Aristide and the Violence of Democracy

Part 2 of 2

Go back to part 1 


Having thus proved to his own satisfaction that in 2001 Fanmi Lavalas sought to monopolise the spoils for political power for itself and itself alone, Dupuy now moves on to make the third and most damaging of his three main criticisms of Aristide. It emerges predictably enough from the ex-messiah’s dictatorial turn. Since he was clearly incapable of acquiring anything that Dupuy can recognise as a legitimate democratic mandate, there was only one other way Aristide could achieve his main objective — the consolidation of his grip on power ‘at all cost’. As resistance to the incipient dictatorship began to increase, the tyrant ‘politicized the police and called on his armed gangs of supporters known as chimès [chimera] (who took their name from mythical fire-breathing monsters) to intimidate his opponents’ (98).

Mythology and etymology aside — anyone familiar with the people derided as ‘chimès’ know that ‘they themselves hated that word’[ ] — this is another serious charge, and it is reasonable to expect an expert prosecution to back it up with a carefully documented case.

Dupuy describes these ‘chimès’ as a ‘relatively small force of not more than a few thousand’ people. He acknowledges that they were perhaps neither as well-armed nor as well-organised as Duvalier’s Tontons Macoutes (146), but the whole thrust of his main argument — that Aristide became just another dictatorial president in a long line of other similarly dictatorial Haitian presidents — rests squarely on the presumption that a comparison between Aristide’s ‘chimès’ and Duvalier’s Macoutes is at least in some sense helpful and illuminating. Dupuy isn’t the first person to have made such an argument; analysts as shrewd as Roger Noriega, Lyonel Trouillot, Laënnec Hurbon, Raoul Peck, Jean-Michel Caroit and Michael Deibert have all given it a try as well.

Before knuckling down to the business at hand, Dupuy pauses to consider an important matter of principle. He admits that there is some ‘controversy’ about the emergence and role of these so-called ‘chimès’. The controversy seems to be about ‘whether Aristide personally created and directed them or simply left that task to others. In my view, however, it is immaterial whether or not Aristide had a direct role in creating and directing the chimès’ (144). This isn’t to say that Dupuy is reluctant to accuse Aristide of doing precisely these things. On the contrary: Dupuy says, for instance, that since he was ‘unwilling to rely on the rule of law or even to mobilise his popular supporters to counter the threats of his opponents peacefully, Aristide chose instead to use the chimès to do that job’ (155). Dupuy says that ‘Aristide “chimerized” Lavalas and betrayed his mass base’ (157). He says that ‘Aristide engaged in egregious human rights violations against his opponents and critics’, that ‘Aristide relied on the chimès to intimidate the opposition’, that ‘Aristide sought to suppress his opponents’ by force, and that ‘Aristide used the chimès as a force de frappe against his opponents’ (144-146, 165). What Dupuy means by the word ‘immaterial’, presumably, is that when he repeatedly accuses Aristide of creating and directing these chimerical ‘chimès’, it is immaterial whether or not such accusations are in fact correct.

It is also immaterial, presumably, that if Aristide really ‘sought to suppress his opponents’, then this all-too-ordinary autocrat once again appears to have done a quite extraordinarily bad job. Insufficiently suppressed readers might remember that in 2001 Aristide’s opponents mounted their campaign to oust him in conditions that bore no resemblance whatsoever to those suffered by the subjects of ‘previous dictators’. They might remember that all through Aristide’s last months in office US-sponsored anti-government radio stations were free to broadcast their venomous propaganda around the clock, that internationally sponsored anti-government rallies continued for week after week, and that from the very month of his second inauguration the same soldiers who backed the bloody coup in 1991 were permitted to hold public rallies, loudly calling for a repeat of their previous exploits (and were vigorously encouraged, from the get-go, by nothing less than an entire ‘parallel government’ mounted by respectable ex-FNCD social-democratic members of the US- and French-backed Convergence Démocratique).

All the same, more forgetful readers may need a little reassurance at this point. ‘To be sure’, Dupuy tells us, ‘everyone knew the chimès were working for Aristide and others, including the opposition, but such links had to be proved’ (156). Indeed they did.  Readers looking for such proof, however, may be disappointed to learn that they won’t find much of it in Dupuy’s book. Who needs proof, after all, when everyone already knew what was really going on?

The fact that everyone already knows these things this saves Dupuy a certain amount of time and effort. It saves him the bother of having to explain, in even the most schematic detail, who these ‘chimès’ were, or what they did, or who paid them, or how they were armed and organised. It saves him the bother — so far as I can tell — of having to speak with or cite or perhaps even read about a single representative of these ‘chimès’ or their baz associates in the many dozens of organisations populaires that supported Aristide to the end. It saves him the trouble of asking why some members of those impoverished neighbourhoods that bore the brunt of military repression in 1986-90 and again in 1991-94 might have taken some steps to avoid the repetition of a similar catastrophe in 2004.

Although this isn’t the place for a detailed analysis of the question, people more acquainted with Dupuy’s ‘chimères’ than Dupuy himself paint a rather less sensational picture of the people who apparently terrorised the political opposition to Aristide. Veteran reporter Guy Delva is one of the most neutral and balanced of Haitian journalists, and he knows of no deliberate campaign of violence and of no coordinated effort to arm the ‘chimères’. ‘There’s no evidence of it. Of course it’s possible that in 2004 some weapons were handed out to groups loyal to the regime: there was an armed insurgency going on, after all, and it’s possible that the government wanted to strengthen itself against the rebels. But the government had very few weapons, in fact, and the supply of police munitions was very low.’ As for the ‘gangs’ themselves, continues Delva, ‘I know this is hard for people outside Haiti to understand but in Cité Soleil the people with the weapons are not seen as criminals or bandits, but as people who are protecting the population. They see that when MINUSTAH or the Haitian police come they kill people, and the gangs do what they can to defend them. I can confirm that when you speak to them most people in Cité Soleil say they saw Dred Wilme as a leader, as someone who defended their community, they didn’t just see him as a bandit.’[ ] Aidworker Eléonore Senlis directed the largest international NGO in Cité Soleil from the spring of 2003 through to July 2004; she won the confidence of several leaders of the armed groups (Dred, Labanye, Amaral, Tupac, Billy…) and quickly became well-informed about what was going on in the Cité. Although it’s true that once the anti-government demonstrations started in November 2003 some group leaders in the Cité received occasional calls from Aristide’s departmental police chief Hermione Léonard and his interior minister Jocelerme ‘Miss’ Privert encouraging them to stage counter-demonstrations, Senlis says that the main purpose for government communications was to try to keep the peace among rival gangs in the most desperately impoverished parts of the city. From time to time Hermione Léonard would arrange ‘a meeting with the various group leaders, a sort of peace would last for a while, and then sooner or a later new groups would push their way onto the scene, begin to interfere with another group’s activities, the leaders would start fighting amongst themselves, and the process had to start all over again.’ As for claims that the government set out to arm such groups in order intimidate its opponents, Senlis is probably as well-placed as any outsider to judge the point, and she knows of only a single clear-cut case:

‘After the trouble started in early February 2004, some of the group leaders, along with some of their men, were sent up to Gonaïves, and there they were given weapons by the government, to confront the insurgency; the rest of the time it wasn’t at all clear that the government was deliberately trying to arm groups from Cité Soleil. They generally seemed to steal their guns from the police or security guards or from other residents. The bigger guns were always bought, often from the DR, with money stolen from shops or occasionally donated by various interested parties as “contributions to the security of Cité Soleil”. But as far as I know there was never any large-scale distribution of weapons from the government to their supporters.’

Of course it may be that such distribution wasn’t necessary.  Perhaps the ‘chimères’ were already so well-armed that they could ‘stifle dissent’ in Aristide’s Haiti without the government’s help. What sort of weaponry did they actually have at their disposal? Eléonore Senlis is again the most reliable foreign witness available. ‘As for the actual number of guns’, she says, ‘at least until mid 2004 there weren’t very many of them to go round. As of February 2004, there were three well-armed groups in Cité Soleil, led by Dred Wilme, Labanye, and Amaral Duclona. Each of these three leaders had several automatic weapons at his disposal, maybe half a dozen high calibre pistols and several dozen .38 revolvers, most of which were loaned out to their followers. I think I saw most of them, and I’d guess that there was a grand total of around 250 guns in the hands of groups from Cité Soleil during the turmoil of February 2004, and considerably less before then’ [ ].

In the context of a country blessed with an estimated 210,000 firearms (the vast majority of which remain securely in the hands of its ruling families and businesses), it may be that this ‘chimère’ arsenal of around 250 handguns never posed a very worrying threat.
In the context of a country blessed with an estimated 210,000 firearms — at least 170,000 of which remain securely in the hands of its ruling families and businesses[ ] — it’s possible that this ‘chimère’ arsenal of 250 handguns never posed a very worrying threat.

Although genuine proof may be immaterial, Dupuy does of course trot out a certain number of facts to back his accusation up. In a paragraph devoted to showing how ‘Aristide and other Lavalas officials were using the chimès as a force de frappe against his opponents’ (144) he mentions, for instance, the murder of the iconic radio journalist Jean Dominique  — discreetly passing over the fact that there appears to be no proof whatsoever that any ‘chimès’ were involved in the assassination of Aristide’s old friend and Haiti’s most famously pro-Lavalas and anti-establishment journalist. He also mentions, as evidence of ‘chimè’ violence, the facts that in 1999 ‘five people were killed in fights among criminal gangs’; that in April 2000 a group of FL militants set fire to the office of Evans Paul’s KID (obliging the not-yet-re-elected tyrant to pay KID a sizeable sum in compensation); that when ‘the Provisional Electoral Council was pressured [by the US and its newly created 'Convergence Démocratique'] to annul the results of the first-round parliamentary elections [of May 2000], hundreds of pro-FL supporters erected barricades, burned tires, and effectively shut down Port-au-Prince in an attempt to intimidate the Council. In all these incidents the police failed to stop, investigate or to arrest and punish their perpetrators’ (144). I assume that people who lived through earlier periods of dictatorship in Haiti can immediately see how, by early 2001, Aristide had indeed become just like Duvalier or Cédras.

Dupuy is also prepared to explain how things arrived at this dreadful impasse. Drawing on a single article by Le Monde reporter Jean-Michel Caroit (dated 5 November 2003), Dupuy explains that ‘the creation of armed groups that would become the chimès goes back to 1995 after Aristide had abolished the Haitian Army and a new Haitian National Police was created with help and training from the US, France, and Canada.[ ] Aristide understood the need to control that force and placed trusted allies in its command. It was then that the link between Aristide and the chimès was formed. The director of the police, along with the minister of interior and the chief of presidential security, served as the liaison with the gangs, who received cash and weapons for their operations’ (144). If someone as even-handed and reliable as Le Monde’s Jean-Michel Caroit says so then it must be true. Never mind the incidental fact that, perhaps stung by Aristide’s deeply threatening demand that France repay the enormous sum of money it had extorted from its former slave colony back in the nineteenth century, Le Monde’s reporting in 2003/2004 was so outrageously biased as to make even the New York Times’ anti-Lavalas propaganda seem like a model of impartiality. Never mind the fact that in 1995 Aristide disbanded the army in the face of powerful US resistance, or that CIA interference in the subsequent recruitment and orientation of the new police force was so flagrant and counter-productive that even the person appointed by the US Department of Justice to oversee the police training programme resigned in disgust. Never mind the fact that leading segments of this police force remained openly hostile to the elected government, and that in October 2000, after years of violent destabilisation, a close-knit group of rightwing and pro-US officers (including Guy Philippe, Jackie Nau, Gilbert Dragon, all of whom during the first coup had received special US-sponsored training in the US-client state of Ecuador) were implicated in a further coup plot and were escorted to the safety of another suitably policed US-client state, Haiti’s hostile neighbour the Dominican Republic. Never mind the fact that for the next several years, beginning in the summer of 2001, with the active support of Convergence luminaries like ex-democrat Serge Gilles and ex-colonel Himmler Rébu, this same Guy Philippe and his colleagues, bolstered by dozens of other US-trained ex-military or ex-paramilitary assets like Jodel Chamblain, were to wage an unrelenting guerrilla war against Aristide’s government, all with the clear collusion of powerful elements within the police and the presidential guard.

Never mind all that: excessive concern with such matters might well lead us towards what Dupuy derides as dictatorship, rather than democracy. Leaving aside the question as to whether or not Aristide had much actual control over the police, Dupuy is quite right to say that when it became clear, in the late 1990s, that membership in Fanmi Lavalas was a virtual guarantee of access to political power, so then many unscrupulous opportunists did indeed flock to join the new organisation. As may sometimes happen in some other profoundly impoverished countries, in Haiti overwhelming and inescapable levels of destitution can indeed encourage a certain amount of corruption and opportunism. The shocking truth, then, is that a small number of Aristide’s associates and some leading members of Fanmi Lavalas did indeed become corrupt. A few high profile police officers made money smuggling drugs to a growing market in the US, and some Lavalas legislators found ways to profit from their position. Readers acquainted with the longue durée of Haitian history can judge the relative severity of such corruption for themselves, and decide whether Aristide, Cédras, and Duvalier père, mère et fils are best described as variants of one and the same essential pattern.

It’s one thing, however, to condemn the corruption of a few powerful figures in the Aristide-era security apparatus like Fourel Celestin and Hermione Léonard, it’s another to present the whole period between 2001-2004 as a disastrous deviation towards violent dictatorship. The image of a tyrannical Aristide presiding over a murderous police state could hardly be further from the truth. If anything, Aristide’s real problem was precisely the opposite. Even before his re-election, Haiti’s poorly equipped and poorly paid security forces had been thoroughly infiltrated (and embargoed) by his enemies, and it was all too obvious that the presidential guard in particular was no more reliable than its predecessor had been in 1991. It was perfectly clear that powerful ex-military figures like Dany Toussaint and Joseph Médard, people who had profited from their association with Aristide in the early 1990s, were by 2000/2001 actively working against him.

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to understand what happened next. The ‘laboratory’ that still wields significant behind-the-scenes power in Haiti knows very well that if you want to demonise a popular president then the easiest way to get to him is through his close associates. If these associates cooperate with the demonisation campaign they will be rewarded; the less uncooperative ones may have to be punished. So long as Dany Toussaint pretended to be loyal to Aristide, for instance, the US and the elite denounced him as a thug and a drug-dealer; as soon as he changed camps the talk of drugs and murder came to an abrupt stop, and in 2006 they allowed him to stand for president alongside other law-abiding democrats like Guy Philippe and Franck Romain. An old associate of Dany Toussaint, ex-presidential guard commander Youri Latortue is another veteran police officer whose human rights record is as questionable as that of any of his colleagues; after Aristide’s ‘flight’ from Haiti in 2004, however, the US invited him to oversee the security arrangements for the ‘democratic and constitutional’ government it imposed on Haiti as a replacement for the Lavalas dictatorship. A leading figure in the presidential guard, Wilson Casséus, played a significant role in undermining the police response to the insurgency, and was promoted to commander as soon as the person he supposed to protect had been expelled from the country. Less enthusiastically cooperative folks like Oriel Jean and Jean Nesly Lucien, on the other hand, had to be packed off to jail in Miami. 

Critics of Aristide are no doubt entitled to say that he was too slow to act against the scandalous emergence of opportunists in his entourage. They are entitled to regret some of the people he chose as members of his inner circle after 2001, or to puzzle over his reluctance to take more assertive action to deal with the state of emergency that confronted his government in February 2004. They may know that when US intelligence and the DEA began to accuse a few of his high-level police officers of drug smuggling and corruption Aristide was initially reluctant to believe them. They may know that he thought — with good reason — that this was yet another attempt to isolate him by driving a wedge between the government and its few allies in the security forces. Unlike the US itself, notes Ben Dupuy, ‘Aristide had no secret police, no parallel force with which he could “police the police”; given their history and the material conditions in which they work it has so far been and will for the time being remain virtually impossible for any Haitian government, on its own, to root out corruption in its security forces.’[ ] But just like Aristide’s enemies in the US, Alex Dupuy blames him for this structural impossibility all the same. He blames him for failing to accomplish an impossible task.

More importantly, Alex Dupuy blames Aristide for the fact that ‘the human rights situation deteriorated significantly between 2001 and 2004. Local FL officials and members of the police persecuted, arbitrarily arrested, and physically abused members of the opposition or sometimes their family members. Supporters of Aristide and the police disrupted peaceful demonstrations by opponents of the government and ransacked or burned the offices and private residences of opposition leaders. And sometimes members or supporters of the opposition were killed’ (161-162). Although Dupuy doesn’t bore his readers with much detailed evidence to flesh out this description of 2001-2004, he does mention at least four specific episodes, in addition to the murder of Jean Dominique, that appear to back up his case. (As for Dominique’s murder, this is a crime that Aristide’s enemies used to attribute with great enthusiasm to Dany Toussaint, up until the moment when he publicly joined the anti-Aristide camp — at which point, of course, he was instantly dropped from the list of leading suspects. Other analysts, though, continue to point the finger at powerful interests that Dominique threatened rather more consistently and passionately than he ever did Toussaint, including interests linked to the bitterly anti-Lavalas Boulos family).

Since much of Dupuy’s argument might seem to ride on these examples it may be worth looking at them very briefly here.

First of all, as an illustration of the growing violence ‘among pro-Lavalas grassroots organisations’, Dupuy refers to a pitched battle in the Fort Mercredi district of Port-au-Prince in June 2001, when ‘members of rival gangs in neighbouring slums near PAP engaged in a dispute over land, which left 17 people dead, nineteen others injured, and more than 135 houses looted or burned. No one was arrested. Instead, Aristide held a meeting with the residents of the two slums in the National Palace to urge them to resolve their conflicts’ (162). The implication, presumably, is that because some of the people involved in this battle were indeed ‘pro-Lavalas’, so then the government (for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious) may have incited them to declare war on their neighbours. Perhaps the fact that Aristide then tried to calm things down by speaking with all the groups involved, rather than by shooting at them, is further proof of his complicity in such violence. Even so, more naïve readers may suspect that since violent turf-wars between criminal gangs and drug-dealers don’t seem to be confined solely to pro-Lavalas neighbourhoods in Haiti’s capital city, so then in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it could just be that Aristide and his government had nothing to do with it.

Second, Dupuy cites the inflammatory murder in September 2003 of Gonaïves ‘chimè’ supremo Amiot Métayer, and pins it (as did ex-FRAPH commanders and various other equally disinterested parties) on Aristide’s government (166). Rather than back up this highly implausible claim with any investigation of his own, Dupuy puts the names of Jean-Michel Caroit and Jane Regan in brackets, and lets the accusation stand as self-evident. (Similarly notorious incidents in the anti-Aristide dossier are dealt with in much the same way — the ugly clash between students and FL supporters on 5 December 2003, for instance, is described simply as ‘a pro-government attack against university students’ [167]). Again, more hesitant readers might be more inclined to set Jane Regan’s tendentious argument alongside those made by people like Ben Dupuy or Frantz Gabriel, who claim to have good reason to believe that Métayer was killed by anti-Lavalas members of the security forces, on the orders of the ‘laboratory’. It may be that no-one really knows how exactly Métayer died; inconveniently, the last person seen with Métayer on the night of his murder, Odonel Paul, also disappeared soon after his death. It’s possible that the new French and US ambassadors who arrived in Haiti around the time of this murder did not shed many tears for Amiot Métayer. Who knows. What we do know is that the people who immediately profited from this murder certainly weren’t fans of President Aristide, and the gang which started to cause havoc in Gonaïves immediately after Métayer’s death can only be described as a collection of disaffected ex-pro-Aristide ‘chimès’ if you ignore the little fact that they were led and directed by a well-funded and well-connected group of ex-military and ex-FRAPH thugs. (After this useful group had accomplished its historical mission, a few months after Métayer’s death, one of its leaders admitted, among other things, that in the autumn of 2003 it had received some $20,000 worth of ammunition courtesy of Jean-Renel Latortue, future director of Cap Haïtien’s port authority, brother of the exemplary ex-policeman Youri Latortue and nephew of the soon-to-be-US-appointed interim prime minister Gérard Latortue).

 Third, in a paragraph describing the growth of opposition to the government in late 2003, Dupuy notes that ‘the violence between supporters and opponents of the government resulted in the deaths of nearly fifty people and injury to many more between December 2003 and February 2004′ (168). Surely this must be all the evidence of tyranny that any reasonable person might want. Surely this proves that Aristide’s supporters were now hard at work killing members of the opposition. Perhaps. Dupuy doesn’t provide a source for this number, however, and I would genuinely like to know how many of these fifty people were killed by rampaging ‘chimès’. As far as I’m aware, a grand total of two opponents of the government were killed during the long and heated weeks of US-orchestrated demonstrations that began in Port-au-Prince in early December 2003; one of these two people, a student, died when he was accidentally hit in the back by a police teargas canister. Several government supporters also died in clashes between pro and anti-government protestors. I’m not sure that, faced with a similar threat to their existence, Duvalier’s Macoutes would have been overly impressed by the performance of their Lavalassian counterparts. Given the fact that during these months Haiti was indeed embroiled in a low-level civil war these numbers may be an underestimate, of course, but then it’s hard to know what or who Dupuy is referring to. Perhaps he has in mind reports published in papers like the New York Times and Washington Post in late January and early February 2004 which claimed, sure enough, that fifty people had died in political clashes over the previous few months.[ ] The problem with this particular figure, though, is that as far as I can tell it refers primarily (if not overwhelmingly) to victims of anti-government violence. Although these papers didn’t themselves dwell on the distasteful task of identifying victims and perpetrators, it seems to refer primarily to the growing number of people killed during ex-military anti-government attacks carried out in places like Belladère, Pernal and a few other defenceless villages scattered across Haiti’s Central Plateau.

Dupuy provides a fourth indication of Aristide’s authoritarian turn. As insurgents led by Guy Philippe and Jodel Chamblain were busily terrorising large parts of the country into submission, ‘in the days preceding his departure [the night of 28-29 February 2004], Aristide unleashed the chimès who went on a rampage, thereby reinforcing his enemies’ claims that the country would be plunged into a bloodbath unless Aristide was removed’ (172). Dupuy has already informed us that proof of this sort of assertion is immaterial. Therefore he can afford to ignore the fact that though there was indeed some spontaneous looting and violence in the last couple of days of his presidency, even newspapers that were eagerly complicit in the campaign to get rid of Aristide were only able to attest to a couple of killings in Port-au-Prince in the (understandably?) tense atmosphere of 26-27 February. As far as I know, no-one actually investigated these murders, so responsibility for the deaths remains a matter of speculation. All this is immaterial, however, given the fact that dispassionate White House officials, on the eve of the operation that would lead to the abduction of Haiti’s elected president, spread rumours during these same days that ‘Aristide may have given the order to begin killing opponents and looting businesses.’[ ] Dupuy can also afford to gloss over the fact that in response to the growing fear and unrest, rather than ‘unleash the chimès’ Aristide did just the opposite, and broadcast the last of a long series of public appeals for calm and non-violence. As the Miami Herald observed at the time, what actually happened the day before he was kidnapped by US troops is that Aristide went on air to urge his supporters to abstain from ‘acts of looting and violence. And they promptly did.’[ ]

As for the US and French-sponsored military insurgency that took off earlier that same month and that really did kill a considerable number of people, before leading to the creation of an illegal de facto administration that would kill thousands more, Dupuy dispatches it in four brisk sentences of his book as a rebellion that began when a ‘gang of chimès [...] once allied with Aristide turned against him’ (172).

Again, Dupuy has a principled explanation for his priorities here. The fact that Aristide’s government can only be held (indirectly) responsible for a very small number of political killings[ ] is itself immaterial, since what is at stake is obviously too important to be associated with numbers. As any genuine democrat knows, what is really at stake in such discussions is nothing less than the immeasurable sanctity of human life. It doesn’t matter, then, that a comparison of the numbers killed ‘by’ Aristide on the one hand and by Duvalier, Cédras or Latortue on the other might to an outside observer look like an obscene joke. Numbers can have nothing to do with principles. This is why Dupuy disagrees with the human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist Brian Concannon when Concannon argues that ‘because more people were killed under Latortue than under Aristide, the former should have been condemned even more [than the latter].’ Dupuy is too cunning to fall for such clumsy logic. Dupuy knows that ‘both deserved to be condemned and be held responsible for the human rights violations that occurred under their governments, regardless of how many people were killed’ (183).

Dupuy doesn’t spell out just how far he might be prepared to push this line of reasoning but, to his credit, his analysis of the post-2004 period is indeed consistent with this indifference to number. Dupuy pays no heed, therefore, to the irrelevant fact that according to the best available estimates the unelected democrat Latortue may be responsible for at least 100 times more political killings than the elected tyrant he usurped. Instead he condemns Latortue almost as vigorously as he does Aristide, noting that ‘just as Aristide had done, Latortue opted to use the police, gangs, former soldiers and paramilitaries, as well as the judicial system, to achieve its [sic] political ends’ (189). Since numbers and details remain beside the point, Dupuy doesn’t need to demonstrate just how ‘Aristide’s use of former soldiers and paramilitaries’ might be compared to that of Gérard and Youri Latortue. More’s the pity. I imagine that a good many of these ex-soldiers would be genuinely curious to know how they were used by Aristide.

Given the constraints of time and space, of course, any published account is bound to suffer from a little selective bias. It is nevertheless regrettable, however, that in a book-length study of Aristide’s demise Dupuy couldn’t find room to mention an incidental detail like his provocative though perfectly reasonable demand for immediate reimbursement of the old French debt (equivalent to $21 billion US) — a demand that just may have had something to do with that country’s energetic contribution to the bicentennial coup of 2004, and that may even have grabbed the attention of several other ex-colonial states. It’s too bad, when Dupuy suggests that by 2004 ‘only a foreign military intervention could prevent the country from descending into a full-fledged civil war’ (171), that he has so little time to consider how such intervention might already have become an integral component of this very war. It’s a shame that, after noting that it was such foreign intervention which early in the morning of 29 February 2004 allowed ‘Aristide to flee Haiti for the Central African Republic aboard an aircraft chartered by the US and escorted by US military personnel and his own personal security’ (171), Dupuy cannot afford to linger for a little longer over the circumstances of this ‘flight’. It’s a pity that he has no time to explain why exactly Aristide might have chosen a distant and heavily policed client state of France as his preferred place of refuge, rather than an openly supportive (and slightly more convenient) country like Jamaica, Venezuela, Cuba or the Bahamas. It’s a pity that he doesn’t explain why, if it was just a matter of protecting their employer, Aristide’s own reasonably experienced and well-connected team of Steele Foundation security guards didn’t just fly him off to safety on their own. No doubt such speculation is immaterial. Once a deceitful dictator starts to run amok, everyone already knows that proper democracies are sometimes obliged to step in and clean up the mess.


*  *  *  *  *


As a result of Aristide’s criminal ambition, Dupuy concludes, ‘Lavalas would become equated with the chimès’ (144). This is a finely constructed phrase. In actual fact it is Dupuy himself (along with a few other intellectuals, NGO consultants and unelectable social-democrats who appear to think like Dupuy) who has gone to some trouble to make this equation appear plausible. As for the millions of Haitian people who still support Aristide as a unifying symbol and potent spokesman of their own political struggle, it seems that they don’t buy it. Perhaps they know that, leaving aside the perfectly predictable corruption and opportunism of a few members of Fanmi Lavalas, this ‘equation’ is nothing more than a crude ideological ruse. Although they may be less expert in the ways of neo-liberal imperialism than Alex Dupuy, it seems that most of these people still stubbornly refuse to accept the demonisation of their movement.

Even an analyst as close to Dupuy as his old friend and colleague Robert Fatton — the prominent political scientist who endorsed the back of Dupuy’s book — acknowledges that while his level of support has of course declined during these last few years of relentless disinformation, ‘Aristide remains the most popular politician in Haiti today, and if he could stand for re-election tomorrow he would easily win.’[ ] Carol Joseph may not be the only minister in the current government who insists on this same point: like it or not, ‘it is undeniable that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is still the most popular man in Haiti, and if he could run for office again he would certainly be re-elected.’[ ]

It seems that when it comes to political re-education, most Haitian people remain regrettably and mysteriously backward. They haven’t managed to keep up with the times. Their repeated failure to pass the real ‘test of democracy’ — their unfathomable refusal to identify with the class interests of their oppressors — continues to leave their would-be educators scratching their heads. No doubt a suitably trained sociologist will one day find a way to account for this popular stupidity, courtesy, perhaps, of the French CNRS. But it may be that Aristide’s unrepentant supporters already understand something that democratic intellectuals like Laënnec Hurbon or Alex Dupuy are usually reluctant to admit. They may know that when scholars attack Lavalas as authoritarian and undemocratic it seems that they tacitly assume a very old distinction, one dear to many professional political scientists. Aristide’s earliest critics were already very familiar with it, and one of them — the Duvalierist prelate Monseigneur Dorélien — was obliging enough to spell it out in terms that should make perfect sense to any reader who manages to get to the end of Dupuy’s book. Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the first coup, Dorélien was quick to remind his listeners that before you speak of the will of the majority you must ‘be careful, you must remember there are two kinds of majority: the qualitative majority [i.e. the intellectual and political elite] and the quantitative majority — the ignorant rabble, the populace that acts blindly, not understanding what it is choosing.’[ ]

Perhaps, one day, Dupuy may ask a few of these ignorant and immaterial members of the numerical majority about their choices, and about their incomprehensible understanding of democracy. Perhaps he may even listen to what they have to say. 

Go back to part 1 


1) This review was written in February 2007, and first published, in three instalments, in the new weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté (www.haitiliberte.com) in July 2007.
2) Letter from Eléonore Senlis, 19 March 2007.
3) Interviews with Guy Delva, Port-au-Prince 9 April 2006 and 25 April 2006.
4) Letter from Eléonore Senlis, 19 March 2007. ‘You have to be careful’, Senlis adds, ‘to try to distinguish gossip from truth in a place like Cité Soleil, in a world that is desperately poor, full of misery and uncertainty, shot through with jealous rivalries that make people’s imaginations run riot…’
5) Robert Muggah, Securing Haiti’s Transition, Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper no. 14 (October 2005, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/sas/publications/o_papers_pdf/2005-op14-haiti-eng.pdf), 6-7.
6) Jean-Michel Caroit, ‘La Loi des milices en Haïti’, Le Monde 5 November 2003. In many ways the argument of Dupuy’s book reads like an expanded version of Caroit’s own articles from October 2003 through to January 2004; see in particular Caroit, ‘Aristide, du prophète au dictateur’, Le Monde 9 January 2004. For more on the media’s contribution to the coup of 2004 see my Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment (London: Verso, 2007), chapter four.
7) Telephone interview with Ben Dupuy, 16 February 2007.
8) Richard Lezin Jones, ‘Haiti’s Neighbors Are Pressing Aristide for Reforms’, New York Times 29 January 2004; DeNeen L. Brown, ‘In Haiti, Two Sides and Bloodshed Between’, Washington Post 3 February 2004.
9) Nancy San Martin, ‘Rebels’ Aim: Choke, Take Port-au-Prince’, Miami Herald 28 February 2004.
10) Trenton Daniel, ‘Appeals for Calm Bring Respite; Mayhem in Haiti’s Capital Ends as the President Tells Backers to Stop Attacks’, Miami Herald 29 February 2004.
11) Independent analysts Ronald Saint Jean and Kim Ives estimate the total number of broadly ‘politically’ motivated killings for Aristide’s second administration at around 10; Amnesty International reports for the years 2001-2003 suggest a figure of around 30 or so, if you include extrajudicial executions attributed to the (often anti-government) police.
12) Telephone interview with Robert Fatton, 9 November 2006; cf. Fatton, ‘A War Waged on the Aristide Regime’, Socialist Worker 5 March 2004, http://www.socialistworker.org/2004-1/489/489_02_Fatton.shtml.
13) Interview with Carol Joseph, Cap Haïtien 14 January 2007.
14) Monseigneur Chanoine Albert Dorélien, cited in Katherine Kean’s 1994 film Rezistans.


Leave a comment