Haiti: Disaster and Opportunity
Much attention has been focused on the recent disastrous earthquake in Haiti. While this is certainly a newsworthy story, there is another one that has not been as widely publicized but that is newsworthy as well, and it is a more positive one. Haiti has the best political climate that it has had since the death of its founder Toussant L'Overture. And this climate appears capable of enduring.
Gone are the days of the Duvalier monsters and their Ton-Ton-Makoutes. Gone are the brutal military dictatorships. Haiti has had two elected governments since the deposal of military dictator Raul Cedras. And the present one is better than the one that preceded it.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide was Haiti's democracy leader. He however was a less than adequate administrator, and he showed the world one of the things that a leader should not do: Disband the army. So that when a group of drug gangsters got a hold of big guns, Aristide was out of power. To their credit, and to the benefit of Haiti, these gangsters exercised better conscience than one exercised by similar groups in Liberia, Somalia and Sierra Leone and ceded the power to the head of Haiti's Supreme Court. He then held an election in which the current president Rene Preval ran and prevailed.
That Haiti has had two democratic governments back to back, may seem small potatoes; but consider the context. The nation has been blighted by one ruinous regime after another ever since the death of its great independence leader Toussant L'Overture. The democracy there is fragile, but it is growing. And that is something worthy of respect.
The political improvement in Haiti has been part of a broader trend in Latin America. Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and a number of smaller countries have all thrown off corrupt and despotic ways and have had functional if flawed democracy that has endured through major tests. There is simply no comparison between the Christina Kirchner government of Argentina and its Galtieri dictatorship; the Michelle Bachelet government of Chile and Pinochet; the Cardoso and Lula governments of Brazil and its military dictatorships of 1960s and 1970s; the Fox government of Mexico and the pre-Salinas rulers of PRI. The region is improving politically, and perhaps the main reason is that it is no longer a pawn of the Cold War interests. No longer being the pawn of the Cold War interests, the region has been left alone enough to find its path, which it appears to be doing quite well.
When the people of Port Au Prince dig their way out of the ruins of the earthquake, they will find a better political climate in which to rebuild than they have seen since early 19th century. In the current political environment, the Haitian people have a real opportunity to create a better future for themselves and their children. In a very real way, the Haiti that is rebuilt can be better than Haiti that has been destroyed. And that is a great clean slate for the people of this disaster-ravaged country.