Friday, December 4, 2009

Indefensible: On Aristide, Violence, and Democracy

small axe 30 • November 2009 •

Indefensible: On Aristide, Violence, and Democracy

By Alex Dupuy

(This article was originally printed in the November 2009 edition of Small Axe, a magazine of social, political, and cultural criticism in and about the regional and disasporic Caribbean. Given the acuity of Mr. Dupuy's analysis, however, and the dearth of serious scholarship on Haiti's recent history, I thought that the article was newsworthy and as such reprint it here. MD)

In their assessments of my The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti and Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment, [1] Lyonel Trouillot, Nick Nesbitt, and Valerie Kaussen focus on the key differences between Hallward’s and my respective interpretations of Aristide’s two terms as president of Haiti, terms that both ended prematurely when he was forced out of office. [2] Nesbitt and Kaussen make much of my criticism of Aristide on the issue of violence against his opponents and enemies, and side with Hallward in defending him. I have some minor disagreements with Trouillot but will focus my responses mostly on the respective arguments of Nesbitt and Kaussen.

I agree with Nesbitt that the Haitian people have a long history of struggle for a more egalitarian and just social order, starting with the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), and that the conjuncture of 1991 represented such a moment. However, Aristide was not the catalyst for that possibility. Rather, the demands for a more egalitarian democracy originated with a broad-based, national popular movement against the Duvalier dictatorship in 1980. Aristide, then a priest, returned to Haiti in 1985, after having spent five years abroad, and joined the popular movement after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier in February 1986. He soon emerged as the icon of that movement, largely because of his advocacy of liberation theology and his criticism of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the military, the bourgeoisie, and the United States.

The other side of this picture, which Nesbitt dismisses, was the unfolding of the contradictions of Aristide that led him (circa 1993) to break with the interests and aspirations of the majority to pursue the same clientelistic and prebendary practices as his predecessors. Thus, while the Haitian people have continuously struggled for a more just and egalitarian social order since the Saint-Domingue Revolution, the history of Haiti has also been characterized by continuous breaks with and even suppressions of such struggles by leaders-turned-rulers pursuing their personal or class interests. That was the case with Toussaint Louverture in 1801 and Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 1804,3 as Nesbitt knows well, [4] and so it was with Aristide after 1991, as I argued. These processes of co-optation are not just personal but systemic, that is, structural. Movements that are antisystemic, revolutionary, reformist, religious, and so on are among the strategies used by emergent cadres in peripheral societies to gain access to power and position themselves in the hierarchical structures of the capitalist world-system. However, those who seek accommodation with the dominant classes, domestic or imperial, or both, through such means do not always succeed, as was the case with Toussaint and Aristide.

In his essay, Nesbitt claims that I present an “underestimation of the intelligence of the Haitian majority.” He continues, “Rather than concluding, reasonably, that Haitians recognized in Aristide someone capable of voicing and expressing their concerns in the strongest and most eloquent fashion, Dupuy instead characterizes the radical investment of the huge majority of Haitians as sheer passivity.” In the same vein, Kaussen argues in her essay that because I focus my analysis on Aristide, “the agency of his supporters is somewhat elided...Where the ‘prophet’ takes on substance in the person of Aristide, the ‘people’ become the empty category here.”

These claims are groundless. It is true that I focus much of my analysis on the actions of Aristide and his governments, but such an emphasis would be meaningless unless it was contextualized in the relations and conflicts among those actors, the subordinate classes, and the middle and dominant classes and their imperial backers in the conjunctures of 1986–91 and 2000–2004. The broad popular movement that emerged in 1980 and brought down the Jean-Claude Duvalier dictatorship in 1986 included many different political, religious, civic, human rights, neighborhood, women’s, professional, labor, peasant, and media organizations that gave voice to the people and formulated their collective cahiers de doléances. The most important characteristic of that broad movement was its decentralization and autonomy. No single political organization, individual, or group of individuals controlled it. Nevertheless, I argued, the aggregate demands advanced by this broad national movement amounted to nothing short of a call for a maximalist egalitarian democracy in Haiti.

Nesbitt takes issue with my definition of a maximalist democracy. Though agreeing with my definition of a minimalist democracy, he claims that I characterize a maximalist democracy
as purely redistributive, and that to “limit ‘democracy’ in such a to impoverish the concept to a significant degree. . . . [It] reduces democracy to the technocratic negotiation over such distribution, and accepts and reinscribes a peripheral community’s subaltern,
dependent status. . . . It is to limit democracy to the political science of such distribution, identifying the just (maximalist) norms of distribution, without ever calling into question the structures that reinforce . . . Haiti’s systematic exclusion and dependency.”

This is a false and illogical reading of what I said. The popular movement that emerged in Haiti, I wrote,

sought to create what I will call a maximalist or redistributive democracy. The proponents of this version of democracy understood that without securing economic or redistributive rights, the exercise of all other rights [such as civil and political rights] would be limited for most citizens because the profound inequalities in wealth, income, and resources in Haiti would maintain them in conditions of nautonomy. Thus, those who equated democracy with securing civil, political, and economic rights also understood that this could be achieved only through a restructuring of the extant society and its function in the international division of labor. (19–20; italics in original)

Intentionally or not, Nesbitt left out the parts of my argument that obviously contradicted his. What’s more, in his Universal Emancipation, Nesbitt read my argument differently. Though I emphasized the popular movement as the harbinger, Nesbitt substituted Aristide, who, he says, “ha[d] since 1991 represented the promise of what Alex Dupuy has called a ‘redistributive’ democracy, one that prioritizes the egalitarian assurance of economic rights . . . to form the enabling foundation of all other social rights.” [5] He did not suggest then that my definition either impoverished the concept of democracy or did not call into question Haiti’s class structures and dependency, because neither was in fact the case.

After the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the democratic movement gathered steam, checked the power of the succeeding military governments, and ultimately paved the way for the rise of Aristide and his Lavalas movement in 1990. In contrast to the broad-based popular movement, Lavalas had its roots in the ecclesiastical base communities, the poor and marginalized urban youth, grassroots organizations, and civic and political-educational networks and professional cadres. Notoriously absent from its ranks were working-class and labor organizations. Lavalas did not become the Lavalas Family (FL) party until 1996, when the coalition of social democratic parties that were part of the Lavalas movement in 1990 broke with Aristide. Before then, Aristide made it clear that Lavalas was not a party but an amorphous “idea and a movement” open to all who “wanted to bring about change,” including the bourgeoisie, the army, and the Catholic Church (90–91). Aristide never made it clear how those dominant interests would be reconciled with those of the broad popular movement that demanded a thorough revamping of the old order.

As with his inconsistent readings of my argument on maximalist democracy, Nesbitt does not seem to know where he stands with my contention that Lavalas was not democratically structured, and that “Aristide’s messianic leadership was . . . the sine qua non of his. . . paternalistic relationship with the masses” and led him to resist structures of control and accountability from below (93). What’s more, the cadres of Lavalas came to a similar conclusion in an internal memorandum written in 1992. The characteristics of Aristide’s leadership, they argued, stemmed from the “impulse of a powerful movement in favor of change and democracy and from the personalistic and charismatic nature of the political leadership...They rest on the force of popular demands and the popularity of one man, who incarnated it, and not on adherence to an explicit political group or program” (ibid.).

Nesbitt offered two contradictory interpretations of my argument. First, in Universal Emancipation he agreed with me: “It is quite true, as Dupuy has argued, that Aristide never had a chance [sic] to put in place the mechanisms of popular debate, decision making, and 'control and accountability’ that would offer the Lavalas rank-and-file power over the political process. Aristide’s Lavalas party never structured itself in consonance with the traditional egalitarianism of the Haitian . . . population, but instead united around Aristide’s messianic vanguardism.” [6] In “Turning the Tide,” where he also commented on The Prophet and Power, Nesbitt was even more forceful and considered my argument that Lavalas was not a democratic organization but one based on the charisma and “incipient cult of personality” of its leader to be one of my “most penetrating critiques of Aristide’s political practice.” [7] However, in his essay for this issue of Small Axe, Nesbitt reverses his previous readings to criticize that very same argument and conclude that I reduced democracy to “mere matters of ‘principles and procedures,’ ” and contradicted myself for arguing that while the views Aristide espoused (in 1990–91) corresponded to the overall aspirations of the masses, he arrogated to himself the right to speak and set their agenda for them.

Be that as it may, it does not follow that because Aristide believed in his myth the mass organizations that supported him would withdraw and become passive toward the new government. From February to September 1991, groups and organizations in Port-au-Prince and
throughout Haiti constantly demonstrated against the government’s negotiations with the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and pushed their demands for jobs, better working conditions, a higher minimum wage, an end to corruption in the public administration and public enterprises, greater access to education, a literacy campaign, health care, and land reform, among others (see 114–22). These demands no doubt became incorporated in the social
democratic program of government that René Préval, Aristide’s first prime minister, presented
to the National Assembly (Parliament) in February 1991. [8]

Some of the objectives of the new government—the separation of the military and the police and placing each under the control of the Ministry of Justice; the elimination of the rural section chiefs; and the removal of corrupt functionaries from the public administration and the streamlining of the public enterprises, among others—struck at the power base of the Duvalierists, and they were not about to compromise with Aristide. In contrast, the program
did not challenge the economic interests of the bourgeoisie or foreign capital, though it did
continue to depend on their cooperation. To receive foreign aid the government negotiated a
standby agreement with the IMF between July and September 1991. Aristide tried to appease
popular opposition by claiming (disingenuously, given Haiti’s heavy reliance on foreign aid),
“[Although IMF officials] cannot give us orders [they] have recognized the good job we have
been doing, and have said so...In our negotiations with them, we continue doing a good job for best results” (119). By contrast, when he was dealing with the bourgeoisie, Aristide adopted a defiant and threatening posture. Either you cooperate with us and form an alliance with the “revolutionary capital of Lavalas,” he told them, or the masses could be pushed to demand more radical measures: “The people who are sleeping like a dog today could be roaring tomorrow” (122). Should anyone be surprised that the bourgeoisie, which already despised Aristide and feared the popular mobilization that brought a left-of-center faction of the middle class to power, reacted to such threats by backing the coup against him?

I offer these examples to make the following points. First, Nesbitt’s claim that I underestimated the intelligence of the masses and painted them as passive observers or blind followers of Aristide, and Kaussen’s assertion that I elided the agency of his followers, don’t stand
up to scrutiny. Second, the mobilization of the largely illiterate masses (50 percent of adult Haitians) and their clear articulation of their agenda for change belie Kaussen’s astounding
claim that communicative and participatory democracy can exist only under conditions “where
the literacy rate is high and where there is access to education [and] a fair judicial system.”

According to these limiting and reductionist criteria, then, one would have to conclude that the
illiterate French masses had nothing to do with the universal Declaration of the Rights of Man
and of the Citizen in 1789, or that the revolt of the illiterate slave masses of Saint-Domingue in 1791 played no part in the even more radical expansion of those principles to include all human beings, not just white European or American males. I agree with Nesbitt, however, that the Habermassian ideal of communication and discussion is not a sufficient condition for democracy without the people’s demanding and struggling for their right of inclusion and participation. I never argued otherwise: “The demands for an inclusive and institutional democracy, social justice, land reform, equality, dignity, jobs, health care, education, and welfare services...were very much part of the political discourse [and the basis for the] popular mandate [for Aristide and his] government” (94).

From February 1986 to September 1991, Haiti was a vast laboratory for popular participatory democracy. The people were mobilized and organized; they articulated their demands and pushed to actualize them. Rather than surrendering their agency to the government in the hope
that it would defend their interests, they took nothing for granted and held that government’s
feet to the fire at every step. And, for the first time in Haiti’s post–US occupation history, [9] they had a government that was on their side, albeit for a brief period. In short, I argued, the first Aristide government fell between a “maximalist” and “minimalist"...democracy, more akin to a moderate than a radical version of social democracy, because it emphasized the redistribution of income and resources rather than making access to basic resources and income . . . a right to which all citizens were entitled. The model took as a given the continued existence of private ownership of the means of production and the market economy [and] shared with liberalism the view that the injustices of capitalism could be corrected through the actions of a state under the control of an enlightened and technocratic leadership. (112)

Given this to be the case I agree with Trouillot that the first Aristide government was not aiming to “modify the social relations of production.” Nonetheless, in a retrograde society like Haiti, the bourgeoisie considered the moderate social democratic reforms the government contemplated a threat to their interests.

As I mentioned above, that brief experiment in participatory democracy came to an abrupt end in September 1991. The dominant classes and the military felt threatened not only by the intended reforms of the government but also by the vast popular mobilization that pressed for their implementation. That combination portended a realignment of forces, a new pact, that the dominant classes and their foreign backers could not countenance. Before they could crush the people, however, they had to decapitate their icon, that is, Aristide.

Nesbitt, Hallward, and Kaussen disagree with my argument that, while the September coup against Aristide was unjustified, he nonetheless played into the hands of his enemies. One of the ways he did this in his first term was his allusions to the use of “necklacing.” Pace Hallward, Nesbitt defends Aristide’s call for necklacing by referring to such a deadly and heinous act as a form of street power or “popular violence,” and in any case not reducible to necklacing. As I pointed out in “A Reply to Peter Hallward,” this is disingenuous. [10] Père Lebrun, a euphemism for necklacing, originated from a well-known salesman in Port-au-Prince who used to advertise his tires (circa the mid-1980s) by sticking his head through them. Used as a weapon, Père Lebrun consisted of placing a tire around an intended victim’s neck and setting the tire ablaze. Individuals who took the law into their own hands to act as judge and jury occasionally used it during the period of dechoukaj, or “uprooting,” of Duvalierists in the late 1980s and in reaction to Roger Lafontant’s attempted coup d’état in January 1991 to prevent Aristide from taking office in February. But such a practice had never been used as a weapon in the periodic popular eruptions in Haiti before the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship. [11]

Nesbitt recognizes that Aristide’s “infamous speech from July 1991 [sic]” alluded to the use of deadly violence, but he defends it by saying that “given the enormity of the objective, world-systemic forces working to subvert Haitian democracy in these years, [Hallward] affirms in contrast [to Dupuy] the necessity of subjective, popular violence in extreme situations that threaten to overturn the rule of law.” Moreover, the allusion to necklacing “just as clearly and heuristically limits the use of violence to situations that would overthrow constitutional, democratic order.”

But Nesbitt is wrong. Aristide gave the speech on August 4, during the trial of Roger Lafontant and his accomplices for their attempted coup d’état of January 1991. Aristide intervened in the court proceedings because the judges were considering the maximum sentence of fifteen years that the law required rather than life imprisonment at forced labor as Aristide and his supporters demanded. For Aristide, this was payback time. I will reproduce the relevant parts of that speech to make my point clearer:

In front of the courthouse, for 24 hours, Père Lebrun became a good firm bed. The people slept on it. Its springs bounced back. The Justice Ministry inside the courthouse had the law in their hands, the people had their cushion outside. The people had their little matches in their hands. They had gas nearby. Did they use it? [Audience yells no]. That means the people respect [Audience yells “the constitution”]. Does the Constitution tell the people to forget little Père Lebrun? [Audience yells no].

Therefore when those inside know what is going on outside, those inside had to tread
carefully. . . . The masses have their own tool, their own secret way, their own wisdom.

When they spoke of 15 years inside the courthouse, according to the law, outside the
people began to clamor for Père Lebrun. . . . That’s why the verdict came out as life sentence. The people, who respect the law, who uphold the Constitution, when the people heard “life in prison,” they forgot their little matches, little gasoline, and little Père Lebrun. Did the people use Père Lebrun that day? [Audience yells no]. But if it had not gone well, wouldn’t the people have used Père Lebrun? [Audience yells yes]. That means that when you are in your literacy class you are learning to write “Père Lebrun,” you are learning to think about “Père Lebrun,” it’s because you have to know when to use it, and where to use it. And you may never use it again in a state where the law prevails (that’s what I hope!) as long as they stop using deception and corruption. So, that’s what they call real literacy. (Aristide, quoted on 124)

Two points need to be made here. First, by what logic does Nesbitt (or Hallward) conclude that the trial of a group of people for attempting a coup d’état “threatens the rule of law” or the constitutional order, and therefore justifies an elected president to menace the judges conducting the trial? Second, Nesbitt cannot absolve Aristide of responsibility by saying that the people listening to him could decide for themselves the correctness of his allusions. The issue here was that a democratically elected president threatened deadly violence against those who were applying the law to settle accounts with his enemies, and he must be held accountable for this act.

Moreover, this was not the only time Aristide supporters invoked the threat of Père Lebrun.
Another incident occurred also in August 1991 when demonstrators trapped legislators inside
the National Assembly and threatened to “necklace” them if they went ahead with their vote of censure against Prime Minister Préval. Then came the speech of 27 September in front of a cheering multitude when Aristide had learned of the impending coup d’état against him. In a blistering critique of the Haitian bourgeoisie for not having supported his government, and
knowing that the army was prepared to strike against him, he called on his supporters to get
their “beautiful tool” and be ready to counterstrike and give the “Macoute [i.e., Duvalierist]
what he deserves.” That speech, I argued, was clearly an act of desperation on Aristide’s part, as he himself acknowledged: “The coup had started. I was using words to answer the bullets” (128). Three days after the speech, the army toppled him and his government. I drew this conclusion from the events summarized above:

Haiti under Aristide...was not in a revolutionary situation. [His] government was [not] seeking to expropriate the dominant classes and establish a new social order...This does not mean that Aristide should have remained passive against threats to his government. He [was] justified . . . in not condemning the violent reaction of his supporters to the stillborn coup d’état by Lafontant. He certainly had a right to call on his supporters to . . . defend his government on September 27. . . . But . . . he was wrong to praise [the] use of Père Lebrun during the trial of Lafontant [and] wrong to threaten popular violence against the bourgeoisie for the latter’s recalcitrance. . . . Aristide himself . . . had promised to respect the bourgeoisie’s property and interests. In politics, it is always dangerous to threaten the use of force against one’s opponents unless one is willing and able to carry out the threat. In a fragile transition period, as was the case in Haiti, empty threats to opponents who are by class instincts predisposed to subvert [democracy] are disastrous. (129)

Thus, contrary to Nesbitt’s claim that I condemn Aristide’s “occasional calls for popular violence (‘necklacing’) in absolute terms,” it is he (and Hallward) who cannot distinguish between the illegitimate threat or use of violence by a government in a democracy when the rule of law and constitutional order are not threatened and its legitimate use when they are. Aristide also failed to see the difference, and because of that, I argued, he helped undermine his legitimacy and gave his enemies ammunition to use against him. Put differently, the miltary, backed by the dominant classes, would have overthrown Aristide in any case for what he (then) stood for. But he gave them justifications for their actions that they would not have had otherwise.

To switch now to Aristide’s second period in office, I argued that during his exile in the United States he broke with the fundamental interests of the majority of Haitians, and that upon his return to Haiti in October 1994 on the backs of twenty thousand US troops and a second, albeit brief, US occupation, his main objective was to monopolize political power for himself and his Lavalas Family party to create what Robert Fatton aptly called a “presidential monarchism bent on suppressing any alternative, independent power.” [12] To accomplish that goal, two conditions had to be met. First, Aristide had to ensure his reelection and that his FL party would win an absolute majority in Parliament. Both were accomplished in the elections of 2000 (though the Organization of American States [OAS] and the opposition parties contested the validity of the elections for the Senate). Second, the 1987 Constitution had to be amended to remove the two-term limit for the presidency separated by a five-year interval. Lavalas legislators proposed to do so in September 2003, but US ambassador Brian Dean Curran made it clear that Washington would consider such a move “fundamentally destabilizing” (167). There was also opposition from within the ranks of Lavalas. Father William Smart, once a staunch Aristide supporter and founder of Lavalas, called on the population to resist the amendment. [13] Time would not allow the FL legislators to push it through.

That Aristide and the FL would contemplate prolonging their hold on power indefinitely was in keeping with the historical tradition of using the state as a means of social promotion and personal enrichment. These practices are at the root of the prebendary (others call it predatory) state system in Haiti, and are succinctly captured in the popular dictum “Nou pran pouvwa, nou pran’l net” (We took power, we’ll keep it forever). In my view, these facts more than anything else Aristide did during his second term were the principal reasons the middle-and dominant-class opposition coalitions backed by the imperial troika wanted Aristide out of power. They knew that as long as he was around they would not easily dislodge him and the FL from their grip on power through the ballot box.

Aristide’s (and Lavalas’s) break with the interests of the subordinate classes expressed a shift in the balance of class forces since his overthrow in 1991. The popular movement was severely weakened after three years of brutal repression and a crushing economic embargo; it was now fragmented into pro- and anti-Aristide factions. At the same time, the Haitian bourgeoisie, under the hegemony of Washington, regained the upper hand. In the absence of a strong popular movement to check him as before, Aristide pursued an accommodation with the bourgeoisie and foreign capital. That began in July 1993, with his embrace of the bourgeoisie at the Haiti Government/Business Partnership Conference in Miami. In July 1994, Aristide agreed to the US-led military intervention sanctioned by the United Nations, which he had “ardently wished for” all along, [14] to “safeguard the national interest . . . and avoid Haiti’s being ensnared by the radical left and the extreme right, which are both sterile.”15 As a quid pro quo for returning him to power, Aristide accepted the neoliberal Emergency Economic Recovery Program drafted for Haiti by the international financial institutions in October 1994.16 Once reelected in 2000 he pursued the neoliberal policies “virtually without a decent level of external aid.”17 He entered into an agreement with the World Bank to set up a free trade zone for assembly industries in northern Haiti by expropriating farmers in that region and suppressing workers’ efforts to organize in exchange for a US$200 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, something he would not have dared to do in 1991. And he relied on a private US security firm for his personal protection.

The most important difference between the first and second terms, then, was that Aristide and his government were no longer being pushed and checked from below and had abandoned all semblance of a progressive agenda. As Robert Malval, Aristide’s prime minister in 1993–94, put it, Aristide had “grown up a lot” during his exile. [18] No longer a priest and an advocate of liberation theology, his rhetoric was now fully in line with neoliberal views of the market. Talk of the “revolutionary capital of Lavalas,” or of the poor and starving masses “under the table” rising to “knock the table of privilege over,” was replaced with calls for an “ethical dimension” to attend to the needs of the poor, and promoting economic development through a “partnership between the public and private sectors,” but with the latter clearly dictating the terms (142–43).

Moreover, and just as important, after assuming power in 2001 his FL party and govern- ment officials transformed themselves into a mafia-like organization, complete with internecine conflicts among rival factions. They also engaged in rampant corruption, drug trafficking, and
the diversion of funds destined for public works projects; profited from the sale of tax-exempt
imported rice and from banking and investment schemes that defrauded middle-class Haitians
of their savings; and, last but not least, used gangs, some of whom were armed, against their
opponents. It was this realization that led former staunch supporters of Aristide and Lavalas,
such as Michèle Montas, widow of slain internationally renowned journalist Jean Dominique,
to declare that the Lavalas government had become a “balkanized State where weapons make
right and where hunger for power and money [took] precedence over the general welfare”

Nesbitt and Kaussen are silent on all the issues mentioned above, except that of violence by Aristide supporters, to which I will return shortly. For his part, Hallward acknowledges that
Lavalas officials, cabinet ministers, and cadres, some close to Aristide, had been involved in all the activities mentioned above. But these acknowledgements are to buffer Aristide from criticism on the ground that he was never indicted on drug charges or proven to have taken part in corruption schemes.19 This is still damaging for Aristide, since it shows a corrupt government and party in disarray, and a president who either condoned these activities or had lost control of his ministers and close officials. Hallward admits that Aristide “paid a high price” for his “continued acquiescence in neoliberal structural adjustment policies,” that his collaboration with the World Bank on the free trade zone and the crackdown on workers were more damaging. But he rescues Aristide by saying he didn’t have much choice and “otherwise continued to denounce” neoliberalism.20 Hallward, obviously, seems to be persuaded more by what Aristide said than by what he did.

Returning now to the question of Aristide and gang violence, there are two issues that need to be separated. The first concerns the role of Aristide in creating the gangs of chimès (or chimères), and the second whether he used them against his opponents. Nesbitt and Kaussen follow Hallward in trying to discredit my argument by saying that I relied only on two sources as evidence of Aristide’s involvement in forming the chimès. This is a false issue. I cited Jean-Michel Caroit, Jane Regan, and Maurice Lemoine to mention the unresolved question of Aristide’s direct role in creating the chimès, and to conclude that to me the more important issue was whether he used them against his opponents. I believe he did, and cited a number of different sources to substantiate my claims (see 143–70). [21]

Hallward summarily dismisses all evidence pointing to violence by pro-Aristide gangs as the work of anti-Aristide/Lavalas intellectuals, or media and human rights organizations in the pay of Washington or Ottawa; or as intergang warfare; or, when such violence could be attributed to Lavalas, that it was “either defensive or criminal, or both, but it was never offensive or deliberate.” [22]

In the end, as Kaussen points out, the disagreement between Hallward and me is not about evidence but rather about what we do with that evidence. Having claimed from the outset that Damming the Flood was “purely and simply a political” book that aimed to defend Aristide, Hallward relied on sources that supported that objective [23] and dismissed everyone and everything else as bunk. [24] For my part, the weight of that evidence led me to conclude that, in keeping with a long tradition of prebendary rule in Haitian history, a popular leader, brought to power by the people struggling for a more egalitarian and just social order, ultimately broke with those objectives. He instead pursued his and his party’s own interests by transforming the state into their private fiefdom (prebend) while complying with the diktats of the international financial institutions and agreeing to hold new parliamentary elections to placate the opposition parties defeated in the contested elections of 2000. But these latter groups would have none of it and, supported by the troika powers, continued to squeeze Aristide economically and politically until they finally toppled him in February 2004.

Hallward and Nesbitt defend Aristide and the FL on the ground that they remain more popular than any other leader or party. [25] That may or may not still the case, [26] but unlike them I don’t equate popularity or the ability to win elections with defending the interests of the majority. In 1957, for example, François Duvalier won 71 percent of the popular vote in Haiti’s
first universal election. [27] I don’t suppose Hallward and Nesbitt would argue that he went on to defend the interests of that vast majority. Moreover, I believe that the Haitian people came to a similar conclusion in 2004. When push came to shove, the people did not rise up to stop the
group of some two hundred former army soldiers and members of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) who crossed over from the Dominican Republic to topple Aristide, whose stronghold by then had been reduced to the slums of Port-au-Prince. Just as telling, Aristide did not call on the people to defend him against those forces as he did when faced with an even more formidable force in 1991. Instead, he asked the US State Department to allow the San Francisco–based security firm that was in charge of his personal security to send additional personnel (which the United States refused), and endorsed the proposal from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the OAS to send a peace-keeping force to Haiti (which the troika powers blocked). This was in sharp contrast to 1991, when the people mobilized spontaneously in all corners of Haiti against Lafontant’s attempted coup d’état, and resisted at a very high cost the murderous military junta until Aristide returned to Haiti in October 1994. The people did not embrace the organized opposition or the rebel forces that toppled Aristide in 2004, as shown by the results of the 2006 elections. But neither did they believe that Aristide was any longer worth rescuing or dying for. And other than some occasional noise by his core supporters, there has been no sustained and massive campaign for his return, as in 1991. The people, it seems, have moved beyond Aristide.

1 Alex Dupuy, The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007); hereafter cited in text. Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment (London: Verso, 2007).

2 Aristide was elected in December 1990 and assumed the presidency in February 1991. Seven months later he was overthrown by a coup d’état and spent three years in exile. He was returned to Haiti by the United States in October 1994 and served out the remaining seventeen months of his first term, until February 1996. He was reelected in November 2000 for a
second and final five-year term, starting in February 2001, but that term was also cut short, this time by two years; a rebel force comprised of former Haitian Army soldiers and members of a paramilitary death squad known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) forced him out in February 2004.

3 Both during and after the revolution, Toussaint and Dessalines sought to advance their own interests and those of the emergent Haitian ruling class, and, at the same time, to attend to the struggles of the former slaves to create an egalitarian agrarian order, albeit unsuccessfully. For those interested in my analysis of the how Toussaint and Dessalines transformed
themselves from revolutionary leaders to despotic rulers, see Alex Dupuy, Haiti in the World Economy: Class, Race, and Underdevelopment since 1700 (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1989), especially chaps. 3 and 4. For an even more definitive analysis of the roots of the “political economy of corruption” in Haiti, see Leslie J. R. Péan, Economie politique de la corruption: De Saint-Domingue à Haïti, 1791–1870 (Port-au-Prince: Mémoire, 2000).

4 See Nick Nesbitt, “Turning the Tide: The Problem of Popular Insurgency in Haitian Revolutionary Insurgency,” Small Axe, no. 27 (October 2008): 18–20.

5 Nesbitt, Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 195.

6 Nesbitt, Universal Emancipation, 195.

7 Nesbitt, “Turning the Tide,” 28.

8 In October 1990 the intellectual cadres of Lavalas produced two major documents that laid out their vision of a more democratic, participatory, independent, and self-reliant society: La chance à prendre (The chance to take) and La chance qui passe (The passing moment). For a full discussion of these propositions and their relation to the program of government that Prime Minister Préval presented to Parliament in February 1991, see Alex Dupuy, Haiti in the New World Order: The Limits of the Democratic Revolution (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997), chap. 5; and Dupuy, The Prophet and Power, 110–21.

9 I am referring to the US occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934.

10 Alex Dupuy, “A Reply to Peter Hallward’s ‘Aristide and the Violence of Democracy: A Review of Alex Dupuy, The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti,’ ” Haiti Liberté, 22–28 August 2007,

11 That is, since the use of rubber tires on cars at the beginning of the twentieth century.

12 Robert Fatton, Haiti’s Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002), 33.

13 In that vein, I disagree with Trouillot that I tended to equate all opposition to Aristide after 2000 with the main opposition group Democratic Convergence (CD), the Group of 184, and their foreign backers. I was also aware that Aristide was opposed from the left and I pointed to the many progressive organizations, including those that had previously supported him but broke from him without necessarily endorsing the CD / Group 184. See Dupuy, The Prophet and Power, 159–60, 166–67.

14 Robert Malval, L’année de toutes les duperies (Québec: Regain-CIDIHCA, 1996), 477.

15 According to Jean Alix René, Aristide made that remark, “as if by accident,” at New York University on 7 August 1994. See La séduction populiste: Essai sur la crise systémique haïtienne et le phénomène Aristide (Port-au-Prince: Henri Deschamps, 2003), 232 (translation mine).

16 My analysis of Aristide’s exile, the politics that led to his return, and the implications of the brief US occupation is fully laid out in Haiti in the New World Order, 137–69.

17 Marc Bazin, quoted in Alex Dupuy, “Globalization, the World Bank, and Haiti,” in Franklin W. Knight and Teresita Martinez Vergne, eds., Contemporary Caribbean Cultures and Societies in a Global Context (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 43–70.

18 Robert Malval, quoted in Dupuy, Haiti in the New World Order, 147. That was before Malval resigned as prime minister in December 1993 (but stayed on in a caretaker capacity until Aristide returned in October 1994), after accusing Aristide of “regularly stabbing him in the back” to undermine all the initiatives he undertook to negotiate a resolution of the crisis in
Haiti. See Malval, L’année, 423.

19 Hallward, Damming the Flood, 147–53.

20 Ibid., 152–53.

21 Recently, for example, Michael Deibert, a reporter who has covered Haiti for many years, including the period 2001 to 2004, wrote a review of Damming the Flood to challenge Hallward’s evidence and to show first, that armed gangs “professing allegiance to the Aristide government operated” out of the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince; second, that these
gangs were “heavily armed”; third, that their leaders ranged from those who were “politically-aware and educated political aspirants to more hardcore criminal sectors that were united only in their closeness to the Aristide government and the Lavalas party.” Others had “ID cards issued by some of Haiti’s public enterprises . . . where they received small amounts of work from time to time in exchange for crushing demonstrations that the government found troublesome”; and fourth, that “the armed groups were closely connected to the Aristide government . . . and were regularly hosted by Aristide both at his residence at Tabarre and at the National Palace itself.” See Michael Deibert, “A Review of Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment,” See also Michael Deibert, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (New York: Seven Stories, 2005), for even more extensive documentation on the relationship of Aristide and Lavalas to the chimès.

22 Hallward, Damming the Flood, 167; see 153–74.

23 Ibid., xxxiv.

24 When it suits his purpose, however, Hallward is quite prepared to cite sources whose credibility he had previously rejected for being anti-Aristide and in the pay of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), or the International Republican Institute (IRI). One example is the Comité des avocats pour le respect des Libertés individuelles (CARLI), which, according to Hallward, had received funds from the IFES and supported the coup d’état of February 2004 and therefore could not be trusted to report the truth about Aristide. After 2004, however, Hallward found CARLI credible because it claimed that most of the mainstream radio and print media had disseminated
the anti-Lavalas propaganda of the interim (Latortue) government, and it challenged the accusations of the government against Lavalas partisans. Ibid, 99, 108, 279.

25 Nesbitt, Universal Emancipation, 195; Hallward, Damming the Flood, 173.

26 According to two unpublished polls conducted in March 2002, 50 percent of the population favored Aristide over any other politician from the opposition parties. See Dupuy, The Prophet and Power, 164.

27 Despite a heavy military presence in administering the election, most independent observers deemed it fair. See James Ferguson, Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 37.

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