Sunday, March 27, 2011

Response to Tom Luce (second part)

(Note: Two initial responses to some of Tom Luce's rather deceptive contentions about Haiti on the can be read here and here. MD)

To many of us who have spent a bit of time in the country, one of the major flaws that is often to be found in the writing about Haiti done by foreigners over the years is that it all-too-often it presents Haiti in stark black and white terms in a seeming eternal search for victims and perpetrators. This approach, to me, seems woefully insufficient, and not reflective at all of the country's complex political history, where today's oppressed can (and has often been) tomorrow's oppressor.

In one of his notes, Tom Luce wrote that “there was no "popular uprising" of the people against Aristide. It was only a small band led by criminals armed from CIA depots in the DR. “ Luce then goes on to laud Haiti supposedly “lawful” 2000 elections.

This is a handy example of what I am talking about.

Haiti's 2000 elections

In the run-up to the May 200 and November 2000 ballots, Haiti experienced the following (just off the top of my head):

1. The March 2000 murder by a mob of, Legitime Athis, the Petite Goave campaign coordinator for the Mouvement Partiotique pour le Sauvetage National party of Hubert Deronceray, along with his wife.

2. The disruption of the 8 April 2000 funeral (with Mr. Aristide in attendance) of murdered Radio Haiti Inter director Jean Dominique (the investigation into whose killing Mr. Aristide undermined at every turn), by a crowd of young men began shouting “Viv Aristide,” charging out of the stadium and burning down the headquarters of Evans Paul’s Komite inite Demokratik political party. That same day Radio Vision 2000 was pelted with rocks and bottles by a crowd shouting pro-Aristide slogans and calling for the murder of journalists there, and a stone-throwing mob surrounded the house of mayoral candidate Micha Gaillard, forcing his wife and sons to flee over a back wall to a neighbor’s house

3. The 12 April 2000 murder of Merilus Deus, a Mouvement Chrétien pour une Nouvelle Haiti (MOCHRENA) candidate for the rural assembly in Savanette, who was shot and then hacked to death by a mob of attackers who also slashed his daughter for good measure.

4. The 18 April 2000 murder, also by machete, of 70 year-old Ducertain Armand, an advisor to the Parti Democratique Chretien Haitien of Marie-Denise Claude (whose on father, Pastor Sylvio Claude, an Aristide rival, was also killed by a mob in September 1991) in his Thomazeau home.

5. The 24 May 2000 murder by a mob of Lavalas partisans of mayoral candidate Jean-Michel Olophene, his skull cracked open by a hurled rock. This ghastly murder was actually captured on videotape, which I have seen, the assailants chanting pro-Aristide slogans. Incidentally, it was Cite Soleil gang leader Robinson “Labanye” Thomas’ support of this candidate against the official Lavalas slate that resulted in his being jailed for a few months before being released after he agreed to work for the Aristide government. He did so until the October 2003 murder of hsi friend Rodson “Kolobri” Lemaire. Labanye himself, of course, was also then slain in March 2005.

6. The quite notorious November 2000 attack on a meeting of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP) in Hinche, led by Lavalas mayors Wilo Joseph (Maissade) and Dongo Joseph (Hinche), during which the Recif Night Club, where several hundred MPP activists were gathered, was first pelted with stones and then raked with automatic weapons fire. Dieugrand Jean-Baptiste, brother of MPP leader Chavennes Jean-Baptiste, was shot in the chest and nearly died, another MPP member was shot in the neck, a mechanic working nearby the scene was shot in the ankle and a merchant pushing a cart was shot in the back. A detailed account of the attack, gathered from those who were present, can be found in my 2005 book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti.

These incidents were all in addition to such moves as the arrests of such Organisation du peuple en lutte politicians Paul Denis, Vasco Thernelan and Mellius Hyppolite, and the claims on Haitian radio by Yvon Neptune and Rene Civil before the vote tally was even announced (in violation of electoral law) that Fanmi Lavalas had won a landslide, give on a flavour of what voting in Haiti was like at the time. In addition to all of this, or course, there was the corruption of the vote tabulating process itself, which is well outlined in this letter by Orlando Marville, the chief of mission OAS Electoral Mission in Haiti at the time.

The ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide

I can understand why, for someone like Tom Luce, it would be simpler to believe that Haitian history began on 29 February 2004 and to only focus on Guy Philippe and his cronies, but if there was no popular movement against the government, then how does one explain pictures such as this one, taken at a 26 December 2003 demonstration against the Aristide government (by no means the largest).

Here are some other photos of these supposedly non-existent demonstrations: and

It may be easy for people to forget that the serious armed challenge to the Aristide government began with a group - the Cannibal Army in Gonaives - that was heavily armed WHILE they were working for Mr. Aristide, and that they only turned against the president following the murder of their leader, Amiot “Cubain” Metayer (here and here), on what they believed were Aristide’s orders, but for those of us who saw the Cannibal Army savage anti-government marchers in Gonaives in 2001/2002, it is not easy to forget at all.

The absolute breaking point for the Aristide government - the moment from which it was irretrievably doomed - was the savage and stupid 5 December 2003 attack on protesting university students in Port-au-Prince, an attack during which rector Pierre Marie Paquiot was beaten with iron bars (leaving him permanently incapacitated), at least six people were shot, and a dozen more stabbed and beaten. The siege which was witnessed by those at the Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL) nearby, who wrote the following of it:

On December 5, 2003,...we were witness to, and at certain times lived, the terror and horror of that day...We saw groups of pro-governmental militia, called chimere or OP (Popular organization), regroup in front of our building, visibly preparing to attack the student demonstration scheduled for that day. We saw their arms displayed, ranging from fire arms, wooden and iron sticks, rocks and other objects capable of hurting and killing. We saw their chiefs, men and women, also armed, equipped with walkie-talkies and cellular phones, organize and give orders to the commandos that were to attack the students. We saw the police, not neutral as has been reported, but acting as accomplices to the militia. On several occasions, during that day of horror and shame, the police opened the way for the chimere’s attack and also covered their backs. We saw children aged between twelve and fifteen, some in school uniforms, used by the lavalas militia to throw rocks and attack the students with fire arms.

Actual footage of the attack, as well as of the 2003/2004 demonstrations, can be seen in Haitian director Arnold Antonin's very interesting film GNB Kont Atilla, which someone (not me) has uploaded to You Tube in several sections, the first of which can be seen here.

After the attack, Minister of Education Marie-Carmel Paul Austin, Minister of the Environment Webster Pierre, Minister of Tourism Martine Deverson, Secretary of State for Public Health Pierre-Emile Charles and Haiti’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic Guy Alexandre all resigned from the Aristide government in protest.

I wonder if Mr. Luce condemned any of this at the time? Or the 2003 killings by government forces in Gonaives? Or the 2004 massacre by government forces in St. Marc? Or the 2005 killing of the great Haitian poet and journalist Jacques Roche? Or the 2004 decapitation of Weber Adrien? Would be interesting to know...

[Btw, for a more realistic and authoritative picture of late 2004/early 2005 era of Haiti than the one Tom Luce paints, I point readers to Jane Regan's excellent article "Haiti: In Bondage to History?" published by NACLA in Jan/Feb2005]

The chimere and their antecedents

For those of us who actually bothered to get to know the young men who would come to be called chimere - that is, for those of us, who viewed these young men as more than useful political pawns to be either lionized or condemned - we saw vividly how so many of them were born into an economic and political system that refused to make any use of them except as cannon fodder. When one sat and talked with them they spoke quite movingly of being caught up when they were young in an atmosphere of hope and possibility and then cynically sent down a road that proved not at all to be what they had envisioned.

In a review of my book once, someone wrote the it reminded him that, in its depiction of those who would be labeled chimere, one could find humanity even in those regarded as the most violent of street hoodlums. Not a message, he added, that many Haitians would embrace willingly but perhaps Haiti must learn this type of reconciliation before it can turn the corner and make tangible progress toward rebuilding society. As I also wrote in my November 2005 editorial for Newsday, "Ballots instead of bullets," about Jacques Roche's murder, some of those who were called chimere, far from being the simple thugs they were often depicted as, could have represented a youth movement to help turn Haiti around But their legions were blurred with those of hard-core criminals, some of whom wore nice suits, some of whom boasted foreign visas and they, and Haiti, paid the price.

Did the people of Jean Rabel, Piatre, St. Marc, Grand Ravine, Ti Bois and Descartes bleed and die any differently depending on which political current slaughtered them? In my experience, no they did not.

Conclusion and a bit of history

Foreigners with a stake in the triumph of one or the other of Haiti's discredited political currents can shout, threaten, cajole, defame, libel and repeat the same talking points over and over again as endlessly as they wish to, but it doesn't make what they are saying any more true, and whitewashing or papering over Haiti's recent history makes peace and reconciliation less, not more, likely for a country that has already suffered far more than its lovely, generous, gentle industrious people could have ever deserved.

Many of Mr. Aristide's detractors and advocates act as if the man appeared in a puff of smoke in 1990, when in fact he is part of the tradition of noiriste populist leaders in Haiti stretching at least back to Francois Duvalier and Dumarsais Estime and arguably to Lysius Salomon and even before.

Though I believe that he exacerbated them terribly with a style of governance that was built on little more than cult of personality, corruption, nepotism and wanton violence, Mr. Aristide was not the sole cause of Haiti's problems but rather, like many dictators and demagogues in other countries I have reported on, a symptom of the larger national malaise. As long as Haiti exists with such an unequal economic system based on the upside-down logic of sucking workers from a once-rice agricultural tradition in the countryside to Port-au-Prince for jobs that do not exist there, the tensions that helped bring Mr. Aristide to power - rich vs. poor, black vs. mulatto, urban vs. rural - will also continue to exist and will give rise to more Duvaliers and more Aristides. And more of their easily-expendable (to them) henchmen - whether they be called macoutes or attache or chimere - will be there, desperate to believe that the political current they are hitching their fortunes to is the only one that will possibly bring the country out of its mess.

As I have written before, though they are so rarely included in the international dialogue on their country's fate, I believe that Haiti's peasantry are indeed the key to its reconstruction, and that a total approach to not only urban economic development but also to sustainable rural agriculture is the only thing that would be cause for any hope at all looking forward.

Likewise the reform of the Police Nationale d'Haiti (PNH), which has made such great strides under the leadership of Mario Andresol - quite different to the 2001-2004 era, as the resignation letter of former PNH head Jean-Robert Faveur makes clear - must be joined by a reform of Haiti's broken judiciary which, as Pierre Esperance noted, is so broken that in it the criminal also becomes a victim.

These are all serious, on-the-ground issues and concerns which I understand are perhaps not as immediately attractive to tackle as simply shouting political slogans or sticking one's fingers in one's ears when someone of a different viewpoint expresses their opinions. But if we as foreigners interested in Haiti cannot do better than we have done thus far, and cannot tackle these tough issues head-on, all of this discourse is simply so much meaningless blah-blah-blah of outsiders, well-intentioned or not, commenting on a country they are ultimately not all that interested in coming to understand.

All best,


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