One of my students asked me about the current unrest in
I, too, find it difficult to extract meaning from the news accounts. Newspapers and wire service reports ran headlines about â€œRebels Occupying Haitiâ€™s Second and
Other than their expressed hatred for and desire to overthrow the elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, I found in the news reports not the barest trace of Haitian history that would help people get a context for the current conflict.
For example, 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson refused to recognize the first black and second oldest republic in the Hemisphere. In the early 1790s, inspired by the French Revolution, Toussaint Lâ€™Ouverture, a former slave, led an uprising and overthrew the French masters.
In 1862, almost sixty years later, Abraham Lincoln finally recognized
Woodrow Wilson deployed the Marines in 1914 and again in 1915 â€œto maintain order during a period of chronic and threatened insurrection.â€ They remained as an occupation force under Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1934, FDR ended the two decades of occupation by turning the reins of government over to a clique who looted the country until in 1956 Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc), staged a military coup and declared himself president for life.
Papa Doc created a brutal dictatorship backed by the Tontons Macoute, a Haitian Praetorian Guard. Upon his death, Jean Claude or Baby Doc Duvalier replaced his father until his overthrow in 1986. Both mouthed the anti-communist line, brutalized their own people and received
In 1990, Haitians overwhelmingly elected as President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist Catholic priest. He served nine months before a military coup, led by General Raoul Cedras, backed by the CIA, ousted him and instituted three years of military rule: political violence against all opponents and looting.
President Clinton procrastinated. Finally, in 1994, he dispatched troops to reseat Aristide as president. But
Aristideâ€™s most prominent enemies and flagrant human rights abusers — fled to the
The media has identified Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former army officer and member of FRAPH, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, during the post-1991 military coup. But little has been reported about the nature of the atrocities committed by this â€œleaderâ€ of the rebels.
Although such hooligans more than cloud the political â€œoppositionâ€™sâ€ legitimacy, large numbers of Haitians do feel disappointed with Aristide. The three year wait before Aristide resumed his legitimate place as president, seemed to have changed him and the inchoate, populist Lavalas Party he leads. By 1994, following the Popeâ€™s order, he had shed his collar. The secular Aristide no longer showed the same assurance. The exile years had taken their toll.
By the late 1990s, those democratic and progressive minded people around the world who saw him as â€œthe delivererâ€ also felt disheartened. Aristideâ€™s religious charisma seemed to dissolve in frustration. First, the man who had vowed to build a new, developing
He refused to privatize the publicâ€™s wealth as The IMF and World Bank — and
The cynical â€œexpectationsâ€ went side by side with a double standard on which to judge Aristide. While the Colombian government on the western side of the Caribbean received increased
Neither news stories nor editorials asked the obvious question: What resource-starved, infra-structurally underdeveloped and politically chaotic third world country could accomplish economic development, social order and political stability in a few years?
In 1989, I interviewed Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. I asked him what reforms he would make now that he had regained political power (he won as a Democratic Socialist in 1972 and 76, was defeated in 1980 and won a third term in 1989, no longer a socialist, but a supporter of IMF policies).
He laughed scornfully. â€œMy budget has no flexibility,â€ he said. â€œThe DEA offers a $29 million grant to burn ganja [marijuana] fields. I have a choice: use the money to open the roads blocked by Hurricane Andrew or raise teachersâ€™ pay and keep the schools open. I canâ€™t do both. No agrarian reform. No health care.â€ He shook his head. â€œPolitical power without money in the budget is an illusion.â€
He invited me to accompany a joint Jamaican Defense Force-DEA who planned to raid a ganja plantation on the islandâ€™s western side. The helicopters landed, the troops and DEA agents jumped out and, as if in real combat, unleashed their flame throwers on the ample crop. Within twenty minutes the soldiers and agents began to giggle uncontrollably as they inhaled the fumes of their labor.
Watching the event, the extended family whose livelihood had just gone up in smoke, did not share the celebration. The Member of Parliament who had also accompanied the strike force lectured them: â€œThis is what happens when you grow illegal crops.â€
â€œWhat else can we grow?â€ asked the grandfather of the clan. â€œWith the roads destroyed we cannot get crops to market. With ganja, the airplane comes,â€ he pointed to the landing strip in the middle of the burning field, â€œtakes the crop and gives us cash. Now what?â€
The MP lost his pot-induced ebullience.
â€œWell, maybe you could start up a small factory or something,â€ he responded weakly.
â€œDis imperialism, mon,â€ a dread locked young man opined.
â€œHuh?â€ I said.
Place the current rioting in
The media should have smelled the proverbial â€œdestabilizing ratâ€ when reporting that on
On January 12, the anti-Aristide gang organized a protest march in the capital
US dailies did not mention this information. Instead, the media focused on Aristideâ€™s inability to answer â€œsecurity concerns,â€ while anti-Aristide officials in the Bush Administration like Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, Presidential envoy to the
The chaos that reins in
Aristide may have overestimated his own support, relied on a weak police force and underestimated the treachery of his foes. But Aristideâ€™s mistakes or even character flaws do not invalidate his legitimacy as an elected president of
Reasonable political sense, I told my student, dictates that we should support Aristideâ€™s offer to compromise with the political opposition and put down the ruffians who want full dictatorial power, reminiscent of their illegal rule 1991-4.
Landauâ€™s newest film,
Saul Landau is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences California State Polytechnic University, Pomona 3801 W. Temple Avenue Pomona,