`Revolutionary process' has begun in Haiti, says prominent former exile
FOR years, Haitians have been a people without hope. What they must do now, above all, is to relearn hope.'' It is only large doses of the hope he speaks of that enabled Jean-Claude Bajeux to spend his life writing, organizing, and publicly speaking against the Duvalier regime during his 22 years of exile in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Last Friday, after five hours of detention by Haiti's anxious provisional government at the Port-au-Prince airport, Mr. Bajeux, a prominent intellectual, was the first important political exile to return to Haiti following the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier's regime two weeks ago.
Four days later, the lanky, middle-aged ex-priest, worn out almost to the breaking point, sat hunched in a rocking chair. But intensity of feeling revived him as he spoke. Straightening his back, he leaned forward in his chair, his almost Oriental-shaped brown eyes suddenly glowing. ``What you must understand is that we are at the beginning of a real revolutionary process -- a grass-roots movement in every neighborhood and village in Haiti, linked to the church but transcending it.''
Bajeux believes that if it is given a proper political expression, this grass-roots movement could provide the basis for the future so-cial and economic development of Haiti. This development should, said Bajeux, follow the lines already traced out by Haiti's peasant society, a society established by the black slaves who overthrew their French colonial masters in 1804.
But the former priest says that if this movement is thwarted by a government unwilling or unable to meet the demands of most Haitians for a better life, then the situation could eventually become a violent and revolutionary one.
These problems will have to be confronted after the elections, which will probably be held within the next year. The Transitional Council of National Reconciliation, which governs Haiti, currently faces the problem of quickly establishing its credibility with the Haitian people, said Bajeux.
``The main question for me right now,'' Bajeux stated, ``is will Gen. [Henri] Namphy [head of the council] assume real leadership and establish the government's credibility? In order to counter the people's growing doubts, Namphy must quickly set a date for elections, and also for a new constitution written in Creole, to be ready before the election. It would also help to consolidate the council's position if Namphy were able to announce quickly a new public works project like the building of bridges or roads which would provide immediate employment.
``Right now Namphy is eroding his popular credibility by losing himself in daily small details and putting off the important decisions. If he continues to govern on a day-to-day basis, one day he will find himself in the street,'' says Bajeux.
Only after General Namphy has established his popular legitimacy will he be able to begin the process of getting rid of Mr. Duvalier's followers in the government and Army, and establish a minimum degree of competent government, he says.
``But those Haitian exiles,'' continues Bajeux, ``who proclaim from abroad that nothing has changed, that what we have is simply Duvalierism without Duvalier, are seriously misreading the situation. They do not understand that Duvalier's departure has had an almost magically liberating effect on the people and their vision of their country.''
For Bajeux, the network which has arisen throughout the country intertwining political activism with the Roman Catholic Church is the great force which has altered the face of the Haitian political landscape.
``What is happening in Haiti now is not that the church has become a revolutionary force which is radicalizing the people, but rather that the people have become politically conscious and have taken over the church.
``Two days ago,'' he said, ``I went to a mass in Gona"ives [a provincial city at the heart of the anti-Duvalier movement]. ``There,'' he said throwing his long arms up in the air as if to accompany rhythmic chanting, ``I heard thousands of Haitians crying out together `We are the church, the church is us.' I was overwhelmed.''
Bajeux has done a fair amount of rhythmic chanting in public demonstrations over the years against Duvalier and in support of the Haitian ``boat people,'' who illegally immigrated to the United States within the last decade and half. He has become well known for his writing on Haitian affairs and a professor of literature and religion at the University of Puerto Rico.
The identification between church and people, says Bajeux, came in part because of an evolution in church policies and in part because the people had nowhere else to express their feelings. Bible discussion meetings of young Christians in villages and slum neighborhoods became centers of anti-Duvalier activity. Political meetings were held in churches because there was nowhere else for them to be held.
``But this movement,'' Bajeux said, ``has until now had no real political expression. As we move into a directly political phase, the church cannot become involved in party politics. What is necessary now is for the different political parties to unite into a broad-based political front which will rally the Haitian masses and take politics out of the churches and into the streets.
``There is no need to squabble over presidential candidates now; that can be done two or three months before the election. Haiti faces enormous problems. Not only is it an agricultural country with most of its topsoil gone but it is `80 percent poor, 80 percent illiterate, 80 percent only Creole-speaking.' ''
Yet, Bajeux says there are ways out of Haiti's dilemma. ``[It] must be developed from the bottom up, using the economic and social strengthening of local communities as an impetus. This development must be based on agriculture and producing enough food for Haiti's population.
``It is a question of creating, at all levels of society and especially among the peasants, a network of small managers and entrepreneurs.''
``Haiti,'' says Bajeux, ``must create its own development structure based upon the tradition of popular Haitian culture. Haitian peasants, after the 1804 revolution, invented a unique peasant society which has its own techniques of production, symbolism, language, and social relations. The urban elite which governed Haiti up till now have never had a positive view of this society. But they must learn to look closely at existing structures and build on them rather than impose unsuitable foreign development models.
``Haitian farmers, like the Chinese, already have an intensive system of agriculture which makes use of every centimeter of land. Even the land erosion problem is solvable using terraces and other techniques. With work and money, Israel made the desert bloom.''
If it were well administered, he said, Haiti could do a lot with the same amount of aid Jean-Claude Duvalier received.
``The essential thing is to harness the same community mobilization seen in the struggle against Duvalier for the purposes of national development in a democratic and pluralistic context.''
Bajeux opposes the US plan of transforming 2 million Haitian peasants into urban laborers working in assembly plants which use imported raw materials and export the finished goods abroad. This development model would cover Haiti's food needs by direct foreign aid.
``This plan,'' said Bajeux, ``resembles what was tried and failed in Puerto Rico, where agriculture was neglected in favor of foreign industrial firms using imported materials. In the end, Puerto Rico had to make so many concessions that it derived little advantage from the arrangement.''