REFORMATTED: Review of a review: Haiti

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Mar 12 16:11:37 MST 2003

"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
March 12 - 18, 2003
Vol. 20, No. 52

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
Mar. 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
Washington' 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 who refers to anti-imperialist remarks as "anti-Americanism"?

Although he would have us believe he is an expert in Haitian affairs,
Dailey mostly churns out, and perhaps relied upon, the same stereotypes,
half-truths and misinformation seen in the mainstream media. His account is
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 of
Haiti's recent history under the administrations of Presidents Jean
Bertrand Aristide and Ren?? Pr??val the central role played by Washington
in sabotaging 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
don 't know how much of Dailey's argument was  drawn from or inspired by
Fatton, a Haitian-born professor of government and foreign affairs at the
University 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
G??rard 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
was mobilized into opposition by the Aristide government's increasingly
corrupt 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 from exile in 1994 on the shoulders of 23,000 U.S. troops, who
preach compliance 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

But for Dailey, this is "the social democratic-constitutionalist left"
which 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. The OPL's role as Washington's collaborator in blocking three
Prime Minister proposed by Pr??val, in helping to privatize Haitian state
industries, and in providing the excuse for the Bush Administration's
blockage of $500 million 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
to 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
1987 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 fire
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
growing independence from his OPL sponsors, starting with his refusal to
name G??rard Pierre-Charles as Prime Minister, forcing a compromise on a
lower level OPL cadre, Rosny Smarth.

Nor was Pr??val Aristide's "surrogate," as Dailey blithely asserts,
although 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
(FL), in Nov. 1996.

Pr??val had to make a choice, however, in January 1999 when the terms of
most OPL parliamentarians ran out due to the political gridlock they had
imposed. Pr??val refused to unconstitutionally decree an extension of their
terms, as 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 harshest
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. 30,
1991 coup d'??tat,  the NCHR abetted the first Bush administration by
issuing 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 that 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

Dailey also relies heavily on the Haiti Democracy Project, a
Washington-based Convergence ally with a board full of U.S. State
Department veterans and clients.

"Gross electoral fraud by the ruling party has deprived the entire
political 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
Dailey '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 2000 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
popularity 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 in 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) that presided over them. Half of the CEP members,
however, were from the opposition.

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) of
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
would 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 government
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 humanitarian
relief," is also laughable on several counts. The "international
community," 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 political 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." When
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 "the
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
it was "a dispute between factions of the National Police, aided by their
Dominican allies, over control of the drug trade." Is this explanation
"most 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
prominent Haitian journalist in Miami weeks before it, when the attackers
came with a 50-caliber machine gun bolted in the back of a pick-up, and
when one of the attackers killed was a former Haitian soldier? Dailey does
not mention (and perhaps did not know) that the "group of disgruntled
officers of the Haitian National Police" who the Haitian government charges
led the attack had been 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 same neo-Duvalierist
guerrillas operating in Haiti today appears a much more plausible explanation.

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 analysis."

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 flight
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
notion of a "predatory democracy" in which "the Haitian government remains
the primary route to power and wealth." The problem is not in enumeration
of the symptoms, but in diagnosis of the disease. Dailey faults Aristide's
"ecclesiastical authoritarianism," while progressives point to Haiti's past
marked by colonialist rape, semi-feudal obscurantism, comprador parasitism,
and imperialist intervention and plunder.

It's sure that there is plenty to criticize Aristide for. But the principal
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, whether
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,
or punitive actions of Washington or Paris as those of the "international
community." 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 and pro-Lavalas journalists as well as Aristide's more
credulous foreign supporters."

Perhaps the biggest falsehood of all comes when Dailey asserts in his final
paragraph that "increasingly" the Haitian people have "decided" to accept
"acknowledgment of defeat," in Fatton's words, after the high hopes of
1990. 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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