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Duvalier Is Gone, but Is Duvalierism?

February 16, 1986|Michael S. Hooper | Michael S. Hooper, an attorney, is executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees.

By mid-1985, what had appeared to be the unassailable fortress of the Duvalier system turned out to be riddled with fault lines. The dramatic change came about from the convergence of four related factors: a profound economic crisis; direct pressures and demands by the Haitian population articulated by the church and by youth organizations; unprecedented tensions and scandals within the regime, and increased, long overdue international pressures.

Corruption and mismanagement played big roles in the economic disaster, but so did unfavorable international coffee prices, increased prices for--and reliance on--many essential imports like oil and many non-essential luxury imports that gobbled up scarce foreign exchange.

As the economic and political situation went from bad to intolerable, international pressure on the regime increased, principally from the United States, significantly from human rights and church groups. The U.S. government demanded certain small reforms, including a disciplining of abusive Macoutes that further unbalanced forces within the regime.

By last November each of these developments became a catalyst for the next. The more the young demanded popularly supported reforms, the more the security forces brutalized them. The more human-rights violations increased, the more the United States and other foreign governments backed off, further increasing defections from the Duvalier inner circle. The more the regime was exposed to the glare of international attention, the less it seemed to have redeeming virtues and the less anyone was willing to sacrifice for its continuation.

There are now several impending litmus tests of the Provisional Junta's good faith and old loyalties:

--The 18,500 Tonton Macoutes must be dissolved and the real persecutors must be charged with the appropriate crimes as the Alfonsin regime in Argentina has done. This will not be easy for an army of 6,500 to accomplish, particularly since many influential civilians were also Macoutes. Those who have pillaged the public treasury must also be prosecuted.

--All persons exiled from Haiti must be granted internationally recognized rights to free return, whether to participate in Haiti's reconstruction or just to visit.

--Haitians must be given the right to associate freely in the political process and to form parties of their choice; elections at all levels of government must be allowed.

--Haitians must be allowed to form democratic trade unions. Unfortunately, many in the current Haitian government and even some of our own officials will prefer to endorse or even impose their own versions of parties and unions that can be more easily controlled.

It remains to be seen if recent U.S. actions indicate a wiser and more humane policy or just a clumsy last-minute rescue effort--too little, too late. It would be fatal to American interests in the long term, and tragic for the aspirations of Haitians, if our government again attempted to impose its agenda. Haitians were right to clamor for an end to the Duvalier era and the brutality and corruption that it symbolized. But it isn't over yet.

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