Haitians - Sociopolitical Organization

In 1995 Haiti was in the process of reestablishing its political and social institutions under a democratic administration. Agreements with the U.S. government and international finance agencies had created a difficult set of parameters within which a move toward more social equality and justice was being attempted.

Social Organization. One result of the land reform in the early 1800 was that the largely mulatto elite fled to the cities and, with no land of their own, made their living from taxing peasant markets and the nation's imports and exports. This elite also practiced the religion of the slave owners, Roman Catholicism. Driven by fear of a renewed French occupation, the bulk of the population retreated into the mountainous interior, inside a ring of magnificent forts. What emerged from these displacements was a nation with a very small European-oriented, Roman Catholic, mulatto elite residing in several coastal urban centers and a large, scattered Black population that farmed the interior and worshiped in the ancient African manner.

Political Organization.

The largely Black peasantry has always regarded the government as having little relevance to their lives. Haiti's regional political units, called départements, are further divided into several arrondissements, each with an administrative center. Arrondissements consist of several communes, which usually coincide with church parishes. Each commune is divided into sections rurales, each of which is headed by an appointed chef de section, who reports to the commandant of the commune, who in turn reports to the préfet of the arrondissement. The limited contact rural Haitians normally have with the government is, for the most part, with the chef de section.

Social Control. Criminality is rare, and, for the most part, the rural population, in deference to village elders, polices itself. The urban areas have police and courts, mainly modeled after the French system.

Conflict. Governments in Haiti have been run primarily by members of the elite, and despite the early and heroic independence of Haiti from France and the elimination of slavery, the attitude of the elite classes of Haiti has traditionally been a neocolonial one. Nativism, negritude, and the increasing use of Creole have made all Haitians more aware of their Haitianness, but tensions exist between the affluent city dwellers and the poor peasants and shantytown residents. Aside from a very small but moderately influential group of Middle Eastern merchants, the population of Haiti is exceptionally homogeneous, both culturally and linguistically.

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