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6831: Re: "Aristide, Again"; an Open Letter to the Progressive (fwd)

From: Karioka9@cs.com

In "Aristide, Again," Catherine Orenstein deliberately chose to look only at 
the "half-full glass" Aristide held to her. Just like the words for peace and 
bread are not written and do not sound the same in Haitian Creole (lapè vs. 
pen), the appearance and the reality of what's going on in Haiti can be 
strikingly different.  Personally, I find that you get a better grasp of 
reality when you go to Haiti off-season, without the trappings of guided 
tours, Tabarre meetings, etc. . . .  Francilus Saint Leger was most certainly 
part of Orenstein's guided tour!

Even with the best of intentions, foreign journalists view Haitians through 
their western imagination.  In this case, a naive and simple people who carry 
small images of the czar Aristide next to their heart, as if they were extras 
in a Tolstoy revival of feudal Russia.  Why is it that other people are 
expected to process information and to make rational choices based on their 
interests and needs, but not Haitians?  The average person in Port-au-Prince 
listens avidly to the radio and aspires to the modernity of gas stoves, 
running water, hospitals, schools, a living wage and a safe environment.  He 
or she is much too sophisticated and complex for the kind of hero worship 
portrayed in The Progressive.

Aristide, too, is much more than the small, soft spoken and surprisingly 
unassuming scholar of Orenstein's narrative.  The author doesn't account for 
the dramatic transformation of that sweet man into the currently ruthless 
politician, bent on concentrating all power in his hands, even if it meant 
turning against former friends and allies.  The Dec. 1990 elections and the 
struggle to bring back Aristide after the coup were coalition efforts that 
brought together some the best and most idealistic people in Haiti, cutting 
across class lines.  This idealism is spent.  Aristide now surrounds himself 
with sharks ready to devour what's left of the country.  The most devastating 
blows to his image do not come from Jesse Helms, the opposition or the Wall 
Street Journal, but from sycophants and henchmen like Dany Toussaint, Ronald 
Cadavre, Paul Raymond and Rene Civil, and from the gangs of Chimeres they 

Now to the two elections last year, which is really the crux of the matter.  
Aristide's lobbyists and liberal friends want to convince public opinion 
outside Haiti that those elections were democratic and fair.  They don't have 
much to work with, so they turn to befuddled statements like this one from 
Orenstein's article: "Even before resuming his role as president, [Aristide] 
is already squared off against the whole of the international community."  
Are the overwhelming majority of people on this globe really lining up 
against Aristide?  Or is it that in her Euro-chauvinist thinking, the author 
is confusing "the international community" with imperialism, US imperialism 
in particular, and with the international financial institutions and the 
handful of multinational corporations that are robbing the world blind?

It pains me to see journalists like Orenstein who have written about Haiti 
decently in the past, so willing to defy common sense out of seeming loyalty 
to one individual. Aristide turned the Nov. 26 elections into a referendum 
about himself.  A weak voter turnout therefore meant a weak presidential 
mandate.  The Haitian independent press, the international news media, and 
just about everybody outside of a small coterie of Lavalas loyalists, put 
voter participation at less than 15%.  This is the reality Orenstein is 
straining against. Unfortunately for the Lavalas operatives, it's a lot 
easier to stuff ballot boxes than to summon crowds of voters. 

 The truth is that a weak and questionable mandate makes Aristide's 
government â?? and Haiti â?? far more vulnerable to US dictates.  Total and 
abject surrender to Bush's neoliberal program is Aristide's only hope of any 
recognition of his government from Washington. And if the muck up elections 
were not enough, there are all the allegations of mismanagement, corruption, 
abuse of power and drug trafficking to keep Aristide in line.  The fact is 
that Haiti has been marked for failure.  It is also a fact that Aristide's 
greed for power and the corruption that surrounds him are significant 
contributions to that failure. 

It is too late in the game for the cheap, jingo nationalism favored by Yvon 
Neptune and his kind.  Actually Neptune cried "Uncle" long ago.  I have 
somewhere in my files a long handwritten letter where Neptune was throwing a 
hissy fit because the left's denunciation of US imperialism was getting in 
the way of the US "helping" Haiti.  This was back in the 1980s.  If US 
control over Haiti has increased tenfold in the past decade, it is partly 
because of people like Neptune.  As a nationalist, Neptune is in a league 
with his old "comrade," former Senator "Zuzu" Dupiton, who used to kneel down 
in front of the US State Department in 1986-87 to beg for help, and who 
turned into such a fierce "nationalist" during the coup years.

If Aristide really wants to preserve Haiti's dignity, he will have to go 
about it a different way.  A simple but unambiguous commitment to pluralism, 
accountability and the rule of law would be nice to begin with.

Daniel Simidor