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8909: Is Haiti facing a civil war or yet another coup? (fwd)
A S.O.S. HAITI Editorial
Few Haitian presidents (Nissage Saget and Boisrond-Canal in the 19th century, and Ertha Trouillot more recently) ever step down from office without a major fight or some other subterfuge. Haiti holds the sad record of eight civil wars and dozens of military coups since its independence in 1804. This situation is even worse when it comes to yielding power to the opposition. The peaceful rotation of power between competing forces is simply not part of Haiti's political culture. How far will President Aristide go to perpetuate his reign, and how far will the opposition go to get rid of him? 200 years of history and the temperament of the men involved in the current crisis leave very little doubt: it will come to severe blows before long.
Historically, there are only two parties in Haitian politics: the party that was in power and the party that is now in power. The dance around the presidential seat is the basic movement of Haitian history. Some say more prettily that it is a conflict between a black and a mulatto elite, between old and nouveaux riches, between a feudal wing and a bourgeois wing within the dominant classes. Each generation finds two opposing figures to personify that conflict: Toussaint Louverture and Andre Rigaud in the 1790s, and at 20 or 30 year intervals, Christophe and Petion, Soulouque and Geffrard, Salomon and Boyer Bazelais, Antenor Firmin and Nord Alexis, Rosalvo Bobo and Dartiguenave, Estimé and Lescot, Francois Duvalier and Louis Dejoie. . . The high point of this national pastime was perhaps in the early 1880s, when talent, idealism and patriotism were to be found on both sides of the ideological divide. All the blood shed and all the opportunities wasted since have been a repea!
t of that earlier conflict between the Liberal Party ("Power to those most able") and the National Party ("Power to the majority").
Historian Dantès Bellegarde wrote of the 1883 civil war between Nationals and Liberals that it was one of the most disastrous events in Haiti's history. Yet, the government troops then were just a ragtag army of irregulars. The Liberal troops were just a bunch of idealist youth. In contrast, there are plenty of mercenaries to handle the heavy weapons available today, and plenty of young people without hope to do the dying. Lavalas heavies have boasted of late that they will fight against another coup to the bitter end. And yet they have weakened their own ability to come out on top by turning their back on the democratic and grassroots sectors, and by relying instead on sycophants, on mercenaries from the disbanded military and on gangs of lumpen elements.
The recent escalation of political repression by the Lavalas government on the one hand, and a new influx of high-grade military contraband (combat weapons, heavy ammunitions, communications material, etc.) on the other, would indicate that the major parties in the current conflict are getting ready for a violent confrontation in the foreseeable future. However, contrary to some opinions in the Diaspora, the other side facing Aristide's Lavalas in this coming confrontation will not be the Convergence Democratique, although Convergence people will be called upon to form a new government if the coup succeeds. (One hopes, that is, that the democratic forces within the Convergence -- KID, OPL, CONACOM -- will pull back in time from the brink, and will refuse to condone another coup.) For people who care about Haiti, it makes sense to understand that the principal forces behind a new coup are more likely to be the traditional forces that were ousted from power in 1986 and 1994.
The man on the street in Port-au-Prince, better informed and somewhat more cynical than his counterpart in the Diaspora, jokes about the events of July 28 as "Ti Kou Titid" (Titid's little coup). However, the average Haitian is too disillusioned or too bamboozled, too angry or too hungry, to do much more than joke bitterly about the situation. The dream of a Haiti moving forward to modernity and social progress is fading away. Thousands of people from all walks of life are again fleeing the country. Many may not be direct victims of persecution, but like other refugees, they are frightened by what is shaping up as a major social cataclysm.
Will Uncle Sam step in to prevent a war between the various parties in Haiti, perhaps in the hope of forestalling another tide of refugees on Florida's shores? Or will Uncle Sam fuel such a war in order to bring all sides more tightly under his control? To be sure, all parties in this conflict are equally subservient and utterly dependent on the United States. (Hence Haiti-Progrès' bad faith in labeling only one side, the Convergence, as Washington's puppet.) But in the end, it is always safe to bet that Uncle Sam will do exactly what's best for US imperialism. And that, my friends, is usually bad news for Haiti.
Brooklyn, August 2001