By Alex Dupuy. Westview Press, Boulder, Co, 1997.

220 pages
ISBN # 0-8133-2113-1 (hard cover) ISBN # 0-8133-2114-X (paper)

A review by Bob Corbett
January, 1997

With the exception of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803, the last 10 years in Haiti must be the most written about period in all Haitian history. Accounts abound in newspaper articles, journals and monographs. Dozens of chronologies are available. However, what has been lacking is an account that carried both the detail and focus of the day by day story while informing the whole period with an overarching structure and explanatory theory.

Alex Dupuy has provided such a book and I suspect it will become one of the central works people look back upon to understand this period of Haitian history.

Samuel Huntington has provided a theory of what the post-Cold War world will be like. His popular account was first published in his seminal 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, "The Clash of Civilizations." In recent months a book of the same title has expanded the argument and model which Huntington advocates and which Dupuy uses as a key organizing strategy of his book. On Huntington's account the Cold War can be understood as a conflict of political-economic ideologies. Liberal democratic capitalism vs. Leninist communism. The globe was sucked into this Cold War and most of the international conflicts which occurred in that 45 year period were dominated by the super powers and the forced choice between the two central ideologies.

Huntington argues that since the end of the Cold War a new world struggle has begun to emerge and is dominating world politics and economics now and will do so more fully as we move into the 21st century. The center of the new conflict is not political economy, claims Huntington, but a clash of civilizations. The world can be seen to be under the influence of 6 and maybe 7 civilizations. These civilizations are now in mortal combat struggling to capture and hold various areas of the world. This "clash" is the dominant fact of world struggle today, and each individual conflict on the globe must be understood in its relation to this dominating struggle.

The seven civilizations in this struggle are: The West; (defined as neo-liberal market capitalism), Confucianism (China and Korea); Hinduism (India); Islam; Serb-orthodox; Latin American and "perhaps" African.

Using this model to understand United States foreign policy, as it shifts from its Cold War mode of operating to its civilization struggle, Dupuy analyzes the last 10 years of Haitian history and is able to make a very strong case for a coherent view of how to understand that struggle both in its micro manifestation in Haiti itself, and as part of the United States' global strategy of advancing itself in "the new world order."

The central and organizing question which Dupuy asks is: Why would the United States change its age-old strategy of supporting dictators and right wing politicians to support Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leftish social democrat? This phenomenon seems difficult to understand and in the end is seen by Dupuy to be the very first case of U.S. foreign policy dominated by the emerging ideology of the new world order in the Western Hemisphere.

Most writers who analyze the last 10 years of Haitian struggle see it as a fight between Duvalierism and Lavalas; between forces of repression and economic control by the few and forces of democracy and redistribution toward the underclass of Haiti. Notice that on this view the U.S. is normally cited as have been overwhelmingly on the side of the forces of repression and economic privilege (which they certainly were). Yet, in a curious and rather inexplicable manner the U.S. sudden turns its support toward returning Aristide, and more importantly, democratic and constitutional government, to power. How are we to understand this seeming anomaly? Typical explanations lean heavily on two lines of argument: the refugees fleeing Haiti caused a crisis for the United States, and that the forces of repression finally stepped over some vague line of "too far" and the U.S. was compelled to jettison them for the reform government. The refugees argument and the human rights argument.

But neither of these explanations works very well. The refugee "problem" was a serious political difficulty for the U.S., but the "problem" put was modestly under control by the Bush and Clinton administrations by simply returning most refugees without adequate hearings. The problems wasn't solved, but was manageable.

The human rights argument is terribly weak. The U.S. had seldom withdrawn support from previous governments in Haiti and other Western Hemisphere rulers which were equally if not more brutal and arbitrary that the military dictatorship of the coup. In the rare cases where a particular dictator was jettisoned, a new one was found who was more acceptable, and the fundamental system of control continued.

Somehow a stronger explanation must be found. Dupuy lays this explanation out in a clear and powerful manner. The essence is this: After 1990 U.S. policy began a gradual shift away from Cold War politics to the clash of civilizations. Away from anti-communism and the toleration of right wing dictators as long as there were anti-Communist, to a policy of "capturing" areas of the world to the "new world order" of Western neo-liberal market capitalism, the "culture" of the West. The new world order requires certain elements of democracy and participation in the international economy.

Thus Haiti was caught in the midst of a reorganization of U.S. policy in the world struggle, and that shift made the move away from the military dictatorship and toward Jean-Bertrand Aristide not only possible, but preferable for U.S. government and business interests.

However, there is yet another link in the argument. The Father Aristide of 1983 - 89; the president Aristide of 1991 were neither quite ideal candidates for this role. He represented a third option -- not anti-Communist right wing dictator who could keep the reds out; not the neo-liberal market capitalist needed for the new world order; but a more European-style liberal social democrat. As such he was not yet supportable.

What was needed was a period of re-training for Aristide, and this was accomplished, on Dupuy's analysis, during his three years in Washington at the mercy of the U.S. government and UN Aristide had no possible power on his own to return to Haiti. The condition that he do so was that Aristide change clothes.

"The coup and its aftermath, it seemed, had produced a change in Aristide. He was being transformed into a politician who reconciled himself to the give-and-take of politics. At last, he was ready to substitute the prince's clothing for the prophet's." (p. 143)

Dupuy uses this image of changing the clothing several times in the book. But, there is one clarification that needs to be made for the thesis of the book to work. The princes of Europe were often independent sovereign rulers who had to make compromises in internal and international politics, but normally could approach the international community as equal players. The Haitian prince is only to be a prince in Haiti. In the new world order and in relation to the U.S. the prince is to have radically limited power. Thus Dupuy's important subtitle: "The Limits of the Democratic Revolution."

Having laid the ground work and general theory of his thesis, Dupuy launches into a careful, informative and elucidating tracing of this transformation in U.S. policy and Haitian practice from the dominance and support of the Duvalierists, to the current emergence of a tamed Haitian democracy playing it's allowed role within the new world order.

Dupuy arranges this lengthy section of the book into chapters that display various moves in the process from dictatorship to neo-liberal state:

This is a very challenging book, one that could be used well by most of us to organize our analyses of the past 10 years and use it as a foil against our own counter-analyses or puzzles that remain after Dupuy's arguments have sunk in. It is even supplemented by a detailed chronology and extensive bibliography.

I come away from the book reeling with the awesome achievement of Dupuy to have organized this period of time into a coherent story, within a frame that makes great sense. But, I am not without my puzzles too. The central one is where is Dupuy in all this? The analytic story is not in question. He clearly lays that out. More is hinted at. One can tangibly feel the positive joy oozing from Dupuy as he analyzes the social democratic "plan" that Aristide and the Lavalas movement had for Haiti. One can feel the disappoint, almost disgust in Dupuy as he sees this thrust toward justice and genuine democracy tamed and an imposition made toward a world that protects a great deal of the privilege of the old system and maintains significant differences in wealth and property into the next century.

Yet Dupuy never really takes a stand. Can the forces of liberal social democracy struggle against this new world order, or are the powers of the new world struggle so powerful that tiny Haiti will be (or has already) been so gobbled up that there is no out? The argument seems to lean in this latter direction, but Dupuy never really says.

Nor is it necessary that he does. It is just difficult for the reader to come away from his careful analysis of the Lavalas model without feeling a strong sense of approval and regret in Dupuy's person. But such a project is not the project of this book. Understanding and clarification are. Yet I can't help being curious as to what Dupuy might have recommended and recommend now in the face of this new U.S. foreign policy thrust.

What is interesting in Dupuy's argument for those involved in the struggle for Haiti is that it moves that struggle to a whole different or at least clearer level of struggle. Dupuy says: "The popular movement unleashed in 1986 equated democracy with fundamental social changes in favor of the majority. Aristide symbolized those aspirations, and the vast majority of Haitians supported him because they believed he could and would deliver on those purposes."

Today, however, it seems that most in Haiti still see the Duvalierists forces as the greatest threat to this dream. Dupuy not only disagrees, he treats the Duvalierists forces as virtually dead, buried and gone away. I must say I was quite startled by the degree to which he seems to count them out of the official opposition. The dominant reason for this is two fold: that the world has shifted toward this clash of civilizations, and U.S. policy with it; and more particularly, that in putting Aristide back in Haiti, the U.S. has taken a firm stance against the Duvalierists and without the U.S. they can never regain any serious power.

This movement toward the new world order is not nearly as clear and conscious in U.S. foreign policy as it is in the Huntington/Dupuy analysis, and Dupuy acknowledges that President Bill Clinton may not even know the full meaning and impact of his occupation of Haiti to put Aristide back in power.

"Clinton may be thought of as the first post-Cold War U.S. president to carry out one of the tenets of the new world order in the Western Hemisphere, even if he did so unwittingly." (p. 162).

I guess my own fear is that the Duvalierists may not have read or accepted Dupuy's analysis, and, assuming Dupuy is correct about their eventual demise, may still do dreadful harm and destruction before they, too, figure out that they died with the Cold-War even in hot Haiti.

The power of Dupuy's model, the clarity of his argumentation, the factual material he musters to support each and every step in his argument have made me a Dupuyite, and convinced me that his book is a superb organizing tool for understanding the current struggles in Haiti. I commend the book to any one who wants to participate in the discussion. My claim is not that Dupuy is right in every argument. Rather, that of all that I've read about this struggle his is the most coherent and persuasive version of it and an excellent starting point for debate and discussion.

I am amazed at Dupuy's disciplined restraint in not going beyond description. It certainly is his choice to do so. Yet it is frustrating to those of us looking toward the future that Alex Dupuy has decided to stay almost exclusively at the analytic level. I suspect I see Dupuy bursting through here and there with his own views, but restraining himself at every turn. There are no recommendations, no plan of action, no telling us how it ought to be. Perhaps Dupuy is unable to completely hide his delights in the social democratic model of the original Lavalas plan of early 1991. But he is not willing to explain if and how the tiny nation of Haiti could ever expect to resist the onslaught of the U.S. struggle for neo-liberal market capitalism as the dominant mode of social organization in the 21st century. The question the book leaves me with is: does Haiti have a chance for self-determination?

Alex Dupuy, member and frequent contributor to this forum, is a professor of sociology and dean of the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs at Wesleyan University. His first book, HAITI IN THE WORLD ECONOMY: CLASS, RACE, AND UNDERDEVELOPMENT SINCE 1700 (1989) is another marvelous analysis of a different period of Haitian history. I do have a review of this work available to any who might want it.

It was also interesting and rewarding to see so many familiar names appear as sources in Dupuy's book. I noted several other members of this forum cited by Dupuy in his notes, including, Jean-Michel Caroit, Tony Catanese, Greg Chamberlain, Simon Fass, Howard French, J.P. Slavin, Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Amy Wilentz.


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