From Sun Apr 18 10:00:06 2004
Date: Sun, 18 Apr 2004 07:46:04 -0500 (CDT)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 21384: Esser: In Haiti, the power is an absolute power (fwd)

From: D. Esser

In Haiti, the power is an absolute power (part 2)

By Selwyn Ryan, Trinidad & Tobago Express, 18 April 2004

Jean-Bertrand Aristide is currently a guest of the Government of Jamaica and Caricom is rightly calling for an investigation into the circumstances of his enforced departure from Haiti. Not surprisingly, the US is unwilling to support this demand.

The United States has always played contradictory roles in Haiti. The US always insists that its aim is to empower and support the forces working for the democratisation of Haiti. Yet it is invariably found supporting the forces of reaction in Haiti, particularly those which are important to US economic and strategic interests.

The US, for example, gave strong political and financial support to Papa Doc Duvalier who tyrannised Haiti for 14 years. It is estimated that during his first 4 years in power, Duvalier received some US$40m from the CIA as aid, money which was in effect outright gifts. These were however cold war years and the US declared concern was to deny Haiti to the communists who had established a toe-hold in Cuba. The US also wanted Haiti's support for matters that came up in the OAS and the UN. Ideology and strategic and economic interests coincided.

Duvalier reciprocated by declaring communist activities crimes against the state. As an official document proclaimed, the authors and accomplices of these crimes shall be sentenced to death and their movable and immovable property shall be confiscated and sold for the benefit of the state.

Duvalier went from the Palace to the Cemetery in 1971, and was succeeded by his son as part of a deal worked out with the Nixon administration. The deal was that the US would support the continuation of the Duvalier dynasty in return for the regime's facilitation of US economic interests in Haiti ,the aim of which was to transform Haiti into one of the sweat shops of the Americas. Haiti was to ensure that there were no customs duties on US goods, that minimum wages were to be kept miserably low, labour unions suppressed, and US firms would have the freedom to repatriate profits without restrictions.

The US was in fact taking Papa Doc's word when he said in 1969 that Haiti could be a vast reservoir of man-power for Americans establishing re-exportation industries-closer, safer and more convenient than Hong Kong.

The industrialisation of Haiti under the Duvalier regime benefited US firms, many of which outsourced production and assembly activities to Haiti. The Haitian masses who worked in these operations remained miserably poor. Unable to protest in support of their demands for living wages, many became boat people. Haiti in the meantime remained the poorest country in the hemisphere and one of the 25 poorest in the world. Popular protests against the Duvalier regime however mounted, notwithstanding the repression of the Tonton Macoutes. The Duvalier dynasty collapsed in 1986 as populist forces, inspired by Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, progressively uprooted (dechoukaj) it. Baby Doc fled Haiti in a US cargo plane on February 7, 1986.

Faced with a seemingly irresistible political populist force, the US withdrew its support for Baby Doc but not before a cosmetic succession plan had been worked out. A US-backed junta led by General Namphy was given the green light to continue Duvalierism without Duvalier. Ironically, the junta was seen as Haiti's best chance for democracy.

The Americans had however not factored in the Aristide phenomenon. Aristide returned to Haiti in 1985 after graduate study in Montreal. He had previously studied biblical theology in Israel, and had plans to complete a doctorate. Instead, he found himself assigned to a large slum near the Port-au-Prince waterfront where he began preaching sermons that frightened the social and religious establishment. Aristide progressively became the pastor of Haiti's poor, the symbol of the resistance against Duvalier. The Catholic hierarchy sought to transfer Aristide abroad, but thousands of Haitians blocked the access to the airport, insisting that Aristide (Tidid) was not going anywhere. Thwarted, the Salesian order to which he belonged expelled him from the church.

The radical priest was accused of putting the eucharist and the sacraments at the service of politics, of profaning the liturgy, of inciting the masses to hate and violence, and exalting class struggle.

Following his expulsion, Aristide was urged to run for the Presidency in elections which were due in 1990. He initially refused do so, arguing that elections would change nothing in Haiti since US money would contaminate the political process as it had always done and would make Haitians more dependent on the cold country to the North. In one particular political address, Aristide told listeners that the election drums are sounding, but for what kind of elections? Without judgment, many of the criminals will return to the polling place, even more demonic to drink the people's blood, to kill people, to burn, to empty guns into radio stations, to fire on rectories, to hunt down priests, to hunt down lay people, to persecute the organisations of the people.

Aristide was eventually persuaded to run by progressive elements in Haiti as the candidate of national unity ,but not before making it clear that he was doing so on the assumption that through him the Haitian people would take over the machinery of the state in the interest of the Haitian poor.

The Haitian right, the army, and the commercial elite remained bitterly opposed ,some seeing Aristide as a cross between the Ayatollah and Fidel, or a socio bolshevik. Their opposition notwithstanding, Aristide won the 1990 election by a landslide. In his Inaugural address, Aristide indicated that his plan was to turn the Haitian social system on its head. As he warned, the majority of soldiers are born under the table, but the system turns them into sycophants and kept boys who sit at the table next to their masters . If there is enough for the rich, there must be enough for the poor. If the National Palace was formerly for the rich, today it's for the poor.

Yes to all around the table of democracy. No to a minority on top the table. No to a majority under the table. Rooting out corruption and empowering the souvrev pep were however tasks that were not easy for Aristide to accomplish. Making a social revolution as opposed to a coup requires that one has the institutional scaffolding to sustain deep social change and the active support of citizen groups who are prepared to man the political barricades on a continuous basis. Aristide was confronting 200 years of entrenched corruption and dictatorship, the power of the Petionville elite, the Catholic Church, the army, the macoutes and the hostility of American interests which resented his attempts to increase the miserly daily minimum wage (50 cents US). The forces arraigned against Aristide in 2004 were the same as that in 1991. As some wag put it, everyone who is anyone is against Aristide. The problem was that everyone who wanted a place at the table was for Aristide. The former prevailed in 1991 just as they prevailed in 2004. Aristide was escorted out of Haiti on a plane provided by the then Venezuelan President destined for Caracas.

One of Haiti's poets, Jean-Claude Martineau, explains very well what Aristide was up against. Why do the elite hate him so much? All their traditional privileges have been questioned; the way they make their money, most of the time illegally; drugs contraband, and abuse. All these kinds of things have been questioned, with a very strong possibility of changing the way the country is run; changing the way people perceive power. Because in Haiti, the power is an absolute power.

—To be concluded