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#3279: FED from Miami Herald, Boston Globe - Aristide's New Book (fwd)
Aristide searches for a `third way' to survive
Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Common Courage. 88 pages. $12.
BY JOHN DONNELLY
For several years, former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide has
remained in the shadows. In his Port-au-Prince home, he welcomes a stream of
visiting dignitaries and businessmen and, every weekend, a busload of poor
children. They come to swim in his pool.
In Eyes of the Heart, the value of those visits becomes clear -- just as he
prepares to step back into the public eye and probably run for president
again in November. The outsiders often tell Aristide what Haiti must do in
order to join the global economy. The children remind Aristide he must resist.
Therein lies the heart of this eloquent book, a self-described ``letter''
that stretches to small-book length: Aristide tells the stories of the
voiceless who suffer under the economic rules of globalization. He argues
that the financial conditions imposed on Haiti and other poor countries
guarantee more misery for the powerless, offering them ``a choice between
death and death.''
And so, he writes, ``With choices like these, the urgency of finding a third
way is clear. We must find some room to maneuver, some open space simply to
survive. We must lift ourselves up off the morgue table and tell the experts
we are not yet dead.''
Exactly how he proposes to create a third way is vague. He mentions his
resistance in 1995 to loan conditions imposed by the International Monetary
Fund for a sale of state assets. He fought for 10 percent ownership of shares
in state-owned companies for victims of 1991's coup and later won support
from the World Bank. But the next Haitian government didn't back him.
Aristide's story is well documented. In the 1980s, he and several other
activist priests challenged the years of Duvalier dictatorship, eventually
forcing the family to flee. He became Haiti's first democratically elected
president in 1991 but was overthrown only seven months later. In 1994, after
U.S. troops invaded Haiti, he returned to serve his final 16 months in office.
The book leaves no doubt he is even more determined to fight for social
justice. For those who follow Haiti, Eyes of the Heart will give a sketchy
blueprint for a second Aristide administration.
Drawing upon his faith and his experiences with the poor, Aristide provides
sustenance to those who want to declaw the world's financial institutions.
While some only see desperation when they look at Haiti and other developing
countries, Aristide sees hope and a landscape that he calls a ``museum of
humanity.'' Still, he acknowledges struggling with the unmet expectations of
the Haitian people. The average Haitian survives on $250 a year; 85 percent
of the people are illiterate.
Aristide's ``third way'' isn't likely to change life in Haiti substantially
in the short run. But he chips away at the divisions between the rich and
poor, inviting, for instance, children from slums over for a swim. It may
seem like an odd symbolic gesture, but pools in Haiti are symbols of the
``We know the kids need food, we know they need school, but we cannot give
all of them these things in a day. So while we are working to change the
society, we can give them a day in a swimming pool,'' he writes.
It's more than symbolism; it's empowerment.
John Donnelly reviewed this book for The Boston Globe.