By Roland I. Perusse
Lanham, Maryland, University Press of America, 1995
142 pages and 20 pages of Appendix documents
ISBN # 0-8191-9951-6 (hard bound)
ISBN # 0-8191-9952-4 (paper back)
Reviewed by Bob Corbett
Roland I. Perusse has created an extraordinary document, not so much a book or study of the coup-to-restoration period, as a print documentary of this period. Perusse follows the day by day developments from the night of September 29, 1991 until October 15, 1994, when Aristide was once again back in Haiti and, ostensibly, in charge of the country. Each major event in the movement from coup to restoration and central events inside that drama, are detailed and treated in separate chronological sections.
Perusse is not a completely uninvolved by-stander. He is clearly a partisan of Aristide. Yet his partisanship does not enter much into the book, and he is even at pains to several times indicate that Aristide has failings to. For example he comments more than once that Aristide is not an ideal democrat. In another place he says of Aristide's relationship to the elite "...his rhetoric was inflammatory and bordered on a call for class warfare." (p. 120)
Despite the criticisms, the thrust of this study is that Aristide was the duly elected president of the nation, that he was Haiti's best hope for growing in democracy, economy, social justice and peace. That the coup d'etat was unjust, and that the story of the three years of disrupted government is a tale into itself. It is that tale that Perusse tells so very well.
Structurally the book is chronologically arranged and each small section is treated in a special headlined section. For example, chapter two, ARISTIDE'S FIRST EIGHT MONTHS, has the following sections:
In each section but the final evaluative one, Perusse recounts the events of the time with a great deal of personal restraint and objectivity. In each chapter there are sections of evaluation, but he clearly marks and names these, warning the reader that he puts those sections forward on a different footing that the other sections.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter of the entire book is the last, entitled LESSONS IN CONFLICT RESOLUTION. Perusse recounts what measures the international community uses, and in each mini-section he has a few paragraphs set aside to evaluate that more of conflict resolution in this particular case -- the restoration of Aristide. These tactics are:
Perusse's summary evaluation is that ultimately only coercive diplomacy and assertive multilateralism had much real impact, the other strategies tended to fail and push the international community two these two more aggressive tactics.
This is a very useful small book. It is likely to become the guide to this period. It isn't detailed, no profound, nor particularly partisan. The layout is clear and useful. It invites the user to work section by section where he or she might assemble further materials, add depth here or there, or even find topics of interest which Perusse has missed. However it is used, it has the virtue of being well organized, seemingly complete, clearly laid out and mainly neutral. It would make an exceptional discussion guide for an investigation of this period, and perhaps I'll introduce such a study at a future time using this work as a guide.
I was most surprised to see that it was by Roland I. Perusse. He wrote the HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF HAITI in 1977, some 18 years before this book. Then he seems to have disappeared from publishing in English, though in that time he has become an American citizen. There are striking similarities between the book under review and the dictionary. Both are relatively complete, guides more than studies, quite neutral and not particular deep or full studies, but suggestive of where to go next. This is a useful talent and I welcome this new book of Perusse.
If you want this book my suggestion is get it now! When I ordered it, the hard bound, which I preferred for my library, was already out of print, and the only the paper back was in print, and that seemed uncertain. Perusse's HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF HAITI went out of print quickly and is extremely difficult to find, one of the books that I do not even own in my library that is on my list of most sought after books. So, lest you be in that position in the future with this book, get it now!
Editor's Note: (9/5/99) Corbett recently acquired this book.
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