Information Technology in Haiti

 

 

OVERVIEW

 

  Telecommunication Infrastructure
  Liberalization and Deregulation
  Internet Diffusion and E-Commerce
  Computer Hardware and Software
  IT Usage
  IT Labor Market and Financing
 
Government Policies and Legal Environment
  IT Strengths and Weaknesses - Analysis
  Impacts on the Business Environment - Analysis
  Sources and Links
  About the Author

 

History

In 1492 Christopher Columbus had reached, what he thought was India, a place that was to become the New World. Haiti, being the first location inhabited by the Europeans, would soon bring a plethora of riches to its Conquistadors. After two centuries of occupation and plundering, the Spanish Throne surrendered to the French the isle that they would christen "The Pearl of the Antilles". When the exploitation of the gold became unprofitable, the new masters, using African slaves, turned the land into the richest of their sugar producing colonies. When the French Revolution brought the Declaration of Human Rights, freed Haitian slaves decided to apply the same principle in their environment. After a hard fought battle against the colonials, the Republic of Haiti was proclaimed on January 1st, 1804. The first independent slave colony had caused major controversies around the Old and New Worlds, therefore the fight for independence became a mission to build a nation. Sadly but not surprisingly, the ex-slaves proved that they were not prepared to become a unified nation that would build itself from the ground up in the midst of on-looking and bitter imperialists. Revolution succeeded revolution as hatred between the blacks and the ruling mulattos intensified; constitutional government rarely existed in the 19th century and the economy fell deeper into the non-existent. At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States became financially and politically involved for geopolitical and strategic reasons. Intervention in 1915 was provoked by the murder and mutilation of a president, but occupation brought order and the reorganization of public finances. By the 1930s the strategic need for occupation had receded and the expense was unpopular in the US. In 1934 the American neighbor withdrew, leaving Haïti poor and overpopulated with few natural resources. In 1957 François (Papa Doc) Duvalier, a black nationalist, was elected president and unlike previous autocrats he succeeded in holding on to power. In 1964 he became President-for-Life, a title which was inherited by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier in 1971. During Papa Doc's reign, tens of thousands of Haitians were murdered and thousands more fled the country. This situation brought Haiti's first major brain-drain which again occurred in the 70s. When his son took power, repression eased and dissent grew until he fled the country in 1986. After four years of military rule, Haiti witnessed its first free elections which inaugurated Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This Roman Catholic priest had rallied 67% of voters behind him by becoming the voice of a suffering people under the military regimes that turned the country into a narco-state in the late 80s. Among his immediate steps on taking office were to start investigations into the conduct of Mme Pascal Trouillot and many other officials, to seek the resignation of six generals, to propose the separation of the army and police and to garner urgently-needed financial assistance from abroad for the new administration. Aristide's refusal to share power with other politicians, his attacks on the interests of the armed forces and the business elite and the actions of some of his militant supporters provoked his overthrow on 30 September 1991 by the army. Shortly after Aristide's, people began fleeing in small boats to the United States' Guantanamo naval base on Cuba in an exodus that had reached 38,000 by May 1992. The US brought it to an end by immediately repatriating everyone without screening political asylum claims. International condemnation of the coup was swift, with the Organization of American States, led by the USA, imposing an embargo. While the EU and other nations did not join in the embargo, they did follow the OAS in suspending aid and freezing Haitian government assets. After three years of continuous negotiations between the UN and the Haitian leaders, and the imposition of tougher and tougher economic and political sanctions, the US invaded Haiti with 20,00 troops in order to restore Democracy to the island nation. When Aristide returned to power, the army was dismantled and a new police force was being trained by the US military. By April 1995, the absence of a fully-trained police force and of an adequate justice system contributed to a general breakdown of law and order. During this time, a new breed of criminals, many of whom were in the old army, terrorized the people of Haiti with constant plunders and killings. The fear of violence disrupted preparations for legislative and local elections, held over two rounds in June and July 1995. The elections gave overwhelming support to Aristide's Lavalas movement in the Senate (all but one of the seats up for election) and the Lower House (71 of the 83 seats) but the turnout was very low and the results were bitterly contested. 23 of the 27 competing parties denounced the election because of irregularities reported by international observers. Mob violence and extra-judicial killings continued, with the new police force unable to do anything about it. Presidential elections were held on 17 December 1995 and René Préval, a close aide of Aristide's, won a landslide victory with 87 percent of the vote, although only 25 percent registered voters turned out and most opposition parties boycotted the event. Rivalries within the ruling coalition, the Lavalas Political Organization, spilled into the open at the end of 1996 when Aristide launched a new group, the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas), which became a political party in time for the senatorial and local elections held in April 1997. Less than 10 percent of the electorate voted in the elections for nine senators, two deputies, members of 564 local assemblies and 133 municipal representatives. The major opposition parties boycotted the poll, claiming that the electoral council was controlled by Aristide, and later called for the results to be annulled. The second round of the senatorial elections was postponed indefinitely. It was feared that if the Lavalas Family gained control of the Senate, the reform package would be blocked. In June, Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned. He blamed elements of Lavalas for stirring up political unrest and the electoral council for not annulling the April elections, which were marked by fraud. His departure increased concern in Washington that the faltering political and economic recovery program would be brought down. Smarth would not be replaced until January 1999, leaving the country without a working government for almost two years. Jacques Edouard Alexis, the new Prime Minister, and René Préval dismantled the Parliament and therefore leaving the President to rule by decree. This move was rejected by the international community that retaliated sternly. Foreign aid had been halted for all this time because international organizations would not fund a non-functional government. The new government was finally sworn in on 26 March 1999 and a provisional electoral board two days later. The cabinet included several supporters for Aristide and five members of a group of small extra-parliamentary parties which had helped to negotiate an end to the deadlock. The opposing party broke off negotiations after the murder of one of its senators. Violence continued through May 1999 with many deaths. Four senior police officers including the Port-au-Prince police commissioner, were arrested after they shot dead 11 people in dubious circumstances. Riots subsequently broke out in the capital. To add insult to injury, hurricane Georges hit the island in 1998 and left the majority of the minute amount of farmland in shambles. In May of 2000, members of Aristide's party won the majority of the Parliament in elections that were considered fraudulent by foreign and local observers. Later during the year, regardless of the disapproval of the international community, presidential elections were held in November. With a turnout of less then 10% of the registered voters, the Haitian government claimed that the turnout was actually 65% and that Aristide one about 80% of those votes. This election, condemned by the US government has led to the refusal of promised foreign aid, leaving the country to wonder about its fate.