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Corruption, Voodoo and Love: An Expose of the Haitian Cultural Identity

Updated on April 10, 2016

A Culture of Widespread Corruption

Like many countries, Haiti’s legal system depends upon its judiciary, legislative and executive powers to write, pass and enforce the rules of law. However, Haiti is unique, ranking as the 7th most corrupt nation in the world. Illegal activities by a corrupt government are ignored by a court system that willingly accepts bribes to look the other way. Judges and prosecutors who attempt to pursue justice, typically lack the courage and inclination to withstand being extorted or blackmailed by those guilty of corruption. It's simply easier to take the money or lool the other way rather than commit to the ethical application of the law.

Escaped Convicts Join Fight Against Political Corruption

No opportunity or institution in Haiti is immune to the corruption, evidenced by widespread organized crime that has taken over the private sector. Bribery and racketeering have become conducive to Haiti’s international trade, making foreign investors even more cautious about doing business with Haitian commerce.

Furthermore, even the highest levels of government have been infiltrated by corruption, undermining the security of Haiti’s institutions. According to the Haitian National Police, about 5,200 prisoners escaped in December of 2015, including 700 violent gang members, who then proceeded to form organized gangs after accessing a large cache of automatic weapons.

The massive prison escape soon led to a crime spree, as gang members looked to reclaim their former turf, leading to an increase in rates of violence, assault, extortion and kidnappings. Although unproven, there were credible allegations that prison guards had intentionally subverted the prison’s security system to allow the escape to occur, once again calling into question the integrity and strength of Haiti’s governance and the magnitude of which corruption has infiltrated the country’s ethical decree.

The Haitian people have long since endured corrupt politicians who operate without accountability, while witnessing a legislative process that has been bought and paid for by elite special interest groups. With the approaching presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2016, opposition leaders backed by armed escaped criminals accused the government of fixing elections and called for the people to stand up against the government corruption. This in turn led to increased demonstrations, reinvigorating organized gang members who looked to expose the corruption and justify their takeover and control over the city of Port Au Prince.

While organized crime is certainly not the answer to combat political corruption, the governments lack of transparency makes them look even more complicit in compromising the spirit of Haitian law. Through a willful misrepresentation and subversion of the country's constitution, Haiti’s politicians, judges, prosecutors, police officers and now apparently, its prison officials, have traded justice and national security for self-serving blood money afforded by illegal corruption.

Despite oversight by the United Nations and other international organizations, efforts to support reforms to Haitian law have produced minimal results. While the current Haitian administration has claimed an aggressive stance against corruption and to treat reform as a necessity, changes to the Haitian criminal code or steps to amend the statutes have yet to occur.

The Voodoo Influence

With civil unrest and such widespread government corruption, the majority of Haiti’s poorest citizens have relied on their faith to endure through the difficult times. Traditionally, religion has played one of the most significant roles in shaping the Haitian cultural identity. Just the same, Haitian laws have substantially influenced the religious life and practices of the Haitian people.

Despite Haiti's post-colonial legal policies that banned Voodoo in 1934, few traces exist in its legislative history of any application of the ban being used against Voodoo practitioners. Again, Haiti is unique in that its social balance and order, in large part, relies upon the people’s ability to practice their religious beliefs.

The ideologies of most Haitians are encompassed by traditional family values, their culture of poverty, philosophies about justice and a religious belief that commits them to appeasing the spirits of their ancestors. While most Haitian's are Catholic, the majority of Haitians believe in at least some aspects of Voodoo. The structure of Haitian society requires the association with Voodoo, as it represents the cohesive element that connects the larger social, cultural, legal and political ideologies within Haitian society.

While most Haitians believe that spirits are capable of possessing the bodies of children, Roman Catholic beliefs on possession includes both children and adults and that demonic forces can temporarily replace the human personality. Although many devout Catholics strongly oppose Voodoo, it remains a powerful force in the everyday lives of Haiti's people. Voodoo represents the premise upon which the Haitian cultural identity has been shaped, making it a significant influence in discretion when applying the civil and criminal codes of Haitian law.

Haiti’s perception of justice and its kindred association with Voodoo are important to the effectiveness of the country's laws. In other words, social order is only possible when the majority share a common human decency, which for most Haitian's is a direct result of their ability to practice their faith. While there is a general respect for the law, the sense of generosity and compassion that most Haitians possess lends creed to Haiti's cultural values and how its civil laws have been written and followed.

The balance between what is legal and what is morally acceptable, and what is illegal and morally unjust are in large part determined by the people’s religious beliefs. With matters of human behavior directly attributed to the rule of law, and with the cultural identity associated with spirituality, the beliefs and rituals of Voodoo become subjective to the function or dysfunction of Haiti’s criminal justice system.

A Cultural Identity Shaped by Spirits

Many Haitian cultural values and beliefs are determined by Voodoo. These beliefs are typically traditional and conservative, especially when it comes to children. However, the concept of marriage remains unorthodox compared to their ideologies regarding Voodoo.

In comparison, Haitians believe in strict discipline when teaching children manners and etiquette. Children are taught very early in life to respect their elders, offer apologies for mistakes and express gratitude and thanks for blessings. However, when it comes to traditional ideas of marriage Haitians are far less formal, with most adults electing for a common-law marriage, rather than a legal, state sanctioned union. It is considered normal by both men and women to bind themselves by common law, with most adults having several common law relationships throughout their lifetime.

Outside of marriage, Haitian cultural values are for the most part associated with the belief and practice of Voodoo. While the people remain entrenched in rituals that conjure deities from purgatory, corruption continues to create hardships associated with political and judicial instability. With a legal system that advocates corruption and turns a blind eye to organized crime, Haiti’s most vulnerable citizens will continue being exploited to life of poverty and inequality. The widespread corruption goes beyond simple matters of cops accepting a bribe or a politician buying a few votes. The problem runs so deep that bribery now represents the currency of executive, judicial and legislative transaction, making life egregiously unequal for the majority of Haiti's people.

Furthermore, the cultural values of the Haitian people center around nationalism, honor and respect for family, with significant emphasis on Voodoo, God, and the spirits. The human instinct of love, the concept of marriage and a people’s cultural identity is based on a Voodoo ideology that values the principles of human decency and acknowledges the need for law and order. Haitian spirituality reflects the peoples struggle and their compassion making it proactive in shaping the cultural values of a people and subjective to the application of Haitian law. While many people around the world believe religion to be significant in maintaining the stability of society, perhaps the dysfunction of Haiti's corrupt system of justice should be overhauled, using the principles of Voodoo as the blueprint for reform. Then again, it's possible that Voodoo is the reason why reforms are needed so badly in the first place.


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