Friday, June 25, 2004

Hti: Smashing the icon

Interesting address from Michèle Pierre-Louis. No holds barred. Here's an excerpt.

At the beginning of this year 2004 of our bicentennial, our country was left profoundly shaken by an unprecedented wave of political violence. Today we are painfully attempting to raise our heads and look toward the future. The conditions that produce violence and tolerate, or even favor, impunity, have certainly not disappeared. On the contrary, such conditions persist and we must question this very persistence.

But at least Aristide is no longer. That is to say, he is no longer president of Haiti, less than three months after December 5, 2003. On that day, his partisans, accompanied by the police, launched a savage attack against the department of social sciences of the State University of Haiti, destroying all the painstakingly acquired material (desks, chairs, computers, all the administrative files), beating the students and permanently crippling the Chairman of the University by breaking his knees with an iron bar. My colleagues and I were captive witnesses of these dramatic events.

At the crack of dawn on February 29, 2004, under peculiar circumstances that remain to be elucidated, Aristide left the National Palace and the country. The US government appears to have, once again, taken one of its secret short cuts to solve the infamous “Haitian crisis” and thus maintained control of action and initiative in our country. Indeed, a massive anti-Aristide mobilization across the country had not succeeded in obtaining his resignation, in part because the same US government upheld and protected him until the very last moment.

However, that massive wave of protest had met with blind, violent repression on the part of the Lavalas party, university students and the independent media being the most specifically targeted victims, although not the only ones. Repression was accompanied by a constant discourse of hatred by the chief of State. His attacks were aimed mainly at a “bourgeoisie” who participated in a civil society movement he thought to be fueled by class and color prejudice in a conspiracy against himself, the former priest of the slums.

According to that rhetoric, Aristide is the apostle of the poor (the Haitian majority excluded from all rights), hated by the rich allies of imperialism who never left him a chance to enforce his reforms. Such is the imposture that has so seduced Aristide’s political and academic American allies and friends, as well as many other so called friends of Haiti in their caricatured vision of our reality, and, in some unfortunate cases, their vested interests in Aristide’s cause. In their curious logic, Aristide is a man anointed with the sanctity of righteousness and absolved in advance of all possible drifts toward tyranny because he never had the support of an important part of the traditional Haitian upper and middle classes who backed the 1991 military coup that sent Aristide into exile in the United States, and because he was originally the emblem of social and political change for the rural and urban poor.

That in years subsequent to his first advent to presidency (1990):
• he made strong alliances with members of that very same traditional privileged class out of personal gainful interest,

• he reduced the Haitian State to a space of private plunder more than any preceding man in power,

• he vassalized all our institutions, dilapidated national resources and public goods, allowed (and possibly profited from) the expansion of drug trafficking, armed civilian thugs as his own private force and instrument of extortion….
None of this seems to cause his American supporters to waiver in their faith. We sometimes wonder what perverse disrespect looms behind such inexplicable blindness. Similarly, the “Haitian crisis” thus perceived from the singularly narrow angle of the involvement of the Bush administration in the illegal destitution of a so-called elected president, is now just another argument against the party in office in this American electoral year.

This is by no means to disguise or diminish the role played by the privileged classes in Haiti to maintain a retrograde political system that denies basic rights to the majority and is geared only to maintain their interests and advantages. But the convenient manipulation of notions of exploitation to justify tyranny, already used and abused by Duvalier, cannot replace rational analysis, all the more since the exclusion of the underprivileged from the political scene was never so effective in Haiti as under the Lavalas rule.

Aristide, as he became the main instrument of his own fall, rendered possible a dangerous reconfiguration of our fragile political landscape in which now appear and reappear incongruous and undesirable figures that may announce the continuation of status quo at worse, and improvisation or uncertainty at best.

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