HAITI: Self-colonization


Origins of Self-Colonization in Haiti

Haiti, the first independent black republic, witnessed a revolution that shook the foundations of the 18th-century slave and colonial order. The island, formerly known as Hispaniola, was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and swiftly colonized by the Spanish, who exploited and decimated the indigenous population before introducing African slaves to work on plantations. The western part of the island became a prosperous French colony known as Saint-Domingue, but extreme inequalities and abuses led to a slave revolt in 1791, ultimately resulting in Haiti’s independence in 1804.

Haitian Leaders and Their Colonial Legacy

After independence, Haiti faced a complex process of self-colonization, [1]  where, despite the formal end of colonial domination, structures and practices inherited from the colonial era continued to influence Haitian society profoundly. Haitian elites often descended from former freed slaves or mulattoes, and replicated authoritarian governance and exclusionary models reminiscent of the old colonial regimes. This internal reproduction of colonial structures perpetuated inequalities and impeded the development of a fully functional democracy[2]. This phenomenon of self-colonization reflects the challenge of completely breaking away from a colonial past and establishing governance forms that promote true emancipation and participation of all population segments.

Over the past four decades, several Haitian presidents and leaders have exemplified the concept of self-colonization through their governance practices, often echoing the patterns and mentalities of former colonizers. Here are some concrete examples:

  1. Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971-1986): Known as “Baby Doc,” Jean-Claude Duvalier perpetuated his father François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s dictatorial and repressive regime. His government was marked by massive human rights violations and widespread corruption, mimicking the authoritarian and exploitative practices of colonizers[3].
  2. Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991, 1994-1996, 2001-2004): Despite being initially perceived as a hope for democracy, Aristide was criticized for his authoritarian governance style during his various mandates. His administration was accused of corruption and repression against opponents, reflecting colonial governance practices where power is centralized and the masses are exploited[4].
  3. Michel Martelly (2011-2016): Martelly’s administration was criticized for its lack of transparency and allegations of corruption. He was also accused of nepotism and favoritism, reminiscent of colonial regime practices that favored a restricted elite at the expense of the majority[5].
  4. Jovenel Moïse (2017-2021): Before his assassination, Moïse faced widespread protests and criticism regarding his governance, including allegations of corruption and attempts to strengthen his executive power, perceived as a form of self-colonization by maintaining authoritarian and oppressive structures[6].
  5. Ariel Henry (2021-2024): As Prime Minister since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, Henry failed to adhere to the December 2022 agreement, which tasked him with organizing elections within the year. Despite promises, he cited escalating gang violence as the reason for the impossibility of ensuring free and fair elections. This failure to hold elections prolonged a political vacuum, exacerbating tensions and violence, reflecting authoritarian governance where democratic promises are not upheld[7].

These leaders often sought to emulate Western governance[8] models without adapting them to Haiti’s socio-economic and cultural realities. This imitation often exacerbated existing issues such as corruption, inequality, and repression, contributing to a crisis of cultural and national identity. By maintaining authoritarian governance systems and exploiting the masses, these leaders perpetuated colonial mentalities and structures, thus illustrating the phenomenon of self-colonization in Haiti.

Political Repercussions of Self-Colonization

The repercussions of self-colonization in Haiti, particularly regarding the emergence and empowerment of gangs or victims of leaders, are deeply rooted in the country’s political and social history. Self-colonization, characterized by the reproduction of colonial practices such as corruption, authoritarianism, and exploitation of the masses, has created an environment conducive to instability and violence.

  1. Political Instability and Coups d’État: Haiti’s political history has been marked by coups d’état and authoritarian regimes, often supported by elites reproducing colonial power structures. This chronic instability weakened state institutions and created a power vacuum usually filled by armed groups and gangs[9] [10]..
  2. Corruption and Misappropriation of Resources: Haitian leaders diverted state resources for their own benefit, exacerbated poverty and underdevelopment. This corruption not only undermined public trust in the government but also limited resources available for essential public services, pushing some individuals towards underground and illegal economies managed by gangs[11] [12]..
  3. Neglect of Citizen Welfare: The leaders’ failure to meet the basic needs of the population created precarious living conditions for many Haitians. This neglect was often exploited by gangs, who gained loyalty and support from local communities by providing services or protection where the state failed[13].
  4. Emergence and Empowerment of Gangs: Historically linked to politicians and political parties, gangs in Haiti evolved to become powerful and independent entities. Over time, they acquired sophisticated weapons and developed extensive criminal networks, openly challenging state authority. This empowerment of gangs is a direct consequence of self-colonization, as the power structures they create and maintain reflect inherited inequalities and abuses of power from colonialism[14] [15].

Self-colonization in Haiti has not only perpetuated oppressive and exploitative practices from the colonial era but also contributed to the emergence and consolidation of gangs as major political and economic forces in the country. These gangs, in turn, exacerbate instability and violence, further hindering Haiti’s economic and social development.

Haitian Political Elite and International Appeals

Self-colonization in Haiti has left deep scars, manifested by a political elite that, rather than resolving internal disputes and addressing the country’s structural problems, appeals to international bodies like CARICOM[16] to manage its political crises. This dependence on international validation and intervention is symptomatic of a political system criticized as outdated by more conscious and nationalist elites, who recognize the need for reform to prevent Haiti from sinking further into exclusion.

The creation of a new presidential advisory structure, with international blessing, is a recent example of this dynamic. While this initiative may seem like a step towards stabilization and governance, some perceive it as a continuation of corruption practices, where political elites use innovative mechanisms to consolidate their power and personal interests at the expense of the well-being of the Haitian population[17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26].

This situation is exacerbated by chronic political instability, coups d’état, and endemic corruption that hinder the country’s economic and social development. By relying on international structures to legitimize their power, Haitian leaders avoid addressing the roots of corruption and inequality, perpetuating a cycle of dependence and vulnerability[27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36].

Self-colonization in Haiti translates into a political elite that maintains an authoritarian and corrupt governance system while seeking international approval to legitimize their actions. This approach only reinforces corruption and exclusionary practices, preventing the nation from progressing towards true democracy and inclusive development.

For a Democratic and Inclusive Future in Haiti

Haiti’s current situation is undeniably the product of a complex history marked by centuries of colonization, a fierce struggle for independence, and a series of post-colonial challenges that have shaped the country’s political and social landscape. Self-colonization, the phenomenon whereby Haitian leaders perpetuated oppressive structures inherited from the colonial era, has significantly hindered national development, preventing Haiti from fully realizing its potential.

To progress, Haiti must break away from past practices that fueled corruption and inequality and undermined the foundations of justice and democracy. This involves increased accountability of leaders, who must be held responsible for their actions and power management. Haitian leaders must adopt transparent and equitable governance practices focused on the well-being of all citizens rather than perpetuating a system that favors a restricted elite.

Furthermore, building a nation that respects and values all its citizens requires a firm commitment to democracy. This means ensuring that all Haitians, regardless of their economic or social status, have a voice in political processes and that strong and just institutions protect their rights. Social justice must also be a priority, with efforts to reduce disparities and provide equal opportunities for all.

Sustainable economic development is another crucial pillar for Haiti’s advancement. This requires policies that stimulate economic growth in an environmentally sustainable manner and benefit the entire population. Investing in key sectors such as education, health, and infrastructure can catalyze positive and lasting change, propelling Haiti toward inclusive and sustainable growth.

For Haiti to move forward, it is imperative to instigate a radical change in governance, marked by a strong sense of belonging and decolonization[37]. Breaking away from past practices, holding leaders accountable, and committing to democracy, social justice, and sustainable economic development are essential steps in rebuilding Haiti and enabling it to realize its potential as a nation. Only such commitment can ensure a better future for all Haitians.


[1] On peut définir l’autocolonisation comme un phénomène où les élites politiques ou sociales d’un pays post-colonial perpétuent les structures et les pratiques héritées de l’époque coloniale, même après l’appropriation formelle de l’indépendance. Cela se manifeste fréquemment par l’adoption de systèmes de gouvernance autoritaires, la perpétuation des inégalités sociales et le maintien de rapports de pouvoir qui privilégient une élite limitée au détriment de la majorité de la population. En résumé, l’autocolonisation empêche la croissance démocratique et le développement socio-économique en préservant les dynamiques héritées de la période coloniale.

[2] https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/Dominican%20Republic%20and%20Haiti%20Study_4.pdf

[3] https://www.travelinghaiti.com/list-of-haitian-presidents/

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.bbc.com/afrique/articles/c5169yz4n38o

[8] Les modèles de gouvernance occidentaux se caractérisent par des principes démocratiques, une séparation des pouvoirs, des élections libres et équitables, des droits civiques protégés, la primauté de l’État de droit, et la responsabilité gouvernementale devant les citoyens. Ces modèles visent à assurer la représentation politique, la protection des libertés individuelles et la transparence des institutions gouvernementales.

[9] https://acleddata.com/10-conflicts-to-worry-about-in-2022/haiti/mid-year-update/

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/3/13/who-are-haitis-gangs-and-what-do-they-want-all-you-need-to-know

[12] https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/04/americas/haiti-ariel-henry-gangs-protests-bsap-intl-latam/index.html

[13] Ibid.

[14] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/3/13/who-are-haitis-gangs-and-what-do-they-want-all-you-need-to-know

[15] https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/04/americas/haiti-ariel-henry-gangs-protests-bsap-intl-latam/index.html

[16] La CARICOM, ou Communauté Caribéenne, est une organisation régionale qui vise à promouvoir l’intégration économique, sociale et politique des pays de la région des Caraïbes. Fondée en 1973, elle compte actuellement 15 États membres et 5 membres associés. La CARICOM vise à renforcer la coopération économique, à promouvoir le développement durable, à coordonner les politiques étrangères et à renforcer l’unité et la solidarité entre les pays caribéens. Elle joue un rôle crucial dans la promotion du commerce régional, la gestion des questions liées au changement climatique et la lutte contre la criminalité transnationale dans la région.

[17] https://caricom.org/statement-eminent-persons-group-following-third-facilitation-visit-to-haiti/

[18] https://fr.africanews.com/2024/04/18/haiti-a-quoi-sattendre-du-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition/

[19] https://apnews.com/article/caricom-haiti-transitional-council-gang-violence-92db29a0cb92f5b9c443ef23322380a9

[20] https://reliefweb.int/report/haiti/outcome-declaration-caricom-international-partners-and-haitian-stakeholders

[21] https://www.lapresse.ca/international/caraibes/2024-04-12/haiti/le-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition-est-officiellement-cree.php

[22] https://lactualite.com/actualites/le-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition-qui-choisira-le-gouvernement-est-cree-en-haiti/

[23] https://www.ledevoir.com/monde/ameriques/811067/haiti-nom-membres-conseil-presidentiel-transition-devoiles?

[24] https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2024-03-12/statement-attributable-the-spokesperson-for-the-secretary-general-–-haiti-scroll-down-for-french

[25] https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/guadeloupe/haiti-finalisation-de-la-designation-des-membres-du-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition-1474419.html

[26]  Ibid. -1480220.html

[27] Ibid. caricom.org/statement-eminent-persons-group-following-third-facilitation-visit-to-haiti/

[28] Ibid. fr.africanews.com/2024/04/18/haiti-a-quoi-sattendre-du-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition/

[29] Ibid. apnews.com/article/caricom-haiti-transitional-council-gang-violence-92db29a0cb92f5b9c443ef23322380a9

[30] Ibid. reliefweb.int/report/haiti/outcome-declaration-caricom-international-partners-and-haitian-stakeholders

[31] Ibid. lapresse.ca/international/caraibes/2024-04-12/haiti/le-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition-est-officiellement-cree.php

[32] Ibid. lactualite.com/actualites/le-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition-qui-choisira-le-gouvernement-est-cree-en-haiti/

[33] Ibid. ledevoir.com/monde/ameriques/811067/haiti-nom-membres-conseil-presidentiel-transition-devoiles?

[34] Ibid. un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2024-03-12/statement-attributable-the-spokesperson-for-the-secretary-general-–-haiti-scroll-down-for-french

[35] https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/guadeloupe/haiti-finalisation-de-la-designation-des-membres-du-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition-1474419.html

[36]  Ibid. la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/guadeloupe/haiti-le-conseil-presidentiel-de-transition-officiellement-cree-1480220.html

[37] Affirmer sans équivoque son indépendance politique, économique et culturelle vis-à-vis d’autres puissances est essentiel. Cela signifie rompre avec les structures politiques, économiques et sociales imposées par les “colons”, tout en restaurant l’autonomie et l’identité propre du peuple qui a été soumis à l’autocolonisation. La décolonisation implique également des efforts pour remédier aux injustices historiques découlant de la colonisation, tant au niveau local qu’international. Elle vise à promouvoir la reconnaissance des droits de tous, sans exclusion, et à rétablir l’égalité et la dignité pour chaque individu.

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