Reply to Justin Podur


[This is in reply to Podur's review of Deibert's book, originally published in NLR. Podur's rejoinder to this reply is here.]

I read with interest Justin Podur´s review of my book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press). Knowing the recent nature of Mr. Podur´s interest in Haiti (he first visited the country in September 2005), I was curious to see if the decade’s worth of experience I have been fortunate enough to have there might provide him with a more nuanced and informed view of this complex, battered land than he has thus far evidenced in his writing on the subject.

Alas, Mr. Podur´s cursory knowledge of Haiti, his inch-deep grasp of the country’s history and political actors, and his apparent fealty to the politicians that brought Haiti to its current state all sabotage what could have been an interesting review looking at the successes and failures of the UN mission and the roles of North American and European governments in Haiti’s sad fate. Confronted with overwhelming documentation of the involvement of the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the violence and corruption that has rested like a stone around the neck against the Haitian state for many years, Mr. Podur does what many of Mr. Aristide´s supporters abroad do when confronted with inconvenient facts: He lies.

Podur writes: “The un-backed Multinational Interim Force headed by the US, France and Canada toppled the constitutionally elected Lavalas government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “

False. Mr. Podur, who appears to have first written about Haiti in April 2004 (having never visited the country, he acknowledged that a group of Haitian-Canadians in Toronto “ were clearly Haitians, people who had a real commitment to the country, people who had opposed Aristide from the left“ while chastising them that “not one of them called for the restoration of Aristide.“) offers zero proof whatsoever that anyone beyond the Cannibal Army street gang (a pro-Aristide group until the murder of their leader, Amiot Metayer, which the gang blamed on Mr. Aristide) who rose up against the Aristide government in February 2004 and the group of former military and police desperados that crossed the border several days later had anything to do with Mr. Aristide´s violent overthrow. It would be beneficial if Mr. Podur would approach trying to understand Haiti from the ground up, that is, from listening to the voices of its citizens, as opposed to dismissing those voices and attempting to take shelter in shop-worn rhetoric learned in the safety of North American universities and activist circles.

Podur writes: “MINUSTAH forces have made no effort to disarm the ex-combatants of the FADH—Forces Armées d’Haïti —the soldiery that terrorized the island under the military dictatorships of the 1980s and early 90s, and waged a Contra-style insurgency against the Aristide government from the neighboring Dominican Republic after 2001.“

False, in several aspects. In December 2004, MINUSTAH evicted former FADH troops who had occupied Mr. Aristide´s former home in Tabarre. In March 2005, MINUSTAH raided the police station in the provincial town of Petit Goave that had been taken over by former FADH forces. The ensuing gun battle killed two Haitian combatants and a Sri Lankan peacekeeper. The same day a Nepalese peacekeeper was killed by former soldiers in Hinche in the Plateau Central. In April 2005, both former rebel leader Rémissainthe Ravix and former policeman and soldier Jean “Grenn Sonnen´´ René Anthony were killed by Haitian police in the capital, Port-au-Prince, working in tandem with MINUSTAH forces. Both men had US$27,000 prices on their heads for some time. Mr. Podur also gets the timing of the beginning of the cross-border incursions wrong, as it is widely agreed upon that a December 2001 attack on Haiti’s National Palace was the first real evidence that something indeed was being planned by Haiti’s former military elements across the border in Santo Domingo.

Podur writes: “FADH elements have been recruited into the PNH, after minimal ‘screening’…“

Inaccurate. The politicization of the Police Nationale d’Haiti (PNH) is a development that began in earnest under Mr. Aristide´s watch, not that of the interim government. When Mr. Aristide returned to power in 2001, in place of skilled men such as Bob Manuel, Pierre Denize and Mario Andresol who had served under the government of Rene Preval, were put the likes of new PNH director Jean-Nesly Lucien, Rudy Therassan (who had been fired from the PNH for abandonment of his post but was reintegrated by Aristide and promoted to head the Brigade de Recherche et Intervention unit of the force) and Hermione Leonard, the police director for the West Department whose links with armed gangs in the capital’s Cité Soleil slum were long-standing. Policemen such as Normil Roboam, who had been dismissed from the PNH for possible involvement in summary executions in October 1996, Carol Lochard, dismissed for human rights abuses the same month, and Patrick Guillaume all were returned to active duty. Jean “ Grenn Sonnen´´ René Anthony was a former commando in Jean-Claude Duvalier´s Leopards battalion and served as one of Mr. Aristide´s chief enforces at the Delmas 33 police precinct during the latter’s second term in office. The common denominator? They were all individuals known to be loyal partisans of Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas party militants, and their fortunes, therefore, were closely linked to that of the government. Could there be any argument then that the disintegration of the PNH as an apolitical law enforcement body ended long before February 2004?

In the summer of 2002, I interviewed a group of militant Lavalas supporters in Cite Soleil including James “Billy“ Petit-Frere, Robinson “Labanye“ Thomas and Maxon “ Kolonel“ Moreau , and they confided in me that certain police commissioners had been entrusted with eliminating troublesome militants, and singled out Camille Marcellus, serving as the commissioner for Delmas at the time, and police at the downtown Cafeteria precinct as the worst offenders. “These are the people who murder us,” they told me.

In the capital’s Martissant slum on September 17, 2002, Felix Bien-Amié, the Lavalas-affiliated gang leader who had scored a patronage job as the director of Port-au-Prince’s main cemetery and who was responsible for a June 2001 massacre in the capital’s Fort Mecredi slum (for which he was never tried), was arrested by PNH officers led by Commissioner Ralph Renand Dominique near his power-base in the district after a traffic dispute and disappeared.

In 2003, I interviewed a PNH officer from the Delams 33 commissariat who told me that: “The situation in the PNH is not normal. The people hired as police have no experience in this type of work, but the National Palace insists that they be hired. The make us work with chimere s and attachés. . . . They work in the same zones as the police and use their guns. There are political arrests, personal vendetta arrests (but) we have groups of officers against what is happening here.”

Podur writes “Aristide had boasted of his loyal upholding of the constitution. “

False. Mr. Aristide violated Haiti’s 1987 constitution during his terms as president in demonstrable ways. Aristide´s demobilization of the Haitian army, in April 1995,an institution which warranted disbanding long before, was nevertheless illegal without a constitutional amendment, as the army was still enshrined in Article 263 of the Haitian constitution. Early into his second term Aristide began and continued to violate Article 7 of Haiti’s constitution: “The cult of personality is categorically forbidden. Effigies and names of living personages may not appear on the currency, stamps, seals, public buildings, streets or works of art.” In fact, Aristide placed billboards bearing his image throughout the capital, and the state television station TNH showed ceaseless homages to the president. By personally and directly blocking the investigation into the murder of Haiti’s foremost journalist, Radio Haiti Inter owner Jean Dominique – confirmed by the Radio Haiti Inter staff in public multiple times – and by demanding via Minister of Justice Calixte Delatour that State Prosecutor Josué Pierre-Louis remove the name of former Port-au-Prince mayor Harold Sevère – a member of Aristide’s personal cabinet who was thought by many to be the key link in the crime –from the final indictment in the case, and by pressuring Justice Henry Kesner Noel, to sign a re-arrest warrant for Prosper Avril in April 2002, Aristide violated Article 60 of Haiti’s constitution, which delegated firmly the independence of the executive and judicial branches of government. Aristide’s September 2003 attempt to revive a presidential decree passed by Jean-Claude Duvalier on October 12, 1977 (“broadcast information must be precise, objective and impartial, and must come from authorized sources which are to be mentioned when broadcasting. Those who are responsible for the broadcasts have to control the programs to ensure that the information—even when it is correct—cannot harm or alarm the population by its form, presentation or timing. The broadcast stations will provide a channel for the broadcasting of official programs, if so required by the public powers .”) was a naked assault on articles 28-1, 28-2 and 245 of Haiti’s constitution, which forbids censorship and protects free speech and journalistic practices. To say nothing of his arming of a generation of desperately poor street children which violated Article 268 of the Haitian constitution  whereby the PNH were to be the only body with the right to distribute and circulate weapons in the country.

Podur writes: “A joint PNH–MINUSTAH assault on a Lavalas demonstration in September 2004 is described as ‘an explosion of violence by Aristide partisans… “

False. The attack on the pro-Lavalas demonstration in the Cite Soleil slum, during which my friend Winston “Tupac“ Jean-Bart was killed and my dear friend James “Billy“ Petit-Frere was wounded is described thus: “As the brothers marched past the Boston section of Cité Soleil, on their way to take part in a massive pro-Aristide demonstration, they were fired upon by Labanye’s gang, now protected from arrest due to his friendship with Andy Apaid, and a contingent of Haitian police.´´ The “explosion of violence by Aristide partisans´´ refers to the gruesome public murders of policemen and civilians by pro-Aristide gangs that followed.

Podur writes: “Time and again, the clinching argument of a passage will be made by ‘a member of the oas team’, ‘a veteran of international observer missions’, or a seemingly ubiquitous ‘ us official’.“

False. Unfortunately for Mr. Podur, the most damning information in the book comes from the intimates of Mr. Aristide themselves.

Lavalas militant Yvon Bonhomme, who had lead the Oganizasyon pou Sove Ayiti (Organization to Save Haiti, or OSA) told Radio Metropole in 2001 that “If the Lavalas government thinks they can arrest me and attack me today, the only thing they can charge me with is the fact that I contributed to the lying and brainwashing of the pep la, as did a lot of other people, in order to drag them into the situation that they are in now…Haitian people, open your eyes…Ideology does not stand anymore. It’s a matter of people who are making money. And that is one of the things that caused me to be persecuted, because I refused to speak in their favor on the radio, hold demonstrations or do other things.´´

Mario Andresol, Mr. Aristide´s former head of Haiti’s judiciary police (and current head of the PNH), wrote in a letter to the OAS in 2002 that “The Police institution, the cornerstone in the building of a legitimate State, is held hostage today by politically influential external groups who intend, through their allies in the government holding key positions, to install a system of corruption.´´ Later that year, Andresol told Radio Signal FM that “under the current government in Haiti, there will be no progress in the Dominique case,“ alluding to the investigation into the murder of Haiti’s most prominent journalist, Jean Dominique . Dominique, by the way, was not a “famous pro-Lavalas journalist,“ as Podur described him in his September 26th, 2005 article “The Elections Game Is On:” Jean Dominique never explicitly supported Mr. Aristide´s Fanmi Lavalas political party, fighting instead for a participatory democracy based on a rigorous socialism that would engage Haiti’s long-excluded peasant majority, a concept Mr. Podur might do well to educate himself about.

Former PNH director Jean-Robert Faveur wrote to Mr. Aristide after resigning his post in 2003 that “Mr. President, the situation is not good at all within the PNH, and poverty is killing the country. I had thought that with my presence at the head of the PNH you would see a beginning of the solution to the crisis, but, unfortunately, you do not care about that. Those people who are making money around you are afraid to tell you that things are bad out there. I am glad that I did not betray the confidence that the people, the policemen, the large majority, the international community and some of your partners placed in me.´´

Pro-government gang leader Robinson “Labanye´´ Thomas, after the murder of his 23 year-old deputy, Rodson “ Kolobri“ Lemaire (whose murder drove Mr. Thomas into the embrace of Haiti´s opposition elements) in 2003, said that “The Lavalas authorities want to trample on the people’s blood in order to celebrate 2004. The way things are now, Aristide is willing even to give away his own children so that he may celebrate 2004. They gave orders for us to break up the gathering of the Group of 184, they got us to do all kinds of things. Now they want us to do even more, and we have refused to do so, so they want to eliminate us.´´

That is just a sampling of what some of Mr. Aristide´s closest allies had to say about him over the years.

Podur writes that the “narrative, broadly chronological from 2000 on, inadvertently lets a cat out of the bag: Convergence Démocratique, the alliance of rich businessmen, Duvalierists, OPL and ex-Lavalas supporters that would henceforth coordinate the campaign for us intervention against Aristide, had denounced the election results even before the count began.“

False. There is nothing inadvertent about the depiction of the opportunism of Haiti’s opposition politicians nor their zero-sum stance against Mr. Aristide. It is common knowledge and, indeed, referred to and proven time and again in the text of the book itself. Perhaps I should emphasize here a point that I might have hoped would be obvious to most adult readers: my criticisms of Aristide do not automatically make me an ally of everyone else who opposes him, while Mr. Podur seems unable to conceive of a Lavalas partisan he wouldn’t like.

Podur writes “a scant half-paragraph addresses National Endowment for Democracy and usaid funding in the most general terms. “

False. Though the purpose of the book is to view Mr. Aristide´s term in office through the eyes of Haiti’s poor, the issue of foreign funding for Haiti’s opposition group is in fact broken down in some detail over several pages. The International Republican Institute (IRI) is mentioned 9 times, as is USAID, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is mentioned 3 times and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the European Commission of the European Union are each mentioned, in some detail, once.

On this issue of funding, Mr. Podur also pointedly ignores Mr. Aristide´s own lavish funding of lobbyists, lawyers and various accomplices both in Haiti and beyond: According to U.S. Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings, between the beginning 2001 and the end of 2003, the Miami law firm of attorney Ira Kurzban — responsible for funding the U.S attorney Brian Concannon and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti as well as the Haitian government’s domestic representation in the United States — received $3,569,026 from the Aristide government of behalf of its efforts ( www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fara/), The same filings, between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2002, show the public relations firm of former Black Congressional Caucus member California Representative Ron Dellums was paid almost $600,000 by the Aristide government for its lobbying efforts, and that the firm of Hazel Ross-Robinson, wife of TransAfrica founder and vehement Aristide defender Randall Robinson, who had served as Dellums’s senior foreign policy adviser before going into the private sector, was paid $367,966 by the Haitian government starting in 1997. Robinson, Dellums and U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters were all official advisors to the tax-exempt Aristide Foundation for Democracy, the body that Aristide had set up to raise and administer funds for projects in Haiti. Though of course any government has a legitimate need and right to promote its views to those who may be able to offer aid, such expenditures seem excessive in a country where massive numbers of street children are only able to obtain drinking water from potholes in city streets.

Mr. Podur also seems unconcerned by Haitian banking records that show hundreds of thousand of dollars in unexplained payments from Aristide’s National Palace to his former security chief, Oriel Jean, now in jail in Miami on drug trafficking charges.

Further, Mr. Podur is strangely uncurious about the nature of funding for the strenuously pro-Aristide Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). Mr. Kurzban – identified as Mr. Aristide’s personal attorney since the latter’s fall from power, in among other places, a March 16, 2004 press release from the office of United States Representative Maxine Waters – is listed as “one of the founders of IJDH,” and “a member of the Board of Directors” in a March 24, 2005 letter sent by the IJDH to Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS. Though the IJDH is ostensibly headquartered in Oregon, where Mr. Concannon resides, the address to where donations are to be sent is P.O. Box 806, Key Biscayne, Florida, 33149, the region where Mr. Kurzban resides. The group’s 2005 annual report lists $53,836 of contributions from undisclosed “individual supporters.´´

In a similar vein, regarding the flow of money in and out of Haiti, I recommend that Mr. Podur read a recent article by the New York-based financial journalist Lucy Komisar, published on the CorpWatch website ( http://www.corpwatch.org/ ) of my fellow Seven Stories Press author Pratap Chatterjee (author of Iraq, Inc.), which lays out recent charges by D. Michael Jewett, former associate regional vice president for the Caribbean for the U.S. telecom company IDT (Newark, NJ). Mr. Jewett’s allegations are that IDT agreed to pay kickbacks to a Turks and Caicos bank account operated by Aristide in return for a favorable phone deal in Haiti. Instead of the FCC-mandated 23 cents a minute for calls originating in America, Jewett charges that Teleco, Haiti’s state telephone company, was willing to accept only 9 cents a minute–with 3 cents being kicked back to Aristide. Similar charges have been leveled with regard to the Aristide government’s business dealings with the American telecom Fusion and Canada’s Skyytel. Mr. Podur has thus far declined to investigate these charges. Mr. Podur´s skepticism about corporate motives becomes wide-eyed credulity when confronted with the dubious financial dealings of Haiti’s former government.

Podur writes: “In a further unwitting revelation of circumstantial evidence of American involvement, Deibert mentions a November 2002 Dominican newspaper report of the U.S. ‘donating twenty thousand M16 assault rifles to the Dominican army in an effort to help the country reinforce its border with Haiti’. Later, he has the paramilitaries arrive in Gonaïves and elsewhere from the Dominican Republic flourishing ‘brand new M16 assault rifles’. These, he quickly adds, were ‘looted from the Gonaïves police station’, though he does not solve the mystery of how the Gonaïves police came to be so well armed. “

False. In several aspects: The passage in question, relating a PNH attempt to re-take Gonaives after the Cannibal Army had seized it in February 2004, reads as follows: “Attempting to fight back, government forces ventured several bold incursions toward the city center, but were beaten back each time, with the Front now having in their possession prime weaponry such as brand new M16s looted from the Gonaives police station.´´ No mention of rebels arriving from the Dominican Republic or anywhere else with “brand new M16s“is made. For confirmation of the type of weaponry the PNH was supplied with, the photo archives of the Associated Press and Reuters, and the film footage of the Haitian-American filmmaking duo Jane Regan and Daniel Morel offer ample proof. Like myself, of course, and unlike Mr. Podur, they were actually in Haiti at the time.

Podur writes: “ News of killings—or ‘rumours’ of them—is constantly being purveyed to [Deibert] by one source or another as he circumambulates Port-au-Prince. Yet tallying up the actual number of deaths he reports between 2001 and 2004—each in itself a tragic and brutalizing event—we reach a grand total of 212. Amnesty International reports suggest a similar figure. These may, of course, be gross underestimates. But a comparison with Uribe’s Colombia is instructive. Here, Amnesty reports around 3,000 politically motivated killings and 600 disappearances for 2003 alone, albeit in a population six times as large: 42 million, compared to Haiti’s 8 million. “

Inaccurate. If Mr. Podur´s position is that Colombia had a ‘human rights emergency’ because .007% [.009%, if you include the disappeared]of its population was killed, and Haiti did not, because only .003 % of its population was killed — in other words, that over 200 politically-related murders for a population the size of New York City´s in the space of three years does not rise to the level of a crisis, I invite him to come with me to Haiti so he can talk with the relatives of the victims and discover otherwise.

Podur writes: “Deibert must thus rely heavily on insinuation to make his case. Predictably, Aristide is likened to the Duvaliers (ten times) and Pol Pot, and a pro-government newspaper to Streicher’s Der Stürmer . Pro-Lavalas youth, and the opposition to the Convergence Démocratique and the paramilitaries, are almost universally referred to as chimeres in these pages—though Deibert never tells us how he distinguishes a chimere from any other teenage boy—and linked whenever possible to a suggestion of nameless vodou horrors.”

False, nearly from start to finish: The Pol Pot comparison in made by the eminent Haitian sociologist Laennec Hurbon; for me, Hurbon’s long experience among the Haitian poor gives him far more credibility when assessing Haiti’s former leader than Mr. Podur´s novice approach.

Most damaging to Mr. Podur´s thesis of Mr. Arsitide´s lack of culpability for the violence that has beset Haiti over the last decade, as well as the most pointed evidence of the duplicitous nature of his review, is his utter omission of the stories of many of the young gunmen whom I got to know in Haiti over the years, who freely admitted and demonstrated their chain-of-command links to both the PNH and Mr. Aristide at the National Palace. Young men like James “Billy´´ Petit-Frere, Winston “Tupac´´ Jean-Bart (both of whom featured prominently on the “Wanted´´ poster targeting Aristide supporters the interim government put out in early 2004),  Robinson “Labanye´´ Thomas, Maxon “Kolonel´´ Moreau and Junior Millard, were all among the Lavalas base that Mr. Podur, not myself, refers to as “chimeres´´ and they demonstrated time and again – at their televised meetings with Mr. Aristide at the National Palace, with their close relations with PNH director for the West Department Hermione Leonard and other government officials and down to the government-issued bullets in the guns they carried – that their patron did indeed reside in the National Palace and did indeed take an active role in organizing and arming them. Some were more brutal than others towards their own community, but Mr. Petit-Frere, in particular, was a promising grassroots leader. Though Mr. Podur again errs by stating that “Pro-Lavalas youth…are almost universally referred to as chimeres,´´ my view towards these militants might be best summed up by the characterization I give them in my Acknowledgements sections “James Petit-Frere, Junior Millard, Winston Jean-Bart and the people of Cite Soleil never asked to be born in the worst place in the world, and had much higher and more noble ideas than the political actors who cynically used them. This book is a tribute to their stolen youth and idealism as much as it is to anything. ´´

Supporters of the Aristide government also have a sustained and important presence in the narrative, including the activists of the Organisation de la Providence Unie pour le Développement Socio-Economique de Pétionville (SOPUDEP), former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Aristide´s Minister of Health Henri-Claude Voltaire, Jeunesse Pouvoir Populaire spokesman Rene Civil and dozens of others.

As to vodou, as any of its practitioners who know me well in Haiti could inform Mr. Podur (and as the book makes clear) I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for this complex and poignant belief system.

Podur writes: “A student rally in November 2002—clearly something of a rampage, with young men in stars-and-stripes bandannas trashing the rector’s house.“

False. Rather than wearing “stars and stripes bandanas“ the students were chiefly adorned with Che Guevara t-shits and Haitian flags and bandanas, though a few did have American-flag bandanas. Why would Mr. Podur overlook this detail, other than to score points with people who haven’t yet read the book?

Podur writes “Describing a clash between a few hundred Convergence Démocratique supporters and a counter-demonstration of ‘thousands of chimere’ outside the U.S. Embassy, in December 2002, Deibert tells us ominously that: ‘Among the mob that day was Annette “So Anne” Auguste’.“

False. The violent conflict Mr. Podur describes was not a clash, it was an attack. As the book describes, a group of protesters were set upon by a far larger group of pro-Aristide toughs, including my friends from the slums, who had been ordered by the National Palace to attack the demonstration that day. As is written in the book: “Fairly quickly, the chimere began picking up the stones they had gathered … until the marchers were finally essentially backed up against a wall. Then the bottles came. Marchers who tried to escape were caught by chimere and beaten with whips, slapped, clubbed with metal bars and forced to scream “Viv Aristide.” Foreign and local journalists who were there that day can attest to this, as can television footage of the attack. Again, Mr. Podur would seem to dissemble for political effect.

Podur writes “The charges culminate with Deibert’s uncritical reiteration of a gang leader’s claim, from his Florida exile, that a baby missing from a Port-au-Prince hospital had been kidnapped by So Anne and murdered in a vodou ritual to strengthen Aristide.“

False. As part of the tableaux of fear and violence that took hold of Haiti as 2003 ebbed to a close, it seemed only accurate to report the two, not one, charges regarding the rumored baby-slaying incident, not as fact, but as what Haitians themselves were saying about one of the government’s most visible supporters.

In July 2003, speaking to Radio Kiskeya from his exile in Florida, Johnny Occilius, a former employee of Cité Soleil Mayor Fritz Joseph (not a gang leader, as Mr. Podur labels him), said that, among other revelations, the disappearance of the newborn baby of one Nanoune Myrthil from the General Hospital on February 29, 2000, had been arranged by So Anne Auguste, who killed the child and then observed its burial by the missing Lavalas OP leader and former Port-au-Prince Cemetery Director Felix Bien-Aimé for the purposes of vodou sorcery to empower her patron Aristide. Speaking to Radio Metropole in August 2003, from exile in France, Jean-Michard Mercier, the former deputy mayor of Port-au-Prince under René Préval, gave a strikingly similar account of the alleged murder of the newborn baby. Extraordinary, no doubt, but that is what they said.

Podur writes: The perpetual postponement of elections is, in fact, the perfect solution to the main political problem he identifies: the need to ‘shift the balance of power away from Port-au-Prince, teeming as it is with would-be politicians and armies of desperately poor young men.´´

Perhaps no passage in his article greater exposes Podur´s ignorance of the demographic and political make-up of Haiti and its people. As I write in my book, Haiti’s hope remains that perhaps it will yet produce a leader who is cognizant of the facts that power and progress are only as sure as the strength of the institutions on which they rest, and that Haiti must find a way to address its peasant majority and shift the balance of power away from Port-au-Prince, teeming as it is with would-be politicians and armies of desperately poor young men easily exploited by the country’s political actors. Haiti must devolve her power from the imperial presidency, which Mr. Aristide raised to such a garish level during his time in office, and address the demands that its peasant groups have been making for decades, in particular the demand for substantial government and international involvement in finding a way to make agricultural cultivation sustainable on the land again and end the tradition of migration to the urban centers of the country, where only miserable poverty and brutal crime await the populace no matter how much they may hope for jobs. In short, Haitians want the participatory, popular democracy that Aristide — by working to disenfranchise tens of thousands of votes in the corrupted 1997 and 2000 elections — denied to Haiti’s poor majority as effectively as all his predecessors did.

In his preface to my book, the noted Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck — fomerly Haiti’s Minster of Culture, director of such films as “Lumumba,” and “Sometimes in April,” and recipient of the Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award from Human Rights Watch — writes the following:

“It became a habit among the tyrant’s “friends,” in particular among his American friends in the pseudo-left sector, to downplay these trends, or to hold his entourage responsible. Is this to say there are crimes condemnable in a western country but acceptable in Haiti? Are journalists’ assassinations, threats, the dismissal of judges who are honest or not “flexible” enough, the forced exile of bothersome adversaries—are these “acceptable”? Do we only deserve a dime store version of democracy? A patronizing conceit that “low-end” democracy is good enough for “poor” Haitians? Justice and democracy as elastic concepts for the sake of ‘realpolitik’?”

With time, Haitians, along with their true friends abroad, whose loyalty and commitment to the country’s poor majority goes beyond slogans to an actual long-term engagement with the people there, will change Haiti, finally realizing the political strength of its long-excluded peasant majority as well as the industry, honesty and fundamental decency of the huge majority of its citizens.

We who love Haiti will never give up the fight to make it a more just and equitable society for its long-suffering people, nor will we surrender a monopoly of dialogue on the subject to mercenaries, opportunists and novices, as there is just too much at stake: indeed, the fate of an entire nation. The Haitian people deserve nothing less.

 
Michael Deibert  

Morro da Coroa

Rio de Janeiro

 

Podur’s rejoinder

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