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Understanding Haiti Through the Power of the Social Forces in Interaction

Summary of Current Affairs and Unrest in Haiti

Haiti, a Caribbean nation with a rich history and culture, is currently facing a complex and challenging situation marked by political instability, economic struggles, and widespread unrest. Here is a brief summary:

Political Crisis:

An ex-US government informant was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 2021 assassination of Haiti’s former president Jovenel Moise. The Caribbean nation is also recovering from a recent spate of violent demonstrations demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The intensity of gang clashes has also impacted the rum industry with the torching of sugarcane fields. Haiti has been grappling with a prolonged political crisis, characterized by disputed elections, allegations of fraud, and a lack of consensus among political parties. This crisis has led to frequent protests and demonstrations, as citizens demand transparency, accountability, and democratic governance.

Economic Challenges:

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with over 60% of its population living in poverty. The economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid and remittances from Haitians living abroad. Persistent economic challenges, including high unemployment rates and limited infrastructure, have contributed to the country’s instability.

Social Unrest:

The combination of political and economic challenges has fueled widespread social unrest and protests in Haiti. Citizens have taken to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the government, demanding better living conditions, increased security, and an end to corruption. The unrest has sometimes led to violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

Humanitarian Crisis:

The ongoing unrest and economic challenges have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Haiti. The country faces critical shortages of food, clean water, and medical supplies. The World Food Programme estimates that over 4 million Haitians are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.

International Response:

The international community, including the United Nations and regional organizations, has been closely monitoring the situation in Haiti and providing support. Efforts are underway to facilitate dialogue between political actors, promote human rights, and address the humanitarian crisis. However, progress has been slow, and the challenges facing Haiti remain significant. It is important to note that the situation in Haiti remains fluid and can evolve rapidly. Continued efforts are needed to address the root causes of unrest, promote peace and stability, and support the Haitian people in their quest for a brighter future.

Here’s a look back to a 2021 report in Georgetown Journal of International Affairs…

By Professor Jean Eddy St. Paul

In the current context of intellectual struggle and global activism against systemic and institutional racism, the international community should be aware that Haiti’s victimization through racialized capitalism harms the daily lives of Haitians both inside and outside Haiti. Political theories that portray Haiti as a fragile or failed state are inaccurate since they do not provide a sufficient account of the power of international and local forces that constantly shape the contours of Haitian society. The international community must come to understand that Haiti is part of that community of nations, and it must abandon its foreign policy of tutelage in the first antislavery Republic.

When studying the Haitian state and its institutions, scholars and policymakers often unwittingly employ standard neo-colonial tropes developed through the lens of racialized capitalism. Supporters of the fragile or failed-state idea look at poor institutional outcomes, arguing that political corruption, crime, and rampant poverty are direct consequences of the absence of a Leviathan able to both exercise legitimate physical force and provide governmental social services. Such researchers customarily resort to the “culture argument,” which usually borders on racist essentialism. Often the very phrasing of the researcher’s question reveals preconceptions about the country. William Zartman, then Director of the Conflict Management and African Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University, went to Haiti in January 2007 to find out “how to explain the endemic conflict in Haiti,” and the tenor of his final report could have been anticipated. It did not offer explanations but instead the dry conclusion that “Haiti is a place where institutions, economy, security, infrastructure, state, and legitimacy have collapsed, the eighth worst country in the Failed States Index…”[i]

The problem with this approach lies in its inability to explain the failure and fragility of the Haitian state within the context of the multiple imbricated relations between local social forces (such as state officials, political opposition, and oligarchs of the private sector, all devoid of projects to improve people’s lives) and powerful transnational forces. Through an analysis of Joel S. Migdal’s state-in-society perspective, the moral responsibility of the international community in the production of insecurity and state-sponsored violence in Haiti can be determined. In light of this, the United States must reject its foreign policy based uniquely on instrumental rationality and adopt one that respects Haitian sovereignty.

Migdal’s Theory of Social Forces for a More Comprehensive Understanding of Haiti’s Current Situation

Migdal’s state-in-society perspective, which has been noticeably absent in the specialized literature on politics and society in Haiti, is essential for a better understanding of the current disrepair in both the Haitian state and society. For Migdal, states are never entities that enjoy complete autonomy; different interest groups are seeking constantly to impose their influence or domination over state officials.

In one of his edited books, Migdal asks two particularly relevant questions:

1) When and how have states been able to establish broad political authority?

2) When and how have states established economic agendas for their societies– to appropriate resources and shape patterns of investments, production, distribution, and consumption?

These questions are meaningful since they allow us to address Haiti’s structural problems while avoiding ahistorical analyses when considering the negative impacts of foreign policies designed by the global north and imposed on nations of the global south. The first question offers an understanding of the influences of alien social forces, which have compromised Haiti’s sovereignty since its inception. Migdal’s questions help determine the moral responsibility of the international community in producing insecurity and state-sponsored violence in Haiti. Illustrative of this point, US Congressman Gregory Meeks recently quipped, “The guns that are killing people in Haiti came from the United States. We have to stop the flow of guns to Haiti.

In the case of Haiti, Migdal’s perspective is insightful and allows for apprehending the state as an open arena caught by a myriad of both international and national political forces whose agendas do not coincide with the promotion of the good life of the Haitian population. Thus, his approach makes possible a comprehensive and decolonial interpretation of Haiti’s current problems—which are connected both to the country’s past and the position it has occupied among modern nation-states since its emergence in 1804—within a broader context of racialized capitalism.

The Weight of Powerful Transnational Social Forces Against State Officials in Haiti

Haiti, Africa’s oldest daughter, championed the universalization of human rights early in its history. Haïti chérie, as Haitians are wont to call her, opened the gate for the construction of decent, modern nation-states beyond racial division. The 1804 Act of Independence of Hayti and the 1805 Constitution challenged racialized capitalism and the idea associated black with barbarism and white with civilization. Despite such achievements, Haiti has customarily been ill-treated by the international community. From the country’s birth to today, powerful transnational social forces have sabotaged Haiti’s development.

Since Haitian independence, the West, using a combination of diplomacy, coercion, and ‘machtpolitik,[ii] has disciplined Haiti for upsetting the ontological foundation of Western modernity. For example, France in 1825 coerced Haiti to pay $20 billion reparations for property loss. This multigenerational debt robbed Haiti of much-needed development capital, which has contributed enormously to the country’s chronic economic woes. A more recent example of the country’s abuse at the hands of powerful Western states was the February 2004 coup d’état engineered by Washington and Paris, overthrowing the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. One of the main reasons for this coup was Aristide’s discursive request to France to repay Haiti the monies it paid for its independence (the reparations).

Since 1825,  the hallmarks of relations between Haiti and France, Germany, and the United States have been a series of foreign interventions, political interference and tutelage, noxious Western policies targeting the county, strategic alliances among those Western powers, and corrupted Haitian politicians from the US Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) until today.

Alliances between Transnational and Local Social Forces in Haiti

For Migdal, the state is an expression of the polymorphic and reticular relations between its social forces. Accordingly, in the case of Haiti, local social forces have been at the forefront of the historical actions that have led to the disarticulation of state institutions. Institutions are not exterior or disconnected from society but embedded within the state. Accordingly, Haiti’s powerful oligarchy plays a central role in this process. Well-connected locally and internationally, that oligarchy has been actively engaged in well-articulated political and strategic alliances. In their deadly struggles to maintain political power, they finance the campaigns of usually noir politicians; the idea is to show the black masses, le peuple, that their leaders look like them.

The historical politics of doublure, predicated on class and color manipulation, have allowed these oligarchs profitable returns on their political machinations. The black-skinned president provides the light-skinned oligarchs various business opportunities with the state. Oligarchs pay no taxes, enjoy customs duties exemptions, and sign government contracts that allow them much leeway to overbill or underbill at their discretion. Thus, oligarchs have been able to establish a system of domination anchored in patronage and grift, “the politics of the belly.” Consequently, the Haitian state may well have collapsed for the Haitian people, but it remains a healthy and vigorous entity for the dinosaurs of the private business sector, who are locally and internationally well-connected.


Identifying the shortcomings of failed states theories in diagnosing Haiti’s historical and structural damages requires using the social forces approach, which is much better for understanding the complex networks of relations and strategic alliances between internal and external social forces that have shaped the institutional matrix of the Haitian state. The international community’s traditional foreign policies toward Haiti is also criticized in this article. We suggest that it is not too late to fix the untenable situation in Haiti. During his Presidential inauguration, Joe Biden recognized that democracy, although precious, is a fragile experiment requiring constant vigilance from the civil society. This is Haiti’s continuing predicament. The international community, particularly the United States, has work to do. It is an opportune moment for the United States to play its part by abandoning foreign policy based uniquely on instrumental rationality and embracing a humanitarian approach toward the Haitian people. This requires the United States to stop the flow of guns to state-sponsored gangs, who take the lives of innocent Haitians. Furthermore, many private sector oligarchs doing business in Haiti, are in reality, foreign citizens, including US. citizens who are well-connected with transnational social forces. A political change in Washington can do a lot to reverse Haiti’s current state-supported lawlessness. This is the time for the international community and Haiti’s oligarchy to listen to the progressive Haitian social forces (politicians and civil society) desire to establish healthy and respectful relations with the international community.

[i] William Zartman ed., Haiti: Understanding Conflict. Student Field Trip to Haiti 2007 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2007), 5.

[ii] Jacques Barros, Haïti de 1804 à nos jours (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1984), 222-223.

 . . .

Jean Eddy Saint Paul is a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, where he was the founding director of the CUNY Haitian Studies Institute. He previously was a visiting scholar at the Institute of Political Science (Sciences Po) in Paris, France, and served on the Faculty of the Division of Law, Politics and Government at the Universidad de Guanajuato (Mexico), where he cofounded the PhD program in Law, Politics and Government. Email


Founder Of CUNY Haitian Studies Institute Inducted Into Marquis Who’s Who

BROOKLYN, NY — Jean Eddy Saint Paul, PhD, has been included in Marquis Who’s Who. As in all Marquis Who’s Who biographical volumes, individuals profiled are selected on the basis of current reference value. Factors such as position, noteworthy accomplishments, visibility, and prominence in a field are all taken into account during the selection process.

Leveraging more than three decades of excellence in political sociology and Haitian studies, Dr. Saint Paul has earned distinction as a professor with Brooklyn College of CUNY. Since 2016, he has focused his efforts on researching and teaching courses in political sociology, social policy, social theory, sociology of religion, and Haitian studies. Additionally, the current Brooklyn College Sociology Professor has served as the founding director of the CUNY Haitian Studies Institute of Brooklyn College (2016-2020), and has been a valued member of the National Council for Science and Technology (Conacyt in Spanish), the Haitian Studies Association, and the Latin American Studies Association, among other professional organizations.

Prior to his current role, Dr. Saint Paul began his international career as a research associate for the Centro de Estudios Internacionales of El Colegio de México in 2008 and became a project investigator for The Interdisciplinary Program of Studies on Religion of Colegio Mexiquense in 2009. Afterwards, he distinguished himself as one of the Best Visiting Professors at the Jesuit Universidad Iberocamericana where he taught Comparative Politics for the PhD Program in Political and Social Sciences, and Political Theory for the Masters Program in Sociology. Following this period, from 2010-2016, he served as a professor and researcher for Universidad de Guanajuato where he co-founded the PhD Program in Law, Politics, and Government.

Among his professional accomplishments, he is proud to have received many citations and recognitions for his work, including his induction as Haitian Roundtable 1804 Changemaker, an Education Leadership Award from the Haitian Medical Association Abroad (AMHE), and his Congressional Recognition for outstanding service to the community. His greatest satisfaction is to be found in his service to the community. Professor Saint Paul is constantly asked to write letters of recommendations on behalf of both students and colleagues.

A passionate Professor, Dr. Saint Paul is an inspiration for the various generations of students he has taught. On May 18, 2022, one of his students in Contemporary Social Theory, wrote in an email- “Hello Professor, I hope everything is going well. Thank you for another wonderful semester, and for passing on your knowledge for us to become better prepared in facing real-world experiences. Thank you for all the effort and support you give to me and other students making the college experience especially during these troubling times feel comfortable. I will keep in contact when I need advising, have a great summer!” Currently, this student is accepted with a full scholarship into a prestigious PhD program in sociology.

Over the course of his career, Professor Saint Paul has contributed a wealth of written work to his field, more exactly the publication of 55 scientific publications that include two books, book chapters and journal articles. His newest groundbreaking article titled, “Understanding Haiti Through the Power of the Social Forces in Interaction” was published by the prestigious Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (GJIA), a bi-annual peer-reviewed academic journal covering international affairs.

Prior to embarking on his professional journey, Dr. Saint Paul earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Université d’État d’Haïti in 2000. Following this achievement, he attained a master’s degree in Latin American studies from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Columbia in 2002. He then gained a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology from El Colegio de México in 2008. Well-qualified in his field, he holds a Diplôme Supérieur in library science from Université Antilles-Guyane in Pointe-à-Pitre, Martinique, and a Diplomado in cultural studies from Instituto Pensar de la Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

Dr. Saint Paul is one of the few Haitian intellectuals who has worked as a visiting professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and is the first and only Haitian to be accepted and complete graduate studies in the department of political science and international relations at the Jesuit Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. He is also the first and only Haitian to have completed a Doctor of Philosophy in the sociology program at El Colegio de México since the foundation of the institution in 1940. Within the coming years, Dr. Saint Paul intends to finish and publish two new books on the political culture of the Haitian ruling class, and civil society and politics of memory. He also plans to establish his own platform to have better connections beyond academia.

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