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Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti / Edition 1

Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti / Edition 1

by Erica JamesErica James
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Democratic Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Insecurities focuses on the ethics of military and humanitarian intervention in Haiti during and after Haiti's 1991 coup. Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|In this remarkable ethnography of violence, Erica Caple James explores the traumas of Haitian victims whose experiences were denied by U.S. officials and recognized only selectively by other humanitarian providers. Using vivid first-person accounts from women survivors, James raises important new questions about humanitarian aid, structural violence, and political insecurity. She discusses the politics of postconflict assistance to Haiti and the challenges of promoting democracy, human rights, and justice in societies that experience chronic insecurity. Similarly, she finds that efforts to promote political development and psychosocial rehabilitation may fail because of competition, strife, and corruption among the individuals and institutions that implement such initiatives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520260535
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 05/14/2010
Series: California Series in Public Anthropology , #22
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Erica Caple James is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Massachusetts Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Institute of Technology.

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Democratic Insecurities

Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti

By Erica Caple James


Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94791-7


The Terror Apparatus

One of the most troubling images of Haitian history and culture is that of endemic violence, in particular, sexual violence. It is impossible to understand the development of the political economy of trauma in Haiti without relating it to this long-standing image and its historical evolution. During the 1991–94 coup years, the de facto regime employed sexual and gendered violence to repress the pro-democracy movement. Rape, including gang rape, and even forced incest were among the forms of torture used strategically to damage and control not only individuals but also families and larger communities.

Analyzing the many forms of violence perpetrated in societies that have undergone political conflict is a complex task. In places such as Haiti where the state apparatus attacks its own citizens, it can be difficult to distinguish between political and criminal motives for abuses. State-sponsored violence that is directed at a nation's own civilians also challenges theories that have assumed separation between the political and domestic spheres and between public and private actions since John Locke's Second Treatise on civil government (Pateman 1988). Such assumptions also underlie the perceived divide between human rights and criminal violations.

Contemporary discourses about rape must be analyzed in the context of discussions about gender and race and culture, history, and power. Rape has been an especially "thorny" problem in Western political discourses because of debates over whether the act is about sex, power, or violence (or some combination of the three) (Bell 1991). Additional questions concern whether rape is an interpersonal crime or should be considered the product of historical, global structural inequalities between the sexes. In the 1970s women anthropologists evaluated why "women are treated, culturally and socially, as inferior, in virtually all societies in the world" (Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974: v) and whether disparities in status between men and women were the product of biological "nature" or cultural "nurture." To refute interpretations of the phenomenon of sexual violence as inevitable, universal, or of biological origin, some anthropologists have posited the controversial view that societies are either "rape-prone" or relatively "rape-free" (e.g., Sanday 1981), thereby suggesting that acts of sexual violence are products of "nurture," or learned behavior. Such approaches still tended to neglect the political, economic, and historical roots of different forms of violence and were based on questionable data. Feminist social theorists have also depicted the sexual violence that men perpetrate against women as a global, historical strategy by which women have been subjugated as an entire class by means of fear of violation (e.g., Brownmiller 1975). According to these views, sexual and gender violence is a means by which the power of the state and its institutions reinforce male domination (MacKinnon 1989). Other theorists of rape have written about the way that sexual coercion of women was racialized and institutionalized in colonial slavery (Davis 1981; Hartman 1997), embedded in military cultures (Enloe 1993), endemic in contemporary civil ethnic and nationalist conflict (Das 1995; Stiglmayer 1994), and an omnipresent component of international wars (Brownmiller 1975).

Discourses about politically motivated sexual violence are challenging not only because of these debates about public versus private; nature versus culture; sexuality, gender, and race; and power and violence. This type of sexual violence also blurs the distinctions between state and individual sovereignty. These classifications have been crucial to pursuits of justice as each evokes domains of law that have traditionally been separate: international human rights law and domestic civil and criminal law (Copelon 1994; Seifert 1994). But in nations such as Haiti where it has been difficult to prosecute rape because of a so-called culture of impunity and the social stigma attached to rape, its systematic use as a weapon of terror has become the subject of heated international political debate.

During the period of unconstitutional rule, narratives proliferated both within and outside Haiti that challenged the truth of reports of human rights abuses, especially reports of politically motivated rape. Combined with the prevailing negative stereotypes about Haitian history and culture and the general resistance of sexual and gender violence to unambiguous categorization, these contested accounts were circulated by governmental and nongovernmental actors to justify or rationalize their political choices. On the one hand, denying abuses of Haitian human rights argued against military and humanitarian intervention to uphold Haiti's democracy; on the other, recognition of human rights abuses in Haiti justified intervention. As I discuss below, these positioned rhetorics reflected conflicts over the meaning of sovereignty for the embodied individual, for the state, and for the populations whose sovereignty the state is theoretically obligated to protect and preserve.

Arguments about whether to recognize sexual and gender violence as human rights abuses are examples of the historical "biopolitics" of intervention (Foucault 1990 [1978]). In The History of Sexuality, Foucault suggested that a shift had occurred between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries regarding conceptions of the body and the practices such conceptions produced. Foucault describes a change from a politics of alliance—the regulation of persons based on notions of blood, kinship, and reproduction in units like the family—to a focus on "sexuality." Sexuality is a construct that incorporates the regulation and production of knowledge about the social and lived body in relation to the economy (Foucault 1990 [1978]: 106–7). In societies of sexuality, power manifests through the categorization, surveillance, and control of bodies to engender productive, disciplined populations—what Foucault (145–46; 1979: 207–8) calls biopolitics. Both modes of regulation, the biopolitics of alliance and of sexuality, concern the law (what is held to be permissible or forbidden). Each mode reflects concerns about political and economic production and reproduction at different levels of society and is relevant to this ongoing analysis.

Foucault's schema has been criticized for its lack of attention to subjective experience, individual agency, and gender, as well as its historical emphasis on the European context (Hartsock 1990; Stoler 1995). Nonetheless, his broad formulation of the relationships between power, body, and subjectivity, as well as economies and governance, are useful for thinking through the discourses surrounding politically motivated rape. In analyzing the "politics of sex," Foucault argues:

To return to sex and the discourses of truth that have taken charge of it, the question that we must address, then, is not: Given a specific state structure, how and why is it that power needs to establish a knowledge of sex? ... It is rather: In a specific type of discourse on sex, in a specific form of extortion of truth, appearing historically and in specific places[,] ... what were the most immediate, the most local power relations at work? (1990 [1978]: 97)

Both of Foucault's questions are necessary to contextualize practices of torture and the presumed extraction of truth from the bodies and minds of sexed and gendered victims. Foucault's questions about truth, power, and the knowledge of sex are also relevant to framing discourses about and representations of sexual and gender violence in Haiti. The participation of several "regimes of truth" (Foucault 1980) in debates concerning the truth of violence in Haiti during the period of de facto rule contributed to the growth of the political economy of trauma, as the terror economies and the compassion economies collided.

This chapter examines the historical roots of sexual and gender violence in Haiti and presents details of its deployment during certain periods that contributed to the evolution of ensekirite. My goal is to place in context the terror apparatus as it emerged and operated in the twentieth century. I begin with a resume of the events of the 1991–94 coup period and highlight the controversy surrounding a 1994 U.S. diplomatic cablegram that demonstrates the continued influence of negative historical representations of violence in Haiti and ongoing contests over the truths of sexual and gender violence. The analysis of the scandal that the cablegram provoked provides a framework for examining some of the ethical challenges that are inherent in representations of violence.

I next trace the relationship between political violence and political economies in Haiti by presenting paradigmatic episodes in Haitian history that have contributed to the production of ensekirite. These are key periods in which violence, sexuality, and gender intersected with economies of extraction. I survey the 1915–34 American occupation of Haiti out of which arose the Duvalier dictatorships, then briefly examine the expulsion of Jean-Claude Duvalier and the resurgence of Duvalierist antidemocratic violence perpetrated against civil society in the postdictatorship period. Despite attempts to thwart the democratic process, this period culminated in the presidential election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

I conclude with a detailed examination of the technologies of torture perpetrated during the 1991–94 coup period. I use the term technologies to indicate evidence of the patterned manner in which such violence was deployed (and documented). During this period of de facto rule, the intensity, frequency, and timing of attacks on the pro-democracy sector suggest that violence was perpetrated systematically: the deployment of torture and terror had the character of an orchestrated campaign. Furthermore, sexed and gendered technologies of torture were also linked to their historical roots in the brutal forms of discipline used against the slaves of Saint-Domingue. I argue that in its use of necropolitical violence (Mbembe 2003), the terror apparatus irreparably harmed the foundations for its victims' security, thereby establishing ensekirite as a pervasive existential experience in Haiti.


In the post–cold war era, international disputes over the truth of violence and human rights abuses in conflict and postconflict settings indicated the presence of underlying political struggles over power, knowledge, and state sovereignty, aspects of what I term elsewhere the "condition of neo-modernity" (James 2009). In the 1990s discourses of sex, sexual violence, trauma, and political victimization became entangled in global debates about the need for military and humanitarian interventions in conflict settings such as Haiti. The governmental and nongovernmental actors engaged in such discussions tended to recognize or designate women as vulnerable "victims," as a class or population in need of intervention or regulation, especially in states undergoing crises or emergencies. Furthermore, the neomodern focus on sexual violence perpetrated against women was "à la mode" in the aid apparatus in Haiti (Bell 2001: 96). In part, the national and international emphasis on sexual and gender violence as human rights violations deserving of international recognition and intervention accompanied the perception of a real shift in the nature of political conflict to forms that explicitly targeted civilian or vulnerable populations. Such modes of political violence are a type of biopolitics; they are also examples of necropolitics.

Necropolitics describes forms of conflict or warfare that deploy torture against populations to inculcate terror and to subjugate life itself to the power of death. In proposing this term, Mbembe (2003) sought to remedy the inadequacies of Foucault's theories of biopower and biopolitics. Foucault's theories rely on European or Western models of sovereignty and lack a detailed consideration of how imperial or colonial violence and practices of torture buttressed and were embedded in the evolution of liberal capitalism and the modern state. In addition to this, Foucault (1979: 194) depicted the individual as a product of disciplinary technologies of power, devoting little attention to individual agency or motive for participating in or resisting such disciplinary structures.

Mbembe (2003: 11) questions conventional ideas of sovereignty that locate power within the confines of the "nation-state, within institutions empowered by the state, or within supranational institutions and networks." Drawing on Giorgio Agamben's (1998 [1995], 2005) elaboration of Schmitt's theory of the "state of exception," as well as Georges Bataille's (1985, 1988) ideas of sovereignty and death, Mbembe describes state (sovereign) violence as that arising from the aggregate of individual self-interested acts, even as such individuals are components of larger apparatuses of power. He further asks whether the concept of biopower is "sufficient to account for the contemporary ways in which the political, under the guise of war, of resistance, or of the fight against terror, makes the murder of the enemy its primary and absolute objective" (Mbembe 2003: 12).

The actors involved in current warfare and their tools of repression extend beyond those of national armies with the presumed legitimate monopoly over the use of force, as has been conventionally described of modern warfare (Weber 1946: 77–78). Much like the imperial and colonial campaigns of past centuries, the agents of neomodern violence include private security forces, urban gangs, warlords, rebel groups, and mobs. These actors have often been armed, supplied, and directed by the overt and covert material and financial resources of private, national, and international powers (Mbembe 2003; Nordstrom 2004; Tambiah 1996). Agents of neomodern violence are often unallied "mobile sovereigns" whose loyalty may be purchased;7 they may hold the power of life and death over their targets of intervention long after the intervention itself has been completed. These private agents work within networks that are flexible, transnational, or "transboundary." Their ability to act across and within borders challenges dualistic categories of the global and the local (Callaghy, Kassimir, and Latham 2001: ix–x).

Necropolitics produces social, political, and economic disorder through forms of violence that inculcate terror and attack the moral foundations of family and society. What is at stake is "not the struggle for autonomy but the generalized instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations" (Mbembe 2003: 14; emphasis in original). Sovereignty is expressed by a willingness to transgress cultural boundaries or taboos, even within the realms of "sexuality, filth, excrement," and especially death (16). Such actions are undertaken, in part, as a way of attaining security for the sovereign, the person or assemblage of actors seeking to maintain or expand their power. The sovereign "continuously refers and appeals to exception, emergency, and a fictionalized notion of the enemy" as justifications for destructive interventions (16). The dissemination of negative representations of the "enemy" creates a perception of threat on the basis of attributes such as race, sex, and gender; ethnicity, political affiliation, and religion; and economic status.

Because necropolitics operates to destroy human bodies and populations through the violation of taboos such as rape and forced incest, it is not surprising that the deployment of sexual and gendered violence is typical of these "new" forms of warfare (Brownmiller 1975). What makes neomodern necropolitics distinct in the Haitian context is the way mobile sovereigns have been deployed to perpetrate forms of violence designed to destroy even culture itself. But where necropolitics intersects with Foucault's conceptions of biopower and biopolitics is in the way that the truths of such horrific forms of violence were authenticated and denied by conflicting regimes of power and knowledge.


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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
List of Illustrations

Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Introduction: Democracy, Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Insecurity, and the Commodification of Suffering

1. The Terror Apparatus
2. The Aid Apparatus and the Politics of Victimization
3. Routines of Rupture and Spaces of (Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|In)Security
4. Double Binds in Audit Cultures
5. Bureaucraft, Accusations, and the Social Life of Aid
6. Sovereign Rule, Ensekirite, and Death
7. The Tyranny of the Gift


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Highly recommended. . . by highlighting the vivi first-person accounts of female survivors, the author raises important questions about humanitarian aid, structural violence, and political insecurity, while simultaneously outlining some of the ethical quandaries arising from the uses and abuses of power."—Choice

"Her account is both brave and unsettling. . . . Not only instructive for anthropologists . . . but also for humanitarian aid providers who momentarily work or are planning to work in Haiti."—Somatosphere

"[This] is one of the most important books on the country published in years. . . . It radiates intelligence and understanding."—Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

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