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#91: More on Democracy, the Ti Legliz ..Blanchet comments
From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>
More on democracy in Haiti
I enjoyed reading Bob Corbett's piece on the development of
democracy and the role played by Ti Legliz in this process.
While I agree that the Ti Legliz role was indeed central, certain other
elements played a vital role in the process. Among them:
-- As pointed by a few others, there was a vigorous push for a free
press and radio that started in the mid 70s and got wings with
President Jimmy Carter's campaign on behalf of human rights.
Among institutions and individuals who played a prominent role, the
following come to mind: Radio Soleil, Radio Haïti-Inter, Konpè Filo,
Marcus, to name a few.
The whole thing came crashing down, of course, following the election
of Ronald Reagan who early on sent signals that he would not press
for human rights. The distinction was made by conservative
ideologues of the new administration between authoritarian regimes
and totalitarian ones. The former -- including the Duvalier government
-- enjoyed the wholehearted support of the American administration
while the latter were considered fair game and everything was done to
destabilize and overthrow them.
In the closing months of 1980, The emboldened Duvalier government
sent a number of activists packing into exile while others were jailed
and killed, their institutions destroyed.
-- The Protestant churches, most prominent among them the Baptists,
made an essential contribution in three areas:
o) They promoted the use of Creole as a key tool for reaching out to
common folks in Haiti, the main target of their proselytizing
campaigns and played a most important role in terms of codifying the
language. I am referring here to the work by Laubach and McDonnell,
the first printing of the Bible in Creole ... This gave Creole in the eyes
of many its first "lettres de noblesse."
o) Their stress on improving the material conditions of common folks
through the creation of schools, hospitals, clinics, etc. as an important
corollary of their spiritual work certainly gave similar ideas to others
and explains in part the Ti Legliz interest in development.
o) Their idea of encouraging people to read the Bible directly and
interpreting it for themselves was empowering in that it gave people
the confidence to think for themselves and act independently of the
wishes of any bureaucracy, spiritual or temporal. This is nothing new
and can indeed be traced back to the Reformation. The promotion of
a native clergy had a similar impact.
-- The PUCH-led guerrilla campaign in the late 60s was the biggest
challenge to the Duvalier dictatorship in that decade. It involved some
of Haiti's brightest and demonstrated -- though their agenda was not
strictly democratic -- that important elements among the intelligentsia
willing to take up arms and risk their lives in order to shake people out
of their lethargy and get rid of the odious regime. Their last stand in
Kazal has for many become the stuff of legend.
The armed challenge by the PUCH (Parti Unifié des Communistes
Haïtiens) brought about a rapprochement between Washington and
Port-au-Prince and the deal was consummated when Rockefeller
visited Papa Doc in the late 60s. I for one will never forget that
sublime photograph of the cagey dictator with the enigmatic smile and
the jovial, North American Brahmin waving at a crowd of Duvalierist
minions from the balcony of the national palace!
There was synergy among these various elements.
I am sure that the work of the Baptists at Radio Lumière gave ideas to
the Catholic Church when it started Radio Soleil which played such an
important role in raising the consciousness of people and Radio
Soleil's broadcasts, in turn, emboldened folks in civil society such as
Marcus, Konpè Filo and so many others.
As noted above, the Protestants stress on improving the material
conditions of people no doubt helped steer the Catholic Church
towards the idea and praxis of development.
Likewise, their reliance on Bible reading sessions certainly played a
role in the emergence of the TKLs (Ti Kominote Legliz.)
The PUCH's armed struggle did shake people out of their lethargy in
demonstrating that certain highly-placed Duvalierists were not
immune from retaliation. It is worth noting that at about the same time,
the PUCH entered into a tactical alliance with certain elements of the
Church in order to bring about the defeat of their common enemy.
The PUCH's interest in establishing a connection and partnership with
the rural world reflects the emphasis the Christian Churches have
placed on reaching out to common people, especially the rural poor.