Haiti: Failed State or State in Retreat?


On September 25, 2022, an official from the Haitian Ministry of Education has been kidnapped on the side of Delmas (department of the West). A month later, it was the turn of a former Minister of Planning. These two events are not isolated, far from it.

Kidnapping has become a frequent phenomenon in the country. Everywhere, gangs are gaining ground, especially in the Ouest department, where the serious crime as well as violence in all its forms are at their peak and claim daily victims, in the forefront of which the women and children. Society is in pieces and extreme poverty keeps progressing.

Haiti is in the throes of a total and multifaceted crisis (social, political, humanitarian but also symbolic), so much so that the socio-geographer Jean-Marie Théodat describes the country as real "black hole" in the Caribbean).

How to explain such a descent into hell? Could this be the result of the collapse of a bankrupt state, which has become incapable of assuming its sovereign functions? Shouldn't we rather see in it the consequence of the attitude of indifference and withdrawal adopted by a State only wishing to keep the meager resources available to itself and to capture the revenue from international aid as well as transfers made by diaspora communities ?

How to qualify the Haitian State?

"failed state", “bankrupt state”, “failed state”, such are – among others – the expressions used in the fields of development and international geopolitics to describe the Haitian State.

The authors mobilizing these conceptual frameworks agree on at least a set of characteristics to define this type of State: almost total absence of public services, loss of control of the territory, generalized corruption. In truth, he would not sell anyone the idea of ​​questioning the observation that the Haitian state does not manage to exercise the monopoly of legitimate violence, any more than it succeeds in imposing itself as the only principle organization of the social body throughout the national territory.

It must be noted, however, that these concepts are only operational within the framework of a normative approach to the State, which consists in defining the State on the basis of what it should be, in attributing functions to it a priori, such as ensuring internal prerogatives, basic functions such as internal and external security. Such an approach – although it makes it possible to build indices and international rankings – does not take into account the transformations of the Haitian state and to have a nuanced understanding of the fragility of it.

A parallel humanitarian government

Three factors explain, in our opinion, the attitude of withdrawal of the Haitian State and, correlatively, its lack of political will.

First, the application, at the end of the 1980s, of the neoliberal plans which contributed to the dismantling of the main strategic public services. This process of privatization took place in "detriment to the State and the general interest" and it is following this that the State, in the process of atomizing and deinstitutionalizing itself, begins to adopt an attitude of withdrawal in order to take better advantage of its collusion – to the detriment of the impoverished masses – with transnational corporations, such as , among others the company United Parcel Service (UPS), the transnational company Monsanto, the international finance company (branch of the World Bank group). The progressive unraveling of the strategic sectors of the public service by the Structural Readjustment Plans induces at the same time transformations and new relations with the State, the latter functioning according to rentier reason, to use the notion of the sociologist Alain Gilles.

Then, the rise in power, from the 1990s, of a “parallel humanitarian government” pushes the State to keep more and more in the background in relation to many decisions which should nevertheless be a matter of national sovereignty. Thus, despite the efforts that were made during the 1980s to control their installation, the NGOs ended up establishing themselves as true "states within a state".

This is evidenced by the plethora of NGOs which established themselves following the January 2010 earthquake, often without the knowledge of the State and some of which (for example the American faith-based NGO Samarithan's Purse), given the means at their disposal, are more powerful than the state itself. This “transnationalized system of public action” has had many consequences, including the recomposition of the state institution and, consequently, a new form of governmentality.

Finally, the state's liaisons with gangs since the late 1990s – liaisons that have become increasingly intense and visible. The most emblematic example to date remains the (well-documented) alliance between the National Police and the "G9 family and allies" gang federation with the objective of fighting another gang called “400 Mawozo” (in Creole “bad boys not interested in women”).

Far from being proof of its weakness or absence, these links reflect the profound transformations of a patrimonial State which, after having reached its climax, comes to withdraw under the effect of a multitude of egocentric individuals (haves, parliamentarians, politicians, transnational actors).

These engage in politico-economic factional struggles and most often constitute real micro-states within the state. More than a State deficit, it must be seen as a form of Shadow State (in the sense of William Reno), which boils down to games of actors, inter-individual economic rivalries (politicians, entrepreneurs, intermediaries of all stripes) against a background of violence and serious criminality, as shown by the analysis of the below the bloody conflict occurred near Laboule 12 (Commune of Petion-Ville).

In such a configuration, through a hybridization of the formal and the informal, the licit and the illicit, the State resorts more and more to dump that is to say, he intervenes by proxy, especially in working-class neighborhoods, by delegating dirty work to bandits so as not to have to answer for his actions. the massacre perpetrated in November 2018 in La Saline (municipality of Port-au-Prince) is a glaring illustration of this intervention strategy by proxy.

Withdrawal of the State or State in withdrawal?

Examining the State from the point of view of its attitude makes it possible to better understand the carelessness that it has vis-à-vis society and to produce a more nuanced reading of its “failure”.

His attitude of withdrawal and indifference, which finds its principle of explanation in the establishment of a parallel transnational government (World Bank, IMF, NGOs, Core Group) and redefining the place of the state in public action is, at least in many cases, only a posture adopted to make believe, according to the stakes of the moment, in its structural weakness.

Because the State knows how to demonstrate a great capacity for negotiation when its interests, in particular economic ones, are at stake, as we have seen in the case of the Caracol Industrial Park in the Northeast department, this famous project financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to the tune of 224 million US dollars and which was to make Haiti the Taiwan of the Caribbean.

If the State remains in the background, it is because the general interest is no longer its priority and it no longer has any interest in thinking of itself as the organizing principle of the social world, even if it happens, at times , to mobilize rhetorical strategies to make people believe in their neutrality.

Lukinson John, Professor of Social Sciences at the State University of Haiti, Haiti State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Creative Commons/ Picryl

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