01 February 2004

The End of Nationhood

Common Sense
John Maxwell

All the signs, all the portents and omens point to one thing: the Caricom intervention in Haiti is almost certain to make things worse, much worse.

The world's savants, including Dr Rickey Singh; the editor of the London Guardian; and Caricom's leaders appear to be agreed that what's wrong with Haiti is Aristide and if they can get rid of him, all will be well in the worst possible of all republics.

A racist, right-wing American publication, the National Vanguard, put it well in 1994: "What they cannot do, however, is change the nature of the Haitian people." According to the National Guardian, Haitians are corrupt, brutal and uncivilised and are unable to absorb the multifarious benefits of western capitalist democracy.

he basic proposition is that Aristide is the symbol of all this, and as the National Vanguard said, a decade ago, Aristide has all the qualifications for a Haitian bogeyman - "He is a Marxist priest of the Roman Catholic persuasion instead of a rightist priest of the Voodoo persuasion like "Papa Doc" but he agrees with the latter that the proper way to control one's political opponents is to terrorise and murder them."

Scarcely to be wondered at then, is the London Guardian's headline "Haiti's despot Aristide stirs up people's revolution" conflating two unsupported assertions - that Aristide is a despot and that there is a people's' revolution in progress.

The Wall Street Journal (July 6, 2001) in a story by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, editor of the Americas section, says "Mr Aristide bears direct responsibility for his country's hardship. His extortion practices aimed at the few productive sectors of the economy have suffocated growth and investment. He has overseen the complete collapse of justice and personal security, and implemented a tyrannical crackdown on political dissent."

I would advise readers, whenever they read anything about Haiti, including my column, to make sure their B-S detectors are turned to full power. It has been my contention that most of what is written about Haiti is toxic waste and totally unfit for human consumption. Obviously, I believe that I am writing the truth, and presumably so do many others who are willing to weigh in on Haiti, many of them from an abundance of ignorance and ideological and racist hostility.

American influence

I believe that it is an incontestable fact that the Haitian majority has been in total control of their own affairs for only an infinitesimal portion of their 200 years as free people - people who freed themselves from slavery and imperialist control against all the rules of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Any intervention in Haiti which does not take account of that fact is doomed to failure. Haitians have already proved that they will fight with machetes and hoes, with clubs and improvised spears, against trained soldiers armed with machine guns and dive-bombers. The one constant in Haitian history is the burning desire to be free.

According to the National Vanguard "When the United States sent a military mission to Haiti in 1958 in order to help "Papa Doc" reorganise his army, the US personnel who arrived were as appalled by the conditions they found as the Marines had been 43 years earlier. Historian Robert Heinl, who was a Marine colonel with the US mission in 1958, found the "telephones gone. roads approaching non-existence. ports obstructed by silt. docks crumbling. sanitation and electrification in precarious decline." (Bringing Democracy to Haiti; National Vanguard No 114 Nov-Dec 1994)

The situation has only got worse since then.

Despite this, when the US deposed the usurper, General Cedras in 1994, it made absolutely no attempt to help Haiti out of its largely foreign-sponsored difficulties. Since Aristide was distrusted by all right-thinking Americans, there was no question of his being allowed to complete his term of office - it was decided that the Cedras interregnum would count as part of Aristide's term and he was allowed to complete the few months left. He was succeeded by a sympathiser, Rene Preval, elected by the overwhelming majority movement, the 'Family Lavalas' which supported Aristide. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that Aristide would be back. In view of this, it was decided by the North Atlantic rulers of the world that the Haitian government should get no assistance unless it sold off its pathetic economic patrimony and accepted the dictates of the IMF and hold new elections.

Since the Haitians refused to do this, no aid was forthcoming. They would have needed money for elections anyway.

On strictly humanitarian grounds alone, Haiti, whatever its government, represented what Newsweek magazine once called "a basket case" - an economic paraplegic, unable to fend for itself. Unlike the people of former Soviet countries, however, Haiti is largely black, and blacks batten on 'welfare'. No dole then for Haiti.

It is clear from this crude (but factual) summary that Aristide, Preval and the Family Lavalas are the authors of their own misfortune - if the whole tragic history of Haiti, including the dive-bombers, is assumed to be their responsibility. They suffer from an original sin which makes them and their suffering invisible to the outside world.

Flies in the Ointment

The present situation is dire. In the Jamaican vernacular, "Nutt'n naw gwaan" which, when translated, means that economic activity is at a standstill, electricity doesn't work, the roads are roads in name only, the hillsides are bare and the streets of the capital are distinguished by heaps of rubbish and heaps of firewood. The other important reality is that most Haitians remain loyal to Aristide and the Family Lavalas.

Haiti is beyond dirt poor. It is, as Newsweek described it, a "basket case". Which is why, 10 years ago, after the floating barracoons were removed from Kingston Harbour, I suggested that Caricom should immediately set up a technical assistance group to help Haiti. In the parish of the poor, it is the poor who rescue the poor. We, however, preferred to re-institute Emancipation Day rather than work for the final emancipation of the black people whose revolution helped to end slavery and free the rest of the Americas. It was the example of Haiti which fired the likes of Bolivar and Marti, of San Martin and O'Higgins, who went on to free their countries from European domination.

The Haitians have never been forgiven for that.

In a story headlined "8 years after Invasion, Haiti Squalor Worsens" New York Times reporter, David Gonzalez, reported people living in "Apocalyptic poverty", some of them in a former prison which they have captured, Jamaican style. Gonzalez quoted one young man who tried to leave Haiti during the Cedras dictatorship but had been caught by the Americans and returned.

"The same America that. . .restored Mr Aristide to power in 1994," Mr Arince said, now makes life impossible. We are human beings and we do not like to live like this. Only animals should live here."

Gonzalez also quoted an American doctor, Paul Farmer, who founded a clinic in Port-au-Prince in 1980 and has been working there since. Dr Farmer, in referring to the United States' decision to withhold aid, said: "One of the world's most powerful countries is taking on one of the most impoverished.
"Anybody who presides over this blockade needs to know the impact here already."

The alleged cause of the present Haitian problem is the elections of May 2000 which the Haitian opposition factions claimed were "flawed". The problem for them is that even if the elections complained of were flawed, the opposition stands no chance of having a majority in the Haitian parliament. In any case, these elections predated Aristide's presidential re-election.

The election flaw is a red herring

According to the Wall Street Journal of Friday, July 5, 2001:
"Haiti doesn't need international aid to get back on its feet. It needs modern democratic institutions that will attract private capital and brains. This conflicts sharply with Mr Aristide's most basic instincts, which run more along the lines of his chum Fidel. It is folly to believe that in exchange for multilateral aid the leopard will change his spots."

Deliverance - neo-liberal style. Jamaicans and other structurally adjusted peoples will understand.

When the Supreme Court delivered the White House to George W Bush, there was celebration in Florida and in elite Haitian neighbourhoods. A few weeks before the US presidential election, Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been swept back into power with an overwhelming majority of his own, a majority that no one, not even the opposition seriously questions. In the parliamentary elections in May, the Family Lavalas had won all but one of the 29 seats in the Senate and 80 per cent of the seats in the lower house. Aristide captured 92 per cent of the vote in an election boycotted by the opposition. This boycott has assumed mythic proportions, since most eligible Haitian voters voted for Aristide anyway.

But the Haitian elite (like the Venezuelan elite) sees the Republican takeover in Washington as the lever to return them to power. They have the active collaboration of Bush's envoy, the disreputable Otto Reich and of USAID, which apparently sponsors the so-called Haiti Democracy Group. But even before Bush, the Clinton administration had blackballed Haiti. A US Embassy spokesman in Port-au-Prince said "the president (Clinton) together with the international community has made it known to the Haitian authorities that their failure to address well-documented election irregularities puts into question their commitment to democracy".

It is all quite simple, really. A country whose infrastructure has been destroyed, whose best and brightest have fled after a century of sponsored abuse, is expected to pull itself up, as Americans say, by its own bootstraps. As you will discover if you try, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps simply breaks your back. Another way is, of course, possible. As Haiti endures the ravages of disease of all kinds, but especially of HIV/AIDS, there is one country which is helping. There are now nearly 1,000 Cuban medical personnel in Haiti, 700 of them doctors. Like the Good Samaritan, Cuba did not pass by on the other side. Perhaps Caricom could examine this example, and they certainly should get the facts of Haiti before charting a course that might mean racial civil war next door to Jamaica and the United States.


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