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March 04, 2004

A bit more on Haiti

A fair number of people have visited this page recently searching for information about Haiti, probably due to a couple of posts from the last few days. Obviously, I don't have any answers. I still haven't seen any real investigation of Aristide's charges that U.S. forces kidnapped him, nor does there seem to be much serious analysis of how, or to what extent, the U.S. supported the so-called "rebels" who now appear to be in power. At least now that U.S. Marines are on the ground, it should be less likely that "Baby Doc" Duvalier will be able to return to Haiti.

This article from The Jamaica Observer [link via Scripting News] offers more perspective on recent events, and argues that Aristide's good intentions were no match for the obstacles to positive change in Haiti:

When Aristide was elected first in 1991, there was no democratic tradition in Haiti. The politicians and intellectuals had been killed or driven into exile, and after 20 and 30 years, they were not likely to return, having made lives elsewhere. Haiti in 1991 was rather like Germany after the Second World War, its dictator gone, but gone too were the working appurtenances of a democratic state, political parties, trade unions, a judicial system etc, because Hitler destroyed them. Aristide had to play the cards he was dealt. A parish priest -- a slum priest as the Western press prefers to call him -- is unlikely to develop statecraft ministering to an oppressed and desperate flock while trying to escape assassination.

Aristide was always a symbol -- with big ideas, it is true -- but without the praxis, without the experience and network of contacts to put his ideas into place. He was surrounded by people who depended on patronage, whether rich or poor, and since old habits tend to linger, they proceeded to behave exactly as they had before. It was Aristide who appointed Cedras who deposed him. And it was because he knew he couldn't trust the army that he dissolved it when he returned to power.

Without an army and with a laughably small and half-trained police force, it was always in the cards that gangs would develop in Haiti, as they have in Jamaica, Brazil and other countries, to fill the hiatus left by the state's armed forces. To describe such a situation as an example of Aristide's corruption is not only self-serving, it is dishonourable.

That's a fairly different story from the one being told in the U.S. by AP reporters:

Haiti's first freely elected leader lost a lot of popularity in Haiti — and in Washington, which restored him to power in 1994 after he was ousted in a 1991 military coup — because he allegedly used militant loyalists to attack and intimidate his opponents, failed to help the poor and condoned corruption. Aristide, in exile in the Central African Republic, has denied the accusations.

Amnesty International offers lots of information about the "rebels" who have taken over (led by convicted human rights criminals), but doesn't say much about Aristide. For still more context,, which bills itself as a "journal of democracy and human rights of record," says:

the threat today against Haiti, a small Caribbean nation with a population estimated at 8.2 million, is not from classic military dictatorship, but more forms of dictatorship of the proletariat.

Oh my! A dictatorship of the proletariat! Much better to have a military coup, don't you think?

Finally, for a lot more information on the U.S. perspective of Haiti, check out the U.S. Dept. of State's 2003 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Haiti.

Posted March 4, 2004 04:55 PM | general politics

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