The Politics of Democratization: Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Lavalas Movement in Haiti Dissertation

(2016). The Politics of Democratization: Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Lavalas Movement in Haiti . 10.25148/etd.FIDC001196

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Herard, Dimmy


  • As the 29-year Duvalier dictatorship ended in 1986, the emergence of Mouvement Lavalas out of the grassroots organizations of Haiti's poor majority, and election of charismatic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990, challenged efforts by Haitian political parties and the U.S. foreign policy establishment to contain the parameters of Haiti's democratic transition. This dissertation examines the politics of Lavalas to determine whether it held a particular conception of democracy that explains the movement's antagonistic relationship with the political parties and U.S. democracy promoters.

    Using the qualitative methodology of process-tracing outlined in the works of Paul F. Steinberg (2004) and Tulia G. Falleti (2006), this study analyzes primary and secondary sources associated with Aristide and the grassroots organizations across the period of contested democratization from 1986 to 1991, with emphasis on four critical junctures: 1) the rule of the Conseil National du Gouvernement; 2) the government of Leslie Manigat; 3) the military regimes of Henri Namphy and Prosper Avril; and 4) Aristide's 8 months in power before being overthrown on September 29, 1991.

    This study concludes that there were systematic differences in how Lavalas pursued democracy in Haiti, as contrasted to the political parties and U.S. foreign policy-makers. Evidence indicates that while Lavalas placed emphasis on popular mobilization to challenge Haiti's legacy of authoritarianism, the political parties and U.S. democracy promoters emphasized processes of negotiation and compromise with Haiti's anti-democratic forces. Lavalas was rooted in the long historic struggle of the country's poor masses to, not simply establish procedural democracy, what noted political scientist Robert Dahl calls polyarchy, but to expand the parameters of politics to guarantee the right of all Haitians to participate directly in the process of governing, in order to share more equitably in the distribution of national resources, in what critical scholar William I. Robinson calls "popular democracy."

publication date

  • November 9, 2016


  • Caribbean
  • Democracy
  • Democratic Theory
  • Democratic Transition
  • Haiti
  • Jean-Bertrand Aristide
  • Latin America
  • Lavalas
  • Polyarchy
  • Popular Democracy

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)