Ruptures, rights, and repair: the political economy of trauma in Haiti
Social Science and Medicine 70(1): 106-113
ISSN/ISBN: 1873-5347 PMID: 19836120 DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.09.040
This article analyzes the unintended consequences of humanitarian and development interventions in Haiti implemented to facilitate its postconflict transition following the period of military rule between 1991 and 1994. International and national governmental and nongovernmental initiatives to provide redress and healing to victims of human rights abuses from this period inadvertently contributed to the growth of a political economy of trauma. I argue that state-sponsored and non-state interventions aimed at truth seeking, acknowledging past ruptures, and reparations have intersected with the politics of local communities in ways that contribute to the commoditization of suffering in the political economy of trauma. The experience of a woman whose bodily integrity and personal sovereignty were violated by members of Haiti's terror apparatus demonstrates the presence of a terror economy. My witnessing of her interactions with the international and national humanitarian and development aid organizations that assisted her in the aftermath of violation revealed the contours of the compassion economy. It is the compassion economy that is the particular focus of this article. I evaluate whether rendering visible or audible the individual and collective suffering of the past truly aid processes of social reconstruction, democratization, and peace building, especially in states plagued with ongoing social, political, and economic insecurity. I argue that the forms of citizenship that these interventions engender are rarely permanent, especially in fragile or failed states, and may exacerbate the societal cleavages that gave rise to conflict.