Silencing a People: The Destruction of Civil Society in Haiti

The military forces that overthrew Haiti’s first freely elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have consolidated their rule by ruthlessly suppressing Haiti’s once diverse and vibrant civil society — the range of civic, popular and professional organizations that had blossomed since the downfall of the Duvalier dictatorship seven years ago. In a country where only nine months before the September 30, 1991 coup 67 percent of the voters cast their lot with Father Aristide, the army has presumed that the majority of the population is hostile to military rule. Seeking to avoid the kind of popular unrest that brought down past military regimes, the army has attempted to deny the Haitian population an organized platform for its discontent by systematically repressing virtually all forms of independent association. The aim is to return Haiti to the atomized and fearful society of the Duvalier-era so that even if international pressure secures the return of Aristide, his civilian government will lack the support of a dynamic and organized society needed to exert civilian authority over a violent and recalcitrant army.

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