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29371: Blanchet (news) HAITI -- POLITICS -- What Future for Haiti? An Interview with Patrick Elie (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>

What Future for Haiti? An Interview with Patrick Elie

Written by Reed Lindsay for NACLA
Monday, 23 October 2006

This article was originally published on NACLA News, a new source of
news and analysis on Latin America and the Caribbean produced by the
North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).

In February 2004, U.S. Marines whisked away then-President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti amid an armed rebellion led by
disgruntled former soldiers and paramilitary actors. Despite the
presence of a United Nations peacekeeping force, violence and poverty
increased under the U.S.-backed interim government led by Interim
Prime Minister Gérard Latortue, which courted the elite and its
international backers while alienating Haiti's overwhelming poor
majority. The crisis hit a low point last December and January, with
daily shootings in the poor neighborhood of Cité Soleil and an
outbreak of kidnappings.

President René Préval's electoral victory on February 7 suddenly
brought peace and hope to Haiti for the first time in two years.
Haiti's poor flooded the polls to vote, and one week later they
blockaded nearly every major road in the country to demand that the
electoral council name Préval the victor in the first round. Préval
has formed a coalition government and has courted all sides of the
political spectrum, including both pro-Aristide militants from Cité
Soleil as well as light-skinned elites. He has taken a similar
approach in his foreign policy, seeking help from the United States
and France but also Cuba and Venezuela. It is uncertain how long he
will be able to juggle these different interests, and more than six
months into his presidency, Préval continues to remain largely an

Patrick Elie has been an activist in Haiti since 1986, when the
nation's popular movements drove former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier
from the country. In the late 1980s, he participated in these
movements alongside René Préval, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Antoine
Izmery, among other pro-democracy activists struggling against the
military governments that assumed power after Duvalier's ouster. Elie
was head of Aristide's security detail during his first presidential
campaign in 1990. When the former priest became the country's first
democratically elected leader, Elie assumed the position of
anti-narcotics chief. He went into exile after the military coup and
returned to become secretary of state for defense when Aristide was
restored to power in 1994. Since 1995, he has not served in
government but has remained politically active, and is a founding
member of SOS (Citizens' Watchdog Center), a group that seeks to
promote the creation of a national network of grassroots

Interview with Patrick Elie and introduction by Reed Lindsay.

Reed Lindsay: How accurate is the characterization of Haiti as a
country with a history or a culture of violence?

Patrick Elie: It is an image of Haiti that is grossly distorted. The
so-called level of violence in Haiti pales in comparison with
violence in at least half the countries in the world. Compare the
history of Haiti with that of England, France and the U.S. and
Germany. Don't go back to the 1200s. Look back to 1804 and you have
more violence in those countries than in Haiti. So the
characterization of Haiti as a violent country is a bunch of hogwash.
Why is there tension and instability in Haiti? It is simply because
in Haiti you have 5 percent of the population controlling 60 percent
of the national wealth, while 80 percent live in poverty. If you had
such a situation in any other country you'd have a massacre or a
civil war but that hasn't happened in Haiti, which speaks to the
self-restraint of the Haitian population. The instability of the last
20 to 25 years has been caused essentially by this elite as well as
their foreign allies who cannot truly accept the principal of one
citizen-one vote because it would mean that they would lose their
privileges and influence. They have tried to quench the will of the
poor majority of Haiti and tried to change the rules of the game
because they've lost in elections. If it were up to the Haitian
people (and when I say Haitian people I'm talking about the vast
majority of Haitians who are poor) there would be both democracy and
stability. If you look at recent history, the Haitian people have
chosen to vote rather than to riot. They voted four times in a row
for the same political family, the same political leaning, the same
agenda. They consistently have picked both democracy and stability.

RL: How does the United States government's role in Haiti compare to
its role in other countries in Latin America?

PE: The role of the U.S. in Haiti is no different than what it is in
other countries in Latin America in that the U.S. is interested in
dominating Haiti and dictating its policy. That's the reason why they
cannot stand the idea of somebody being elected with a large majority
because that means the government will not be easy to manipulate as
one that has very little popular legitimacy and from the get-go this
was the United States' problem with Aristide and Lavalas. The role of
the U.S. in all of Haitian history has been egregious. The U.S.
occupied the country for 20 years from 1915 to 1934 and left us with
a repressive army. But this pattern was not particular to Haiti. Go
to the DR, and they did the same thing with Trujillo, and the same
thing in Nicaragua with Somoza. When the U.S. said it would support
democracies rather than military dictatorships, the Haitians did not
play along because they did not want the type of democracy that the
U.S. wanted to impose. The Haitians, that is, the 80 percent of
Haitians who have been excluded for two centuries, wanted a true
democracy, where they would define the agenda and get to pick who
they wanted rather than be forced to choose between candidates they
don't like. Why has the U.S. occupied the country three times? There
are many reasons. There are economic reasons, but even if you don't
concede to that, Haiti has been a powerful symbol for having
overthrown slavery and becoming independent and for what it's doing
now, which is proving that the poorest people in the hemisphere,
mostly illiterate, can know more about democracy than the people who
are pretending to be beacons of civilization. And they can stand up
to the will of the U.S. The movement that you see now in Latin
America, the new large social movements that are sweeping away the
traditional political parties, that also started in a way in Haiti.
For the U.S., Haiti is an example that must be crushed, that must be
made to fail. That's the principal interest of the U.S. in Haiti.

RL: But the U.S. hasn't been the only first world country to play a
major role in Haiti in recent years. What about France and Canada?

PE: France's role in Haiti is a direct result of the demand for
reparation that President Aristide put forward. Also, I think France
could never get over the defeat of 1804. In all of Haitian history,
never has a French president set foot in Haiti. And Santo Domingue is
probably the French colony that played the greatest role in French
history. It was the richest colony by far, and caused them to lose
With Canada, I can point to a number of reasons why they have
switched directions in Haitian policy. One is that Canada is aligning
its policy with that of the U.S. more and more after Iraq where they
refused to participate because the Chretien government would have
been defeated if Canada had gone into Iraq. Haiti was an easy way to
please the U.S. Haiti's a country with no army and no possibility to
resist regime change.

RL: How would you characterize the role of Brazil, Argentina and
Chile in the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti?

PE: The Latin American countries had their own reasons and interests.
Brazil wants to be recognized as an emerging power and wanted a seat
in the UN Security Council. For countries like Argentina and Chile,
they wanted to show that they are countries that count. Despite the
fact that I'm against the occupation, if I had to choose to be
occupied by U.S. Marines, the French Legionnaires or the Latin
American countries and the UN, I'd pick the latter, but the positive
thing that could emerge from this crisis is that Latin America will
discover Haiti and remember that Haiti is at the origin of their own
independence. Also, I believe that Haiti will have the possibility of
reorienting its diplomacy toward the Caribbean and Latin America
rather than be prisoner of its destructive relationship with the
United States.

RL: What about the allegations that UN troops tolerated and sometimes
committed abuses in the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince?

PE: I think there were some people within the UN that were truly
sympathetic to the Haitian people. We cannot forget the excesses of
the UN, especially in the popular neighborhoods like Cite Soleil. But
we also must recognize that the UN troops did not go all out in
military operations in poor neighborhoods as they were being
encouraged to do by the Haitian elite and the governments of the
U.S., France and Canada. As President Préval has said, I would like
to see the UN mission continue. But we don't need all those men with
guns. We'd rather see doctors and technicians helping us.

RL: Can you evaluate the last two years of rule by the interim
government of Primer Minister Gérard Latortue?

PE: I prefer to call it a de facto regime or puppet regime because
that's truly what it was. It was forced upon the Haitian people by
the intervention of February 29, 2004, and it was formed with
hostility. It was a government that was to be hostile to Lavalas and
to help eliminate the movement from the political scene. It was a
government that was a model of the kind of government that the three
countries that intervened in Haiti would like to see at the helm of
the country: a government that answers not to the population of the
country but to foreign interests and international organizations like
the IMF. As for an assessment of the last two years, I'm 56 years
old, and these have easily been the most difficult and terrible years
for the country I've ever seen.

First of all, there's the level of repression against the poor
people, against Lavalas. This government has allowed ex killers and
killers from the army to integrate into the police into units that
were nothing else but death squads and go into popular neighborhoods
and assassinate people. And the economy has been a disaster. The
thing the government did was fire 4,000 to 5000 people in a country
with 70 percent unemployment. Of course this is not the type of
government the Haitian people would like to see at the helm of the

RL: How does Haiti's popular movement compare to those in other
countries in Latin America?

PE: When Jean-Claude Duvalier was forced to leave the country in
1986, nobody expected that after 30 years of repression, the first 15
of which were sheer terror, that there would be this profound
movement within the Haitian population that would turn into thousands
of grassroots organizations. It was this movement that was the origin
of the Haitian saga of the last 20 years. It was this movement rather
than the political parties that stood up against the return of
dictatorship. It was this movement that confronted the military
government when it tried to control the election in 1987 and this
movement that swept Aristide into power in 1990. And it was not the
political parties, but again this movement that elected René Préval.
Don't believe for one minute that Lespwa [the coalition of political
parties and organizations on whose ticket Préval ran for president]
has been anything but a label that has been used for the election and
a nice slogan, but it was that vast social movement that swept Préval
into power. And I think that this movement that literally exploded
onto the scene in 1986 preceded what we've seen in Venezuela, in
Bolivia, and what may be appearing in Mexico and maybe it is the wave
of the future for countries like Haiti in Latin America. Instead of
trying to mimic countries of Europe, maybe we can forge regional
tools for regional democracies. And I think that is what Haitians are
trying to do.

RL: Has this popular movement grown stronger or weaker in the last 20

PE: The popular movement in Haiti is very much alive, but it is
already a bit better organized because it is battle scarred but
battle hardened also. I've seen the crowds in 1986 and 1987, and the
ones I've seen out lately are different. It's already starting to
resemble an army. There is more organization, there is more
discipline, and I think there is more ability to stay the course. Of
course, much remains to be done, for example, there is no substitute
for a national coordination for such a movement. It should exist. For
the moment, it is a very loose coordination. That's where the new
political leadership will emerge from. If anything, the last election
signals the end of Haiti's traditional political class. When I say
traditional, I mean both those who come from the traditional right
and the traditional left. You've seen the electoral results of the
so-called socialists such as Paul Denis and Serge Gilles. They have
been rejected by the Haitian people.

RL: What is the future of Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party in

PE: Aristide has played a key historical role in the struggle of the
Haitian people to define their own democracy, and I'm sure he will
continue to be an influence in the future. Fanmi Lavalas is a
political organization. But I don't think it will be able to survive
as a political organization simply because it really has no real
autonomy. You could see how it became totally in disarray after
president Aristide was kidnapped. It was what I would describe as a
charismatic organization, one that depends strictly on its leader and
after that you have nothing in terms of structure and in terms of
capacity to formulate a political strategy.
A new grassroots movement will have to form that comes from the
street and grassroots mobilizations. Lavalas is this movement, but
Lavalas and Fanmi Lavalas, although related, are different things.
Fanmi Lavalas is a political organization. Lavalas is a political
philosophy, not a party. Lavalas and the popular movement are one in
the same. It was the name coined for it by President Aristide. But he
did not invent the reality of it, he just put a name on it. He
doesn't own it. It owns him.

RL: What lessons can be drawn from the overthrow of Aristide in
February 2004 and the ensuing two years?

PE: The lesson to be drawn is that it's not enough to vote for
somebody who is sympathetic to your cause. If you do not stay
mobilized and define your political agenda and support that political
agenda, what will happen is that either the president or the senators
you elected are going to be extremely vulnerable to pressure exerted
on them from the powers that be or they'll start drifting to a more
traditional type of power and start having their own agenda. And of
course both things can happen. It's obvious when you look at the last
years of President Aristide, all the senators and deputies had their
own personal agenda and were completely removed from what the people
themselves wanted. So politicians, no matter what label they are
under, have to be kept on a leash. And the leash is the grassroots
movements permanently mobilized. That is one thing that the popular
movement has learned.

RL: Would you include René Préval among the new group of leaders in
Latin America who are pushing for regional integration and
challenging U.S. hegemony in the region?

PE: Préval is a branch from the same tree. Préval started out like
all of us, a Marxist, but he's been really forged or transformed by
the popular movement itself. He was very close to it. We went to
school in the popular movement at the same time. He has a good feel
for what the people of Haiti want and need. As a leader he does not
have the charisma of Aristide, nor is he inclined or able to
communicate with them the same way that President Aristide could. But
I think that he has the trust of the Haitian people, which is very
important. But if the Haitian people do not keep up their
mobilization and continue to build it as a structured movement, he
will fail. That is a certainty. He will fail because it is the fate
of any leadership that is left by itself and does not have behind it
a strong an organized people. He might be pushed so far away from the
original agenda and what the people want that it would be the
equivalent of him being overthrown.

RL: What will Préval be able to accomplish?

PE: From what Préval has indicated, he will address the problems of
the poor majority of Haiti, including the most urgent issues such as
terminating that exclusion, that quasi-apartheid that predominates in
this country. His biggest obstacle might come from those within the
Haitian elite and the traditional politicians, who will try to
embrace him after failing to block his way. A president only has so
much power, and he's not the one actually doing everything. He
depends on a team, and he depends on popular support.

The members of the elite and political parties could have too much
influence. What they couldn't win in the election, they could win by
buddying up to Préval. I've heard that everywhere he's gone, he's
gone with members of the moneyed elite. That's all fine and dandy, he
cannot actually govern against the elite all out, but he cannot
govern for the elite either. I hope they won't try to destabilize in
the same way they tried to destabilize Aristide. The last two years
have been such a fiasco, I don't know if they have the stomach for
something as terrible and disastrous. But Préval will certainly be
facing a lot of pressure. And I think somehow the Haitian people know
that. All I expect from his presidency is to have the space to
organize rather than facing a truly hostile government. But he will
be under a lot of constraints.

RL: How can Préval push through reforms that benefit the poor
majority without the elite sabotaging his effort?

PE: We start maybe by having the kind of dialogue with the moneyed
elite that the people of the South African majority had with the
white minority when the one person-one vote principal was being
adopted. Obviously the elite want some protection, but they will only
have it by exchanging their privileges for rights. It is obvious that
things cannot continue as they are, so if there are people who are
reasonable within this elite, some compromise might be reached
between them and the vast majority of people who have been excluded.
The priorities should be set right. Education, health care,
production. These should be the priorities. We must have a country
that produces. The elite must be engaged in production of wealth
rather than being truly parasites. Laws must be voted by the new
parliament and be acted upon to close progressively that horrible gap
that exists between the tiny elite and the huge majority. That's the
only way to go. And if the elite persist in trying to stand in the
way of progress I think they will have to go the way of the Cuban
elites that had a field day until Fidel came along. Maybe they are
more ready to be persuaded after the last two years. It was the last
desperate attempt to stem the flow of history. The last two years
have not been particularly happy for the Haitian elites either. The
Haitian people as a whole have suffered the consequences of
Aristide's overthrow.

Reed Lindsay is a freelance journalist who has been based in
Port-au-Prince since October 2004.

Source: NACLA News