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By Jeffrey Altepeter


I just have a couple brief comments on your analysis.

Two things. You claim that the Haitian people chose to retreat into a life of simple subsistence farming. And you argue against a common popular view in the U.S today, that the international community has almost single handedly determined the Haitian reality.

First of all, I agree that the Haitian people WANTED to retreat... I share your distrust of the assumption that material progress is clearly good and to be preferred over a more simple form of existence. There is nothing romantic about the possibility that the opposite may be true.

Secondly, I agree that there is a tendency to outweigh the influence of the international community and to virtually ignore internal and historical factors in many analyses of Haiti. You made some very good points in your review of Farmer's book. In the effort to make his point, Farmer seems to have gone to the extreme. (I think you may have been a bit hard on him, though!). The problem is, I think you are perilously close to the opposite extreme, down-playing the impact of external forces.

You seem to view the events of this period as primarily based on free choice. Yes, the Haitian people WANTED to retreat, but WHY? They had just freed themselves from slavery to a system of productivity, and were not about to re-enslave themselves to the same ideals no matter who the master would be. Though you claim it wasn't the only choice, you admit that the alternative is much more a paper alternative than a live option. You call their choice the best REALISTIC possibility. I think I have a very different idea of the meaning of *choice*. You state; Did they make their own choice. I think they did, not from a position of power and strength, but they chose what they thought was best for them given the situation they had inherited.

This is not a CHOICE. A choice implies viable options, and the power to select from them. As for who they inherited the situation from, that is apparent. From these same foreign donors the Haitian people recieved a variety of gifts that would help them to shape their future: class/color divisions, militarism, and so on. I would simply argue that it is important to recognize both the internal and external forces at play, then and now.

I realize that you are aware of this as you write, Bob. When I say you are perilously close to an extreme, I mean only to question the weight you give to choice in these posts. When you say that they traded their right to live under government and the possibility of participation in it, for the freedom to avoid its worst abuses, it seems to blame the victim for choosing her fate. I just don't think that becoming subsistence farmers, by choice or not, means becoming non-citizens by default. The forces that pushed the masses out of the circle were remnants of the same forces that excluded them to begin with.