Urban Dominance, Rural Stagnation
A sharp administrative division existed between rural
urban jurisdictions. The capital city dominated the urban
National political institutions and decisions focused on
Port-au-Prince, and they were far removed from the lives
Haitians. References to the "Republic of Port-au-Prince"
reflected this reality. The political system affected all
Haitians, but changes in government generally had little
impact on the lives of rural Haitians.
Data from 1984 suggested that the government spent
percent of its revenues in Port-au-Prince, a city with
percent of the nation's population. In effect, taxes
rural areas paid the salaries of a privileged group of
Foreign assistance also tended to exacerbate
differences. About 40 percent of all public foreign aid
In rural Haiti, the army was the government. The
role of the armed forces was national defense, but most
of the military carried out police functions
(see The Role of the Armed Forces
, ch. 10). Perhaps the most influential
that of the denim-uniformed corps of 562 rural section
(chefs de section) and their assistants. People
referred to the section chief and his corps of assistants
leta (the state), although the section chiefs
more on auxiliary corps and were not members of the
The rural section chiefs were usually recruited from a
class of landed peasant families known as gro neg
man) or gran abitan (large peasant). These families
generally had other economic interests in addition to
including grain speculation, moneylending, and various
commerce. Appointments of section chiefs were usually
political ties, factional alliances, and bribes. In many
the positions were inherited.
The role of section chief involved much more than
conventional police functions. As the sole government
representative in rural areas, the section chief levied
fines, mediated disputes, and served as a civil registry.
responsibilities placed the section chief in a powerful
and economic position. He was well situated to collect
rural police refused to provide services to citizens who
make special payments to them. The virtual absence of
power brokers buttressed the section chiefs' positions.
Constitution set up rural government councils in an
curb abuses by section chiefs and to mediate the interests
rural citizens in the political process. These councils,
were also subject to graft and corruption.
Centralized authority in the presidency contrasted with
decentralized exercise of authority by local government
officials. Port-au-Prince provided no policy direction for
governments, and it did little to monitor them. Few funds
made available to local governments for expenses other
salaries. Certain local officials, such as section chiefs,
exercised absolute power within their local jurisdictions.
did not depend on salaries for their income; in a sense,
purchased from the state the privilege of collecting
virtue of their authority and their power to grant favors.
Data as of December 1989