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16924: Durban on JBA Farewell Address (fwd)

From: Lance Durban <lpdurban@yahoo.com>

Hippolyte Pierre’s recent suggestions (see Corbett #a1479 Is
There a Way Out?) on how to resolve the political standoff
between Lavalas and Convergence is a welcome effort, although I
have to admit to a feeling of unease about solutions which
involve shortened terms of office, early elections, etc. etc.
etc.   I say this not as a partisan of either side, but rather
from a concern that changing the constitutional rules, even if
both sides were to agree, strikes me as bad precedent.  It is
compromising on a change of the bedrock that neither side should
have the power to change.  Nor do I favor a compromise whereby a
sitting President is, in effect, obliged to accept members of
the political opposition in his ministerial cabinet.   So how to
bridge this gap and ensure a semblance of peace and stability
during the next 4 years?

I’ve just finished a gem of book, Founding Brothers, by Joseph
Ellis (Borzoi Books, 2000) about 6 key Revolutionary War era
events which had major impact on the early formation of the
United States.  The American founders described were a
remarkable group of men (and one woman, Abigail Adams, wife of
the 2nd U.S. President, John Adams).  Their serious political
differences were every bit as large as those confronting Haiti
200 years later.  Several of these six events, offer useful
precedent for a Haiti stuck in seemingly intractable political
problems.  The first is President George Washington’s Farewell

          ------ The Farewell ------

Washington was a legend in his own time; the only man without
whom the American experiment could not have succeeded.  Yet in
1796, as he was finishing his second term as President, he
published an article addressed to "the PEOPLE of the United
States".  The article, reprinted in virtually every American
newspaper over the ensuing months, has achieved transcendental
status, ranking alongside the Declaration of Independence and
the Gettysburg Address as a seminal statement of America’s
abiding principals.  Washington had wisely tried to stay above
the political fray, and was only nominally the head of what
subsequently became a political party (the Federalists).  Most
importantly, by declining to run for a third term, Washington
quite intentionally established the principal of voluntary
surrender of the highest office in the land.

Fast forward to Haiti today.  A major part of President
Aristide’s problem is that the political opposition simply
doesn’t trust him.  Odds are excellent that Convergence will
continue to oppose his every move for the next 4 years, causing
considerable pain and anguish for everyone, themselves included.
 As I read it, the political ball is really in the hands of
President Aristide.  He can continue to try and stumble forward,
or he can attempt the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass
in football.   My advice:  Forget about extended dickering over
new elections.  A good part of Convergence’s recent
intransigence stems from their own (unspoken) recognition that
they would not win much in free and fair elections anyway.
Consequently, Lavalas’ offering further concessions along those
lines is quite pointless.

Instead, how about a prime time speech by the President Aristide
confirming that this term will be his last, and furthermore that
he will not campaign for any candidates in the next series of
elections.  In effect, an announced resignation from the Lavalas
Party  a full four years before it becomes effective.  On the
same podium will be...Gerard Gourge, ostensible head of
Convergence, pledging his efforts to help make the next 4 years
under President Aristide the start of a new and better day in
Haiti.  Impossible, you say!  How can we get these two gentlemen
on the same podium after all the vitriolic language emanating
from both sides.

          ------ The Dinner -------

America’s Revolutionary Founders had one important thing going
for them.  They knew each other well enough so that a certain
level of trust had developed.  Things like “character” and
“honor” were every bit as important as actual policy, and they
all had an eye on their respective places in history.

In choosing between a long and controversial ‘reign’
characterized by the economic stagnation and the bitter
infighting we see today, or a short and positive term of only
four more years, President Aristide should appreciate that he
has many personal post-presidential mountains to climb, but that
success in any of them requires a successful conclusion to his
present term in office.  For his part, Gerard Gourge must surely
realize that his present position as titular head of the
opposition stems mainly from the fact that he is 76 years old
and was consequently deemed unlikely to challenge any of his
Convergence supporters in their own political aspirations.  A
figurehead, and yet one who can wield important influence among
the younger hot heads who make up his coalition.

In 1790, barely three years after the constitutional convention
in Philadelphia, the United States was in grave danger of coming
apart.  Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton’s
financial plan for the recovery of public credit was gridlocked
in Congress, blocked by southern congressmen lead by a
Virginian, James Madison.  Thomas Jefferson, realizing the
gravity of the situation, offered, in his own words “to host a
private dinner party where the main players could meet alone to
see if the intractable political obstacles might melt away under
the more benign influences of wine and gentlemanly
conversation.”  The dinner took place, and in effect, Jefferson
brokered a political bargain whereby the southerners agreed to
the Hamilton financial plan in exchange for a transfer of the
new nation’s capital from Philadelphia to the more southerly
banks of the Potomac River, today’s Washington, D.C.

To bring the aforementioned Haitian solution to the next step,
we need a Thomas Jefferson with the stature and willingness to
bring the protagonists together.  In today’s Haiti, a possible
candidate for this role is U.S. Ambassador, Brian Dean Curran.
Not only does he have a nice government-provided residence
(atmosphere) and expense account (wine), but a discreet dinner
invitation from the U.S. Ambassador might get the attention and
attendance of the principals.

          ------  The Silence  ---------

Some problems are just too big to tackle and are better tabled
for a future day.  For the Founding Fathers, this issue was
slavery.  How could the signers of the Declaration of
Independence possibly reconcile the lofty principals they had
espoused with the institution of slavery?  Quakers from
Philadelphia with support of Benjamin Franklin felt the issue
needed to be confronted, but with heavy pressure from South
Carolina and Georgia, it seems that the matter was purposely
removed from the discussion.  Indeed had it not been, it is
quite likely that the 13 colonies would not have remained
together as the United States.  With the benefit of hindsight,
we know that seventy years later, the Civil War settled the
matter with the loss of 600,000 American lives.  Thus, it might
be argued that this thorny issue should have been confronted
earlier by those American Founders.   The point of relevance for
Haiti today, however, is that not every issue needs to be
resolved immediately.  Perhaps land reform and privatization, to
cite two hot buttons, are just too controversial to deal with
now.  Surely, however, there remains a host of other important
issues on the agenda for Haiti on which action can and should be

As the seemingly endless political discussions in Haiti
continue, I found myself wishing that Haiti were somehow blessed
with the wisdom and vision exhibited by the Founding Brothers of
the United States.

Lance Durban