Sunday, February 18, 2007

‘One Step at a Time’: An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide

By: Peter Hallward - HaitiAnalysis

Pretoria, 20 July 2006 - Complete transcript

[Introduction] In the mid 1980s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a young parish priest working in an impoverished and embattled district of Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince. A courageous champion of the rights and dignity of the poor, he soon became the most widely respected spokesman of a growing popular movement against the series of military regimes that ruled Haiti after the collapse in 1986 of the US-backed Duvalier dictatorship. In 1990 he won the country’s first democratic presidential elections, with 67% of the vote. Perceived as a dangerous threat by Haiti’s tiny ruling elite, he was overthrown by a military coup in September 1991. Conflict with that same elite and its army, backed by their powerful allies in the U.S. and France, has shaped the whole of Aristide’s political trajectory. After winning another landslide election victory in 2000, his enemies launched a massive propaganda campaign to portray him as violent and corrupt. Foreign and elite resistance eventually culminated in a second coup against him, the night of 28 February 2004. A personal and political ally of the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki, Aristide then went into a reluctant exile in South Africa, where he remains to this day.
Since his expulsion from Haiti three years ago Aristide’s supporters have suffered the most brutal period of violent oppression in the country’s recent history. According to the best available estimates perhaps 5000 of them died at the hands of the US- and UN-backed régime that replaced the constitutional government in March 2004. Although the situation remains tense and UN troops still occupy the country, the worst of this violence came to an end in February 2006, when after another extraordinary electoral campaign Aristide’s old prime minister and ally René Préval (who succeeded him as president in 1996) was himself re-elected in yet another landslide victory. Calls for Aristide’s immediate and unconditional return continue to polarise Haitian politics. Many commentators, as well as some prominent members of the current government, acknowledge that if the constitution allowed Aristide to stand for re-election again then he would easily win.

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Peter Hallward: Haiti is a profoundly divided country, and you have always been a profoundly divisive figure. For most of the 1990s many sympathetic observers found it easy to make sense of this division more or less along class lines: you were demonised by the rich, and idolised by the poor. But then things started to seem more complicated. Rightly or wrongly, by the end of the decade, many of your original supporters had become more sceptical, and from start to finish your second administration (2001-2004) was dogged by accusations of violence and corruption. Although by every available measure you remained by far the most trusted and popular politician among the Haitian electorate, you appeared to have lost much of the support you once enjoyed among parts of the political class, among aid-workers, activists, intellectuals and so on, both at home and abroad. Most of my questions have to do with these accusations, in particular the claim that as time went on you compromised or abandoned many of your original ideals.
To begin with though, I’d like quickly to go back over some familiar territory, and ask about the process that first brought you to power back in 1990. The late 1980s were a very reactionary period in world politics, especially in Latin America. How do you account for the remarkable strength and resilience of the popular movement against dictatorship in Haiti, the movement that came to be known as lavalas (a Kreyol word that means ‘flood’ or ‘avalanche’, and also a ‘mass of people’, or ‘everyone together’)? How do you account for the fact that, against the odds and certainly against the wishes of the U.S., the military and the whole ruling establishment in Haiti, you were able to win the election of 1990?

Jean-Bertrand Aristide: Much of the work had already been done by people who came before me. I’m thinking of people like Father Antoine Adrien and his co-workers, and Father Jean-Marie Vincent, who was assassinated in 1994. They had developed a progressive theological vision that resonated with the hopes and expectations of the Haitian people. Already in 1979 I was working in the context of liberation theology, and there is one phrase in particular that remains etched in my mind, and that may help summarise my understanding of how things stood. You might remember that the Conferencia de Puebla took place in Mexico, in 1979, and at the time several liberation theologians were working under severe constraints. They were threatened and barred from attending the conference. And the slogan I’m thinking of ran something like this: si el pueblo no va a Puebla, Puebla se quedará sin pueblo. If the people cannot go to Puebla, Puebla will remain cut off from the people.
In other words, for me the people remain at the very core of our struggle. It isn’t a matter of struggling for the people, on behalf of the people, at a distance from the people; it is the people themselves who are struggling, and it’s a matter of struggling with and in the midst of the people.
This ties in with a second theological principle, one that Sobrino, Boff and others understood very well. Liberation theology can itself only be a phase in a broader process. The phase in which we may first have to speak on behalf of the impoverished and the oppressed comes to an end as they start to speak in their own voice and with their own words. The people start to assume their own place on the public stage. Liberation theology then gives way to the liberation of theology. The whole process carries us a long way from paternalism, a long way from any notion of a ‘saviour’ who might come to guide the people and solve their problems. The priests who were inspired by liberation theology at that time understood that our role was to accompany the people, not to replace them.
The emergence of the people as an organised public force, as a collective consciousness, was already taking place in Haiti in the 1980s, and by 1986 this force was strong enough to push the Duvalier dictatorship from power. It was a grassroots popular movement, and not at all a top-down project driven by a single leader or a single organisation. It wasn’t an exclusively political movement, either. It took shape above all through the constitution, all over the country, of many small church communities or ti legliz. It was these small communities that played the decisive historical role. When I was elected president it wasn’t a strictly political affair, it wasn’t the election of a politician, of a conventional political party. No, it was an expression of a broad popular movement, of the mobilisation of the people as a whole. For the first time, the national palace became a place not just for professional politicians but for the people themselves. The simple fact of allowing ordinary people to enter the palace, the simple fact of welcoming people from the poorest sections of Haitian society within the very centre of traditional power ― this was already a profoundly transformative gesture.
PH: You hesitated for some time, before agreeing to stand as a candidate in those 1990 elections. You were perfectly aware of how, given the existing balance of forces, participation in the elections might dilute or divide the movement. Looking back at it now, do you still think it was the right thing to do? Was there a viable alternative to taking the parliamentary path?
JBA: I tend to think of history as the ongoing crystallisation of different sorts of variables. Some of the variables are known, some are unknown. The variables that we knew and understood at the time were clear enough. We had some sense of what we were capable of, and we also knew that those who sought to preserve the status quo had a whole range of means at their disposal. They had all sorts of strategies and mechanisms ― military, economic, political... ― for disrupting any movement that might challenge their grip on power. But we couldn’t know how exactly they would use them. They couldn’t know this themselves. They were paying close attention to how the people were struggling to invent ways of organising themselves, ways of mounting an effective challenge. This is what I mean by unknown variables: the popular movement was in the process of being invented and developed, under pressure, there and then, and there was no way of knowing in advance the sort of counter-measures it might provoke.
Now given the balance of these two sorts of variables, I have no regrets. I regret nothing. In 1990, I was asked by others in the movement to accept the cross that had fallen to me. That’s how Father Adrien described it, and how I understood it: I had to take up the burden of this cross. ‘You are on the road to Calvary’, he said, and I knew he was right. When I refused it at first, it was Monsignor Willy Romélus, whom I trusted and still trust, as an elder and as a counsellor, who insisted that I had no choice. ‘Your life doesn’t belong to you anymore’, he said. ‘You have given it as a sacrifice for the people. And now that a concrete obligation has fallen on you, now that you are faced with this particular call to follow Jesus and take up your cross, think carefully before you turn your back on it.’ This then is what I knew, and knew full well at the time. It was a sort of path to Calvary. And once I had decided, I accepted this path for what it was, without illusions, without deluding myself. We knew perfectly well that we wouldn’t be able to change everything, that we wouldn’t be able to right every injustice, that we would have to work under severe constraints, and so on.
Suppose I had said no, I won’t stand. How would the people have reacted? I can still hear the echo of certain voices that were asking, ‘let’s see now if you have the courage to take this decision, let’s see if you are too much of a coward to accept this task. You who have preached such fine sermons, what are you going to do now? Are you going to abandon us, or are you going to assume this responsibility so that together we can move forward?’ And I thought about this. What was the best way to put the message of the Gospels into practice? What was I supposed to do? I remember how I answered that question, when a few days before the election of December 1990, I went to commemorate the victims of the ruelle de Vaillant massacre, where some twenty people were killed by the Macoutes on the day of the aborted elections of November 1987. A student asked me: ‘Father, do you think that by yourself you’ll be able to change this situation, which is so corrupt and unjust?’ And in reply I said: ‘In order for it to rain, do you need one or many raindrops? In order to have a flood, do you need a trickle of water or a river in spate?’ And I thanked him for giving me the chance to present our collective mission in the form of this metaphor: it is not alone, as isolated drops of water, that you or I are going to change the situation but together, as a flood or torrent, lavalassement, that we are going to change it, to clean things up, without any illusions that it will be easy or quick.
So were there other alternatives? I don’t know. What I’m sure of is that there was then an historic opportunity, and that we gave an historic answer. We gave an answer that transformed the situation. We took a step in the right direction. Of course, in doing so we provoked a response. Our opponents responded with a coup d’état. First the attempted coup of Roger Lafontant, in January 1991, and when that failed, the coup of September 30th 1991. Our opponents were always going to have disproportionately powerful means of hindering the popular movement, and no single decision or action could have changed this. What mattered was that we took a step forward, a step in the right direction, followed by other steps. The process that began then is still going strong. In spite of everything it is still going strong, and I’m convinced that it will only get stronger. And that in the end it will prevail.
PH: The coup of September 1991 took place even though the actual policies you pursued once in office were quite moderate, quite cautious. So was a coup inevitable? Regardless of what you did or didn’t do, was the simple presence of someone like you in the presidential palace intolerable for the Haitian elite? And in that case, could more have been done to anticipate and try to withstand the backlash?
JBA: Well it’s a good question. Here’s how I understand the situation. What happened in September 1991 happened again in February 2004, and could easily happen again soon, in the future, so long as the oligarchy who control the means of repression use them to preserve a hollow version of democracy. This is their obsession: to maintain a situation that might be called ‘democratic’, but which consists in fact of a superficial, imported democracy that is imposed and controlled from above. They’ve been able to keep things this way for a long time. Haiti has been independent for 200 years, and we now live in a country in which just 1% of its people control more than half of its wealth. For the elite, it’s a matter of us against them, of finding a way of preserving the massive inequalities that affect every facet of Haitian society. We are subject to a sort of apartheid. Ever since 1804, the elite has done everything in its power to keep the masses at bay, on the other side of the walls that protect their privilege. This is what we are up against. This is what any genuinely democratic project is up against. The elite will do everything in its power to ensure that it controls a puppet president and a puppet parliament. It will do everything necessary to protect the system of exploitation upon which its power depends. Your question has to be addressed in terms of this historical context, in terms of this deep and far-reaching continuity.
PH: Exactly so ― but in that case, what needs to be done to confront the power of this elite? If in the end it is prepared to use violence to counter any genuine threat to their hegemony, what is the best way to overcome this violence? For all its strength, the popular movement that carried you to the presidency wasn’t strong enough to keep you there, in the face of the violence it provoked. People sometimes compare you to Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led his people to freedom and won extraordinary victories under extraordinary constraints ― but Toussaint is also often criticised for failing to go far enough, for failing to break with France, for failing to do enough to keep the people’s support. It was Dessalines who led the final fight for independence and who assumed the full cost of that fight. How do you answer those (like Patrick Elie, for instance, or Ben Dupuy) who say you were too moderate, that you acted like Toussaint in a situation that really called for Dessalines? What do you say to those who claim you put too much faith in the U.S. and its domestic allies?
JBA: Well [laughs]. ‘Too much faith in the U.S.’, that makes me smile... In my humble opinion Toussaint L’Ouverture, as a man, had his limitations. But he did his best, and in reality he did not fail. The dignity he defended, the principles he defended, continue to inspire us today. He was captured, his body was imprisoned and killed, yes; but Toussaint is still alive, his example and his spirit still guide us now. Today the struggle of the Haitian people is an extension of his campaign for dignity and freedom. These last two years, from 2004-2006, they continued to stand up for their dignity and refused to fall to their knees, they refused to capitulate. On 6 July 2005 Cité Soleil was attacked and bombarded, but this attack, and the many similar attacks, did not discourage people from insisting that their voices be heard. They spoke out against injustice. They voted for their president this past February, and this too was an assertion of their dignity; they will not accept the imposition of another president from abroad or above. This simple insistence on dignity is itself an engine of historical change. The people insist that they will be the subject of their history, not its object. As Toussaint was the subject of his history, so too the Haitian people have taken up and extended his struggle, as the subjects of their history.
Again, this doesn’t mean that success is inevitable or easy. It doesn’t mean we can resolve every problem, or even that once we have dealt with a problem, that powerful vested interests won’t try to do all they can to turn the clock back. Nevertheless, something irreversible has been achieved, something that works its way through the collective consciousness. This is precisely the real meaning of Toussaint’s famous claim, once he had been captured by the French, that they had cut down the trunk of the tree of liberty but that its roots remained deep. Our struggle for freedom will encounter many obstacles but it will not be uprooted. It is firmly rooted in the minds of the people. The people are poor, certainly, but our minds are free. We continue to exist, as a people, on the basis of this initial prise de conscience, of this fundamental awareness that we are.
It’s not an accident that when it came to choosing a leader, this people, these people who remain so poor and so marginalised by the powers that be, should have sought out not a politician but a priest. The politicians had let them down. They were looking for someone with principles, someone who would speak the truth, and in a sense this was more important than material success, or an early victory over our opponents. This is Toussaint’s legacy.
As for Dessalines, the struggle that he led was armed, it was a military struggle, and necessarily so, since he had to break the bonds of slavery once and for all. He succeeded. But do we still need to carry on with this same struggle, in the same way? I don’t think so. Was Dessalines wrong to fight the way he did? No. But our struggle is different. It is Toussaint, rather than Dessalines, who can still accompany the popular movement today. It’s this inspiration that was at work in the election victory of February 2006, that allowed the people to out-fox and out-manoeuvre their opponents, to choose their own leader in the face of the full might of the powers that be.
For me this opens out onto a more general point. Did we place too much trust in the Americans? Were we too dependent on external forces? No. We simply tried to remain lucid, and to avoid facile demagoguery. It would be mere demagoguery for a Haitian president to pretend to be stronger than the Americans, or to engage them in a constant war of words, or to oppose them for opposing’s sake. The only rational course is to weigh up the relative balance of interests, to figure out what the Americans want, to remember what we want, and to make the most of the available points of convergence. Take a concrete example, the events of 1994. Clinton needed a foreign policy victory, and a return to democracy in Haiti offered him that opportunity; we needed an instrument to overcome the resistance of the murderous Haitian army, and Clinton offered us that instrument. This is what I mean by acting in the spirit of Toussaint L’Ouverture. We never had any illusions that the Americans shared our deeper objectives, we knew they didn’t want to travel in the same direction. But without the Americans we couldn’t have restored democracy.
PH: There was no other option, no alternative to reliance on American troops?
JBA: No. The Haitian people are not armed. Of course there are some criminals and vagabonds, some drug dealers, some gangs who have weapons, but the people have no weapons. You’re kidding yourself if you think that the people can wage an armed struggle. We need to look the situation in the eye: the people have no weapons, and they will never have as many weapons as their enemies. It’s pointless to wage a struggle on your enemies’ terrain, or to play by their rules. You will lose.
PH: Did you pay too high a price for American support? They forced you to make all kinds of compromises, to accept many of the things you’d always opposed ― a severe structural adjustment plan, neo-liberal economic policies, privatisation of the state enterprises, etc. The Haitian people suffered a great deal under these constraints. It must have been very difficult to swallow these things, during the negotiations of 1993.
JBA: Yes of course, but here you have to distinguish between the struggle in principle, the struggle to persist in a preferential option for the poor, which for me is inspired by theology and is a matter of justice and truth, on the one hand, and on the other hand, their political struggle, which plays by different rules. In their version of politics you can lie and cheat if it allows you to pursue your strategic aims. The claim that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for instance, was a flagrant lie. But since it was a useful way of reaching their objective, Colin Powell and company went down that path.
As for Haiti, back in 1993, the Americans were perfectly happy to agree to a negotiated economic plan. When they insisted, via the IMF and other international financial institutions, on the privatisation of state enterprises, I was prepared to agree in principle, if necessary ― but I refused simply to sell them off, unconditionally, to private investors. I said no to untrammelled privatisation. Now that there was corruption in the state sector was undeniable, but there were several different ways of engaging with this corruption. Rather than untrammelled privatisation, I was prepared to agree to a democratisation of these enterprises. What does this mean? It means an insistence on transparency. It means that some of the profits of a factory or a firm should go to the people who work for it. It means that some of those profits should be invested in things like local schools, or health clinics, so that the children of the workers can derive some benefit from their work. It means creating conditions on the micro level that are consistent with the principles that we want to guide development on the macro level. The Americans said fine, no problem.
We all signed those agreements, and I am at peace with my decision to this day. I spoke the truth. Whereas they signed them in a different spirit. They signed them because by doing so they could facilitate my return to Haiti and thus engineer their foreign policy victory, but once I was back in office, they were already planning to renegotiate the terms of the privatisation. And that’s exactly what happened. They started to insist on untrammelled privatisation, and again I said no. They went back on our agreement, and then relied on a disinformation campaign to make it look like it was me who had broken my word. It’s not true. The accords we signed are there, people can judge for themselves. Unfortunately we didn’t have the means to win the public relations fight. They won the communications battle, by spreading lies and distorting the truth, but I still feel that we won the real battle, by sticking to the truth.
PH: What about your battle with the Haitian army itself, the army that overthrew you in 1991? The Americans re-made this army in line with their own priorities back in 1915, and it had acted as a force for the protection of those priorities ever since. You were able to disband it just months after your return in 1994, but the way it was handled remains controversial, and you were never able fully to demobilise and disarm the soldiers themselves. Some of them came back to haunt you with a vengeance, during your second administration.
JBA: Again I have no regrets on this score. It was absolutely necessary to disband the army. We had an army of some 7000 soldiers, and it absorbed 40% of the national budget. Since 1915, it had served as an army of internal occupation. It never fought an external enemy. It murdered thousands of our people. Why did we need such an army, rather than a suitably trained police force? So we did what needed to be done.
In fact we did organise a social programme for the reintegration of former soldiers, since they too are members of the national community. They too have the right to work, and the state has the responsibility to respect that right ― all the more so when you know that if they don’t find work, they will be more easily tempted to have recourse to violence, or theft, as did the Tontons Macoutes before them. We did the best we could. The problem didn’t lie with our integration and demobilisation programme, it lay with the resentment of those who were determined to preserve the old status quo. They had plenty of money and weapons, and they work hand in hand with the most powerful military machine on the planet. It was easy for them to win over some former-soldiers, to train and equip them in the Dominican Republic and then use them to destabilise the country. That’s exactly what they did. But again, it wasn’t a mistake to disband the army. It’s not as if we might have avoided the second coup, the coup of 2004, if we had hung on to the army. On the contrary, if the army had remained in place then René Préval would never have finished his first term in office (1996-2001), and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to hold out for three years, from 2001 to 2004.
By acting the way we did we clarified the real conflict at issue here. As you know, Haiti’s history is punctuated by a long series of coups. But unlike the previous coups, the coup of 2004 wasn’t undertaken by the ‘Haitian’ army, acting on the orders of our little oligarchy, in line with the interests of foreign powers, as happened so many times before, and as happened again in 1991. No, this time these all-powerful interests had to carry out the job themselves, with their own troops and in their own name.
PH: Once Chamblain and his little band of rebels got bogged down on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and couldn’t advance any further, U.S. Marines had to go in and scoop you out of the country.
JBA: Exactly. The real truth of the situation, the real contradiction organising the situation, finally came out in the open, in full public view.
PH: Going back to the mid 1990s for a moment, did the creation of the Fanmi Lavalas party in 1996 serve a similar function, by helping to clarify the actual lines of internal conflict that had already fractured the loose coalition of forces that first brought you to power in 1990? Why were there such deep divisions between you and some of your erstwhile allies, people like Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Gérard Pierre-Charles? Almost the whole of Préval’s first administration, from 1996 to 2000, was hampered by infighting and opposition from Pierre-Charles and the OPL. Did you set out, then, to create a unified, disciplined party, one that could offer and then deliver a coherent political programme?
JBA: No, that’s not the way it happened. In the first place, by training and by inclination I was a teacher, not a politician. I had no experience of party politics, and was happy to leave to others the task of developing a party organisation, of training party members, and so on. Already back in 1991, I was happy to leave this to career politicians, to people like Gérard Pierre-Charles, and along with other people he began working along these lines as soon as democracy was restored. He helped found the Organisation Politique Lavalas (OPL) and I encouraged people to join it. This party won the 1995 elections, and by the time I finished my term in office, in February 1996, it had a majority in parliament. But then, rather than seek to articulate an ongoing relation between the party and the people, rather than continue to listen to the people, after the elections the OPL started to pay less attention to them. It started to fall into the traditional patterns and practices of Haitian politics. It started to become more closed in on itself, more distant from the people, more willing to make empty promises, and so on. As for me I was out of office, and I stayed on the sidelines. But a group of priests who were active in the Lavalas movement became frustrated, and wanted to restore a more meaningful link with the people. They wanted to remain in communion with the people. At this point (in 1996) the group of people who felt this way, who were unhappy with the OPL, were known as la nébuleuse ― they were in an uncertain and confusing position. Over time there were more and more such people, who became more and more dissatisfied with the situation.
We engaged in long discussions about what to do, and Fanmi Lavalas grew out of these discussions. It emerged from the people themselves. And even when it came to be constituted as a political organisation, it never conceived of itself as a conventional political party. If you look through the organisation’s constitution, you’ll see that the word ‘party’ never comes up. It describes itself as an organisation, not a party. Why? Because in Haiti we have no positive experience of political parties; parties have always been instruments of manipulation and betrayal. On the other hand, we have a long and positive experience of organisation, of popular organisations ― the ti legliz, for instance.
So no, it wasn’t me who ‘founded’ Fanmi Lavalas as a political party. I just brought my contribution to the formation of this organisation, which offered a platform for those who were frustrated with the party that was the OPL (which was soon to re-brand itself as the neo-liberal Organisation du Peuple en Lutte), those who were still active in the movement but who felt excluded within it. Now in order to be effective Fanmi Lavalas needed to draw on the experience of people who knew something of politics, people who could act as political leaders without abandoning a commitment to truth. This is the hard problem, of course. Fanmi Lavalas doesn’t have the strict discipline and coordination of a political party. Some of its members haven’t yet acquired the training and the experience necessary to preserve both a commitment to truth and an effective participation in politics. For us, politics is deeply connected to ethics, this is the crux of the matter. Fanmi Lavalas is not an exclusively political organisation. That’s why no politician has been able simply to appropriate and use Fanmi Lavalas as a springboard to power. That will never be easy: the members of Fanmi Lavalas insist on the fidelity of their leaders.
PH: That’s a lesson that Marc Bazin, Louis-Gérald Gilles and a few others had to learn during the 2006 election campaign, to their cost.
JBA: Exactly.
PH: To what extent, however, did Fanmi Lavalas then become a victim of its own success? Rather like the ANC here in South Africa, it was obvious from the beginning that Fanmi Lavalas would be more or less unbeatable at the polls. But this can be a mixed blessing. How did you propose to deal with the many opportunists who immediately sought to worm their way into your organisation, people like Dany Toussaint and his associates?
JBA: I left office early in 1996. By 1997, Fanmi Lavalas had emerged as a functional organisation, with a clear constitution. This was already a big step forward from 1990. In 1990, the political movement was largely spontaneous; in 1997 things were more coordinated. Along with the constitution, at the first Fanmi Lavalas congress we voted and approved the programme laid out in our Livre Blanc: Investir dans l’humain, which I know you’re familiar with. This programme didn’t emerge out of nothing. For around two years we held meetings with engineers, with agronomists, with doctors, teachers, and so on. We listened and discussed the merits of different proposals. It was a collective process. The Livre Blanc is not a programme based on my personal priorities or ideology. It’s the result of a long process of consultation with professionals in all these domains, and it was compiled as a truly collaborative document. And as even the World Bank came to recognise, it was a genuine programme, a coherent plan for the transformation of the country. It wasn’t a bundle of empty promises.
Now in the midst of these discussions, in the midst of the emergent organisation, it’s true that you will find opportunists, you will find future criminals and future drug-dealers. But it wasn’t easy to identify them. It wasn’t easy to find them in time, and to expel them in time, before it was too late. Most of these people, before gaining a seat in parliament, behaved perfectly well. But you know, for some people power can be like alcohol: after a glass, two glasses, a whole bottle... you’re not dealing with the same person. It makes some people dizzy. These things are difficult to anticipate. Nevertheless, I think that if it hadn’t been for the intervention of foreign powers, we would have been able to make real progress. We had established viable methods for collaborative discussion, and for preserving direct links with the people. I think we would have made real progress, taking small but steady steps.
Even in spite of the aid embargo we managed to accomplish certain things. We were able to invest in education, for instance. As you know, in 1990 there were only 34 secondary schools in Haiti; by 2001 there were 138. The little that we had to invest, we invested it in line with the programme laid out in Investir dans l’humain. We built a new university at Tabarre, a new medical school. Although it had to run on a shoestring, the literacy programme we launched in 2001 was also working well; Cuban experts who helped us manage the programme were confident that by December 2004 we’d have reduced the rate of adult illiteracy to just 15%, a small fraction of what it was a decade earlier. Previous governments never seriously tried to invest in education, and it’s clear that our programme was always going to be a threat to the status quo. The elite want nothing to do with popular education, for obvious reasons. Again it comes down to this: we can either set out from a position of genuine freedom and independence, and work to create a country that respects the dignity of all its people, or else we will have to accept a position of servile dependence, a country in which the dignity of ordinary people counts for nothing. This is what’s at stake here.
PH: Armed then with its programme, Fanmi Lavalas duly won an overwhelming victory in the legislative elections of May 2000, winning around 75% of the vote. No one disputed the clarity and legitimacy of the victory. But your enemies in the U.S. and at home soon drew attention to the fact that the method used to calculate the number of votes needed to win some senate senates in a single round of voting (i.e. without the need for a run-off election between the two most popular candidates) was at least controversial, if not illegitimate. They jumped on this technicality in order to cast doubt on the validity of the election victory itself, and used it to justify an immediate suspension of international loans and aid. Soon after your own second term in office began (in February 2001), the winners of these seats were persuaded to stand down, pending a further round of elections. But this was a year after the event; wouldn’t it have been better to resolve the matter more quickly, to avoid giving the Americans a pretext to undermine your administration before it even began?
JBA: I hope you won’t mind if I take you up on your choice of verbs: you say that we gave the Americans a pretext. In reality the Americans created their pretext, and if it hadn’t been this it would have been something else. Their goal all along was to ensure that come January 2004, there would be no meaningful celebration of the bicentenary of independence. It took the U.S. 58 years to recognise Haiti’s independence, since of course the U.S. was a slave-owning country at the time, and in fact U.S. policy has never really changed. Their priorities haven’t changed, and today’s American policy is more or less consistent with the way it’s always been. The coup of September 1991 was undertaken by people in Haiti with the support of the U.S. administration, and in February 2004 it happened again, thanks to many of these same people.
No, the U.S. created their little pretext. They were having trouble persuading the other leaders in CARICOM to turn against us (many of whom in fact they were never able to persuade), and they needed a pretext that was clear and easy to understand. ‘Tainted elections’, it was the perfect card to play. But I remember very well what happened when they came to observe the elections. They came, and they said ‘very good, no problem’. Everything seemed to go smoothly, the process was deemed peaceful and fair. And then as the results came in, in order to undermine our victory, they asked questions about the way the votes were counted. But I had nothing to do with this. I wasn’t a member of the government, and I had no influence over the CEP (Provisional Electoral Council), which alone has the authority to decide on these matters. The CEP is a sovereign, independent body. The CEP declared the results of the elections; I had nothing to do with it. Then once I had been re-elected, and the Americans demanded that I dismiss these senators, what was I supposed to do? The constitution doesn’t give the president the power to dismiss senators who were elected in keeping with the protocol decided by the CEP. Can you imagine a situation like this back in the U.S. itself? What would happen if a foreign government insisted that the president dismiss an elected senator? It’s absurd. The whole situation is simply racist, in fact; they impose conditions on us that they would never contemplate imposing on a ‘properly’ independent country, on a white country. We have to call things by their name: is the issue really a matter of democratic governance, of the validity of a particular electoral result? Or is actually about something else?
In the end, what the Americans wanted to do was to use the legislature, the senate, against the executive. They hoped that I would be stupid enough to insist on the dismissal of these elected senators. I refused to do it. In 2001, as a gesture of goodwill, these senators eventually chose to resign on the assumption that they would contest new elections as soon as the opposition was prepared to participate in them. But the Americans failed to turn the senate and the parliament against the presidency, and it soon became clear that the opposition never had the slightest interest in new elections. Once this tactic failed, however, they recruited or bought off a few hotheads, including Dany Toussaint and company, and used them, a little later, against the presidency.
Once again, the overall objective was to undermine the celebration of our bicentenary, the celebration of our independence and of all its implications. When the time came they sent emissaries to Africa, especially to francophone Africa, telling their leaders not to attend the celebrations. Chirac applied enormous pressure on his African colleagues; the Americans did the same. Thabo Mbeki was almost alone in his willingness to resist this pressure, and through him the African Union was represented. I’m very glad of it. The same pressure was applied in the Caribbean: the prime minister of the Bahamas, Perry Christie, decided to come, but that’s it, he was the only one. It was very disappointing.
PH: In the press, meanwhile, you came to be presented not as the unequivocal winner of legitimate elections, but as an increasingly tyrannical autocrat.
JBA: Exactly. A lot of the $200 million or so in aid and development money for Haiti that was suspended when we won the elections in 2000 was simply diverted to a propaganda and destabilisation campaign waged against our government and against Fanmi Lavalas. The disinformation campaign was truly massive. Huge sums of money were spent to get the message out, through the radio, through newspapers, through various little political parties that were supposed to serve as vehicles for the opposition... It was extraordinary. When I look back at this very discouraging period in our history I compare it with what has recently happened in some other places. They went to the same sort of trouble when they tried to say there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I can still see Colin Powell sitting there in front of the United Nations, with his little bag of tricks, demonstrating for all the world to see that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Look at this irrefutable proof! It was pathetic. In any case the logic was the same: they rig up a useful lie, and then they sell it. It’s the logic of people who take themselves to be all-powerful. If they decide 1 + 1 = 4, then 4 it will have to be.
PH: From My Lai to the Iran-Contras to Iraq to Haiti, Colin Powell has made an entire career along these lines... But going back to May 2000: soon after the results were declared, the head of the CEP, Leon Manus, fled the country, claiming that the results were invalid and that you and Préval had put pressure on him to calculate the votes in a particular way. Why did he come to embrace the American line?
JBA: Well, I don’t want to judge Leon Manus, I don’t know what happened exactly. But I think he acted in the same way as some of the leaders of the Group of 184. They are beholden to a patron, a boss. The boss is American, a white American. And you are black. Don’t underestimate the inferiority complex that still so often conditions these relationships. You are black. But sometimes you get to feel almost as white as the whites themselves, you get to feel whiter than white, if you’re willing to get down on your knees in front of the whites. If you’re willing to get down on your knees, rather than stay on your feet, then you can feel almost as white as they look. This is a psychological legacy of slavery: to lie for the white man isn’t really lying at all, since white men don’t lie! [laughs]. How could white men lie? They are the civilised ones. If I lie for the whites I’m not really lying, I’m just repeating what they say. So I don’t know, but I imagine Leon Manus felt like this when he repeated the lie that they wanted him to repeat. Don’t forget, his journey out of the country began in a car with diplomatic plates, and he arrived in Santo Domingo on an American helicopter. Who has access to that sort of transport?
In this case and others like it, what’s really going on is clear enough. It’s the people with power who pull the strings, and they use this or that petit nègre de service, this or that black messenger to convey the lies that they call truth. The people recruited into the Group of 184 did much they same thing: they were paid off to say what their employers wanted them to say. They helped destroy the country, in order to please their patrons.
PH: Why were these people so aggressively hostile to you and your government? There’s something hysterical about the positions taken by the so-called ‘Democratic Convergence’, and later by the ‘Group of 184’, by people like Evans Paul, Gérard Pierre-Charles and others. They refused all compromise, they insisted on all sorts of unreasonable conditions before they would even consider participation in another round of elections. The Americans themselves seemed exasperated with them, but made no real effort to rein them in.
JBA: They made no effort to rein them in because this was all part of the plan. It’s a little bit like what’s happening now [in July 2006], with Yvon Neptune: the Americans have been shedding crocodile tears over poor imprisoned Neptune, as if they haven’t been complicit in and responsible for this imprisonment! As if they don’t have the power to change the situation overnight! They have the power to undermine and overthrow a democratically elected government, but they don’t have the power to set free a couple of prisoners that they themselves put in prison [laughs]. Naturally they have to respect the law, the proper procedures, the integrity of Haitian institutions! This is all bluff, it’s absurd.
Why were the Group of 184 and our opponents in ‘civil society’ so hostile? Again it’s partly a matter of social pathology. When a group of citizens is prepared to act in so irrational and servile a fashion, when they are so willing to relay the message concocted by their foreign masters, without even realising that in doing so they inflict harm upon themselves ― well if you ask me, this is a symptom of a real pathology. It has something to do with a visceral hatred, which became a real obsession: a hatred for the people. It was never really about me, it’s got nothing to do with me as an individual. They detest and despise the people. They refuse absolutely to acknowledge that we are all equal, that everyone is equal. So when they behave in this way, part of the reason is to reassure themselves that they are different, that they are not like the people, not like them. It’s essential that they see themselves as better than others. I think this is one part of the problem, and it’s not simply a political problem. There’s something masochistic about this behaviour, and there are plenty of foreign sadists who are more than willing to oblige!
I’m convinced it’s bound up with the legacy of slavery, with an inherited contempt for the people, for the common people, for the niggers [petits nègres]... It’s the psychology of apartheid: it’s better to get down on your knees with whites than it is to stand shoulder to shoulder with blacks. Don’t underestimate the depth of this contempt. Don’t forget that back in 1991, one of the first things we did was abolish the classification, on birth certificates, of people who were born outside of Port-au-Prince as ‘peasants’. This kind of classification, and all sorts of things that went along with it, served to maintain a system of rigid exclusion. It served to keep people outside, to treat them as moun andeyo ― people from outside. People under the table. This is what I mean by the mentality of apartheid, and it runs very deep. It won’t change overnight.
PH: What about your own willingness to work alongside people compromised by their past, for instance your inclusion of former Duvalierists in your second administration? Was that an easy decision to take? Was it necessary?
JBA: No it wasn’t easy, but I saw it as a necessary evil. Take Marc Bazin, for instance. He was minister of finance under Jean-Claude Duvalier. I only turned to Bazin because my opponents in Democratic Convergence, in the OPL and so on, absolutely refused any participation in the government.
PH: You were under pressure to build a government of ‘consensus’, of national unity, and you approached people in the Convergence first?
JBA: Right, and I got nowhere. Their objective was to scrap the entire process, and they said no straightaway. Look, of course we had a massive majority in parliament, and I wasn’t prepared to dissolve a properly elected parliament. What for? But I was aware of the danger of simply excluding the opposition. I wanted a democratic government, and so I set out to make it as inclusive as I could, under the circumstances. Since the Convergence wasn’t willing to participate, I invited people from sectors that had little or no representation in parliament to have a voice in the administration, to occupy some ministerial positions and to keep a balance between the legislative and the executive branches of government.
PH: This must have been very controversial. Bazin not only worked for Duvalier, he was your opponent back in 1990.
JBA: Yes it was controversial, and I didn’t take the decision alone. We talked about it at length, we held meetings, looking for a compromise. Some were for, some were against, and in the end there was a majority who accepted that we couldn’t afford to work alone, that we needed to demonstrate we were willing and able to work with people who clearly weren’t pro-Lavalas. They weren’t pro-Lavalas, but we had already published a well-defined political programme, and if they were willing to cooperate on this or that aspect of the programme, then we were willing to work with them as well.
PH: It’s ironic: you were often accused of being a sort of ‘monarchical’ if not tyrannical president, of being intolerant of dissent, too determined to get your own way... But what do you say to those who argue instead that the real problem was just the opposite, that you were too tolerant of dissent? You allowed ex-soldiers to call openly and repeatedly for the reconstitution of the army. You allowed self-appointed leaders of ‘civil society’ to do everything in their power to disrupt your government. You allowed radio stations to sustain a relentless campaign of misinformation. You allowed all sorts of demonstrations to go on day after day, calling for you to be overthrown by fair means or foul, and many of these demonstrators were directly funded and organised by your enemies in the U.S. Eventually the situation got out of hand, and the people who sought to profit from the chaos certainly weren’t motivated by respect for the rights of free speech!
JBA: Well, this is what democracy requires. Either you allow for the free expression of diverse opinions or you don’t. If people aren’t free to demonstrate and to give voice to their demands there is no democracy. Now again, I knew our position was strong in parliament, and that the great majority of the people were behind us. A small minority opposed us, a small but powerful minority. Their foreign connections, their business interests, and so on, make them powerful. Nevertheless they have the right to protest, to articulate their demands, just like anyone else. That’s normal. As for accusations that I was becoming dictatorial, authoritarian, and so on, I paid no attention. I knew they were lying, and I knew they knew they were lying. Of course it was a predictable strategy, and it helped create a familiar image they could sell to the outside world. At home, however, everyone knew it was ridiculous. And in the end, like I said before, it was the foreign masters themselves who had to come to Haiti to finish the job. My government certainly wasn’t overthrown by the people who were demonstrating in the streets.
PH: Perhaps the most serious and frequent accusation that was made by the demonstrators, and repeated by your critics abroad, is that you resorted to violence in order to hang on to power. The claim is that, as the pressure on your government grew, you started to rely on armed gangs from the slums, so-called ‘chimères’, and that you used them to intimidate and in some cases to murder your opponents.
JBA: Here again the people who make these sort of claims are lying, and I think they know they are lying. As soon as you start to look rationally at what was really going on, these accusations don’t even begin to stand up. Several things have to be kept in mind. First of all, the police had been working under an embargo for several years. We weren’t even able to buy bullet-proof vests or tear-gas canisters. The police were severely under-equipped, and were often simply unable to control a demonstration or confrontation. Some of our opponents, some of the demonstrators who sought to provoke violent confrontations, knew this perfectly well. The people also understood this. It was common knowledge that while the police were running out of ammunition and supplies in Haiti, heavy weapons were being smuggled to our opponents in and through the Dominican Republic. The people knew this, and didn’t like it. They started getting nervous, with good reason.
The provocations didn’t let up, and there were some isolated acts of violence. Was this violence justified? No. I condemned it. I condemned it consistently. But with the limited means at our disposal, how could we prevent every outbreak of violence? There was a lot of provocation, a lot of anger, and there was no way that we could ensure that each and every citizen would refuse violence. The president of a country like Haiti cannot be held responsible for the actions of its every citizen. But there was never any deliberate encouragement of violence, there was no deliberate recourse to violence. Those who make and repeat these claims are lying, and they know it.
Now what about these ‘chimères’, the people they call chimères? This is clearly another expression of our apartheid mentality, the very word says it all. ‘Chimères’ are people who are impoverished, who live in a state of profound insecurity and chronic unemployment. They are the victims of structural injustice, of systematic social violence. And they are among the people who voted for this government, who appreciated what the government was doing and had done, in spite of the embargo. It’s not surprising that they should confront those who have always benefited from this same social violence, once they started actively seeking to undermine their government.
Again, this doesn’t justify occasional acts of violence, but where does the real responsibility lie? Who are the real victims of violence here? How many members of the elite, how many members of the opposition’s many political parties, were killed by ‘chimères’? How many? Who are they? Meanwhile everyone knows that powerful economic interests were quite happy to fund certain criminal gangs, that they put weapons in the hands of vagabonds, in Cité Soleil and elsewhere, in order to create disorder and blame it on Fanmi Lavalas. These same people also paid journalists to present the situation in a certain way, and among other things they promised them visas ― recently some of them who are now living in France admitted what they were told to say, in order to get their visa. So you have people who were financing misinformation on the one hand and destabilisation on the other, and who encouraged little groups of hoodlums to sow panic on the streets, to create the impression of a government that is losing control.
As if all this wasn’t enough, rather than allow police munitions to get through to Haiti, rather than send arms and equipment to strengthen the Haitian government, the Americans sent them to their proxies in the Dominican Republic instead. You only have to look at who these people were ― people like Jodel Chamblain, who is a convicted criminal, who escaped justice in Haiti to be welcomed by the US, and who then armed and financed these future ‘freedom fighters’ who were waiting over the border in the Dominican Republic. That’s what really happened. We didn’t arm the ‘chimères’, it was they who armed Chamblain and Philippe! The hypocrisy is extraordinary. And then when it comes to 2004-2006, suddenly all this indignant talk of violence falls quiet. As if nothing had happened. People were being herded into containers and dropped into the sea. That counts for nothing. The endless attacks on Cité Soleil, they count for nothing. I could go on and on. Thousands have died. But they don’t count, because they are just ‘chimères’, after all. They don’t count as equals, they aren’t really people in their own right.
PH: What about people in your entourage like Dany Toussaint, your former chief of security, who was accused of all kinds of violence and intimidation?
JBA: He was working for them! It’s clear. From the beginning. And we were taken in. Of course I regret this. But it wasn’t hard for the Americans or their proxies to infiltrate the government, to infiltrate the police. We weren’t even able to provide the police with the equipment they needed, we could hardly pay them an adequate salary. It was easy for our opponents to stir up trouble, to co-opt some policemen, to infiltrate our organisation. This was incredibly difficult to control. We were truly surrounded. I was surrounded by people who one way or another were in the pay of foreign powers, who were working actively to overthrow the government. A friend of mine said at the time, looking at the situation, ‘I now understand why you believe in God, as otherwise I can’t understand how you can still be alive, in the midst of all this.’
PH: I suppose even your enemies knew there was nothing to gain by turning you into a martyr.
JBA: Yes, they knew that a mixture of disinformation and character assassination would be more effective, more devastating. I’m certainly used to it [laughs].
PH: How can I find out more about Dany Toussaint’s role in all this? He wasn’t willing to talk to me when I was in Port-au-Prince a couple of months ago. It’s intriguing that the people who were clamouring for his arrest while you were still in power were then suddenly quite happy to leave him in peace, once he had openly come out against you (in December 2003), and once they themselves were in power. But can you prove that he was working for or with them all along? JBA: This won’t be easy to document, I accept that. But if you dig around for evidence I think you’ll find it. Over time, things that were once hidden and obscure tend to come to light. In Haiti there are lots of rumours and counter-rumours, but eventually the truth tends to come out. There’s a proverb in Kreyol that says twou manti pa fon. Lies don’t run very deep. Sooner or later the truth will out. There are plenty of things that were happening at the time that only recently are starting to come to light.
PH: You mean things like the eventual public admissions, made over the past year or so by rebel leaders Rémissainthe Ravix and Guy Philippe, about the extent of their long-standing collaboration with the Convergence Démocratique, with the Americans? JBA: Exactly.
PH: Along the same lines, what do you say to militant leftwing groups like Batay Ouvriye, who insist that your government failed to do enough to help the poor, that you did nothing for the workers? Although they would appear to have little in common with the Convergence, they made and continue to make many of the same sorts of accusations against Fanmi Lavalas. JBA: I think, although I’m not sure, that there are several things that help explain this. First of all, you need to look at where their funding comes from. The discourse makes more sense, once we know who is paying the bills. The Americans don’t just fund political groups willy-nilly.
PH: Particularly not quasi-Trotskyite trade unionists...
JBA: Of course not. And again, I think that part of the reason comes back to what I was saying before, that somewhere, somehow, there’s a little secret satisfaction, perhaps an unconscious satisfaction, in saying things that powerful white people want you to say. Even here, I think it goes something like this: ‘yes we are workers, we are farmers, we are struggling on behalf of the workers, but somewhere, there’s a little part of us that would like to escape our mental class, the state of mind of our class, and jump up into another mental class.’ My hunch is that it’s something like that. In Haiti, contempt for the people runs very deep. In my experience, resistance to our affirmation of equality, our being together with the people, ran very deep indeed. Even when it comes to trivial things.
PH: Like inviting kids from poor neighbourhoods to swim in your pool?
JBA: Right. You wouldn’t believe the reactions this provoked. It was too scandalous: swimming pools are supposed to be the preserve of the rich. When I saw the photographs this past February, of the people swimming in the pool of the Montana Hotel, I smiled [laughs]. I thought that was great. I thought ah, now I can die in peace. It was great to see. Because at the time, when kids came to swim in our pool at Tabarre, lots of people said look, he’s opening the doors of his house to riff-raff, he’s putting ideas in their heads. First they will ask to swim in his pool; soon they will demand a place in our house. And I said no, it’s just the opposite. I had no interest in the pool itself, I hardly ever used it. What interested me was the message this sent out. Kids from the poorer neighbourhoods would normally never get to see a pool, let alone swim in one. Many are full of envy for the rich. But once they’ve swum in a pool, once they realise that it’s just a pool, they conclude that it doesn’t much matter. The envy is deflated.
PH: That day in February, a huge crowd of thousands of people came up from the slums to make their point to the CEP (which was stationed in the Montana Hotel), they made their demands, and then hundreds of them swam in the Montana’s pool and left, without touching a thing. No damage, no theft, just making a point.
JBA: Exactly. It was a joy to see those pictures.
PH: Turning now to what happened in February 2004. I know you’ve often been asked about this, but there are wildly different versions of what happened in the run-up to your expulsion from the country. The Americans insist that late in the day you came calling for help, that you suddenly panicked and that they were caught off guard by the speed of your government’s collapse. On the face of it this doesn’t look very plausible. Guy Philippe’s well-armed rebels were able to outgun some isolated police stations, and appeared to control much of the northern part of the country. But how much support did the rebels really have? And surely there was little chance that they could take the capital itself, in the face of the many thousands of people who were ready to defend it?
JBA: Don’t forget that there had been several attempts at a coup in the previous few years, in July 2001, with an attack on the police academy, the former military academy, and again a few months later, in December 2001, with an incursion into the national palace itself. They didn’t succeed, and on both occasions these same rebels were forced to flee the city. They only just managed to escape. It wasn’t the police alone who chased them away, it was a combination of the police and the people. So they knew what they were up against, they knew that it wouldn’t be easy. They might be able to find a way into the city, but they knew that it would be hard to remain there. It was a little like the way things later turned out in Iraq: the Americans had the weapons to battle their way in easily enough, but staying there has proved to be more of a challenge. The rebels knew they couldn’t take Port-au-Prince, and that’s why they hesitated for a while, on the outskirts, some 40 km away. So from our perspective we had nothing to fear. The balance of forces was in our favour, that was clear. There are occasions when large groups of people are more powerful than heavy machine guns and automatic weapons, it all depends on the context. And the context of Port-au-Prince, in a city with so many national and international interests, with its embassies, its public prominence and visibility, and so on, was different from the context of more isolated places like Saint-Marc or Gonaïves. The people were ready, and I wasn’t worried.
No, the rebels knew they couldn't take the city, and that's why their masters decided on a diversion instead, on attacks in the provinces, in order to create the illusion that much of the country was under their control, that there was a major insurrection under way. But it wasn't the case. There was no great insurrection: there was a small group of soldiers, heavily armed, who were able to overwhelm some police stations, kill some policemen and create a certain amount of havoc. The police had run out of ammunition, and were no match for the rebels’ M16s. But the city was a different story.
Meanwhile, as you know on February 29 a shipment of police munitions that we had bought from South Africa, perfectly legally, was due to arrive in Port-au-Prince. This decided the matter. Already the balance of forces was against the rebels; on top of that, if the police were restored to something like their full operational capacity, then the rebels stood no chance at all.
PH: So at that point the Americans had no option but to go in and get you themselves, the night of 28 February?
JBA: That’s right. They knew that in a few more hours, they would lose their opportunity to ‘resolve’ the situation. They grabbed their chance while they had it, and bundled us onto a plane in the middle of the night. That’s what they did.
PH: The Americans ― Ambassador Foley, Luis Moreno, and so on ― insist that you begged for their help, that they had to arrange a flight to safety at the last minute. Several reporters were prepared to endorse their account. On the other hand, speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the American security guards who was on your plane that night told the Washington Post soon after the event that the U.S. story was a pure fabrication, that it was ‘just bogus.’ Your personal security advisor and pilot, Frantz Gabriel, also confirms that you were kidnapped that night by U.S. military personnel. Who are we supposed to believe?
JBA: Well. For me it’s very simple. You’re dealing with a country that was willing and able, in front of the United Nations and in front of the world at large, to fabricate claims about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They were willing to lie about issues of global importance. It’s hardly surprising that they were able to find a few people to say the things that needed to be said in Haiti, in a small country of no great strategic significance. They have their people, their resources, their way of doing things. They just carried out their plan, that’s all. It was all part of the plan.
PH: They said they couldn’t send peacekeepers to help stabilise the situation, but as soon as you were gone, the troops arrived straight away.
JBA: The plan was perfectly clear.
PH: I have just a couple of last questions. In August and September 2005, in the run up to the elections that finally took place in February 2006, there was a lot of discussion within Fanmi Lavalas about how to proceed. In the end, most of the rank and file threw their weight behind your old colleague, your ‘twin brother’ René Préval, but some members of the leadership opted to stand as candidates in their own right; others were even prepared to endorse Marc Bazin’s candidacy. It was a confusing situation, one that must have put great strain on the organisation, but you kept very quiet.
JBA: In a dictatorship, the orders go from top to bottom. In a democratic organisation, the process is more dialectical. The small groups or cells that we call the ti fanmis are part of Fanmi Lavalas, they discuss things, debate things, express themselves, until a collective decision emerges from out of the discussion. This is how the organisation works. Of course our opponents will always cry ‘dictatorship, dictatorship, it’s just Aristide giving orders.’ But people who are familiar with the organisation know that’s not the way it is. We have no experience of situations in which someone comes and gives an order, without discussion. I remember that when we had to choose the future electoral candidates for Fanmi Lavalas, back in 1999, the discussions at the Foundation [the Aristide Foundation for Democracy] would often run long into the night. Delegations would come from all over the country, and members of the cellules de base would argue for or against. Often it wasn’t easy to find a compromise, but this is how the process worked, this was our way of doing things. So now, when it came to deciding on a new presidential candidate last year, I was confident that the discussion would proceed in the same way, even though by that stage many members of the organisation had been killed, and many more were in hiding, in exile or in prison. I made no declaration one way or another about what to do or who to support. I knew they would make the right decision in their own way. A lot of the things ‘I’ decided, as president, were in reality decided this way: the decision didn’t originate with me, but with them. It was with their words that I spoke. The decisions we made emerged through a genuinely collective process. The people are intelligent, and their intelligence is often surprising.
I knew that the Fanmi Lavalas senators who decided to back Bazin would soon be confronted by the truth, but I didn’t know how this would happen, since the true decision emerged from the people, from below, not from above. And no-one could have guessed it, a couple of months in advance. Never doubt the people’s intelligence, their power of discernment. Did I give an order to support Bazin or to oppose Bazin? No, I gave no order either way. I trusted the membership to get at the truth.
Of course the organisation is guided by certain principles, and I drew attention to some of them at the time. In South Africa, back in 1994, could there have been fair elections if Mandela was still in prison, if Mbeki was still in exile, if other leaders of the ANC were in hiding? The situation in Haiti this past year was much the same: there could hardly be fair elections before the prisoners were freed, before the exiles were allowed to return, and so on. I was prepared to speak out about this, as a matter of general principle. But to go further than this, to declare for this or that candidate, this or that course of action, no, it wasn’t for me to say.
PH: How do you now envisage the future? What has to happen next? Can there be any real change in Haiti without directly confronting the question of class privilege and power, without finding some way of overcoming the resistance of the dominant class?
JBA: We will have to confront these things, one way or another. The condition sine qua non for doing this is obviously the participation of the people. Once the people are genuinely able to participate in the democratic process, then they will be able to devise an acceptable way forward. In any case the process itself is irreversible. It’s irreversible at the mental level, at the level of people’s minds. Members of the impoverished sections of Haitian society now have an experience of democracy, of a collective consciousness, and they will not allow a government or a candidate to be imposed on them. They demonstrated this in February 2006, and I know they will keep on demonstrating it. They will not accept lies in the place of truth, as if they were too stupid to understand the difference between the two. Everything comes back, in the end, to the simple principle that tout moun se moun ― every person is indeed a person, every person is capable of thinking things through for themselves. Either you accept this principle or you don’t. Those who don’t accept it, when they look at the nègres of Haiti ― and consciously or unconsciously, that’s what they see ― they see people who are too poor, too crude, too uneducated, to think for themselves. They see people who need others to make their decisions for them. It’s a colonial mentality, in fact, and this mentality is still very widespread among our political class. It’s also a projection: they project upon the people a sense of their own inadequacy, their own inequality in the eyes of the master.
So yes, for me there is a way out, a way forward, and it has to pass by way of the people. Even if we don’t yet have viable democratic structures and institutions, there is already a democratic consciousness, a collective democratic consciousness, and this is irreversible. February 2006 shows how much has been gained, it shows how far down the path of democracy we have come, even after the coup, even after two years of ferocious violence and repression.
What remains unclear is how long it will take. We may move forward fairly quickly, if through their mobilisation the people encounter interlocutors who are willing to listen, to enter into dialogue with them. If they don’t find them, it will take longer. From 1992 to 1994 for instance, there were people in the U.S. government who were willing to listen at least a little, and this helped the democratic process to move forward. Since 2000 we’ve had to deal with a U.S. administration that is diametrically opposed to its predecessor, and everything slowed down dramatically, or went into reverse. The question is how long it will take. The real problem isn’t simply a Haitian one, it isn’t located within Haiti. It’s a problem for Haiti that is located outside Haiti! The people who control it can speed things up, slow them down, block them altogether, as they like. But the process itself, the democratic process in Haiti itself, it will move forward one way or another, it’s irreversible. That’s how I understand it.
As for what will happen now, or next, that’s unclear. The unknown variables I mentioned before remain in force, and much depends on how those who control the means of repression both at home and abroad will react. We still need to develop new ways of reducing and eventually eliminating our dependence on foreign powers.
PH: And your own next step? I know you’re still hoping to get back to Haiti as soon as possible: any progress there? What are your own priorities now?
JBA: Yes indeed: Thabo Mbeki’s last public declaration on this point dates from February, when he said he saw no particular reason why I shouldn’t be able to return home, and this still stands. Of course it’s still a matter of judging when the time is right, of judging the security and stability of the situation. The South African government has welcomed us here as guests, not as exiles; by helping us so generously they have made their contribution to peace and stability in Haiti. And once the conditions are right we’ll go back. As soon as René Préval judges that the time is right then I’ll go back. I am ready to go back tomorrow.
PH: In the eyes of your opponents, you still represent a major political threat.
JBA: Criminals like Chamblain and Philippe are free to patrol the streets, even now, but I should remain in exile because some members of the elite think I represent a major threat? Who is the real threat? Who is guilty, and who is innocent? Again, either we live in a democracy or we don’t, either we respect the law or we don’t. There is no legal justification for blocking my return. It’s slightly comical: I was elected president but am accused of dictatorship by nameless people who are accountable to no-one yet have the power to expel me from the country and then to delay or block my return [laughs]. In any case, once I’m finally able to return, then the fears of these people will evaporate like mist, since they have no substance. They have no more substance than did the threat of legal action against me, which was finally abandoned this past week, once even the American lawyers who were hired to prosecute the case realised that the whole thing was empty, that there was nothing in it.
PH: You have no further plans to play some sort of role in politics?
JBA: I’ve often been asked this question, and my answer hasn’t changed. For me it’s very clear. There are different ways of serving the people. Participation in the politics of the state isn’t the only way. Before 1990 I served the people, from outside the structure of the state. I will serve the people again, from outside the structure of the state. My first vocation was teaching, it’s a vocation that I have never abandoned, I am still committed to it. For me, one of the great achievements of our second administration was the construction of the University of Tabarre, which was built entirely under embargo but which in terms of its infrastructure became the largest university in Haiti (and which, since 2004, has been occupied by foreign troops). I would like to go back to teaching, I plan to remain active in education.
As for politics, I never had any interest in becoming a political leader ‘for life.’ That was Duvalier: president for life. In fact that is also the way most political parties in Haiti still function: they serve the interests of a particular individual, of a small group of friends. Often it’s just a dozen people, huddled around their life-long chief. This is not at all how a political organisation should work. A political organisation consists of its members, it isn’t the instrument of one man. Of course I would like to help strengthen the organisation. If I can help with the training of its members, if I can accompany the organisation as it moves forward, then I will be glad to be of service. Fanmi Lavalas needs to become more professional, it needs to have more internal discipline; the democratic process needs properly functional political parties, and it needs parties, in the plural. So I will not dominate or lead the organisation, that is not my role, but I will contribute what I can.
PH: And now, at this point, after all these long years of struggle, and after the setbacks of these last years, what is your general assessment of the situation? Are you discouraged? Hopeful?
JBA: No I’m not discouraged. You teach philosophy, so let me couch my answer in philosophical terms. You know that we can think the category of being either in terms of potential or act, en puissance ou en acte. This is a familiar Aristotelian distinction: being can be potential or actual. So long as it remains potential, you cannot touch it or confirm it. But it is, nonetheless, it exists. The collective consciousness of the Haitian people, their mobilisation for democracy, these things may not have been fully actualised but they exist, they are real. This is what sustains me. I am sustained by this collective potential, the power of this collective potential being [cet être collectif en puissance]. This power has not yet been actualised, it has not yet been enacted in the building of enough schools, of more hospitals, more opportunities, but these things will come. The power is real and it is what animates the way forward.
itorial note: This interview was conducted in French, in Pretoria, on 20 July 2006; it was translated and edited by Peter Hallward, professor of philosophy at Middlesex University. An abbreviated version of the interview appeared in the London Review of Books 29:4 (22 February 2007), The text of the complete interview will appear as an appendix to Hallward’s forthcoming book Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, due out from Verso in the summer of 2007. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Michael Deibert & Reporting in Haiti: How to Turn a Priest into a Cannibal

By: Diana Barahona
When Haiti’s wealthy elites removed President Jean Bertrand Aristide from office in a February 2004 coup, they had the help of the Bush administration, as well as that of the French and Canadian governments. But they also had help from the U.S. press, which helped publicize a carefully planned narrative to justify the overthrow.
I have always been interested in how a supposedly independent press so often manages to report on foreign affairs from the point of view of the State Department. What are the mechanisms by which the government’s narrative ends up being the frame for stories about U.S. military interventions and CIA-backed coups in the Americas? Who are the foreign correspondents and how do they learn the "correct" way to report on a given crisis? Journalist Michael Deibert reported as a special correspondent in Haiti during the crisis, contributing to or authoring 16 stories, which were first published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and then in Newsday. I chose to look at the stories of just one foreign correspondent because together they provide a perfect example of framing techniques used by the press to create acquiescence towards the coup, or at least to confuse the public.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Amnesty International's Track Record in Haiti since 2004

By: Joe Emersberger - HaitiAnalysis
    The coup that ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004 led very predictably to the worst human rights disaster in the Western Hemisphere over the following two years.[1] It is worth reviewing how the world's most famous human rights group, Amnesty International, responded.

‘Aristide and the Violence of Democracy’: A review of Alex Dupuy, The Prophet and Power

‘Aristide and the Violence of Democracy’[1]

A review of Alex Dupuy, The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community and Haiti. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. ISBN 0-7425-3831-1, 238 + xi pages.

Peter Hallward
Middlesex University

 The basic argument of Alex Dupuy’s new book is that between 1990 and 2006, Haiti’s ‘tumultuous transition to democracy’ was ‘temporarily derailed by both Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his enemies’ (203). In particular, Dupuy sets out to show that ‘when he left [Haiti] in February 2004, Aristide had become a discredited, corrupted and increasingly authoritarian president who had betrayed the trust and aspirations of the poor majority’ (2).
            Alex Dupuy is an experienced and highly regarded scholar who has already written two other substantial books on modern Haitian politics. He has a sophisticated grasp of the workings of the ‘new world order’, of transnational capitalism and of contemporary forms of political and economic domination. Readers familiar with the recent work of analysts like David Harvey, Immanuel Wallerstein or William Robinson will find themselves right at home. His latest book is sure to appeal to people who are instinctively critical both of US imperialism and of the apparent degeneration of Aristide and the Lavalas movement that he led. It is reasonable to assume that The Prophet and Power will soon become a standard point of reference for anyone who wants to understand what happened to Haiti in the two confusing decades that followed the expulsion of the US-backed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986. It is already beginning to enjoy a warm reception as a ‘challenging and enlightening book’, one that presents a ‘fair and persuasive’ argument that is ‘rooted carefully in factual data, analyzing the global situation with insight and logical rigor.’[2] Such an argument clearly deserves to be considered in detail and at length.
            Dupuy provides a fairly full account of Aristide’s two terms in office (February 1991-September 1991; February 2001-February 2004). Both terms were interrupted by violent military coups. Dupuy argues that in each case, responsibility for the coup lay both with Aristide himself and with his opponents among the Haitian economic elite, backed by the Haitian army (or its paramilitary replacement) and its international patrons.  Long before his political career was brought to an end in February 2004, Dupuy insists that it had become ‘clear that Aristide, as well as his Fanmi Lavalas party in power, relied on intimidation, violence, and corruption to maintain themselves in power, had become discredited, no longer represented the interests of the majority of Haitians who brought them to power, and were a major obstacle to the democratization of Haiti. But if Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas subverted democracy, so too did the organized opposition, the Haitian bourgeoisie, and their foreign allies’ (168).
            Most readers familiar with recent Haitian history are likely to agree with at least the second aspect of Dupuy’s analysis. Dupuy provides a useful introductory overview of the ways in which neo-liberal globalisation has led to increasingly desperate levels of exploitation and impoverishment. He demonstrates how this global economic order is tightly interconnected with US imperial power. He understands the difference between core and peripheral states within the contemporary world-system. He shows how the US and its allies in the Haitian elite were determined at all costs to prevent Aristide from pursuing meaningful social and economic reforms. He shows how the ‘democratic opposition’ that the US and pro-US members of Haiti’s little elite rigged up to oppose Aristide’s second administration amounted to nothing more than a front for the most reactionary forces in Haitian society. He shows how Aristide’s early efforts to rid Haiti of the murderous legacy of the Duvalier dictators (1957-1986) and their brutal ‘Tonton Macoute’ militia were thwarted by a mixture of military and paramilitary reaction. He explains how Aristide’s early ambition to lead Haiti towards a ‘maximalist’ (redistributive, socially transformative) version of democracy was constrained by pressure from the international community and its financial institutions to legislate for what became a merely ‘minimalist’ or formal (market-driven, politically conservative) version of democracy (18-21). In all these respects Dupuy provides a valuable and clear-sighted analysis of this most turbulent period in Haitian history.
            What may be more controversial is Dupuy’s insistence that the primary responsibility for the end of democratic rule in 2004 nevertheless lies with President Aristide and members of his Fanmi Lavalas party. Like a good many other analysts who considered themselves sympathetic to the embryonic phase of the Lavalas project, Dupuy claims that whereas Aristide’s first administration was marked by a mix of authoritarian and democratic tendencies, his second administration was simply authoritarian through and through. ‘Aristide’s second term of office’, he writes, was ‘disastrous on all fronts ― political, economic, and social’ (168). By 2001, ‘Aristide’s objective was to consolidate his and his party’s power and preserve the prebendary and clientelistic characteristics of the state he had vowed to dismantle in 1991. To maintain power, Aristide relied on armed gangs, the police, and authoritarian practices to suppress his opponents, all the while cultivating a self-serving image as defender of the poor. That strategy did not work, though, as his government became increasingly discredited and his popularity waned [...]. Consequently, unlike in 1991, the majority of the population did not rally to save Aristide from being forced out in 2004 or clamor for his return afterward’ (xv). By 2004, ‘betrayed by a false prophet’, one of world’s most remarkable and inspiring political mobilisations had been definitively crushed.
            Now readers familiar with anti-Aristide propaganda will know that as far as the prevailing norms of the genre are concerned, this is very mild stuff. Alex Dupuy’s incisive and sharply written book is certainly more balanced and more accurate than say Michael Deibert’s recent account of these same years, in his Notes from the Last Testament (2005). Dupuy’s argument draws on a very wide consensus, a consensus endorsed for some time now by a whole slew of other experienced observers, including Jane Regan, Charles Arthur, Jean-Michel Caroit, and Laënnec Hurbon, among many others. Dupuy’s restatement of the prevailing case against Aristide deserves to be considered very seriously.
            So let’s consider it.
            Dupuy mounts three main accusations against the twice-deposed president. First, he claims that Aristide contributed to the first coup, in 1991, by failing to do enough to placate his enemies within the Haitian economic and political elite. Second, he claims that by the time Aristide was re-elected in 2000 (if not by the time he returned to Haiti in 1994) he had abandoned his original principles and had become just another ‘all-too-ordinary and traditional president, who like all the others who came before him, was using state power for his and his allies’ personal gains’ (170). Third, as his corrupt administration began to encounter understandably agitated forms of political opposition, Dupuy claims that Aristide decided to arm gangs of his most impoverished and desperate supporters (the infamous ‘chimès’) to intimidate his opponents. This strategy, Dupuy concludes, ‘would prove to be the Achilles’ heel of Aristide’s second term.  In effect, I will argue, by relying on armed gangs rather than mobilizing his popular base as a counterforce to the opposition, as he tended to do in his first term, Aristide would marginalize the latter. Henceforth, Lavalas would become equated with the chimès, and the entire popular movement associated with Lavalas [...] would become discredited, demobilized, and demoralized’ (143-144).
            I’ll go through these three accusations in turn, paying particular attention to the first and the third.

The first accusation is the most familiar, since it is an echo of longstanding elite anxieties about Aristide that date back to the explosive entry, in the late 1980s, of this ‘cross between Ayatollah and Fidel’ onto the political stage.[3] The ‘greatest mistake’ of Aristide’s first administration, Dupuy says, was his belief that ‘with the masses behind him, he was invincible and that he could rule without respecting the law and without winning over the bourgeoisie, the parliament, or the army’ (130). Although Dupuy can see that this most fearless scourge of macoutisme stood little chance of gaining the support of the Duvalierists and their Macoutes, still ‘he could have done much more to reassure the bourgeoisie and win it over to his side’ (132). Instead, by failing to reward his bourgeois allies within the political class, and by making a couple of apparently inflammatory speeches, he drove Haiti’s economic masters back into a lethal alliance with the army and the Macoutes.
            There are two separate issues to assess here, one political, one strategic. The political question concerns the relation between Aristide’s actual electoral base and the little clutch of professional politicians who briefly allied themselves to that base during the election campaign of 1990. As far as Dupuy is concerned, ‘the most important virtue of the broad and decentralised democratic movement’ that started up in the late 1980s was precisely its lack of centralised organisation, a virtue which ‘meant that no single political organisation or individual would emerge as its identifiable leaders’ (59). Free from the oppressive influence of a united and identifiable leadership, these golden years of Haitian civil society were instead populated by small (and surely unidentifiable) ‘social-democratic’ groupings like Victor Benoît’s KONAKOM and Evans Paul’s KID, groupings that aimed to ‘created a popular, progressive, and democratic government as an alternative to the discredited dictatorial system’ (59). So when in the autumn of 1990 a more dominant and more identifiable individual backed up by a more effective popular organisation did indeed begin to engage more directly with this dictatorial system it’s not surprising that for Dupuy this development already represented a serious setback for Haitian democracy.
            Officially, in the 1990 election campaign Aristide replaced Victor Benoît as the candidate of another loose coalition of KONAKOM- and KID-affiliated social-democrats who briefly duplicated themselves to create a parallel grouplet called the Front National pour le Changement et la Démocratie (FNCD). Dupuy suggests that the ‘worst’ and most ‘dangerous’ consequence of 1990 was that ‘once Aristide’s Opération Lavalas emerged as the dominant political force and the other popular organisations and left-of-centre coalitions, especially the FNCD, accepted Aristide as their leader, they in effect surrendered their autonomy and their ability to criticise Aristide, to serve as checks and balances to his powers, and to articulate independent agendas’ (95). Aristide himself, by contrast, appears to have wasted little time in implementing his own all-too-independent agenda. After winning the election with a landslide 67% of the vote, rather than choose leading members of this FNCD coalition as ministers in his cabinet, a president that Dupuy presents as worryingly ‘theocratic’ and ‘messianic’ preferred to work with a mixture of competent administrators and veterans of the powerful popular movement he had helped to inspire over the preceding couple of years. Rather than appoint a worthy democrat like Victor Benoît, Aristide named as his prime minister a mere agronomist and social activist, René Préval. ‘Ironically’, says Dupuy, the result of such choices was the enmity of the ‘FNCD, the very coalition that made Aristide’s candidacy and his election possible’ (125).
            Some readers, mindful of the electrifying impact of Aristide’s last-minute decision to stand as a candidate in that election, might question whether it really was the hapless and unpopular FNCD politicians that made his victory possible. But no one can deny that just four months after Aristide had appointed him, FNCD opposition had indeed managed to grind Préval’s energetic, practical and wide-ranging legislative programme to a halt. Had the army not intervened in its own fashion in September 1991, notes Dupuy, ‘there is little doubt that the four major political blocs in the Chamber of Deputies, including the FNCD, would have voted in favour of a censure motion’ (127). Readers will have to judge for themselves the degree to which such behaviour corroborates Dupuy’s own diagnosis of the most ‘dangerous’ development of 1990 ― the fact that the FNCD and their fellow social-democrats had apparently ‘surrendered their autonomy and their ability to criticise Aristide.’ Readers familiar with the subsequent political evolution of people like Evans Paul and Victor Benoît ― a shift that saw these erstwhile social-democrats ally themselves with unreconstructed Duvalierists like ex-general Prosper Avril and ex-colonel Himmler Rébu, backed up by plenty of financial and logistical support from the most reactionary and most powerful figures of the second Bush administration (Roger Noriega, Otto Reich, the IRI’s Stanley Lucas...) ― may also hesitate a little before opting to characterise it in terms of a servile deference to Aristide.
            Be that as it may, Dupuy’s main point at this stage of his book is that ‘Aristide’s option for the masses, his distrust of the bourgeoisie and of the US, and theirs of him made it impossible for him to substitute the prince’s clothing for the prophet’s. It reinforced his inclination to “go it alone” and shun any attempt to form a broad consensus government’ (107). Since Dupuy is sharply critical of this failure to change clothes and to embrace consensus, the thrust of this line of reasoning seems clear enough. Aristide shouldn’t have opted for the isolation of the masses. He should have trusted the bourgeoisie, and he should have trusted the US. Then maybe everything would have worked out fine. Aristide could have morphed into a proper democrat like KONAKOM’s Victor Benoît, and the whole disastrous experiment in ‘anarcho populism’ could have been avoided. Instead, Aristide stubbornly refused to ‘woo the bourgeoisie’ and declined to form ‘a broad coalition government that included representatives’ from among his ‘opponents in the National Assembly’ (119). Instead of embracing proper parliamentary democracy, Aristide ‘disdained all established political parties, sought to bypass the National Assembly and the judiciary, and even encouraged his popular supporters to harass and intimidate parliamentarians and the justices who opposed him’ (133).
            Of course Alex Dupuy is a sophisticated analyst and a trenchant critic of the oppressive machinery of our new world order. More simple-minded sceptics may wonder, nevertheless, whether his repeated preference for a ‘broad-based’ as opposed to a ‘mass-based’ government is altogether compatible with his apparent enthusiasm for democracy. They may not grasp how a decision to pursue policies emphatically endorsed by the great majority of the population and authorised by several repeated and overwhelming election victories is best interpreted as a rejection of ‘consensus’. They may wonder whether Aristide was really mistaken in his distrust of the bourgeoisie and the US, when a fair amount of Dupuy’s own book is devoted to a damning and perfectly accurate demonstration of their determination to frustrate, depose and then discredit him by all available means. They may find it strange to see that Aristide’s reluctance to adopt disdainful enemies as ministers in his own government provides Dupuy with further proof of his authoritarian tendencies ― no doubt bona fide democrats like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have often been criticised, but perhaps rarely for their failure to include parliamentary opponents in their own cabinets. Still more intransigent sceptics may even find it strange that whereas the whole thrust of Dupuy’s book targets the deeply, institutionally entrenched corruption of the political class and the profoundly ‘predatory’ or ‘prebendary’ orientation of the status quo, he nevertheless condemns out of hand, and as a matter of dignified principle, Aristide’s rather cautious attempt to submit this status quo to the one and only source of non-predatory pressure available: the force of direct popular mobilisation.  
            As far as anyone interested with actually-existing Haitian democracy is concerned, such musings are somewhat beside the point. Over the last dozen years or so, Haitian voters can have left even the most sophisticated analysts in little doubt as to their own opinion of parties like KONAKOM, KID and the many KID-like clones that emerged (with generous US and EU support) to divide and rule the Haitian political scene in the 1990s. In 1995, for instance, Evans Paul ran as a candidate for mayor of Port-au-Prince against a close ally of Aristide, the activist and singer Manno Charlemagne: despite (or because of) years of US encouragement, Paul only managed to scrape 14% of the vote. Later in 1995, KONAKOM’s own Victor Benoît finally got his chance to run in his own presidential election, against Aristide’s old prime minister René Préval: the first of the FNCD posse to break free of Aristide’s ‘authoritarian’ grip back in the autumn of 1990, Benoît earned the support of an impressive 2% of the electorate, against Préval’s 88%. Five years later, all of the myriad social-democratic parties that had embraced an unconditional revulsion for Aristide as their political raison d’être were wiped off the electoral map in a crushing and definitive defeat. In the legislative elections of May 2000, the largest and most significant of these parties, Gérard Pierre-Charles’ OPL, managed to win just one seat in the 83-member Chamber of Deputies. Like most other members of his profession and class, Dupuy is no doubt entitled to regret the fact that so unconventional a political organisation as Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas happened to win 72 of these seats ― but perhaps he is not entitled to regret it in the name of ‘democracy’ per se.
            Whether Alex Dupuy likes it or not, the plain fact of the matter is that Benoit’s 2% is just about par for the course for Haiti’s leading social democrats. Although they were wise enough not to challenge Aristide directly for the presidency in 2000, in the 2006 presidential elections Evans Paul polled 2.5% of the vote, and Serge Gilles, the long-time darling of French social democracy, 2.6%. As we shall see in a moment, however, mere numbers have never made much of an impression on Alex Dupuy.

            What now about the strategic side of this first question? Here Dupuy knows that he is on slightly firmer ground, and we need to ponder his argument more carefully. He observes that in 1991 Aristide’s government sought to pursue ‘an economic program that depended for its success on the cooperation with the bourgeoisie’, but he notes that by occasionally raising the prospect of vigilante violence against the enemies of democracy, Aristide made such cooperation a virtual impossibility (129). Dupuy has in mind two notorious speeches given on 4 August and 27 September, speeches in which Aristide refused to rule out recourse to defensive violence as a last-ditch strategy whereby the people might protect the government they had elected against extra-legal pressure from the army, the Macoutes and the ruling class. Although hardly typical of Aristide’s main priorities during these years ― his relentless emphasis on the non-violent struggle for social justice, conceived in the terms developed by liberation theology and its ‘preferential option for the poor’ ― Dupuy is surely right to say that these pointed appeals to popular vigilance provided the enemies of Lavalas with an inexhaustible supply of damaging propaganda. In the 4 August speech in particular Aristide openly considered the pros and cons of recourse to ‘Père Lebrun’, a phrase that was guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of the Haitian elite and their proxies in the armed forces.
            Père Lebrun is a notorious euphemism, based on the name of a local tire-dealer, for the use of burning tires; it became part of Haiti’s political vocabulary during the uprooting or déchoukaj of the Macoutes that began when a growing popular movement against Haiti’s old dictatorship finally forced Jean-Claude Duvalier from power in February 1986. If you ask a sample of Haitian people what the metaphor Père Lebrun meant in 1990/91, they will readily admit that its range of meanings included ‘necklacing Macoutes’. For Alex Dupuy, as for the Americas Watch and NCHR analysts he relies on, Père Lebrun simply means recourse to ‘murder’, ‘necklacing’ or ‘deadly force’[4]; in the early 1990s CIA analyst Brian Latell and US politicians like Jesse Helms and Bob Dole would likewise jump to the same politically convenient conclusion. This interpretation is not so much incorrect as crucially incomplete. In his speech, Aristide himself doesn’t refer to necklacing, of course, though he certainly refers to burning tires, and to matches and gasoline. Haitians more sympathetic to Aristide than Dupuy insist, as veteran journalist Kim Ives explains, that when Aristide spoke of petit Père Lebrun in the summer of 1991 he was using ‘code, or shorthand, for “popular power”, “street power” or “popular vigilance.”’[5] Such power definitely included, in extremis, recourse to necklacing, but it was not reducible to it.
            Semantic niceties aside, necklacing is a gruesome crime by any standard. If condemnation of such a vigilante practice is to carry any genuine force, however, it must take into account all the reasons that lie behind its use. By the summer of 1991 Aristide’s reformist government had indeed antagonised virtually every sector of the Haitian establishment. The 4 August speech was delivered in the wake of noisy popular demonstrations that had threatened to boil over and interrupt the trial of an exceptionally prominent and aggressive Macoute ― Roger Lafontant. In late July, Lafontant and a group of his associates were put on trial for trying to stage a pre-emptive coup d’état in January 1991, a few weeks before Aristide’s inauguration; after some uncertainty they were hastily sentenced to life in prison, under the watchful eye of a pro-Aristide crowd. Aristide needed to maintain this popular mobilisation against the sworn enemies of his government, while finding ways to discipline and channel a thirst for retaliation that might otherwise spiral out of control. On 4 August, then, speaking to an exuberant gathering of high-school students, Aristide commended them for grasping the difference between situations in which recourse to vigilante violence was always illegitimate (i.e. any situation in which the constitution and the rule of law is respected) and circumstances in which such violence might become legitimate (i.e. situations in which enemies of the constitution sought to subvert it by force, deception or corruption). It’s quite true that in this speech, Aristide advised his listeners not to forget about Père Lebrun, and to remember ‘when to use it, and where to use it’ ― always with the proviso that ‘you may never use it again in a state where law prevails.’[6]
            In August 1991, the continuation of such a state was anything but certain. The judges in the Lafontant trial had been under significant pressure from the Duvalierists and the army to let Lafontant and his accomplices off the hook. Aristide’s erstwhile ‘allies’ in the legislature, meanwhile, were openly seeking to get rid of his prime minister. For the thousands of impoverished people who came out into the streets to demonstrate against these and related developments the real meaning of Père Lebrun was very simple: given their lack of weapons, resources, or international friends, it meant resistance by all means necessary to prevent a further coup d’état and further aggression from the Macoutes.
            So long as we don’t pause to ponder why people in Haiti’s poorer neighbourhoods might occasionally have had recourse such tactics, nothing could be simpler than a principled condemnation of so patently barbaric a figure as Père Lebrun. If in 1991 many of Aristide’s more militant supporters didn’t see it that way, it’s because they knew from bitter experience that neither the police nor the army nor the legal system nor the ‘international community’ were likely to offer them any sort of alternative. It’s because they had learned, over many years, that people incapable of defending themselves against the Macoutes and their mercenary informants were likely to pay a very high price for such docility; during the long anti-apartheid struggle that animated places like Soweto during these same years, the followers of Aristide’s fellow ‘populist-terrorist’ Nelson Mandela also learned a very similar lesson. Dupuy himself estimates the number of people killed by François Duvalier and his Macoutes at around 50,000. In the years that followed the expulsion of François’ son Jean-Claude in February 1986, many hundreds of pro-democracy activists were killed by the military regimes that took over where the Duvaliers left off. By mid 1987 well-known Macoutes were once again operating with their usual impunity, and were given a free hand to carry out gruesome massacres like the one that crushed a protest movement of small farmers in Jean-Rabel in July (around 300 dead) or that ended a grotesque first attempt at elections in November (around 150 dead). Almost as soon as Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted, highly politicised neighbourhoods like Cité Soleil and Bel-Air began to suffer violent military or paramilitary incursions on a regular basis. Aristide himself narrowly survived several assassination attempts during these same years, and there can be little doubt that it was only the very rare but very public reprisal killings carried out by some of his supporters that discouraged further attacks. The most high profile incident came in response to the murderous Macoute assault on Aristide’s crowded church on 11 September 1988. After torching the building, killing at least a dozen parishioners and wounding many more, Gwo Schiller and some of the other perpetrators were foolish enough to boast about their heroics on national television, warning that ‘wherever Aristide appears, there we will kill.’ Four or five of these people were themselves tracked down and killed soon afterwards.[7]
            In 1990/91, to have insisted like Alex Dupuy (or the US human rights groups that he cites) on a blanket condemnation of Père Lebrun would have been tantamount, in practice, to an insistence on mass submission to the Macoutes. To demand such principled condemnation is to underestimate the extreme but routine violence that structures Haitian society itself, and it is to downplay the impact of many decades of systematic political violence, the violence upon which the preservation of Haiti’s exceptionally unequal distribution of wealth and power still depends. Without the prospect of anti-Macoute violence Aristide would never have survived the 1980s. Without massive popular mobilisation he would never have been elected. Without the determined and militant popular uprising that overwhelmed Lafontant’s premature putsch in January 1991 he would never have been able to take office: scores of unarmed Lavalassians were killed when many thousands of them confronted Lafontant’s soldiers, and some of these soldiers were in turn besieged and ‘déchouked’ when their ammunition ran out. Once he then became president and immediately set about loosening the army’s grip on the country, Aristide’s supporters understood perfectly well what would happen if that army ever managed to regain the initiative. Sure enough, around 4000 of them would die during the army’s first coup, and several thousand more were killed during the second. Perhaps it isn’t so surprising that more than a few of these people were prepared to protect their government with whatever makeshift tools came to hand.
            This then is the context in which we need to listen to Aristide’s controversial references to Père Lebrun. By July 1991 it was obvious that a further coup attempt was already imminent, and that the army’s officers were preparing rank and file soldiers for a direct assault on neighbourhoods most closely identified with the government. Back in January, during Lafontant’s brief uprising, the most powerful and most brutal unit of the army (the presidential guard based in the Dessalines Barracks of the National Palace) had remained ominously neutral and refused to intervene; by July it was clear that this apparent neutrality had once again lapsed back into an active hostility. Haiti’s richest families, meanwhile, had already raised millions of dollars to pay for an old-fashioned return to the status quo (and when the time came, ordinary soldiers would receive up to $5000 each in exchange for their willingness to shoot into the crowds[8]). From now on the government’s very existence was at stake. If not Père Lebrun, if not some form of intimidating popular pressure, who or what might keep the army at bay once it had decided to suspend the rule of law and remove the people’s government by force?
            When Aristide eventually made his most frequently deplored speech ― his 27 September 1991 call to give the Macoutes, the pro-army bourgeoisie and other enemies of democracy ‘what they deserve’[9] ― the government was already under open military attack. Again the context is not irrelevant. His back to the wall, Aristide improvised this speech after returning from a triumphant visit to the UN in New York. The army had planned to assassinate him on arrival, but the president’s convoy narrowly survived several military ambushes on the way back from the airport, thanks to another massive popular mobilisation in Cité Soleil and around the National Palace. Since the international community had already made it clear that it would not intervene (and since well-placed members of Aristide’s security team already knew what to expect from the army’s old ally and patron the United States), the future of Aristide’s government and the survival of its most active supporters was now utterly dependent on the persistence of this mobilisation. As Kim Ives explains, in these circumstances Aristide’s speech was an attempt to

warn the bourgeoisie and Macoutes that the masses will ‘give them what they deserve’ if they try to carry out a coup. He used his trademark multi-meaning, riddle-strewn Bible-like language, leaving his true meaning open to just about any interpretation. But I don't think that he was calling for lynchings ― necklacing ― at all. I think he was just saying: ‘Don't mess with the people or you will reap a whirlwind.’ His message to the people that day was not go out and necklace your opponents, it was simply remain vigilant and don't hesitate to defend yourself against attack.[10]

As it turned out, in order to begin to overcome such vigilance, during the night of 30 September the army would have to kill anywhere between 300 and 1000 people.[11]
            Rather than surrender to such an army, in August and September 1991 Aristide did indeed choose to ‘fight bullets with words.’[12] No doubt some of the people behind these bullets were worried by his choice of words. As a leading member of Aristide’s 1991 security team points out, however, ‘it’s utterly hypocritical to condemn Aristide’s inflammatory words unless you first condemn the weapons that provoked them.’[13] In a spectacular inversion of the historical record, leading figures in the US government and senate soon began to argue that it was Aristide’s words rather than the army’s weapons that were mainly to blame for the violence that overwhelmed Haiti in late September 1991.
            Although Alex Dupuy strikes a more balanced note than Jesse Helms and other US critics of Haiti’s elected ‘psychopath’, nevertheless his book does little to set the record straight. Everyone can see why the tiny group of people who had hitherto oppressed the majority of Haiti’s population with impunity saw Aristide as a profoundly threatening figure, but why anyone else should think of him that way is less clear. Dupuy pays little attention to the most important point in this whole discussion: given the context and long history of systematic oppression that structures Haitian society, what is most extraordinary about the events of 1991 is surely the lack of popular violence that accompanied the beginning of this risky ‘transition to democracy’. The American activist Douglas Perlitz has been working with street kids in Cap-Haïtien for more than a decade, and makes sense of the situation of 1991 with a helpful analogy:

The way I see it, it’s as if the poor had been suffocated for decades, in fact for centuries; the rich, and their army, were like a hand keeping their heads under water, and they couldn’t breathe. Aristide was the person who removed that hand. But when the people could finally lift their heads from out of the water they didn’t just gasp for breath, they also tried to lash out at the hand that had oppressed them for so long. Some popular violence in the wake of Aristide’s election victory in 1990 was inevitable; Gandhi himself would have been powerless to stop it. What’s remarkable is that things never got out of hand. Under the circumstances the level of discipline in the popular movement was very impressive.[14]

Despite endless provocations, once the immediate threat from Lafontant had been deflected there were just two or three occasions during the whole of Aristide’s first administration in which outraged crowds attacked and killed notorious enemies of their government. Not a single incidence of popular violence can fairly be blamed on the government itself. It would be difficult indeed to find a more dramatic instance of an abrupt reduction in human rights abuses than the one that began in Haiti with the elections of December 1990. As for Aristide himself, to devote obsessive attention to the isolated occasions in which he risked the language of open class conflict is to distort beyond recognition the general emphasis of his contribution to Haitian politics. He devoted much if not most (if not too much!) of his political life to the affirmation of non-violence and social reconciliation. The overwhelming emphasis of the many speeches he gave in 1991 was on the need to pursue social justice through respect for the constitution and cooperation with the security forces. Again and again he reminded his supporters of the need to work in harmony with the army and the police, in a country that had no experience of democracy or the rule of law.[15] By the same token, when the US eventually allowed him to return to power in 1994, Aristide somehow managed to defuse a widespread and understandable desire for revenge against this same army, even though the US troops who escorted him home had already ruled out any legal prosecution of its crimes (and had already begun to take covert steps to secure its future political influence). In reality it was Bush and Clinton who calmly and deliberately sanctioned recourse to violence in Haiti during these years, not Aristide.
            The truth is that as far as advocates of popular violence go, Aristide doesn’t cut a very impressive figure. Perhaps that’s because, leaving aside the ethical issues that may have appealed to a Catholic priest who had already committed his life to serving the poorest of the poor, Aristide always ‘recognise[d] that institutionalised violence is stronger than any we could unleash. We are not armed. And I do not believe that we will ever have the means to compete with the enemy on that key terrain. But they cannot count on me to condemn acts of despair or of legitimate defence by the victims of aggression.’[16]
            Whether or not some amount of defensive popular violence might have been justifiable in the context of 1991, Dupuy argues that Aristide’s decision to compensate for his lack of support within the established political class by ‘building his own counterforce with the masses who supported him’ (127) was a fatal strategic mistake. Dupuy’s own account of the situation in 1991, however, renders this conclusion at least a little debatable. He knows that the elite ‘feared the empowerment of the social classes whose abject exploitation and suppression the dictatorships had guaranteed’. He knows that the tiny group of ‘rich Haitians and their foreign allies will do everything they can to prevent any significant tampering with the status quo.’ He knows that in 1991 this elite was especially hostile to reforms introduced by Aristide to ‘target the loopholes and other prerogatives it had enjoyed under the old regimes’ (121, 201). How exactly, then, were Aristide and Préval supposed to persuade them to go along with these reforms, if not through some sort of popular pressure? When and where, in fact, has a ruling class ever made significant concessions to the people they rule without the direct or indirect prospect of mass protest? Occasional victories won by exploited groups in the US itself are no exception to this rule, as anyone who has read Piven and Cloward’s book on Poor People’s Movements (1978) may recall.

            Such then is the first strand of Dupuy’s argument. In a nutshell, Aristide stands accused of ‘encouraging the bourgeoisie to side with the army and the Macoute camp against him’ (133). With remarkable sang-froid, Dupuy opts to say rather less about the failings of these pro-army bourgeois themselves. He says little or nothing about their financial support for the coup, and little or nothing about their actual collusion with the military. He says little or nothing about the brutal assault on Aristide’s supporters in places like Cité Soleil and Raboteau, and little or nothing about what powerful bourgeois families like the Mevs, the Bigios, the Boulos, the Apaids, the Nadals and a few others got up to between 1991 and 1994. This is presumably because, as far as Dupuy is concerned, it’s already quite clear where the main responsibility lies. Although Dupuy realises that the bourgeoisie opposed Aristide’s reforms and hated everything that he stood for, he nevertheless prefers to emphasise the fact that ‘Aristide’s confrontational and sometimes threatening behaviour “added fuel to the fire” of class conflicts exacerbated by his election to the presidency’ (133). Thanks to a whole series of ‘populist’ symbols and gestures, all through 1991 ‘Aristide signalled that he was shunning the bourgeoisie to form a new pact of domination with the masses, on whom he relied to defend him against his enemies’ (106).
            Just how exactly the bourgeoisie was ‘dominated’ by this new configuration is something that Dupuy doesn’t bother to explain, but luckily for the dominees the pact of domination between Aristide and the masses doesn’t seem to have lasted for a very long time. Rightly or wrongly, in 2001-2004 a more experienced Aristide would go to considerable lengths to reassure the Haitian bourgeoisie, and he took some controversial steps to win over at least a small portion of the already-dominant class.
            This doesn’t impress Dupuy either, however, for by the time he gets to 2001 he has shifted the focus of his critique. Aristide’s mistake in 2001 was no longer his hostility to the bourgeoisie but his betrayal of his popular roots. In order to consolidate his new ‘class interest’, the Aristide of 2001 had come to accept ‘the same clientelistic and prebendary practices as his predecessors and to conform to the interests of the dominant classes, the foreign investors and the core powers and their financial institutions’ (20). But just as he was wrong to snub the bourgeoisie in 1991, it seems he was still more wrong to court them in 2001. Distracted by his newfound thirst for absolute power, the re-elected president was apparently oblivious to the fact that ‘the Haitian private-sector bourgeoisie, which despised Aristide and was angry at the Clinton administration for having returned him to Haiti in 1994, was not in the least interested in his conciliatory tone, instead throwing its support behind the Convergence Démocratique [a small US- and French-backed parliamentary coalition established in May 2000] in its effort to topple Aristide’ (143).


Dupuy’s analysis of Aristide’s apparent slide towards despotism, in the fifth chapter of his book, gets off to an improbable start when he acknowledges on its first page that in May 2000, ‘as expected ― because of the party’s popularity ― candidates for Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party swept the elections, thereby granting the FL overwhelming control of government at the national and local levels’ (135). This isn’t quite how previous dictators like Duvalier, Namphy, Avril or Cédras came to power, and it isn’t quite how Latortue’s dictatorship got started either. As anyone can see, however, ‘overwhelming control’ already looks and sounds a lot like old-fashioned dictatorship. Rather than waste time reflecting on the reasons for Aristide’s apparent popularity, therefore, Dupuy moves straight on to the much more important fact that ‘many of his former allies, especially the cadres of OPL, now saw him as a dangerous demagogue with dictatorial ambitions’ (136). Dupuy then spends most of what remains of his book trying to show how this disinterested perception turned out to be correct.
            Although undeniably ‘popular’ ― unequivocal endorsement by around 75% of the electorate can’t be completely ignored by even the most scrupulous of democrats ― Dupuy claims that by creating the Fanmi Lavalas (FL) organisation ‘Aristide broke away from the broad coalition’ that had won the 1995 elections (136). Worse, ‘by 1996-97 it had become evident that Aristide’s FL was unquestionably the dominant political force in Haiti. If unchecked, Lavalas could build a formidable political machine and clientelistic network that would ensure its continued electoral dominance and control of the government’ (137). Haitian democracy was now clearly hanging by a thread. Unfortunately, no suitably resolute force emerge to ‘check’ Lavalas before it was too late. Unchecked, FL went on to wage an enthusiastic and well-organised electoral campaign, and duly won its overwhelming mandate in May 2000. Dupuy notes in dismay that ‘since his rise to power in 1991 Aristide had effectively shut out the coalition of parties ― the FNCD ― that had backed him in 1990. These parties were again marginalised when his Lavalas Political Platform [PPL] swept the parliamentary elections of 1995. And the OPL, which was then the dominant bloc within the PPL thanks to its association with Aristide [...], was now destined for the same fate with the break-up of the PPL and the formation of Aristide’s FL party’ (137-138). For reasons that remain opaque yet presumably incompatible with the international norms of parliamentary democracy, rather than reward ‘those sectors of the political middle class that had supported him [in 1990] with a share in the spoils of power, Aristide [in 2001] sought to monopolize state power for his benefit and those who formed the cadres of FL’ (138).
            Less clairvoyant analysts than Dupuy might have paused, at this point, to consider whether the fact that Aristide, Préval and their associates invariably trounced their social-democratic rivals in repeated electoral contests might perhaps reflect some sort of extra-parliamentary political reality. They might have pondered whether ten years of active hostility should have been disregarded in favour of a few weeks of opportunistic and long-forgotten ‘alliance’. They might even have wondered whether Aristide still simply enjoyed the support of the great majority of the population. Dupuy can see through appearances that might lead other analysts astray, however, and he knows that in 2001, unlike 1991, Aristide did not actually have a ‘strong popular mandate and a mobilised population behind him [...]. If for a brief moment in 1991 the balance of forces was in favor of Aristide, conditions were very different during his second term (2001-2004).’ In 2001, unlike 1991, ‘Aristide came to power with his legitimacy and that of his party in control of parliament challenged’ (97― and technically this is quite right, in 2001 Aristide’s legitimacy was indeed ‘challenged’: it was challenged by a tiny and permanently unelectable ‘democratic opposition’ that owed its very existence to investments from USAID, the EU and the IRI). Despite this apparent lack of democratic legitimacy, Dupuy makes the startling claim that in 2001 ‘the goal of Aristide and the FL was to maintain power at all cost until the end of Aristide’s second and final term as president’ (145).
            This is a serious charge. It may even be true. Maybe, once he was re-elected in November 2000 with some  90% of the vote, Aristide really did mean to serve out the whole of his second term in office. Maybe he hadn’t yet forgotten the thousands of people who died when his first term was interrupted. Maybe, confronted once again with an opposition that sought openly to overthrow him and to resurrect the army that was responsible for killing those people, Aristide decided to resist them. Readers less well versed than Alex Dupuy in the specific nuance of Haitian politics may even be forgiven for suspecting that governments led by people like Bush or Chirac, if confronted by similar threats to their survival, might also have toyed with the temptation to confront them. Who knows. What’s clear is that ‘the goal of Lavalas was to lay the groundwork for its continued dominance through the ballot box after Aristide’ (145). And that, needless to say, obviously couldn’t be in the best interests of Haitian democracy.
            Whatever else Dupuy means by ‘democracy’, by this stage in his book it’s clear that it has little to do with such crass things as popular vote or support.
            Dupuy makes little or no reference to what Aristide’s second administration actually set out to accomplish, in spite of a crippling US-imposed embargo on foreign aid that cut its budget roughly in half. He makes no reference at all to its various social programmes, its investment in new schools and hospitals, in a major literacy programme, in a new medical school, in new joint ventures with Cuba, and so on. But he does at least list a few of the tyrannical steps that the newly autocratic president agreed to take, within a couple of months of his taking office in February 2001. These steps ‘included the resignation of seven FL senators whose elections had been contested [on trivial technical grounds by members of the US-backed politicians who were defeated by FL] in the May 2000 elections; reducing the terms of the senators elected in May 2000 and the terms of the entire Chamber of Deputies by two years; holding elections for those senators elected in May 2000 and for the entire Chamber of Deputies in November 2002; reconstituting the CEP in line with OAS recommendations’ (150). Dupuy could have added: including several high-profile opponents of FL in his cabinet; reluctantly accepting several unpopular macro-economic policies imposed by Haiti’s international donors and lenders; agreeing to his arch-enemies’ framework for futile and interminable ‘negotiations’ with those same unpopular political leaders he had just obliterated at the polls. No doubt readers familiar with the conventional patterns of tyranny will have little trouble placing such concessions in the continuum of Duvalier-Namphy-Cédras-Latortue. Along the same lines, Dupuy is even prepared to acknowledge certain differences ‘between Aristide and the dictators who came and went before him’: since he had only relatively limited means of repression at his disposal and was confronted by the implacable opposition of the US and its allies, it seems that ‘Aristide could not transform himself into an outright dictator even if he wanted to’ (146).
            All the same, Dupuy does his best to suggest that he made a pretty good go of it.

Having thus proved to his own satisfaction that in 2001 Fanmi Lavalas sought to monopolise the spoils for political power for itself and itself alone, Dupuy now moves on to make the third and most damaging of his three main criticisms of Aristide. It emerges predictably enough from the ex-messiah’s dictatorial turn. Since he was clearly incapable of acquiring anything that Dupuy can recognise as a legitimate democratic mandate, there was only one other way Aristide could achieve his main objective ― the consolidation of his grip on power ‘at all cost’. As resistance to the incipient dictatorship began to increase, the tyrant ‘politicized the police and called on his armed gangs of supporters known as chimès [chimera] (who took their name from mythical fire-breathing monsters) to intimidate his opponents’ (98).
            Mythology and etymology aside ― anyone familiar with the people derided as ‘chimès’ know that ‘they themselves hated that word’[17] ― this is another serious charge, and it is reasonable to expect an expert prosecution to back it up with a carefully documented case.
            Dupuy describes these ‘chimès’ as a ‘relatively small force of not more than a few thousand’ people. He acknowledges that they were perhaps neither as well-armed nor as well-organised as Duvalier’s Tontons Macoutes (146), but the whole thrust of his main argument ― that Aristide became just another dictatorial president in a long line of other similarly dictatorial Haitian presidents ― rests squarely on the presumption that a comparison between Aristide’s ‘chimès’ and Duvalier’s Macoutes is at least in some sense helpful and illuminating. Dupuy isn’t the first person to have made such an argument; analysts as shrewd as Roger Noriega, Lyonel Trouillot, Laënnec Hurbon, Raoul Peck, Jean-Michel Caroit and Michael Deibert have all given it a try as well.
            Before knuckling down to the business at hand, Dupuy pauses to consider an important matter of principle. He admits that there is some ‘controversy’ about the emergence and role of these so-called ‘chimès’. The controversy seems to be about ‘whether Aristide personally created and directed them or simply left that task to others. In my view, however, it is immaterial whether or not Aristide had a direct role in creating and directing the chimès’ (144). This isn’t to say that Dupuy is reluctant to accuse Aristide of doing precisely these things. On the contrary: Dupuy says, for instance, that since he was ‘unwilling to rely on the rule of law or even to mobilise his popular supporters to counter the threats of his opponents peacefully, Aristide chose instead to use the chimès to do that job’ (155). Dupuy says that ‘Aristide “chimerized” Lavalas and betrayed his mass base’ (157). He says that ‘Aristide engaged in egregious human rights violations against his opponents and critics’, that ‘Aristide relied on the chimès to intimidate the opposition’, that ‘Aristide sought to suppress his opponents’ by force, and that ‘Aristide used the chimès as a force de frappe against his opponents’ (144-146, 165). What Dupuy means by the word ‘immaterial’, presumably, is that when he repeatedly accuses Aristide of creating and directing these chimerical ‘chimès’, it is immaterial whether or not such accusations are in fact correct.
            It is also immaterial, presumably, that if Aristide really ‘sought to suppress his opponents’, then this all-too-ordinary autocrat once again appears to have done a quite extraordinarily bad job. Insufficiently suppressed readers might remember that in 2001 Aristide’s opponents mounted their campaign to oust him in conditions that bore no resemblance whatsoever to those suffered by the subjects of ‘previous dictators’. They might remember that all through Aristide’s last months in office US-sponsored anti-government radio stations were free to broadcast their venomous propaganda around the clock, that internationally sponsored anti-government rallies continued for week after week, and that from the very month of his second inauguration the same soldiers who backed the bloody coup in 1991 were permitted to hold public rallies, loudly calling for a repeat of their previous exploits (and were vigorously encouraged, from the get-go, by nothing less than an entire ‘parallel government’ mounted by respectable ex-FNCD social-democratic members of the US- and French-backed Convergence Démocratique).
            All the same, more forgetful readers may need a little reassurance at this point. ‘To be sure’, Dupuy tells us, ‘everyone knew the chimès were working for Aristide and others, including the opposition, but such links had to be proved’ (156). Indeed they did.  Readers looking for such proof, however, may be disappointed to learn that they won’t find much of it in Dupuy’s book. Who needs proof, after all, when everyone already knew what was really going on?
            The fact that everyone already knows these things this saves Dupuy a certain amount of time and effort. It saves him the bother of having to explain, in even the most schematic detail, who these ‘chimès’ were, or what they did, or who paid them, or how they were armed and organised. It saves him the bother ― so far as I can tell ― of having to speak with or cite or perhaps even read about a single representative of these ‘chimès’ or their baz associates in the many dozens of organisations populaires that supported Aristide to the end. It saves him the trouble of asking why some members of those impoverished neighbourhoods that bore the brunt of military repression in 1986-90 and again in 1991-94 might have taken some steps to avoid the repetition of a similar catastrophe in 2004.
            Although this isn’t the place for a detailed analysis of the question, people more acquainted with Dupuy’s ‘chimères’ than Dupuy himself paint a rather less sensational picture of the people who apparently terrorised the political opposition to Aristide. Veteran reporter Guy Delva is one of the most neutral and balanced of Haitian journalists, and he knows of no deliberate campaign of violence and of no coordinated effort to arm the ‘chimères’. ‘There’s no evidence of it. Of course it’s possible that in 2004 some weapons were handed out to groups loyal to the regime: there was an armed insurgency going on, after all, and it’s possible that the government wanted to strengthen itself against the rebels. But the government had very few weapons, in fact, and the supply of police munitions was very low.’ As for the ‘gangs’ themselves, continues Delva, ‘I know this is hard for people outside Haiti to understand but in Cité Soleil the people with the weapons are not seen as criminals or bandits, but as people who are protecting the population. They see that when MINUSTAH or the Haitian police come they kill people, and the gangs do what they can to defend them. I can confirm that when you speak to them most people in Cité Soleil say they saw Dred Wilme as a leader, as someone who defended their community, they didn’t just see him as a bandit.’[18]
            Aidworker Eléonore Senlis directed the largest international NGO in Cité Soleil from the spring of 2003 through to July 2004; she won the confidence of several leaders of the armed groups (Dred, Labanye, Amaral, Tupac, Billy...) and quickly became well-informed about what was going on in the Cité. Although it’s true that once the anti-government demonstrations started in November 2003 some group leaders in the Cité received occasional calls from Aristide’s departmental police chief Hermione Léonard and his interior minister Jocelerme ‘Miss’ Privert encouraging them to stage counter-demonstrations, Senlis says that the main purpose for government communications was to try to keep the peace among rival gangs in the most desperately impoverished parts of the city. From time to time Hermione Léonard would arrange ‘a meeting with the various group leaders, a sort of peace would last for a while, and then sooner or a later new groups would push their way onto the scene, begin to interfere with another group’s activities, the leaders would start fighting amongst themselves, and the process had to start all over again.’ As for claims that the government set out to arm such groups in order intimidate its opponents, Senlis is probably as well-placed as any outsider to judge the point, and she knows of only a single clear-cut case:

After the trouble started in early February 2004, some of the group leaders, along with some of their men, were sent up to Gonaïves, and there they were given weapons by the government, to confront the insurgency; the rest of the time it wasn’t at all clear that the government was deliberately trying to arm groups from Cité Soleil. They generally seemed to steal their guns from the police or security guards or from other residents. The bigger guns were always bought, often from the DR, with money stolen from shops or occasionally donated by various interested parties as “contributions to the security of Cité Soleil”. But as far as I know there was never any large-scale distribution of weapons from the government to their supporters.
                   As for the actual number of guns around, at least until mid 2004 there weren’t very many of them. As of February 2004, there were three well-armed groups, led by Dred, Labanye, and Amaral, and each of these three leaders had several automatic weapons at his disposal, around half a dozen high calibre pistols and several dozen .38 revolvers, most of which were loaned out to their followers. I think I saw most of them, and I’d guess that there was a grand total of perhaps 250 guns in the hands of groups from Cité Soleil during the turmoil of February 2004, and considerably less before then.[19]

In the context of a country blessed with an estimated 210,000 firearms ― at least 170,000 of which remain securely in the hands of its ruling families and businesses[20] ― it’s possible that this ‘chimère’ arsenal of 250 handguns never posed a very worrying threat.
            Although genuine proof may be immaterial, Dupuy does of course trot out a certain number of facts to back his accusation up. In a paragraph devoted to showing how ‘Aristide and other Lavalas officials were using the chimès as a force de frappe against his opponents’ (144) he mentions, for instance, the murder of the iconic radio journalist Jean Dominique  ― discreetly passing over the fact that there appears to be no proof whatsoever that any ‘chimès’ were involved in the assassination of Aristide’s old friend and Haiti’s most famously pro-Lavalas and anti-establishment journalist. He also mentions, as evidence of ‘chimè’ violence, the facts that in 1999 ‘five people were killed in fights among criminal gangs’; that in April 2000 a group of FL militants set fire to the office of Evans Paul’s KID (obliging the not-yet-re-elected tyrant to pay KID a sizeable sum in compensation); that when ‘the Provisional Electoral Council was pressured [by the US and its newly created Convergence Démocratique] to annul the results of the first-round parliamentary elections [of May 2000], hundreds of pro-FL supporters erected barricades, burned tires, and effectively shut down Port-au-Prince in an attempt to intimidate the Council. In all these incidents the police failed to stop, investigate or to arrest and punish their perpetrators’ (144). I assume that people who lived through earlier periods of dictatorship in Haiti can immediately see how, by early 2001, Aristide had indeed become just like Duvalier or Cédras.
            Dupuy is also prepared to explain how things arrived at this dreadful impasse. Drawing on a single article by Le Monde reporter Jean-Michel Caroit (dated 5 November 2003), Dupuy explains that ‘the creation of armed groups that would become the chimès goes back to 1995 after Aristide had abolished the Haitian Army and a new Haitian National Police was created with help and training from the US, France, and Canada.[21] Aristide understood the need to control that force and placed trusted allies in its command. It was then that the link between Aristide and the chimès was formed. The director of the police, along with the minister of interior and the chief of presidential security, served as the liaison with the gangs, who received cash and weapons for their operations’ (144). If someone as even-handed and reliable as Le Monde’s Jean-Michel Caroit says so then it must be true. Never mind the incidental fact that, perhaps stung by Aristide’s unsettling demand that France repay the enormous sum of money it had extorted from its former slave colony back in the nineteenth century, Le Monde’s reporting in 2003/2004 was so outrageously biased as to make even the New York Times’ anti-Lavalas propaganda seem like a model of impartiality. Never mind the fact that in 1995 Aristide disbanded the army in the face of powerful US resistance, or that CIA interference in the subsequent recruitment and orientation of the new police force was so flagrant and counter-productive that even the person appointed by the US Department of Justice to oversee the police training programme resigned in disgust. Never mind the fact that leading segments of this police force remained openly hostile to the elected government, and that in October 2000, after years of violent destabilisation, a close-knit group of rightwing and pro-US officers (including Guy Philippe, Jackie Nau, Gilbert Dragon, all of whom during the first coup had received special US-sponsored training in the US-client state of Ecuador) were implicated in a further coup plot and were escorted to the safety of another suitably policed US-client state, Haiti’s hostile neighbour the Dominican Republic. Never mind the fact that for the next several years, beginning in the summer of 2001, with the active support of Convergence luminaries like ex-democrat Serge Gilles and ex-colonel Himmler Rébu, this same Guy Philippe and his colleagues, bolstered by dozens of other US-trained ex-military or ex-paramilitary assets like Jodel Chamblain, were to wage an unrelenting guerrilla war against Aristide’s government, all with the clear collusion of powerful elements within the police and the presidential guard.
            Never mind all that: excessive concern with such matters might well lead us towards what Dupuy derides as dictatorship, rather than democracy. Leaving aside the question as to whether or not Aristide had much actual control over the police, Dupuy is quite right to say that when it became clear, in the late 1990s, that membership in Fanmi Lavalas was a virtual guarantee of access to political power, so then many unscrupulous opportunists did indeed flock to join the new organisation. As may sometimes happen in some other profoundly impoverished countries, in Haiti overwhelming and inescapable levels of destitution can indeed encourage a certain amount of corruption and opportunism. The shocking truth, then, is that a small number of Aristide’s associates and some leading members of Fanmi Lavalas did indeed become corrupt. A few high profile police officers made money smuggling drugs to a growing market in the US, and some Lavalas legislators found ways to profit from their position. Readers acquainted with the longue durée of Haitian history can judge the relative severity of such corruption for themselves, and decide whether Aristide, Cédras, and Duvalier père, mère et fils are best described as variants of one and the same essential pattern.
            It’s one thing, however, to condemn the corruption of a few powerful figures in the Aristide-era security apparatus like Fourel Celestin and Hermione Léonard, it’s another to present the whole period between 2001-2004 as a disastrous deviation towards violent dictatorship. The image of a tyrannical Aristide presiding over a murderous police state could hardly be further from the truth. If anything, Aristide’s real problem was precisely the opposite. Even before his re-election, Haiti’s poorly equipped and poorly paid security forces had been thoroughly infiltrated (and embargoed) by his enemies, and it was all too obvious that the presidential guard in particular was no more reliable than its predecessor had been in 1991. It was perfectly clear that powerful ex-military figures like Dany Toussaint and Joseph Médard, people who had profited from their association with Aristide in the early 1990s, were by 2000/2001 actively working against him.
            You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to understand what happened next. The ‘laboratory’ that still wields significant behind-the-scenes power in Haiti knows very well that if you want to demonise a popular president then the easiest way to get to him is through his close associates. If these associates cooperate with the demonisation campaign they will be rewarded; the less uncooperative ones may have to be punished. So long as Dany Toussaint pretended to be loyal to Aristide, for instance, the US and the elite denounced him as a thug and a drug-dealer; as soon as he changed camps the talk of drugs and murder came to an abrupt stop, and in 2006 they allowed him to stand for president alongside other law-abiding democrats like Guy Philippe and Franck Romain. An old associate of Dany Toussaint, ex-presidential guard commander Youri Latortue is another veteran police officer whose human rights record is as questionable as that of any of his colleagues; after Aristide’s ‘flight’ from Haiti in 2004, however, the US invited him to oversee the security arrangements for the ‘democratic and constitutional’ government it imposed on Haiti as a replacement for the Lavalas dictatorship. A leading figure in the presidential guard, Wilson Casséus, played a significant role in undermining the police response to the insurgency, and was promoted to commander as soon as the person he was supposed to protect had been expelled from the country. Less enthusiastically cooperative folks like Oriel Jean and Jean Nesly Lucien, on the other hand, had to be packed off to jail in Miami. 
            Critics of Aristide are no doubt entitled to say that he was too slow to act against the scandalous emergence of opportunists in his entourage. They are entitled to regret some of the people he chose as members of his inner circle after 2001, or to puzzle over his reluctance to take more assertive action to deal with the state of emergency that confronted his government in February 2004. They may know that when US intelligence and the DEA began to accuse a few of his high-level police officers of drug smuggling and corruption Aristide was initially reluctant to believe them. They may know that he thought ― with good reason ― that this was yet another attempt to isolate him by driving a wedge between the government and its few allies in the security forces. Unlike the US itself, notes Ben Dupuy, ‘Aristide had no secret police, no parallel force with which he could “police the police”; given their history and the material conditions in which they work it has so far been and will for the time being remain virtually impossible for any Haitian government, on its own, to root out corruption in its security forces.’[22] But just like Aristide’s enemies in the US, Alex Dupuy blames him for this structural impossibility all the same. He blames him for failing to accomplish an impossible task.
            More importantly, Alex Dupuy blames Aristide for the fact that ‘the human rights situation deteriorated significantly between 2001 and 2004. Local FL officials and members of the police persecuted, arbitrarily arrested, and physically abused members of the opposition or sometimes their family members. Supporters of Aristide and the police disrupted peaceful demonstrations by opponents of the government and ransacked or burned the offices and private residences of opposition leaders. And sometimes members or supporters of the opposition were killed’ (161-162). Although Dupuy doesn’t bore his readers with much detailed evidence to flesh out this description of 2001-2004, he does mention at least four specific episodes, in addition to the murder of Jean Dominique, that appear to back up his case. (As for Dominique’s murder, this is a crime that Aristide’s enemies used to attribute with great enthusiasm to Dany Toussaint, up until the moment when he publicly joined the anti-Aristide camp at which point, of course, he was instantly dropped from the list of leading suspects. Other analysts, though, continue to point the finger at powerful interests that Dominique threatened rather more consistently and passionately than he ever did Toussaint, including interests linked to the bitterly anti-Lavalas Boulos family).
            Since much of Dupuy’s argument might seem to ride on these examples it may be worth looking at them very briefly here.
            First of all, as an illustration of the growing violence ‘among pro-Lavalas grassroots organisations’, Dupuy refers to a pitched battle in the Fort Mercredi district of Port-au-Prince in June 2001, when ‘members of rival gangs in neighbouring slums near PAP engaged in a dispute over land, which left 17 people dead, nineteen others injured, and more than 135 houses looted or burned. No one was arrested. Instead, Aristide held a meeting with the residents of the two slums in the National Palace to urge them to resolve their conflicts’ (162). The implication, presumably, is that because some of the people involved in this battle were indeed ‘pro-Lavalas’, so then the government (for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious) may have incited them to declare war on their neighbours. Perhaps the fact that Aristide then tried to calm things down by speaking with all the groups involved, rather than by shooting at them, is further proof of his complicity in such violence. Even so, more naïve readers may suspect that since violent turf-wars between criminal gangs and drug-dealers don’t seem to be confined solely to pro-Lavalas neighbourhoods in Haiti’s capital city, so then in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it could just be that Aristide and his government had nothing to do with it.
            Second, Dupuy cites the inflammatory murder in September 2003 of Gonaïves ‘chimè’ supremo Amiot Métayer, and pins it (as did ex-FRAPH commanders and various other equally disinterested parties) on Aristide’s government (166). Rather than back up this highly implausible claim with any investigation of his own, Dupuy puts the names of Jean-Michel Caroit and Jane Regan in brackets, and lets the accusation stand as self-evident. (Similarly notorious incidents in the anti-Aristide dossier are dealt with in much the same way ― the ugly clash between students and FL supporters on 5 December 2003, for instance, is described simply as ‘a pro-government attack against university students’ [167]). Again, more hesitant readers might want to set Jane Regan’s tendentious argument alongside those made by people like Ben Dupuy or Frantz Gabriel, who claim to have good reason to believe that Métayer was killed by anti-Lavalas members of the security forces, on the orders of the ‘laboratory’. It may be that no-one really knows how exactly Métayer died; inconveniently, the last person seen with Métayer on the night of his murder, Odonel Paul, also disappeared soon after his death. It’s possible that the new French and US ambassadors who arrived in Haiti around the time of this murder did not shed many tears for Amiot Métayer. Who knows. What we do know is that the people who immediately profited from this murder certainly weren’t fans of President Aristide, and the gang which started to cause havoc in Gonaïves immediately after Métayer’s death can only be described as a collection of disaffected ex-pro-Aristide ‘chimès’ if you ignore the little fact that they were led and directed by a well-funded and well-connected group of ex-military and ex-FRAPH thugs. (After this useful group had accomplished its historical mission, a few months after Métayer’s death, one of its leaders admitted, among other things, that in the autumn of 2003 it had received some $20,000 worth of ammunition courtesy of Jean-Renel Latortue, future director of Cap Haïtien’s port authority, brother of the exemplary ex-policeman Youri Latortue and nephew of the soon-to-be-US-appointed interim prime minister Gérard Latortue).
             Third, in a paragraph describing the growth of opposition to the government in late 2003, Dupuy notes that ‘the violence between supporters and opponents of the government resulted in the deaths of nearly fifty people and injury to many more between December 2003 and February 2004’ (168). Surely this must be all the evidence of tyranny that any reasonable person might want. Surely this proves that Aristide’s supporters were now hard at work killing members of the opposition. Perhaps. Dupuy doesn’t provide a source for this number, however, and I would genuinely like to know how many of these fifty people were killed by rampaging ‘chimès’. As far as I’m aware, a grand total of two opponents of the government were killed during the long and heated weeks of US-orchestrated demonstrations that began in Port-au-Prince in early December 2003; one of these two people, a student, died when he was accidentally hit in the back by a police teargas canister. Several government supporters also died in clashes between pro and anti-government protestors. I’m not sure that, faced with a similar threat to their existence, Duvalier’s Macoutes would have been overly impressed by the performance of their Lavalassian counterparts. Given the fact that during these months Haiti was indeed embroiled in a low-level civil war these numbers may be an underestimate, of course, but then it’s hard to know what or who Dupuy is referring to. Perhaps he has in mind reports published in papers like the New York Times and Washington Post in late January and early February 2004 which claimed, sure enough, that fifty people had died in political clashes over the previous few months.[23] The problem with this particular figure, though, is that as far as I can tell it refers primarily (if not overwhelmingly) to victims of anti-government violence. Although these papers didn’t themselves dwell on the distasteful task of identifying victims and perpetrators, it seems to refer primarily to the growing number of people killed during ex-military anti-government attacks carried out in places like Belladère, Pernal and a few other defenceless villages scattered across Haiti’s Central Plateau.
            Dupuy provides a fourth indication of Aristide’s authoritarian turn. As insurgents led by Guy Philippe and Jodel Chamblain were busily terrorising large parts of the country into submission, ‘in the days preceding his departure [the night of 28-29 February 2004], Aristide unleashed the chimès who went on a rampage, thereby reinforcing his enemies’ claims that the country would be plunged into a bloodbath unless Aristide was removed’ (172). Dupuy has already informed us that proof of this sort of assertion is immaterial. Therefore he can afford to ignore the fact that though there was indeed some spontaneous looting and violence in the last couple of days of his presidency, even newspapers that were eagerly complicit in the campaign to get rid of Aristide were only able to attest to a couple of killings in Port-au-Prince in the (understandably?) tense atmosphere of 26-27 February. As far as I know, no-one actually investigated these murders, so responsibility for the deaths remains a matter of speculation. All this is immaterial, however, given the fact that dispassionate White House officials, on the eve of the operation that would lead to the abduction of Haiti’s elected president, spread rumours during these same days that ‘Aristide may have given the order to begin killing opponents and looting businesses.’[24] Dupuy can also afford to gloss over the fact that in response to the growing fear and unrest, rather than ‘unleash the chimès’ Aristide did just the opposite, and broadcast the last of a long series of public appeals for calm and non-violence. As the Miami Herald observed at the time, what actually happened the day before he was kidnapped by US troops is that Aristide went on air to urge his supporters to abstain from ‘acts of looting and violence. And they promptly did.’[25]
            As for the US and French-sponsored military insurgency that took off earlier that same month and that really did kill a considerable number of people, before leading to the creation of an illegal de facto administration that would kill thousands more, Dupuy dispatches it in four brisk sentences of his book as a rebellion that began when a ‘gang of chimès [...] once allied with Aristide turned against him’ (172).
            Again, Dupuy has a principled explanation for his priorities here. The fact that Aristide’s government can only be held (indirectly) responsible for a very small number of political killings[26] is itself immaterial, since what is at stake is obviously too important to be associated with numbers. As any genuine democrat knows, what is really at stake in such discussions is nothing less than the immeasurable sanctity of human life. It doesn’t matter, then, that a comparison of the numbers killed ‘by’ Aristide on the one hand and by Duvalier, Cédras or Latortue on the other might to an outside observer look like an obscene joke. Numbers can have nothing to do with principles. This is why Dupuy disagrees with the human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist Brian Concannon when Concannon argues that ‘because more people were killed under Latortue than under Aristide, the former should have been condemned even more [than the latter].’ Dupuy is too cunning to fall for such clumsy logic. Dupuy knows that ‘both deserved to be condemned and be held responsible for the human rights violations that occurred under their governments, regardless of how many people were killed’ (183).
            Dupuy doesn’t spell out just how far he might be prepared to push this line of reasoning but, to his credit, his analysis of the post-2004 period is indeed consistent with this indifference to number. Dupuy pays no heed, therefore, to the irrelevant fact that according to the best available estimates the unelected democrat Latortue may be responsible for at least 100 times more political killings than the elected tyrant he usurped. Instead he condemns Latortue almost as vigorously as he does Aristide, noting that ‘just as Aristide had done, Latortue opted to use the police, gangs, former soldiers and paramilitaries, as well as the judicial system, to achieve its [sic] political ends’ (189). Since numbers and details remain beside the point, Dupuy doesn’t need to demonstrate just how Aristide’s ‘use of former soldiers and paramilitaries’ might be compared to that of Gérard and Youri Latortue. More’s the pity. I imagine that a good many of these ex-soldiers would be genuinely curious to know how they were used by Aristide.
            Given the constraints of time and space, of course, any published account is bound to suffer from a little selective bias. It is nevertheless regrettable, however, that in a book-length study of Aristide’s demise Dupuy couldn’t find room to mention an incidental detail like his provocative though perfectly reasonable demand for immediate reimbursement of the old French debt (equivalent to $21 billion US) ― a demand that just may have had something to do with that country’s energetic contribution to the bicentennial coup of 2004, and that may even have grabbed the attention of several other ex-colonial states. It’s too bad, when Dupuy suggests that by 2004 ‘only a foreign military intervention could prevent the country from descending into a full-fledged civil war’ (171), that he has so little time to consider how such intervention might already have become an integral component of this very war. It’s a shame that, after noting that it was such foreign intervention which early in the morning of 29 February 2004 allowed ‘Aristide to flee Haiti for the Central African Republic aboard an aircraft chartered by the US and escorted by US military personnel and his own personal security’ (171), Dupuy cannot afford to linger for a little longer over the circumstances of this ‘flight’. It’s a pity that he has no time to explain why exactly Aristide might have chosen a distant and heavily policed client state of France as his preferred place of refuge, rather than an openly supportive (and slightly more convenient) country like Jamaica, Venezuela, Cuba or the Bahamas. It’s a pity that he doesn’t explain why, if it was simply a matter of protecting their employer, Aristide’s own reasonably experienced and well-connected team of Steele Foundation security guards didn’t just fly him off to safety on their own.
            No doubt such speculation is immaterial. Once a deceitful dictator starts to run amok, everyone already knows that proper democracies are sometimes obliged to step in and clean up the mess.

*  *  *  *  *

As a result of Aristide’s criminal ambition, Dupuy concludes, ‘Lavalas would become equated with the chimès’ (144). This is a finely constructed phrase. In actual fact it is Dupuy himself (along with a few other intellectuals, NGO consultants and unelectable social-democrats who appear to think like Dupuy) who has gone to some trouble to make this equation appear plausible. As for the millions of Haitian people who still support Aristide as a unifying symbol and potent spokesman of their own political struggle, it seems that they don’t buy it. Perhaps they know that, leaving aside the perfectly predictable corruption and opportunism of a few members of Fanmi Lavalas, this ‘equation’ is nothing more than a crude ideological ruse. Although they may be less expert in the ways of neo-liberal imperialism than Alex Dupuy, it seems that most of these people still stubbornly refuse to accept the demonisation of their movement.
            Even an analyst as close to Dupuy as his old friend and colleague Robert Fatton ― the prominent political scientist who endorsed the back of Dupuy’s book ― acknowledges that while his level of support has of course declined during these last few years of relentless disinformation, ‘Aristide remains the most popular politician in Haiti today, and if he could stand for re-election tomorrow he would easily win.’[27] Carol Joseph may not be the only minister in the current government who insists on this same point: like it or not, ‘it is undeniable that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is still the most popular man in Haiti, and if he could run for office again he would certainly be re-elected.’[28]
            It seems that when it comes to political re-education, most Haitian people remain regrettably and mysteriously backward. They haven’t managed to keep up with the times. Their repeated failure to pass the real ‘test of democracy’ ― their unfathomable refusal to identify with the class interests of their oppressors ― continues to leave their would-be educators scratching their heads. No doubt a suitably trained sociologist will one day find a way to account for this popular stupidity, courtesy, perhaps, of the French CNRS. But it may be that Aristide’s unrepentant supporters already understand something that democratic intellectuals like Laënnec Hurbon or Alex Dupuy are usually reluctant to admit. They may know that when scholars attack Lavalas as authoritarian and undemocratic it seems that they tacitly assume a very old distinction, one dear to many professional political scientists. Aristide’s earliest critics were already very familiar with it, and one of them ― the Duvalierist prelate Monseigneur Dorélien ― was obliging enough to spell it out in terms that should make perfect sense to any reader who manages to get to the end of Dupuy’s book. Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the first coup, Dorélien was quick to remind his listeners that before you speak of the will of the majority you must ‘be careful, you must remember there are two kinds of majority: the qualitative majority [i.e. the intellectual and political elite] and the quantitative majority ― the ignorant rabble, the populace that acts blindly, not understanding what it is choosing.’[29]
            Perhaps, one day, Dupuy may ask a few of these ignorant and immaterial members of the numerical majority about their choices, and about their incomprehensible understanding of democracy. Perhaps he may even listen to what they have to say.  

Peter Hallward, 27 February 2007.

[1] This review was written in February 2007, and first published in the new weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté, in July 2007.
[2] Bob Corbett, review of Alex Dupuy’s The Prophet and Power, January 2007,
[3] Cited in Howard French, ‘Front-Running Priest A Shock to Haiti’, New York Times 13 December 1990.
[4] Alex Dupuy, The Prophet and Power, 123-125; Americas Watch/NCHR, The Aristide Government’s Human Rights Record (1 November 1991,, 6.
[5] Letter from Kim Ives, 26 February 2007.
[6] Aristide, speech to high school students on 4 August 1991, partially transcribed in Americas Watch/NCHR, The Aristide Government’s Human Rights Record, 26-28.
[7] Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season: Haiti since Duvalier [1989] (London: Vintage, 1994), 354, 362.
[8] Howard French, ‘Haiti Police Seen as Gaining in Coup’, New York Times 13 October 1991.
[9] In this his final effort to stare his old enemies down, Aristide warned the bourgeoisie that the time of reckoning was drawing near ― ‘you earned your money in thievery, under an evil regime, it is not really yours.’ He encouraged the poor, ‘whenever you are hungry, to turn your eyes in the direction of those people who aren’t hungry. Whenever you are out of work, turn your eyes in the direction of those who can put people to work. Ask them why not? What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for the sea to dry up?’ If you catch a thief, he told his listeners, or a Macoute, or a ‘false Lavalassian, don’t he-si-tate-to-give-him-what-he-deserves! [...]. Alone, we are weak. Together we are strong! Together, together, we are the flood! Do you feel proud? Do you feel proud!?’ (Aristide, ‘Speech of 27 September 1991’, Haiti Observateur,; cf. Anne-Christine D’Adesky, ‘Père Lebrun in Context’, NACLA Report on the Americas (December 1991), 7-8.
[10] Letter from Kim Ives, 19 February 2007.
[11] Mark Danner explains that when it launched the coup the army first took control of the radio stations, thereby eliminating ‘Aristide’s most potent weapon ― his voice. Now squads of soldiers made their way into the bidonvilles, shooting anyone they saw, firing into the scrapwood hovels. When the people came out into the garishly lit streets, the soldiers shot them down [...]. The people, confused, frightened, and disorganized ― they had received no mot d’ordre from their leader ― stumbled into the streets and died. Automatic weapons, ruthlessly employed, had given the lie to Aristide’s “unarmed revolution”’ (Danner, ‘Fall of the Prophet’, New York Review of Books 2 December 1993; cf. Farmer, Uses of Haiti (Monroe ME: Common Courage Press, 2003), 154).
[12] Aristide, interview with Joel Attinger and Michael Kramer, ‘It’s Not If I Go Back, but When’, Time Magazine 1 November 1993.
[13] Telephone interview with Patrick Elie, 24 February 2007.
[14] Interview with Douglas Perlitz, Cap Haïtien 12 January 2007.
[15] Portions of such speeches are transcribed in the AW/NCHR report of November 1991, The Aristide Government’s Human Rights Record, 28-29.
[16] Aristide, Dignity (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 96; cf. Aristide, In the Parish of the Poor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), 12-13; Aristide, Autobiography (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993), 133. In exactly the same way, Aristide refused to condemn the anti-Macoute violence of déchoukaj, in circumstances where it was ‘authorised’ (if not demanded) by the imperatives of self-defence (Aristide, Théologie et politique (Montréal: CIDIHCA, 1992), 94-95).
[17] Letter from Eléonore Senlis, 19 March 2007.
[18] Interviews with Guy Delva, Port-au-Prince 9 April 2006 and 25 April 2006.
[19] Letter from Eléonore Senlis, 19 March 2007. ‘You have to be careful’, Senlis adds, ‘to try to distinguish gossip from truth in a place like Cité Soleil, in a world that is desperately poor, full of misery and uncertainty, shot through with jealous rivalries that make people’s imaginations run riot...’
[20] Robert Muggah, Securing Haiti’s Transition, Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper no. 14 (October 2005,, 6-7.
[21] Jean-Michel Caroit, ‘La Loi des milices en Haïti’, Le Monde 5 November 2003. In many ways the argument of Dupuy’s book reads like an expanded version of Caroit’s own articles from October 2003 through to January 2004; see in particular Caroit, ‘Aristide, du prophète au dictateur’, Le Monde 9 January 2004. For more on the media’s contribution to the coup of 2004 see my Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment (London: Verso, 2007), chapter four.
[22] Telephone interview with Ben Dupuy, 16 February 2007.
[23] Richard Lezin Jones, ‘Haiti's Neighbors Are Pressing Aristide for Reforms’, New York Times 29 January 2004; DeNeen L. Brown, ‘In Haiti, Two Sides and Bloodshed Between’, Washington Post 3 February 2004.
[24] Nancy San Martin, ‘Rebels’ Aim: Choke, Take Port-au-Prince’, Miami Herald 28 February 2004.
[25] Trenton Daniel, ‘Appeals for Calm Bring Respite; Mayhem in Haiti’s Capital Ends as the President Tells Backers to Stop Attacks’, Miami Herald 29 February 2004.
[26] Independent analysts Ronald Saint Jean and Kim Ives estimate the total number of broadly ‘politically’ motivated killings for Aristide’s second administration at around 10; Amnesty International reports for the years 2001-2003 suggest a figure of around 30 or so, if you include extrajudicial executions attributed to the (often anti-government) police.
[27] Telephone interview with Robert Fatton, 9 November 2006; cf. Fatton, ‘A War Waged on the Aristide Regime’, Socialist Worker 5 March 2004,
[28] Interview with Carol Joseph, Cap Haïtien 14 January 2007.
[29] Monseigneur Chanoine Albert Dorélien, cited in Katherine Kean’s 1994 film Rezistans.

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