Whenever you read the news it seems like there is always a protest going on in Haiti. The most recent protest that took place in March addressed the rising insecurity of the country. Current President and Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, has gotten very comfortable in office even though he was not freely and fairly elected by the people. Citizens of Haiti want a plan for elections to occur sometime soon, however, Henry continues to push them back because he is worried that the violence that continuously plagues the streets of Haiti will drastically affect voter turnout. Even though his concerns are valid, the concerns of the Haitian people are also valid. They deserve a democratic presidential election. Protests are inherently democratic. They are a way in which ordinary citizens can hold those in power accountable and ask for change. In Laura Gamboa’s “Opposition at the Margins: Strategies against the Erosion of Democracy in Colombia and Venezuela”, the role of the opposition is brought to the forefront of the conversation surrounding democratic erosion. The goals that the opposition have and the strategies that they employ when protesting are important to assess because it can provide more clarity on why some democracies erode faster and/or worse than others. Using Gamboa’s analysis of democratic erosion in Colombia and Venezuela, we can try to understand why Haiti is always struggling to remain a democratic nation. Is it because of their strategies and/or their goals?
Gamboa reminds us that the opposition can use both institutional (congress, courts, etc) and extra-institutional (protests, strikes, etc) routes in order to achieve their desired outcomes (Gamboa 462). Due to the deep mistrust of the government as a whole, Haitian citizens tend to use extra-institutional strategies in the form of protests and violence. By using institutional strategies, there is an implied acceptance of the already established methods of conflict resolution (Gamboa 462). Extra-institutional strategies do the exact opposite. The latest protest in March turned violent when protesters stormed an airport and attacked and burned a small plane owned by a U.S. missionary group. This attack on a U.S. missionary plane was intentional. A very prominent conspiracy theory in Haiti is that the U.S., especially the Clinton family, are at the root of all of Haiti’s political misfortunes. This conspiracy theory dates all the way back to when the Clinton foundation raised funds to help Haiti but a good portion of the money mysteriously disappeared and never helped the country. When Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021, a video from the incident was released and one of the assailants spoke English claiming that this attack was a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation. Many Haitians ran with this and further claimed that the Clintons orchestrated Moïse’s assassination. How does this strained relationship with the United States due to conspiracy theories affect how the Haitian citizens protest and the efficacy of their protests?
A majority of Haitian protests turn violent. There are a variety of gangs that ruin the legitimacy of the opposition. Gamboa stated that “extra-institutional strategies with radical goals can have negative consequences for democracy” (Gamboa 462). In Haiti’s case, the opposition is using extra-institutional strategies with radical goals at times and moderate goals other times. When protests called for Moïse’s resignation in 2021 and Henry’s resignation now, that would be considered a radical goal. Radical goals according to Gamboa “embodies a fundamental challenge to the existing political structure”(Gamboa 462). Even though the opposition claimed that Moïse’s presidency was unconstitutional after February 7th, 2021, he was still elected through official democratic channels. Their desire to remove Henry from office is completely justified because he was not democratically elected, however, it is still a radical goal nonetheless.
According to Gamboa, the opposition loses legitimacy with the international and domestic community when they take the route of achieving radical goals through extra-institutional means. The cost of repression lowers in the eyes of the government. Considering Haiti’s gross distrust of the international community due to conspiracy theories, it seems like they do not value the opinion of the international community. Not one country truly comes to Haiti’s aid politically. This is firmly rooted in how Haiti became the first black republic. They do not acquiesce or shy away from violence when it comes to protesting. They may need to reevaluate how they go about calling for change since it seems like their strategies and goals are not helping them achieve a stronger democracy.
I propose that if Haiti can begin to promote moderate goals with either institutional or extra-institutional strategies, they would see more change. The violence that we saw in the recent Haitian protests reflect radical goals that can be attributed to the strong desire to remove the acting president. If they can channel those sentiments into using institutional strategies such as impeachment, it would show a respect for democratic processes and improve their legitimacy in the long run. I personally think the opposition should have a moderate goal of strengthening their presence in politics and law. For example, mass lobbying and litigating would serve their interests well. Influencing elected officials and using established courts would raise the cost of repression both internationally and domestically. I have immense hope for a stronger, more democratic Haiti. The opposition must reevaluate their strategies and goals in order to achieve it.
Gamboa, Laura. Opposition at the Margins: Strategies against the Erosion of Democracy in Colombia and Venezuela. 2017, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26330983.
Looft, Chris. “Haiti Leader’s Assassination Reawakens Clinton Family Conspiracy Theories.” First Draft, 8 July 2021, https://firstdraftnews.org/articles/haiti-leaders-assassination-reawakens-decades-old-clinton-family-conspiracy-theory/.
Sanons, Evens. “Haitians Protest Rising Insecurity; Some Burn a Plane.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/haitians-protest-insecurity-attack-plane-83746268.