Perceptions of Democracy

Haiti Table of Contents

The presidency depended on the nonparticipation of average citizens in the political process, except when they had personal ties to a power holder. Presidential contenders often rhetorically invoked the masses in their transitions to power; still, the common citizen played an insignificant role in the day-to-day politics of the country. This situation fueled popular cynicism regarding elections.

Participation in the political arena, however, has traditionally involvedgreat personal risk. The threat of arrest, injury, and death was very real for those who challenged the prevailing government. The fact that political detainees were not entitled to due process of law further magnified this risk.

After the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, everyone spoke of democracy. Some Creole observers have described the post-Duvalier period as diyari demokratik (democratic diarrhea) or bambosh demokrasi (revelry of democracy). Average Haitians expected that life would somehow dramatically improve with the departure of the Duvaliers and that there would be democracy; however, for most Haitians, democracy was only an abstract concept. Haitians had never experienced true democracy, and communities had never had a voice in the political process.

The political role models for most Haitians emerged during the Duvalier era. For many people, post-Duvalier notions of democracy meant only a change in the factions and the personalities of the people in power. For others, democracy meant their finally being able to take their turn at the spoils system. Some people believed that democracy meant an opportunity to do what one pleased--liberty without responsibility (an attitude noted and reproved in Toussaint Louverture's remark, "I have never considered that liberty is synonymous with license"). Many people felt that a democracy should provide everyone with jobs, food, and material goods. In any case, the constitutional referendum in March 1987 and the November 29 elections of that same year clearly demonstrated overwhelming support for genuine change that would lead to a better quality of life.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress