now it's back, worse than ever.
Haiti is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with the average income at about $3.50 per day per person. In addition, Haiti has the least water availability per capita of any nation in the world.
With so much poverty, there's nothing left for obvious services like cleaning garbage out of the street. And with the population growing at almost 2% a year, Haiti is also suffering from the "Malthus effect" (population grows faster than available food and water), so that available food gets more expensive each year, making poverty worse each year.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. When America pulled its armed forces out of Haiti in 1994, it started sending in huge amounts of financial aid to alleviate the poverty and raise the standard of living. But just a glance at some of the poorer neighborhoods of Haiti (see adjacent pictures) show that it hasn't done much good.
In fact the discovery that Aristide had hidden away vast amounts of wealth for himself indicates that a high level of corruption prevented the American aid money from ever reaching the Haitian people.
Haiti is following a familiar historical pattern, and a recent generational change makes the Haiti situation extremely dangerous today.
Haiti is one-third of the island of Hispaniola, which was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus in 1492. France later colonized the island as well. After centuries of conflict, the island was partitioned into French-oriented Haiti and Spanish-oriented Dominican Republic.
During the 1700s, the island was an extremely wealthy French colony, thanks to crops sugar, rum, coffee and cotton -- and thanks to the efforts of 500,000 slaves that the French had imported from Africa.
A violent slave rebellion in 1791 led to a 13-year civil war and formal recognition, in 1804, of Haiti as the second Republic in the Western hemisphere. However, the United States didn't grant Haiti diplomatic recognition until 1862 -- when Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed America's slaves during the Civil War.
Over time, Haiti's population has evolved into two major groups:
Today, the mulattoes are a "market-dominant minority" (using the phrase of Yale Professor Amy Chua). They're under 5% of the population, but they control well over 50% of the nation's wealth.
There have been dozens of coups in Haiti's history since independence. (See list of Haitian presidents below.) Historically, civil unrest in Haiti dating back to the 1800s has followed a certain formula and pattern:
Although there have been many coups in Haiti's history, the 1915 coup turned into a major crisis rebellion. US Armed Forces had frequently landed in Haiti to protect American interests during numerous minor rebellions, but this time total anarchy was breaking out, and President Woodrow Wilson eventually felt it necessary to take complete control of all governmental and financial institutions in Haiti. The American armed forces remained for 20 years, withdrawing only in 1934.
Since 1934, there have been two periods of major violence:
(For those interested in the theoretical aspects of Generational Dynamics, these were mid-cycle periods of violence, not crisis rebellions, because the violence came from the political leaders rather than from the people.)
If you've read my book, you know that history repeats itself, and that you can understand the future if you know where to look in the past, and generational dynamics tells you where in the past to look. It appears that Haiti is seeing a repeat of the 1915 violence experience, unless a huge American (or international) army is inserted to force the rebels to stand down, and to provide food, water and other necessities. But with America heavily committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the Balkans, Korea and other places, that that isn't going to happen, unless France decides to make a much larger commitment.
Haiti appears to be in its first generational crisis period since 1915. This indicates that the violence and anarchy are going to continue and increase. The fact that the US is about to intervene again pushes this fact over the line to irony.
It's current US policy to intervene for a short period, to allow the country to stabilize. However, generational dynamics indicates that stabilization is not in the cards for a period of years. If America intervenes heavily, then anarchy might be averted temporarily; but without massive American intervention, the issues (especially poverty) that were leading to anarchy last week are no different this week.
Because of the danger of Haitian "boat people" refugees reaching our shores in Florida, and because Haiti is the only Western hemisphere country run by blacks, there is a great deal of pressure for the US to intervene in Haiti, to stabilize the situation. Fortunately, America isn't forced to do it alone, as France and Canada are also sending some troops.
As we discussed in our book, America's greatest danger during the coming period is taking on too many commitments. America's armed forces are heavily committed in Afghanistan and Iraq, with additional committments in Bosnia, Korea, Germany and other locations. Now we're taking on an additional commitment in Haiti, and it's going to be long-term. There seems to be no way for America to say "No," but as these international crises continue to develop, America will have to learn to do so.
It seems pretty clear that a lot of money will be spent in Haiti in the next few months to try to alleviate poverty. This presents two kinds of opportunities:
I was surprised how hard it was to get the necessary information for this report. I found the usual historical summaries and timelines on the Internet, but I wanted more -- journals, opinion pieces, and so on that tell what really went on. I can find them for most countries, but nothing for Haiti.
Then I went to my local Barnes & Noble. I found books on the history of almost every North American country, including the Dominican Republic, but nothing on Haiti. Finally I found something In a book I already have, Max Boot's 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace - Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, which discussed the 1915-34 American occupation in detail.
But I found the dearth of information on Haiti to be very peculiar. It's probably just one more sign of the level of poverty in Haiti: with little internet access in Haiti, there's little opportunity for Haitian citizens to generate a lot of content. If the Haitian diaspora in America would like to help Haiti, one way would be to make an effort to set up more Haitian information on the web.
The thing that's interesting about the following list of Haitian Presidents is that it graphically demonstrates how often coups have occurred:
|President||Year(s) in Office||Notes about term|
|Jean Jacques Dessalines||1804-1806||assassinated|
|Alexander Petion||1807-1818||died in office|
|Jean Pierre Boyer||1818-1843||overthrown|
|Philippe Guerrier||1844-1845||died in office|
|Jean Louis Pierrot||1845-1846||overthrown|
|Jean Baptiste Riche||1847-1847||died in office|
|Fabre Nicholas Geffrard||1859-1867||overthrown|
|Saget Nissage||1870-1874||full term|
|Lysius Felicite Salomon||1879-1888||overthrown|
|Florvil Hyppolite||1889-1896||died in office|
|Tiresias Simon Sam||1896-1902||full term|
|Cincinnatus Leconte||1911-1912||died in office|
|Tancrede Auguste||1912-1913||died in office|
|Sudre Dartiguevave||1915-1922||full term (1st US Occupation)|
|Louis Borno||1922-1930||full term (1st US Occupation)|
|Eugene Roy||1930||full term (1st US occupation)|
|Sternio Vincent||1930-1941||full term (occupation until 1934)|
|Paul Eugène Magloire||1950-1956||overthrown|
|Joseph Nemours Pierre-Louis||1956-1957|
|Executive Government Council||1957|
|Antonio Thrasybule Kebreau||1957|
|François Duvalier||1957-1971||died in office|
|Henri Namphy||1986-1987||full term|
|Etha Pascal-Trouillot||1990-1991||full term|
|Rene Preval||1996-2000||full term|
(Source: http://www.travelinghaiti.com/history.asp - this site is quite anti-American.)