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