Review of a review: Haiti
sherrynstan at igc.org
sherrynstan at igc.org
Wed Mar 12 16:02:16 MST 2003
"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
March 12 - 18, 2003
Vol. 20, No. 52
REVIEW OF A REVIEW:
THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE'S USHERS
by Kim Ives
It is hard to know where to begin in dissecting Peter Dailey's pair of
articles, The Fall of the House of Aristide and Haiti's Betrayal in the
13 and Mar. 27 issues of the New York Review of Books. Where do you start
with an analyst who purports to be progressive but then portrays
s pressure on Haiti as that of the "international community," who
sympathizes with "international lenders" who think that "Haiti today seems
increasingly indistinguishable from any other third-world sinkhole," and
refers to anti-imperialist remarks as "anti-Americanism"?
Although he would have us believe he is an expert in Haitian affairs,
mostly churns out, and perhaps relied upon, the same stereotypes,
half-truths and misinformation seen in the mainstream media. His account
marked by historical distortions, glaring omissions, plagiarism, and
outright falsehoods which belie his claim that " for most of the Lavalas
years, I was a fairly regular visitor to Port-au-Prince."
Like a physicist's faulty mathematical theorem which omits an elementary
factor such as, say, gravity, Dailey eliminates from his gloomy analysis
Haiti's recent history under the administrations of Presidents Jean
Aristide and Ren?? Pr??val the central role played by Washington in
Haiti's democratic movement and elected governments since the fall of
dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986. This subversion is the flip side of
U.S. support for Haitian dictators over decades before.
The article purports to be a review of Roger Fatton, Jr.'s book Haiti's
Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy, which I have not
read and which Dailey only occasionally cites in his review. Therefore I
't know how much of Dailey's argument was drawn from or inspired by
a Haitian-born professor of government and foreign affairs at the
of Virginia. But given the paucity of Dailey's referrals to the object of
his review, I will treat the analysis as his.
Or perhaps I should say it is the analysis of the OPL (Organisation du
Peuple en Lutte), Organization of Struggling People, the central component
of the U.S.-backed Democratic Convergence opposition front. Headed by
Pierre-Charles, a former leader of the Unified Haitian Communist Party
(PUCH), the OPL is hailed by Dailey as "the social
democratic-constitutionalist wing of the Lavalas movement, the
left-wing-populist coalition that first brought Aristide to power, which
mobilized into opposition by the Aristide government's increasingly
and authoritarian character." The less charitable characterization of the
OPL's leaders would be boot-lickers of U.S. imperialism, who encouraged
Aristide to break with Haiti's leftist popular organizations and return
exile in 1994 on the shoulders of 23,000 U.S. troops, who preach
and subservience to every U.S. dictate, and whose Convergence front today
receives millions of dollars funneled from Washington's National Endowment
for Democracy to wreak political havoc in Haiti.
But for Dailey, this is "the social democratic-constitutionalist left"
has sought "to consolidate and institutionalize Haiti's fragile democracy
and to establish the concepts of pluralism and power-sharing integral to a
modern political system" against Aristide's "authoritarian" power grabs.
OPL's role as Washington's collaborator in blocking three Prime Minister
proposed by Pr??val, in helping to privatize Haitian state industries, and
providing the excuse for the Bush Administration's blockage of $500
in international aid and loans to Haiti denotes little that could be
interpreted as "left" or "power-sharing."
Dailey makes ample use of the mainstream press' tired clich??s. He refers
Pr??val as Aristide's "hand-picked successor," a common refrain in AP and
Reuter dispatches. In reality, Pr??val was "hand-picked" by the OPL in 1995
in opposition to the call by most Haitians for Aristide to serve out the
three years that he spent in exile from his five year term during the
1991-1994 coup d'??tat, a perfectly legitimate interpretation of Haiti's
Constitution. But that wasn't Washington's interpretation, since Aristide
was proving to be mercurial and uncooperative in privatizations and other
neoliberal reforms. The tension burst forth on Nov. 11, 1995 when Aristide
verbally pilloried U.S. Ambassador William Swing and U.N. Haiti chief
Lakhdar Brahimi at the National Cathedral during a funeral for one of the
president's slain partisans (see Ha??ti Progr??s, Vol. 13, No. 34,
11/15/1995). "The game of hypocrisy is over" Aristide exclaimed with a
reminiscent of his sermons when a priest at St. Jean Bosco in the early
1980s. "We don't have two, or three heads of state, we have one."
Peeved and alarmed, Washington, whose troops still occupied the country,
turned to the OPL to push Aristide out. Having no viable presidential
candidates of their own, the OPL selected Pr??val, who had been Aristide's
prime minister in 1991. The move galled Aristide, who didn't announce his
support for Pr??val until the day before his Dec. 17, 1995 election.
Pr??val turned out to be his own man and gradually struck a course of
independence from his OPL sponsors, starting with his refusal to name
Pierre-Charles as Prime Minister, forcing a compromise on a lower level
cadre, Rosny Smarth.
Nor was Pr??val Aristide's "surrogate," as Dailey blithely asserts,
he did take account of Aristide's positions. Their relationship was often
prickly. Pr??val walked a line between the OPL, which controlled the
Parliament, and Aristide, who formed his own party, the Fanmi Lavalas
in Nov. 1996.
Pr??val had to make a choice, however, in January 1999 when the terms of
OPL parliamentarians ran out due to the political gridlock they had
Pr??val refused to unconstitutionally decree an extension of their terms,
they demanded, and the Parliament expired. Dailey is therefore wrong in
parroting the mainstream press and OPL assertion that Pr??val was "shutting
down the opposition-controlled Parliament, a step the OPL charged was 'a
coup against our democratic institutions,' and for the remainder of his
term, together with a de facto government formed with his FL colleagues,
ruled by decree." The term "de facto government," used during the coup to
characterize the military's puppets, was resuscitated by the OPL in an
effort to demonize the Pr??val regime. But the comparison was ludicrous and
generally Haitians applaud the way Pr??val ran the government and held
elections after the obstructionist parliament self-destructed. (Pr??val did
not hold elections because of "rising international protest," as Dailey
asserts, but because the OPL could no longer block them). Furthermore,
Pr??val was never a member of the FL, nor was his Prime Minister Jacques
Alexis, nor were most of the ministers.
In the same vein, it is incorrect when Dailey says that "Aristide and his
associates quit OPL to form the FL."Aristide was never an OPL member, nor
were most of the FL founders.
In addition to the OPL, Dailey's references come from the regime's
foes. He regularly cites the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR),
which he incorrectly says was "once [one of] Aristide's strongest
supporters." NCHR, which like its cousin organization Americas Watch is
supported by financier George Soros, has had a thorny relationship with
Aristide since his first administration in 1991. Shortly after the Sep.
1991 coup d'??tat, the NCHR abetted the first Bush administration by
a report, based in part on information and interpretations from first de
facto prime minister Jean-Jacques Honorat, that portrayed the Aristide
government as a human-rights abuser. The U.S. was thus able to posture
the coup was in some measure "justified." As a second Bush administration
wars with Aristide, the NCHR continues to willingly provide the U.S. State
Department with ammunition in the form of supposed Lavalas "human-rights
violations" against the Convergence while ignoring repeated opposition
attacks and abuses against Lavalas militants and the deadly campaign being
carried out by neo-Duvalierist guerrillas who claim affinity with the
opposition (see Ha??ti Progr??s, Vol. 20, No. 48, 2/12/2003). The NCHR has
thus perfected its knack of being in the wrong place at the right time.
Dailey also relies heavily on the Haiti Democracy Project, a
Washington-based Convergence ally with a board full of U.S. State
veterans and clients.
"Gross electoral fraud by the ruling party has deprived the entire
apparatus of legitimacy," Dailey writes, a silly charge that Convergence
politicians regularly bark. "For most of this time attacks by
government-sponsored and armed militants on opposition rallies made free
assembly all but impossible." In reality, the Convergence regularly holds
meetings, marches, and rallies, while its politicians dominate the Haitian
airwaves and are often even interviewed on the government-run Haitian
National Television. It even briefly and illegally set up a "parallel
government" until it collapsed under the weight of its own ridiculousness.
Imagine state reaction if that happened in Washington or Paris.
"By 1999, it seemed to many Haitians that Aristide, who once personified
Haitian aspirations for democracy, now represented Haitian democracy's
biggest obstacle," Dailey continues. This phrase speaks volumes about
's unground ax, because in 1999 Aristide had been out of office for four
years and was making anti-neoliberal noises. The electoral wrangling of
was still a year off. So who were the "many Haitians"? How was Aristide
already "democracy's biggest obstacle"?
In fact, Aristide was an "obstacle" for the U.S. which feared his
and agenda and set out to engineer an "electoral coup d'??tat" in 2000. But
that electoral coup was defeated by a massive popular mobilization and
turn-out for the FL. Dailey completely omits any mention of U.S. meddling
Haiti's election and the people's response, pretending instead that the FL
somehow engineered "gross electoral fraud," which even the Organization of
American States (OAS) never charged. The FL was not in power for the 2000
elections and had no members on the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP)
presided over them. Half of the CEP members, however, were from the
Contrary to Dailey's mixed-up account, the OAS's dubious objection in the
May 2000 parliamentary elections was that eight (not 14, as Dailey says)
the nineteen Senate races should have gone to a second round. (Seven of
those eight senators voluntarily stepped down, one of the FL's early
concessions). The opposition, the U.S., and now Dailey have inflated this
quibble over how run-offs were calculated (which was only the CEP's
jurisdiction and outside of OAS election observers' mandate anyway, as
be opining on the U.S. Supreme Court's appointment of George W. Bush as
president) to the point where the reviewer writes the "legitimacy of
[Aristide's] government [is] very much in dispute." This is simply absurd,
as is Dailey's charge that Pr??val was responsible for "forcing the
resignation of Smarth" in June 1997, which "marks the end of the last
legally constituted government Haiti has had to date." Smarth stepped down
due to popular outcry over his OPL policies, and both of Aristide's
governments since 2001 (Prime Ministers Jean-Marie Ch??restal and Yvon
Neptune) have been "legally constituted" and recognized by every
on the planet.
Dailey's assertion that the "Aristide government's increasingly
authoritarian behavior has left it isolated and condemned by the
international community, which has suspended crucial foreign aid to the
point that today there is a total embargo apart from emergency
relief," is also laughable on several counts. The "international
if defined as the majority of the world's nations, is sympathetic to the
Haitian government and disapproving, at the very least, of the Bush
administration's strong-arming. They have not "suspended crucial foreign
aid." Only the U.S. and European powers have done that. (In fact, the U.S.
has vetoed the disbursement of $140 million approved by the Inter-American
Development Bank, a violation of the bank's internal rules against
meddling.) On the contrary, the majority of the OAS and CARICOM member
states have pleaded for the release of the aid and loans to Haiti, held
hostage only by Washington's hostility to Aristide.
Dailey's research is beyond sloppy. At one point he even lifts a quote of
artist Edzer Pierre, uncredited, from another author's article and then
changes Pierre's label from "former activist" to "former FL activist."
challenged about the plagiarism on an Internet Haiti discussion group,
Dailey blamed the matter on an ill-defined New York editor.
The reviewer also champions Convergence spin-masters when he says that
most plausible explanation" for the Dec. 17, 2001 commando attack on the
National Palace (see Ha??ti Progr??s, Vol. 19, No. 40, 12/19/2001) is that
was "a dispute between factions of the National Police, aided by their
Dominican allies, over control of the drug trade." Is this explanation
plausible" when similar commando raids by Dominican Republic-based
anti-Lavalas guerrillas both preceded and followed the attack, when people
identifying themselves as its organizers laid out their plans to a
Haitian journalist in Miami weeks before it, when the attackers came with
50-caliber machine gun bolted in the back of a pick-up, and when one of
attackers killed was a former Haitian soldier? Dailey does not mention
perhaps did not know) that the "group of disgruntled officers of the
National Police" who the Haitian government charges led the attack had
in exile for over a year, having fled when Pr??val's government claims to
have caught them planning a coup. Dailey also states that "as everyone in
Haiti knows," Aristide lives in Tabarre not the Palace. In truth, Aristide
used to stay at the Palace and often returned there on Sunday night, when
the attack took place. An assassination attempt against Aristide by the
neo-Duvalierist guerrillas operating in Haiti today appears a much more
Dailey's analysis has a scientific veneer which might hold some allure to
progressives unfamiliar with Haiti. But his use of long-discredited racist
simplifications, like the mainstream notion that Haiti's ruling class is a
"mulatto elite," reveal the weak and shallow nature of his "class
One could go on for at least the length of Dailey's two installments,
ticking off their inaccuracies and fallacies. But the biggest problem lies
in the reviewer's pro-Convergence premises.
Dailey eloquently describes many obvious problems currently besetting
Haitian society: the destruction of agriculture, the resulting rural
to the cities, the deterioration of education and infrastructure, and the
rise of the state as the principal employer, all of which have brought
terrible social distortions and strains. This is where Fatton got the
of a "predatory democracy" in which "the Haitian government remains the
primary route to power and wealth." The problem is not in enumeration of
symptoms, but in diagnosis of the disease. Dailey faults Aristide's
"ecclesiastical authoritarianism," while progressives point to Haiti's
marked by colonialist rape, semi-feudal obscurantism, comprador
and imperialist intervention and plunder.
It's sure that there is plenty to criticize Aristide for. But the
problem, for progressives, is not Aristide's "authoritarianism," as Dailey
contends, but rather his half-measures, vagueness, and hesitation in
defending the Haitian people's demands for radical change in Haiti,
due to political cowardice, immaturity, miscalculation, or duplicity.
One might forgive someone's misconception or confusion about Haiti, but
Dailey's white-washing of the U.S. role in undermining Haiti's democratic
movement is inexcusable. He consistently misrepresents the dismay, alarm,
punitive actions of Washington or Paris as those of the "international
It is unfortunate that a publication like the New York Review of Books has
become the vehicle for such unadulterated Convergence "dogma," as Dailey
terms the defense of Aristide's government by "Lavalas parliamentarians
pro-Lavalas journalists as well as Aristide's more credulous foreign
Perhaps the biggest falsehood of all comes when Dailey asserts in his
paragraph that "increasingly" the Haitian people have "decided" to accept
"acknowledgment of defeat," in Fatton's words, after the high hopes of
But the majority of Haitians still support Aristide, whether rightly or
wrongly, as the agent of wealth redistribution in Haiti. This seems to
contradict Dailey's hopes that "political passions among the people appear
to be spent."
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