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close this bookThe Courier N° 159 - Sept - Oct 1996 - Dossier: Investing in People - Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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View the documentEU-ACP relations : Building for tomorrow
View the documentThe view of civil society on the future after Lomé IV
View the document'Democratising democracy'

'Democratising democracy'

On 6 and 7 June, the Belgian Par/iament hosted a UN seminar on 'me future of international development cooperation: new communication challenges' 'Democratising Democracy' was the succinct, journalistic way in which one of the speakers at the meeting summed up his solution to the problem of underdevelop meet. He was Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former President of Haiti, who observed that democracy, as advocated by the developed world, and increasingly accepted by developing countries, does not prevent the latter's slide into even greater poverty. The Courier had the opportunity to interview Mr Aristide. We began by asking him whether his statement implied that democracy is failing in a world striving to 'globalise' it J-B.A.-The word democracy comes from the Greek words 'demos', meaning people and 'kratein', meaning to govern. In other words, it signifies government of the people, for the people by the people-but if we take a look at the world today, the impression we get is that not all so-called democratic governments are in fact what they purport to be. Hence the need to 'democratise democracy', so as to create a situation in which all citizens can help set governments on a course towards such a model.

Concepts usually generate conflict and, therefore, when speaking of revolution, democracy or globalisation, it is necessary to be au fait with the subject matter so as not to become involved in a dialogue of the deaf. In the specific case of globalisation, my opinion is that this has a tendency to make what is an already precarious situation even more unbalanced. Concepts cannot be applied everywhere without thought being given to their harmful consequences. This does not mean to say that we should give up completely. It's one thing to speak of the globalisation of peace, as if an ineluctable need existed to promote peace on a world scale, but I'm not sure that everyone would define the globalisation of peace in the same way as I do.

· Could we turn now to your own country, Haiti. How do you view the future of democracy there, bearing in mind the economic circumstances? At the seminar, you mentioned several factors which demonstrate democracy's *agility.

-Democracy is indeed fragile. 1% of Haiti's population owns 48% of the country's wealth and it is estimated that about 65% of the working population is employed in agriculture as against 5.1% in the 'industrial' sector. But is this really the true picture? Reality for most people is poverty-unacceptable and sub-human poverty. A man needs work to earn his daily crust by the sweat of his brow, but unemployment has reached catastrophic proportions. When people are unable to earn their living, there is little point in discussing the positive influence of democracy. What is needed is for those with a great deal of wealth and those with less wealth to talk to each other; a dialogue between the private and public sectors, so that we can head off futile conflicts and devote all our efforts to economic growth coupled with human development. I do believe that this is possible.

· Yet, the rich are so rich and the poor so poor. Is it not fantasy to think that the gulf which separates them, and their mutual mistrust, can simply be set aside so that genuine dialogue can take place?

-This is one of the challenges we have faced ever since 1960 and, although we have not yet reaped the harvest of this process, we have to carry on. It's not too late. We just have to approach the subject logically and with all the facts to hand, and we must have the intelligence to be patient. If we continue with dialogue, we will achieve real results. Only the citizens of Haiti can play a part in Haiti's development-this is not a task for outsiders. We, on the other hand, have to be more receptive to international cooperation, while maintaining mutual respect and dignity. But what we also need is for our own people to act together in order to enhance our own growth. This is not to say that geopolitical reality can be disregarded. Other countries have to be taken into account, but, as a starting point, we have to consider Haiti's human and material resources.

· Thereisdialogueata world level, but there are rules to be applied. I am thinking, here, of free competition. Haiti has to play by the rules, just like any other country.

-Since we gained independence, our history has seen a succession of coups d'etat and people have been over-eager in brandishing weapons to solve economic, political or social problems. Now that democracy has been restored in Haiti, weapons are not the solution to our problems-I cannot stress this enough. What we need is for those with money to sit down and negotiate with those who have none: for the government to get people round the table and devise a common plan to accommodate all interested parties- looking at both the nation's interests and the interests of investors. I do believe that it is possible to achieve this. We have, in fact, already begun to prepare the ground. I am not basing my words, here, on pure theory, but am speaking from experience. In concrete terms, we have to transcend class and racial differences to recognise that Haitian men and women, regardless of their colour and the country they might live in outside Haiti, regardless of their nationality, even, are still part of Haiti's indigenous population. The way must be kept open for dignified and balanced cooperation.

· The other point you mentioned today was that there can be no development without the effective involvement of the population. Are you not leaving yourself open to accusations of having socialist or even communist tendencies?

-As I have just said, we have to be scientific in our approach and check our facts over and over again. I fail to see how anyone can claim to be working towards peace without looking at poverty which is the greatest threat to social cohesion. Of course, there are those who would deny this assertion, and that is their right. However, rational analysis of the situation can help us alleviate poverty and promote security. It needs to be underlined that security is also one of the essential factors in economics. The UN Security Council is called in to prevent or resolve conflicts. To my mind, we should also be talking about an economic security council to deal with the economic realities. The deeper one plunges into poverty, the greater one's feelings of insecurity-the two always go hand in hand. And insecurity can crop up anywhere in the world. Nor is it a question of charity. It is a real, rational question which must sharpen our awareness, stimulate our common sense and set us on a course to protect the world by alleviating poverty. That, at least, is one approach.

At the same time, you have to recognise that politics is essentially a question of power while economics is influenced by interests. Everyone uses the means at their disposal to defend their personal interests and we know perfectly well that there are no free gifts. The so-called developed countries allocate just 0.3% of their GDP to development aid, yet we are losing our tropical forests at the rate of the area of a football pitch every second. In Haiti, forests now cover only a small area of the country. But in the final analysis, environmental catastrophe threatens us all, rich and poor alike, even if certain countries do not face specific ecological risks. We either deal with it as reasonable people, or we close our eyes to the 'cause and effect' realities.

· Yes, but are we reasonable people?

-The crisis of ethics is indeed a reality and a great many values are now being called into question. These days, we have to love in order to prove we are not contradicting ourselves. If we believe in God, we might call this love 'God', just as we might call it 'justice'. It all depends on your philosophy, religion or beliefs. If I feel love, I cannot be indifferent to the situation of victims of injustice, both in Haiti and elsewhere. If a man is humiliated, crushed, exploited or marginalised, then 1, too, am humiliated, crushed and marginalised. It is love which makes us fight for justice everywhere. Either one is a demagogue revelling in big words or one is sincere and ready to die so that another might live-this brings immortality.

· One final question. You were speaking just now of insecurity and economics. Is there a link, here, with one of your most recent decisions, the abolition of Haiti's army? Could you tell us how you were able to pull off this 'coup'?

- I am perfectly happy to answer such an important question and would like to be able to give a clear and direct reply. But given that the struggle is still going on, I don't think I should go into too much detail. A decision was made. The Haitian people opted to rid themselves of the army. Supporting their democratic wish, it was our job to help bring about this dissolution. The army, it is worth recalling, had about 7000 men, absorbed 40% of the national budget-and had killed many of our compatriots. We have had to be logical and patient in achieving this goal, bearing in mind that the guarantors of the agreement which led to my return had their own views, which were different from ours. We also needed courage and wisdom and, above all, the determination of the people. My motto has always been that it is better to fail with the people than to succeed without them, and in this we did not fail. Our task now is not to bask in our own glory but to continue the work of structuring the police force, to prevent it becoming another army. To achieve this, we have to make steady progress and use sound judgment.

Interview by Hegel Goutier