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26673: Info Haiti (book note) The rise and fall of Haiti's "savior" - Notes from the Last Testament (fwd)
From: Info Haiti <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The rise and fall of Haiti's "savior"
The author deftly chronicles Aristide's transformation from a perceived
messiah to a master manipulator.
BY DON BOHNING
The Miami Herald
NOTES FROM THE LAST TESTAMENT: The Struggle for Haiti.
Michael Deibert. Introduction by Raoul Peck.
Seven Stories. 448 pages. $22.95 in paper.
Notes from the Last Testament should convince all but those few remaining
foreign believers in former President Jean Bertrand Aristide -- many of whom
were on his payroll -- that he was just one more would-be tyrant in a long
line of self-serving and corrupt Haitian leaders.
The book has problems, particularly an overload of Haitian history and
culture that distracts from what essentially is a memoir. But this is a
minor flaw in Deibert's powerfully documented exposé of what amounts to
Aristide's criminal rule of Haiti.
Deibert was the Reuters news service correspondent in Haiti as well as a
contributor to several foreign newspapers. He got to know leaders of
Aristide-financed slum gangs, called chimeres, who were, as Deibert
documents, on call for word from the National Palace to disrupt an
opposition demonstration or carry out other nefarious tasks on Aristide's
As Deibert observes in recounting the infamous massacre of an opposition
group in St. Marc a few weeks before Aristide's flight to exile on February
29, 2004: Haitians ``were forced to endure unimaginable agony so that one
man -- with the aid of a small cadre of killers for hire, corrupt officials
and cynical, avaricious foreign advocates -- could attempt to build his own
personal empire on the ruins of what was once a country.''
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, came to power in a December 1990
presidential election generally regarded as the only free and democratic
election in Haiti's 200 years of independence. He won by more than some
two-thirds of the popular vote by an electorate that hailed him as a savior.
Deibert deftly chronicles Aristide's transformation from a perceived messiah
to a master manipulator as he moved to consolidate his control over the
hemisphere's poorest country. Even before he was overthrown by a military
coup seven months after taking office on Feb. 7, 1991, there were clear
signs he was not the savior that many had hoped. Among the early signals was
his call to supporters for street violence to thwart an attempted coup by
Roger LaFontant, an old-line backer of former dictator Francois ''Papa Doc''
Those answering the call destroyed the historic cathedral in downtown
Port-au-Prince and burned scores of people in old tires.
After his ouster in September 1991, Aristide went to Venezuela, where he
soon wore out his welcome, spending the remainder of his three-year exile in
Washington. The Clinton administration restored him to power in the fall of
1994, following an invasion by 20,000 troops. Bitter that the United States
would not accept the extension of his term for the three years spent in
exile, he increasingly took on the mantle of his authoritarian and corrupt
He was elected president again in November 2000, a largely sham vote
boycotted by the opposition, in which he ran against six unknown candidates.
Anti-Aristide sentiment grew, though, and on Feb. 29, 2004, in a plane
provided by the United States, he left for eventual exile in South Africa,
where he remains. But after his departure, and as duplicitous as ever,
Aristide claimed he had been ``kidnapped.''
Don Bohning is a former Herald Latin America editor and author of the
recently published book: The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations
Against Cuba 1959-1965.
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