Dyane Jean François Headshot

Haiti's Next Leader: To Do List

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BABY DOC DUVALIER
AP
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To someone who lives in a democratic republic, a dictator is that cancerous sore in the body politic that Teddy Roosevelt warned the world about in 1910.

Of one man in especial, beyond anyone else, the citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic... that he will secure for those who elect him, in one shape or another, profit at the expense of other citizens of the republic.

This man is easily recognizable to those who live in peace. (That is why many people around the world are wondering why would any Haitian support Jean-Claude Duvalier's foray back into politics.) Unfortunately, in Haiti, where there is only strife and deprivation, a despot seems like a messiah.

The current economic situation in Haiti makes it an easy prey for despotism. There, life is lived out in high contrast, the starkest of which is to eat or not to eat. In such a desperate situation, it is not surprising that people would choose to eat, no matter what the cost. Political rectitude is a trifle in such a life. It is a place where one cannot easily stand on principle. First the belly, then the mind. First you eat, then you think.

Satisfying basic needs is then the best weapon of a despotic government. People living in violence and poverty will accept many things if they are promised security and food. As one woman who had lived under the Duvalier regime explained to me, "would you rather live with no freedom or a little freedom?" That she knew people disappeared or were tortured did not bother her because the violence was selective. She was free to lie in her bed at night, even if she could not sleep for fear she might be next.

The current conditions in Haiti right now make such bargains, little freedom over no freedom, highly attractive. Struggling to rebuild from last year's quake, grappling with the aftermath of the cholera outbreak, caught up in violence over the disputed presidential elections, the population is hungry for relief.

In order to free the nation from the temptation to return to despotic rule, Haiti's best leader must be more than a good administrator of UN funds, more than an honest politician. He or she must be a teacher.

The despotic tradition has taught Haitians that the government is a leviathan who, in exchange for obedience, would provide whatever the citizen wants. Ask and you shall receive, said the despot. The average Haitian needs to know that he is responsible for the kind of government the country tolerates.

The best leader for Haiti will be someone who will impress on the people that it is the responsibility of each citizen to safeguard security, rule of law, and initiate money-making ventures that contribute to long-term economic gain. It will be his or her responsibility to shatter their illusion that there is such a thing as a government that can save them from poverty and violence. It will be the next president's charge to convince them that democratic change starts with each one of them.

The other essential task of the next leader is to educate the children and youth. As we have seen from Hitler to Perón, all successful dictators, whether they rule by fear or charm, must starve the mind. Consequently revolutions often break out, as we are witnessing in Tunisia, when a great swath of the population has become well educated enough to question the governance of their leaders.

A good leader for Haiti will be someone who commits to universal education for children and the youth. An education that includes a cultivation of democratic ideals. Because if you do not know your rights, you will not ask for them. And, when they are threatened you will surely not defend them.