A. No, Haiti does not have any diplomatic representation in the UK. Contact instead the Haitian Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. Address: Ambassade d'Haiti, 139 Chaussée de Charleroi, 1060 Bruxelles, Belgique. (Tel: 00 32 2 649 6247, Fax: 00 32 2 640 6080)
Q. Are there many Haitians living in the UK?
A. Not very many. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians have emigrated to countries in North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. The largest Haitian communities outside Haiti are in Miami, New York, and Montreal. There are also sizeable Haitian populations in France and Belgium. The Haiti Support Group is only aware of a handful of Haitians living in the UK - some have come to live here direct from Haiti, others have grown up in North America or Europe. Some of them are active members of the Haiti Support Group.
Q. Have things improved in Haiti recently?
A. In short, not much has changed for the better over the last few years. The earthquake of 12 January 2010 has of course been a major catastrophy for the country and it is difficult to see how quickly Haiti can recover. Many say that it is not a question of re-building but taking the opportunity to build Haiti properly for the first time, including proper institutions and with decentralisation as foreseen in its 1987 Constitution.
Before the earthquake, apart from the revitalisation of the export assembly sector, that again is now being mooted by the UN as the key to "recovery", which used to employ around 20,000 poorly paid workers, there had been little in the way of economic improvement. Unemployment before the quake was estimated at 70%, and the agricultural sector has continued to decline in the face of cheaper foreign imports, declining yields, and catastrophic soil erosion. In its 1998 report, the World Bank estimated that 80 per cent of the two-thirds of the population who live in the countryside exist in conditions of abject poverty. The failure of the influx of international development aid since 1994 to bring about any real economic benefits for the majority has left the people desperately dispirited and disillusioned with the government. The most significant measure to break with the past was President Aristide’s 1995 move to disband the Haitian Army. This institution had repeatedly intervened in Haitian politics since its creation during the 1915-34 US occupation, and its abolition was warmly welcomed by nearly all Haitians.
Q. Is it dangerous for foreigners to visit the country?
A. In short, yes, it can be dangerous, but so can any Caribbean country. In the context of the deteriorating economy and the weakness of the newly-created Haitian National Police Force, the crime rate in Haiti has increased over the last few years. The increase in crimes such as theft, burglary, and car-jacking, has profoundly unsettled Haitians, especially the rich who had formerly lived lives untouched by crime. The 'insecurity', as it is known, is now a source of much discussion in Haiti. In the past, violent crime was a monopoly enjoyed by the Army and Tonton Macoutes, and now that both these bodies have been disbanded, other 'freelance' or 'privatised' elements in Haitian society have taken to a life of crime. It should be remembered that, aside from the repression and extortion carried out by the agents of the State, Haiti was until recently relatively crime free. So the increase and the impact of more crime must be seen in context. Yes, there is more crime and it is more dangerous now, but in general Haiti is still a safer place than most of the rest of the Caribbean region. There are probably more crimes committed each year in Kingston, New York, or Miami than in the whole of Haiti. In order to stay out of trouble, a foreigner visiting Haiti just needs to use his/her’s common sense. Haiti is a desperately poor country, and a foreign visitor will be perceived as a rich person. Do not flash your wealth around, and be aware of what is going on around you.
Q. Is the United Nations still present in Haiti?
A. The UN first intervened in Haiti through the UN/OAS International Civilian Mission in Haiti ((MICIVIH) which monitored human rights in Haiti from early 1993. In 1994, the UN authorised a US-dominated multinational military force to intervene in Haiti to establish a safe and secure environment for the return of the constitutional government. At its peak, this force numbered over 20,000 troops. In March 1995, the UN took over control of the military mission from the US, and some 6,000 UN troops were stationed across Haiti. Then the number of UN troops in Haiti was progressively reduced, and at the end of 1997 the last 1,300 Canadian and Pakistani soldiers under UN command left Haiti. A contingent of 300 UN civilian police monitors remained, as did the MICIVIH, but both missions were brought to an end in early 2000. A new UN mission (MICAH) composed of around 100 personnel, police and human rights monitors was deployed, but its mandate was not renewed and it withdrew from Haiti on 6th February 2001. In April 2004 the UN Security Council established the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) under Resolution 1542. The authorized strength for the Mission was 6,700 military personnel and 1,622 civilian police.
After the earthquake of January 2010 in which over 100 UN officials died, MINUSTAH was strengthened again.
Other UN organisations in Haiti are the UNDP, and representatives of UNICEF, WFP, and the FAO.
Q. What is former President Aristide doing now?
A. After handing over to the new President in February 1996, Jean-Bertrand Aristide became a vocal critic of the economic policy of the OPL-dominated government. (In 1995, he gave up the priest-hood in the hope of improving relations between the Vatican and the Haitian government.) In November 1996, he formed a new party, the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas/FL), which presented candidates in the aborted 1997 partial elections. The FL won nearly all the Parliamentary and local government seats in the May 2000 general elections. In 1996, Aristide formed the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, a non-governmental organisation working in three areas: sponsoring forums and public dialogues on the issues such as justice, land reform, and the economic future of the nation, supporting literacy programmes, and promoting cooperative economic initiatives – the Foundation runs a credit bank providing interest-free loans to 12,000 members. At the end of November 2000, Aristide stood virtually unopposed as candidate for President and was elected with over 90% of votes cast. He was inaugurated President of Haiti for a second time on 7th February 2001.
On 29 February 2004, Aristide left Haiti in disputed circumstances. The US and other foreign powers insist that he resigned to avoid bloodshed in the capital, but Aristide himself says he was kidnapped. Aristide lived in exile in South Africa until his sudden return two days before the second round of the Presidential and parliamentary elections of 20 March 2011. Under the Haitian Constitution he cannot run again for the office of President of the Republic.
Q. What happened to Baby Doc Duvalier and the Tonton Macoutes?
A. The United States set up the Leopards, a counter-insurgency unit to protect the Jean Claude regime. A. Jean Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier left Haiti on February 7th, 1986, and was allowed into France as a political exile. Duvalier, his family, and entourage, are alleged to have taken with them hundreds of millions of dollars belonging to the Haitian state. By the mid-1990s Jean-Claude had apparently squandered this fortune, and abandoned his villa on the Cote d'Azur. Press reports say he is broke, dependent on the generosity of friends, and living near Paris. In 1998, hot on the heels of the attempts to extradite Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet from the UK to Spain, Haitians living in France began a campaign to have Jean-Claude Duvalier tried for his involvement in crimes against humanity during his 15-year dictatorship. The Tonton Macoutes, the militia force created by 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, were officially disbanded by the transition government of General Namphy in 1986. Former members continued to exert an influence on political life as employees of the state-owned enterprises, and the government administration, and as section chiefs - local sheriffs in the rural areas. During the years of the military coup regime, 1991-94, many former Macoutes re-emerged and played an active role in the repression of Haiti's grassroots, popular movement. Former Macoutes worked as police auxiliaries, or attachés as they were known, and also participated in the notorious death-squad, FRAPH. In May 1994, a press conference was held in Port-au-Prince to announce that the Tonton Macoutes had reformed, and that 30,000 members were preparing to resist any foreign intervention to restore the democratic government. In the event, nothing more was heard of them. Today, it is not thought that any formal organisation exists. The term Macoute is now often used for any opponent of progressive change, particularly those who support the type of right-wing nationalism associated with the Duvalier era.
Q. What language do people in Haiti speak?
A. All Haitians speak Kreyòl (Creole) - a language developed by the African slaves during the centuries when the Spanish and French colonised Saint Domingue (later Haiti). This language contains many elements that can be traced to French, but also includes significant influences from West African languages. Some 10% or so of the population also speak French. The small Haitian elite prefers to speak French - at least in public- as they have long regarded the use of this language as a sign of their superior education and intelligence. The 1987 Consititution proclaims that "All Haitians are united by a common language, Kreyòl. Kreyòl and French are the official language of the Republic." However, in practice, most official government business, and all judicial proceedings, are conducted in French, thus further disenfranchising the vast majority.
Q. Is Vodou dangerous?
A. Are Christianity or Islam dangerous? Vodou is a religion - it is also a major feature of Haitian history, society, culture and identity. Vodou inspired the slave revolution that created the modern state of Haiti, and serves as the inspiration for huge numbers of Haitian artists and musicians. For more information see Haiti Briefing No. 28.
Q. What connections are there between Britain and Haiti?
A. Between 1793 and 1798 over 20,000 British soldiers were sent to Saint Domingue (the name of the French colony that became Haiti) to put down the slave revolt and to seize the island for the British Empire. More than half of them died there from yellow fever or at the hands of the revolutionary slave army led by Toussaint Louverture. The remnants of the beaten British force withdrew in September 1798 - one of the forgotten catastrophes of Britain's imperial history. In 1804, after the slave armies had defeated the French monarchists and republicans, and the Spanish, and British colonial forces, and Saint Domingue became the first black republic, agents of the British crown contacted the independent country's leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. They told him that Britain would look favourably on trade and other links with Haiti if all remaining French colonists were killed. They were. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, British banks and financiers, in common with those from the US and Germany, lent money to members of the Haitian elite who were competing among themselves for control of the Haitian government. When interest payments on these debts were overdue, Britain sent gunboats into Haitian waters to force the increasingly bankrupt Haitian state to pay up. Following the US occupation of Haiti (1915-34) British influence declined. The last British ambassador to Haiti, Gerard Corley-Smith, was expelled from the country in 1962 when he complained about the mistreatment of foreign nationals by supporters of the dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. Since August 1998, responsibility for representing Her Majesty's government in Haiti lies with the British Embassy in Santo Domingo - previously the British Consulate in Kingston, Jamaica, fulfilled this task. Hence, despite a very large presence of UK aid agencies, there is no FCO representation in the country.
Q. Is there a democratic government in Haiti today?
A. Following the UN-authorised military intervention in September 1994, the democratically elected government was restored to office. In 1995, general elections for a new Parliament and for urban local governments took place. In early 1996, a newly elected President took office. Candidates of the Lavalas coalition dominated the new Parliament. The new President, René Préval, was also elected on a Lavalas coalition ticket. During 1996 and 1997 deep divisions within the Lavalas coalition developed – the disputed issues included national economic policy – especially privatisation, the influence of international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, and the continued presence of foreign troops. In the run-up to elections for a third of the Senate and the rural councils in early 1997, the Lavalas coalition splintered into various factions – the majority of members of Parliament represented the Organisation of People in Struggle (OPL); a minority represented the Open the Gate Party (PLB), the Grande Anse Resistance Coordinaton (KOREGA), and the Movement to Organise the Country (MOP). Meanwhile former President Aristide had formed a new party called the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas/FL). The April 1997, partial elections - marked by a very low voter turn-out - were abandoned after FL polled well in the first round of voting, and the OPL claimed the election was rigged. In June 1997, the OPL Prime Minister resigned, and for a year and half disagreements among remaining MPs prevented agreement on a replacement. Partial elections for the Senate, due in 1998, did not take place. In January 1999, President Préval declared the life of the existing Parliament over, and he appointed a new Prime Minister by presidential decree. In March 1999, the new Prime Minister formed a cabinet of Ministers, and after discussions between the President and centrist political groups, a provisional electoral council was formed. General elections for a new Parliament, and urban and rural councils were eventually held in May 2000. Aristide's Lavalas Family won the vast majority of seats although the oppostion parties claimed that the voting and vote-counting were rigged. The Organisation of American States claimed that the wrong method of calculating the Senate results was used thus favouring the Lavalas Family but the Government refused a recount. A new Parliament convened at the end of August 2000. Following the collapse of the Lavalas Family government at the end of February 2004, an interim Prime Minister was appointed and he selected a cabinet of ministers. The Parliament only has a handful of Senators remaining in office and they do not meet. Formal democracy was again restored with the 2006 elections which brought President Rene Preval to power for a second time. Following the earthquake on 12/01/2010, an emergency law was passed which handed much state power over to an Interim Reconstruction Commission headed by UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, in which is largely controlled by the two co-chairs and foreign donors. The latest round elections took place November 2010-March 2011 and the final outcome is not yet known.
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The Haiti Briefing, published in English and French, is the key publication of the Haiti Support Group. Published quarterly, since 1992, it provides our members, Haiti watchers and decision-makers with analysis of Haiti's development issues, reflected through the voices of popular organisations on the ground. Back issues are available in our archive.
To download - the latest issue (no. 73) demonstrates the Haitian government's slide towards authoritarianism - please click here. All issues of Haiti Briefing are now free for all to download! (simply register at the link first if prompted)