[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

27946: Lalanne (news) Author gives insight into Haitian politics (fwd)

From: "P. Lalanne" <plalanne6@yahoo.com>

  Book Review: Author gives insight into Haitian politics

February 19, 2006

  Char Miller

  Special to the San Antonio Express-News

  Notes From the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti
  By Michael Deibert. Foreword by Raoul Peck.
    Seven Stories Press, $22.95
        Thomas Jefferson was aghast: In 1791, Haitian slaves  revolted against
France, establishing the Western Hemisphere's second  republic. The principal
author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence  feared that this successful
Caribbean revolution would foster "a great  disposition to insurgency among
American slaves," a war that would  "never end but in the extermination of one
or the other race." To  forestall that dread possibility, he cut off all trade
to the new  state, and refused to extend it diplomatic recognition, expecting
to  bankrupt its future.
    His strategy worked, and a century later Woodrow  Wilson sealed Haiti's
fate. In 1915, he sent in the Marines, an  occupation that lasted until the
mid-1930s; the occupiers wrote a new  constitution that granted them unilateral
power, built an island-wide  road system with forced labor, and disrupted
Haitian political  maturation, reinforcing its crippling colonial legacy.
    But Haiti also has been wracked with more than its  share of internal
torment, as journalist Michael Deibert demonstrates  in his gripping first
book. A Reuters' correspondent in the capital  city of Port-au-Prince from 2001
to 2003, Deibert has a sharp eye for  the complicating ironies of history. Not
least of which is the way that  past brutalities have shaped contemporary
behavior. Jean-Jacques  Dessaline's bloody reprisals against European
slave-owners in the early  1800s found their parallel in the 1950s as Papa Doc
Duvalier unleashed  a terrifying cycle "of tin-pot despotism and pointless
bloodletting."  Even once-heralded reformers turned vicious: broad-based
opposition to  Jean-Bertrand Aristide was part of an enduring struggle "against
the  two-century tradition of electoral  coup d'états."
    The complex tale of Aristide's rise, fall and exile,  his return and
is the central focus of "Notes From the Last  Testament." A compelling mix of
reportage, memoir, social criticism, it  offers a searching, if at times
garrulous, account of contemporary  Haitian political culture.
    Aristide had been the people's priest, in the 1980s  using his pulpit to
defend the defenseless. Booted out of his religious  order, he later wrote: "I
did not invent class struggle any more than  Karl Marx did. But who can avoid
encountering class struggle in the  heart of Port-au-Prince? It is not a
subject of controversy, but a  fact, a given." That insight, and the electoral
clout that came with  it, powered Aristide into the presidency in December
    By the next September a military junta had forced  him into exile, but
years later, courtesy of a  Clinton-administration negotiation that was
enforced with 25,000 U.S.  and international troops, Aristide returned as
    Deibert masterfully recounts what then ensued: wild  swings in the
republic's political compass as Aristide and his equally  mean-spirited
opponents jockeyed for position and power, using the  streets and slums as
stages on which to assault those arrayed against  them. The drumbeat of
violence, like machine-gun fire, echoes through  his narrative, and as the
casualties mount, the former priest bears the  brunt of Deibert's angered
scrutiny: "Seldom has a leader betrayed the  legitimate hopes of so many so
thoroughly. In all its essentials â?? the  killing of civilians, restriction of
personal and professional liberty,  the subjugation of all state institutions
to the whim of the executive  branch â?? the Aristide government deserved to be
overthrown as much as  any in Haiti."
    Pushed out by popular protest and international  pressure, Aristide's
exile has not brought peace, a conundrum  Deibert underscores in his
conclusion: "Haiti is populated by some of  the more resourceful, hard-working
and decent people in the world,  despite the face the political culture
presents, but they cannot change  the country on their own," a hopeful and
harrowing prospect.

  Char Miller is director of Urban Studies at Trinity University, and editor of
"50 Years of the Texas Observer."

 Yahoo! Mail
 Use Photomail to share photos without annoying attachments.
----- End forwarded message -----