February 9, 2004.
As I write this there is an attempt to start a civil war in Haiti, engineered in the United States of America and supported by its lapdogs in Caricom and the Organization of American States. Former Haitian military men who have received “some form” of training and logistical support while hiding out in the neighboring US semi-colony, the Dominican Republic, are systematically attacking the Haitian National Police at primary strategic points along the entire route from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Border near Ouanaminthe. Only Cap Haitien has not fallen so far as St Marc, Gonaives, and Trou du Nord a town at a key bridge between the border and Cap Haitien has been ransacked by right-wing paramilitaries, who are the armed wing of a US-funded “opposition” that cloaks itself in the name Convergence Democratique, and now falsely claims no connection with this activity.
The main road between Port-au-Prince to St. Marc to Gonaives to Cap Haitien to Trou du Nord to Ouanaminthe is often the only passable route cross country, and these seizures have effectively cut off the western coastal towns from the capital and isolated Cap Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti. At last word, these former Haitian military units–some of the same ones who worked for the notorious Duvaliers and for the savage Cedras-Francois junta–have abandoned St. Marc.
The ridiculous names like Gonaives Resistance Front that these right-wing paramilitaries have assigned themselves are already being echoed in the capitalist press, which also refers to them, idiotically, as “rebels,” and to their activities as the activities of “crowds.” A contact I spoke with hours ago who returned from Port-au-Prince today told me that the real crowds are those who are fleeing these fascist coup operations in the North and the massive PRO-Aristide demonstrations in the capital. This contact said the situation here is very similar in many respects to the US-supported attempt to overthrow another democratically elected government, that of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
The paramilitaries have opened ships and stores for looting, capitalizing on the desperate poverty and hunger of Haitians to direct the energy of masses into looting, in order to neutralize them politically. But it has only worked locally. My contact said that contrary to what’s going on here, the Haitian masses are “crystal clear” that this is a US-supported coup attempt.
If the legitimately elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide fails to take aggressive action to recapture these cities, there may be a successful coup within weeks. While the tactical target of this paramilitary action is the Aristide government, the political target is–as it always has been–the popular sovereignty of the Haitian masses. It is a tragic irony that this situation has developed this far on the bicentennial of the heroic Haitian Revolution, and that it is being led by an imperial power that wants to annihilate popular sovereignty wherever it raises its head.
To help the reader understand what is going on there, I am inserting my journal from the last Aristide inauguration, and I will make some comments afterward:
FEAR AND LOATHING IN HAITI
A journal of Aristide’s inauguration
January 16-February 9, 2001
By STAN GOFF
In Port-au-Prince I spend three days, January 16-18, at Hotel Ife. If I believed in zombies–that favored American obsession about Haiti–I will have
found them here in the doddering, light-skinned matriarch and her stunned-looking, slow-motion staff. Like every place in the Caribbean, but especially here, there seems to be a perpetual stalemate in the battle with decay. Water damage stains the ceilings. The wiring is precariously exposed.
A little spider has found a haven in the corner of the windowsill, where no dust-rag, no broom ever quite reaches. Electricity is rationed, available only from 5:30 PM to 4:00 AM. Street noises invade throughout the night. Motorcycles, evangelists with loudspeakers, little brass bands, roosters even here in the comparative affluence of Petionville. My walls are painted a nauseating green.
The street is my refuge. The inept pretensions of Haiti’s third-string bourgeoisie, here in the streets at least, are diffused, swallowed up by the frenetic culture of survival that animates these byways, the chaos of the pure market, of truly primitive accumulation. Here is a cornucopia of commodities, fruits, breads, soaps, cigarettes, plastic shoes, cheap watches, steaming food, sold right on the sidewalk out of bowls and baskets. Here are trash, skiddish animals foraging in filth, and a wild-west intermixing of foot and vehicle traffic. Pure utility without the sophisticated facade we associate with the chimera of “development.”
No set prices anywhere. Every exchange alternates between belligerence, laughter, feigned pain at an insult–an appearance of extreme interpersonal tension to the blan (white or foreign), but this is a game that animates the entire culture, this ribbing and debating, these loud voices with the plosive cadences. A rough culture with a lot of ritual combat.
The streets of Petionville, the most affluent section of the capital, are named after heroes of the Revolution for Independence. But the names are selective; Chavannes, Petion, Rigaud, Oge. Mulattos all. The only exception is L’Overture, the ex-slave general who led the first stage of the Revolution, when slavery was abolished. Toussaint L’Overture was black. But like Aristide today, he was a conciliator. He never desired nor demanded independence. So the color-obsessed capital elite rehabilitated him into the good black.
The mulattos of the Revolution never wanted to throw off the French, the blan. They wanted to replace them and grow rich on the sweat of the former slaves.
Indeed, many themselves owned slaves before the Revolution. To this day they contemptuously call the black peasant the gwo zoteey, the big toes.
Conspicuous among the names unlisted among the Petionville streets is Dessalines. After the French duped L’Overture and sent him to die in a putrid cell, Dessalines led the bloody march to independence.
Class memory is long in Haiti, and Dessalines was feared by the privileged mulattos. He had the personal power to mobilize the masses. In one engagement, at Crete Pierrot in 1802, he rallied 900 ex-slave soldiers and civilians to reject surrender and break out of an encirclement of 16,000 French soldiers, a feat of arms astounding by any measure in any war in history.
After Napolean’s legions were vanquished, the mulattos claimed the land based on the property deeds of their white fathers. Dessalines asked them what the former slaves who led the Revolution would get. The mulattos were champing at the bit to begin a vigorous and lucrative trade with France and the rest of Europe.
Dessalines, who had seen French perfidy and brutality reassert itself at every opportunity, shed his shirt to show them the mass of lash scars covering his coal-black back, and told them with no equivocation, he was done with the whites.
The mulattos foresaw their anticipated fortunes dwindle to naught.
The United States, only just independent itself, fattening on the plunder of indigenous land and the labor of slaves, was alarmed as well. These rebel slaves to the south had just smashed the myth of white supremacy by outwitting and out-generaling three European nations, awakening the American slave-holder’s latent terror of black insurrection.
While Dessalines massacred the French in Cap Haitien, winning infamy among white historians, the mulattos plotted. They assassinated Dessalines in 1806 and forbade his name to be spoken for 40 years. Their subsequent repression of the mass of former rebels was ferocious. This ferocity was motivated by the one true constant of almost 200 years of Haitian ruling class history–dread of the masses. Dessalines had to go because he could mobilize the masses.
It would be a mistake, however, to generalize from Dessalines’ confrontation with the mulattos to a description of Haiti’s current social antagonisms as a color problem. The black grandons of the north are as avaricious and cynical as the whitest compradeur, and just as terrified of popular rebellion. The color line has blurred, but the class lines are still razor sharp.
Haiti’s struggle is a class struggle, pure if not simple. Color is just part of the context, the psychology. Look at the Bush cabinet, if you think reactionaries are afraid of melanin.
In my walks down these streets named after Dessalines’ nemeses, I find an internet cafe of all things. Here is a place I can check email, surf a bit on the web, stay connected with my family who I have deserted yet again.
January 19, 2001. A fellow Haiti-phile has forwarded me an article by email about the confirmation hearings of Colin Powell. The hearings are, of course, a love-fest. Powell wears white denial as his personal armor–the almost-Black Knight. No one dares speak the forbidden–My Lai, Panama, Iraq. No one can acknowledge–on pain of political suicide–that this man is a brilliant hack, a well-groomed ticket puncher who will order the annihilation of thousands of innocents, but whose real talent is hiding the bodies. The obsequious, lily-white Senators ask him about Haiti, this almost-a-negro and a West Indian to boot, and he doesn’t hesitate. He puts Haiti firmly in its place.
The reactionary wing of the Republican Party will settle for nothing less than Aristide’s political neutralization. Aristide needs to look at the history of the war on Iraq, at the Rambouillet Agreement. The demands will escalate until they are simply impossible to meet. They will ask for the keys, for the surrender of sovereignty.
The Administration of George W. Bush, Powell explains, will tentatively accept the grotesque capitulation of a wavering Aristide to reschedule the legitimate elections of several of his own party members in response to a US/OAS campaign of demagogy to discredit those elections. It is a breathtaking betrayal by
Aristide. Powell calls this acquiescent, nay, submissive posture “an appropriate road map to get started,” but adds that the Administration can not rule out additional demands. No careful Clintonesque camouflage from this administration. The colonial relation will be naked and unashamed. U.S. policy, the Secretary of State-designee explains, always has been and always will be to keep Haitians from coming to the United States, and on their knees at home.
My companion for this trip and a friend for the last four years, Harry Numa, Secretary of the Pati Popile Nasyonal (PPN), the National Popular Party, is very focused on the upcoming Haitian presidential inauguration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I have copied the post about Colin Powell and shared it with him and other members.
“Is Colin Powell an Uncle Tom,” one asks me. He and his comrades have just exploded in a babble of outrage at the imperial arrogance of Powell’s remarks.
“Is he a token?”
“Uncle Tom was a phrase of contempt that Malcolm X used to differentiate the house slave from the field slave,” I say. “Powell has transcended that. He is no longer just the house slave. He is now one of the masters. He is a brilliant bureaucrat. Hardly a token.
“Many people regard an Uncle Tom to be someone who is witless, a fool who sells out his own people. Clarence Thomas is an Uncle Tom who is not terribly intelligent. Powell is no fool. He is ruthless and very, very smart. Powell is more than an Uncle Tom. Powell is evil.”
Heads nod. This is a distinction easily grasped in Haiti, where foolishness and villainy have shared a lot of spotlights.
“Aristide is making a terrible mistake,” one explains. “He has this tremendous power, and he refuses to use it, even when people threaten him with violence.”
They believe Aristide is straying. Fanmi Lavalas, the party of this ex-priest, is organized more like the church than a political formation. He remains, however, in many ways, a political naif. He’s never understood the dominant class’ terror of the people–now his own inescapable sin.
They are referring to Aristide’s tolerance and capitulation before the sometimes-violent provocation of something now referred to as “the opposition.” So I need to understand clearly why the PPN, this growing, highly conscious left political formation, organizing relentlessly among the gwo zoteey, is defending Aristide. And they are. Critically, but doggedly.
As an American, steeped in the narrow rhetorical strategies of a politics of personality–Gore, Bush, Buchanan, Nader–I am unaccustomed to people looking beyond the talking heads and the so-called platforms to the social forces that underwrite them.
Even as we are inaugurating our own de facto regime–the idiot prince, Dubya, and the court of his father, the imanence grise–the Haitian “opposition” is swearing Aristide will never sit. February 7th is his inauguration, and they have not only denounced it as “illegal and illegitimate,” they have formed their own “parallel” government. Some have claimed that “extra-Constitutional means” will be employed if necessary.
Who is the “opposition,” whose latest handle is Convergence Democratique? It’s always French. The name.
“The dominant class speaks French,” Harry says. “But all Haitians speak Kreyol. When the dominant class doesn’t want the people to know what it’s doing, it speaks in French.”
Convergence is the latest in a line of “opposition” coalitions. During their failed attempt to buy the last election, fueled by American dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy, the dominant formation was called Espace de Concertacion. The name changed, but many of the people are the same. All believe that in the shadows, behind the curtain of these “oppositions,” are macoutes and the U.S. Embassy’s Political Section, aka the CIA.
Convergence is eclectic. Pasteur Luc Mesadieu, a Protestant fundamentalist, Gerard Pierre Charles, ex-communist turned chief bourgeois ideologue, Serge Gilles, long-time representative for French political interests in Haiti, Evans Paul, former mayor of Port-au-Prince whose party the FNCD Aristide cut out of his cabinet in 1991, Victor Benoit, an ex radio personality and perennial political lightweight with no clear positions, but who “shows up” at every new “initiative,” Hubert de Roncerey, Baby Doc’s Minister of Social Affairs who in that capacity acted as slave-trader for the Dominican cane plantations, and fellow Duvalierist, Reynold George, a man widely believed here to have been involved in drug trafficking.
This is to whom the “free” press of the United States refers when they cite the Haitian “opposition.” Convergence plays them like a perch on light tackle. The Haitian press, emulating the master, gives this 15- mini-party coalition’s machinations plenty of air time and directly assists their legitimation.
Every faction of the Haitian dominant class, factions who are generally at war with one another, is represented in Convergence. Their one point of agreement? They are all opposed to Aristide.
There have been no smoking guns, but when they threatened violence, the level of violence escalated. When they threatened bombs, there were bombs. Two alleged coup-plotting cells have already fled this year to avoid arrest, one to the Dominican Republic, the other to Ecuador. In no case has the United States political establishment or the obedient corporate press called for investigations or expressed an iota of outrage.
But on January 9th, a small affiliate of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party, the Ti Komunite Leglis (TKL) had one chapter that made a veiled threat in response to the announcement of Convergence that it would launch its “parallel government,” They produced a list of “collaborators,” some of whose names were patently ridiculous. Fanmi Lavalas is largely, and regrettably, unstructured. Loose cannons appear with some frequency. But it was a threat, not terribly specific, with no action taken. It was a hotheaded and inappropriate reaction to a very real campaign to reverse the popular will. Still, the shit storm followed from up North.
Republican Congressmen Benjamin Gillman (NY) and Peter Goss (FL) made headlines with their joint denouncement. “In speaking at the church of St. Jean Bosco, the men issuing these threats clearly suggested to Haitians that they were speaking for Mr. Jean-Bertrand Aristide… …Instead of keeping his promises to President Clinton [to reschedule elections of previously elected Senators, and other capitulations], Mr. Aristide is condoning by his silence thuggish acts of violence in his name.” Of course, there were no “acts.” But facts have never been obstacles to Republicans. And there was deafening silence from Gillman, Goss, and all the rest, when weeks earlier Evans Paul called for Haitian drivers to run down Fanmi Lavalas in the streets.
Harry Numa: “These attacks on Aristide from Convergence and the reactionaries will continue regardless of what concessions Aristide makes. It is not Aristide they hate, but his connection to the masses that they fear. He was elected with 92 percent of the vote. This is a terrible power as they see it.”
There it is again. The one true constant.
Harry and many others wish Aristide would use his immense power to respond decisively to the attacks, but they fear the worst. Aristide could very well be another Peron. He began as a nationalist and a populist, but under incessant pressure and with more than a little personal ambition, he is being co-opted through his own desire to be a conciliator. He may inevitably shift to the right. Indeed, Aristide is already offering an olive branch to Marc Bazin, former World Bank representative, the U.S. supported candidate against Aristide in 1991, a member of the subsequent coup regime’s cabinet, and the darling of the U.S. neoliberal establishment.
“Who cares how the Bush Administration will react if he mobilizes the population against Convergence?” asks Numa. “Convergence and the U.S. want him out, whether he does or not… because he can. We have a saying in Haiti. If you don’t say ‘Good morning’ to the devil, he will eat you. If you do say
‘Good morning’ to the devil… he will eat you.”
Lavalas itself is horizontal, lacking structure. The handful of American petit bourgeois radicals who know anything about Haiti at all see this as somehow democratic, opposing hierarchy to democracy, an absurd polarity. Aristide is alone, floating atop this sea of cliques, each with its little head, and each of them competing for the favor of the President. The whole organization is shot through with fractions and opportunism.
PPN’s sharp criticisms of Aristide aside, they defend him not because of some personal quality and not based on his program, but because he was chosen by
Haiti’s majority, unlike Dubya, who seized power through a judicial coup d’etat. “The population selected him, and if he betrays them, the population can reject him. We are not defending just Aristide. We are defending the people’s right to select their own leaders. And we are defending our sovereignty.”
Ben Dupuy, former Ambassador-at-Large for Aristide during the 1991-4 coup period, says, “He will make mistakes. He has made mistakes. But the people have the right to be wrong.”
They were incensed at the demagogic attacks on the Haitian elections by the U.S., and our own tragi-comic electoral conundrum only reinforced the offense.
The PPN people I talk to admit that this fight among politicos–focused for the time being against Aristide–is really a family feud, a tussle among the bourgeoisie_the land-bourgeoisie (macoutes), the trade-bourgeoisie (compradors), the lumpen-bourgeoisie (drug traffickers)–that has been temporarily set aside to close ranks against this man who has captured the imagination of the ominous many. Aristide is conciliating with them on every front, but he can never escape their terminal fear of his rapport with the great potentiality.
And the mighty Northern metropole is involved. It’s to the hegemon these plotters always turn in a pinch. So this is not just an internal matter, not just Haiti inventing itself. With the Bush regime in, the old CIA covert operations branch will be strengthened. The macoute sector that they conspired with to construct the FRAPH, the right-wing terrorists of the Cedras-Francois era, will be strengthened with them. After all, organizing is based on existing relationships.
The options are not pretty for Convergence, but the threats are out there. They have said they will not tolerate this “illegal” government of Aristide. “They feel they can not afford to look like it’s all a bluff,” Harry says. Haiti is a backward society, and machismo matters. Reputations and rumors can have the power of bombs and bullets.
There are a lot of variables. The Police Nacionale d’Haiti (PNH) are not cohesive in their political loyalties. If they took sides at all in a fight, they would be fragmented, and many would side with Aristide. Others, aggressively recruited during the U.S. occupation by the CIA, might move against. But it’s a wild card. So a coup might have to be privatized. A group of re-armed Fraphists perhaps, with the tacit approval of their old CIA handlers. Of course this kind of putsch is a very risky option. Alleged conspirators are already on the international lam. [Now in 2004 it appears we will see exactly what has been agreed upon. -SG]
Assassination of Aristide is also very risky. Aristide’s assassination would ignite a conflagration. The only way this might work is if they could convince the Dominicans to intervene. Post-assassination turbulence creates the fear that this instability will spill across the Dominican border, so the Dominicans have their pretext to invade. We have this discussion in the last week of January, and this particular speculation will prove prescient.
Ah, the dilemmas of power!
Bush’s National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, a fellow oil-person who shares the Bush thirst for Southwest Asian petroleum, and who has promised a
Kissinger-like realpolitik, says this administration will only intervene with direct military force when there is a clear and compelling interest for the U.S. ruling class. She advocates having our allies shoulder more of the load in the periphery–a question of economy of force. Allies like the Dominicans.
This is also consistent with the Powell Doctrine for the U.S. military. Begin with a measurable objective. Apply overwhelming high-tech force and limit American casualties to an absolute minimum. Gain control over the press, and give complacent America its morality play.
No, American invasion is surely no recipe for Haiti. They can bomb the existing infrastructure into an ash heap and it will leave 75 percent of the country yawning. Infrastructure? What’s that? The international press can enter Haiti through its porous borders with near impunity. And the last occupation, beginning in 1994, in which I participated, is an indication of what the next would be… indeterminate, intimidating no one for more than a moment, and a risk that our own soldiers–especially black soldiers–will see more than they ought of our own government’s motives and methods.
Haiti is slippery. It’s hard to get hold of. Sometimes it bites.
“If the Dominicans invade, and Aristide is dead,” says Numa, “then the OAS can be invited in to relieve them. The U.S. can then play a role of post-crisis benevolence as it restructures Haiti to suit itself.” This is mass paranoia if it is paranoia at all. This strategy is one the U.S. has employed again and again. Americans even wrote Haiti’s Constitution once.
These transparent pretexts for intervention are not for Haitian consumption. The average illiterate peasant knows bullshit when she or he sees it, literally and figuratively. Their experience with both is vast. These pretexts are for us, the blan, the Americans. We are the real market for political snake oil, for rationalization, for Manichean simplicity, for denial.
January 27, 2001. Convergence has its conference, one they have projected would draw 20,000 supporters. Three hundred would be much closer to the mark.
They changed the location, because the giant Rex Theater at Champ de Mars feared popular outrage against them. It is a stroke of luck, in a sense. The Rex would have dwarfed them with the low turnout. They end up having it at OPL headquarters.
The government, anxious to avoid all criticism, dispatches a phalanx of PNH to provide security for Convergence. Threats have been called in. Indeed, arrests are made when two men are caught with anti-Convergence leaflets and bag loads of throwing stones. Oddly, it’s Convergence who appeals for their release. Both men are identified as members of a Convergence affiliate.
Had this charade not been unmasked, the State Department and the New York Times would doubtless have been decrying, a la Gillman and Goss, Aristide-inspired acts of violence.
January 31, 2001. The Dominicans have mobilized all available armed forces to the Haitian border, ostensibly to interdict “drug traffic.” Overnight, whatever drugs may or may not cross from Haiti to the Dominican Republic have become ” a threat to Dominican sovereignty.”
The mediated meeting between Aristide and Convergence, to be facilitated by the Papal Nuncio, scheduled for the 31st, didn’t take place. No one is sure
why. Convergence has announced a new deadline to name the “parallel government.” February 6th. The day before Aristide’s nomination. Convergence has been emboldened by Aristide’s display of weakness, his legitimizing of Convergence by offering to “negotiate.”
“If you give the thief your finger,” says Numa. “He will take off your hand.”
The PPN believes that Convergence, cockier now with Dubya coronated, may be planning some kind of destabilization on the 6th. If the inauguration doesn’t take place on schedule, the Constitution requires the government to be dissolved, which triggers new elections. They might try to engineer a Constitutional crisis. If this fails, Aristide might be in great danger.
February 1, 2001. On the news this morning, we hear that a Chilean general has threatened trouble if Pinochet is imprisoned. The successful coup of George W. Bush is rousing reaction from its sleep across the world. There’s a whiff of blood in the air. The fascists are flashing their teeth.
There were a few demonstrations after the Bush judicial coup, but America tossed a bit then fell back to sleep. The vast majority of us watched the theft of our own elections, wrung our hands for a day, and went shopping. Blan will eat anything.
No one says the Haitians can’t also be distracted, bamboozled, manipulated. A fair number of people here still believe in werewolves and witches (instead of
Scientology and CNN, I suppose). But their exploitation at the hands of the dominant classes is brutally direct, unadorned, and unabashed. It doesn’t take a PhD. And the Haitian collective memory about the foreign policy establishments of the United States is crisp and current.
I leave the little hotel I’m in, La Jolla, perched between affluence on the right along the seawalk and the survival grind on the left where shacks along a potted road climb unsteadily over the deforested hill. I’m hungry.
Even my modest hotel wants more than I can afford right now for food. It’s French.
The first restaurant I drop in on, where they ran out of butter yesterday, is closed until five for cleaning. I try the Brise de Mer. Very nice. Very expensive. Up the hill I walk, until I see the sign for Mont Joli Hotel–a hangout for macoutes, partisans of the semi-feudals who dominate the north.
But I just survived a bout with untreated water over the last two days, so I need “safe” food to give my frangible blan gut a little cover.
There is spaghetti bolognaise on the menu for only $20 Haitian, that’s $4 US since the gourd had a dip last week (Every cent of inflation is disastrous news for Haiti.).
I am seated in a paradise, next to the pool, nice breeze, the great bay visible only beginning past the coffee colored ribbon of excreta along the littoral. The architecture is exquisite. The landscaping is lush, diverse, brilliant, perfectly cared for. The breeze animates the palms. Silent waves flash against the distant reef, surrounded by delicious blues below and above the horizon.
The rich do truly understand beauty. That’s undeniable right here, right now. And it comes cheap right here, right now.
Every tile, every arrangement of chairs, every careful touch in the gardens, every attentive gesture in this restaurant is applied by people who will make less money today than I am paying for this plate of spaghetti.
The French have arrived for lunch. Four of them sit at a table near mine, with their briefcases, their open collars, their ledgers, their calculators. They are in very good spirits. It’s a marvelous day, they’re making money, and they have good appetites.
They are pilot fish, I find myself thinking. The Big Blan is still Uncle Sam.
I know. I’ve studied the history, and I’ve done the math. Most here have no need of the data, the dates, the tortured analyses.
Many Haitians are so confident of U.S. official pronouncements that they use them like a compass. When the U.S. Embassy expresses it aims, it’s like a north-seeking arrow–which they use to travel directly to the south. Experience.
The French speaking radio stations give a daily platform to something calling itself Societe Civil, a component of Convergence led by Rosny DeRoche, the president of Baby Doc’s alma mater, College Bird. Societe Civil is composed of a professional elite; bishops, professors, economists and their ilk. They are perceived as a kind of ultimate legitimizing force, having mastered the smooth Orwellian mush of their northern mentors.
Prime Minister Jacques Eduoard Alexis seems the only soul in the public eye who isn’t speaking in riddles and innuendos. He has almost daily denounced this whole Convergence charade. It’s refreshing in a sea of mountebanks to hear this resounding cry of “Bullshit!”
February 5, 2000. Convergence had presented a “proposal” to Aristide’s people. They will accept a three-person “co-presidency” with Aristide and two of their people. They also want the Prime Minister’s position. This is, in Haiti, where most executive power resides, and by the Haitian Constitution, the Prime Minister is appointed by the President from the majority party in Parliament–which is Fanmi Lavalas. It is a demand so absurd on its face that my comrades, who compulsively chase news across the radio dial, hear it and fall out with laughter.
I think of Rambouillet, and wonder when Powell will do the yeoman’s job that Madeline Albright did.
Fanmi Lavalas says they will prepare a counter-proposal. The clock is ticking.
In Petit Goave, a group of young thugs claiming the grandiose title of Jeunes Revolucionaires–yet another affiliate of Convergence–attempt a dechoukage
against the Lavalas mayor. An uprooting. The attack is met by a massive demonstration and withdraws. Convergence grows desperate. Representatives of
the international community are declaring they will attend Aristide’s inauguration. No one from the de facto regime of the United States will attend.
February 6. Gerard Gourges, former Justice Minister under the regime of macoute General Henri Namphy, circa 1986, is declared the Provisional President of Haiti by Convergence. Popular outrage erupts in response to the attack in Petit Goave, in Gonaives, historically a hotbed of popular militancy. Pasteur Silvio Diendonne of Movement Chretien por une Nouvelle Haiti (MOCHRENAH), a local spokesperson for Convergence, is met by a large street demonstration led by Organizasyon Popile d’ Gonaives, a Lavalas affiliate.
The streets across Haiti fill. Paper flags and paint, blue and red, the colors of the Haitian flag, since Dessalines’ independence fighters ripped the white out of the French tricolor, begins to decorate every tree and stone. Aristide’s power makes itself felt.
February 7, 2001. 7 AM. Inauguration day. I am underslept. Drunken revelry and music dominated the street last night, and I have been sleeping on the roof. My room stays hot at night and fills with mosquitoes. I have watched the moon fill out over the last seven nights.
We have just heard on the radio that Dominican soldiers are occupying the Hotel El Rancho in Port-au-Prince for three days. How many we don’t know. Anpil. A lot. They are ostensibly there to give President Mejia of the Dominican Republic security, but Mejia has now canceled. He has his army to think about, holding him in check, making him a partial president. And the Dominican Armed Forces work for the United States Department of Defense.
The first word to pop into my fuzzy, sleepless head is reconnaissance. I may be getting paranoid.
Accounts are that the capital was quickened throughout the night with Lavalas parties and demonstrations. The U.S. State Department is warning Americans not to travel to Haiti. They are claiming extreme danger. I’ve seen this pre-conditioning before. The warning is not to protect, but to leave an impression–part of the set-up. Every U.S. Embassy has its Political Section. That’s double-talk for CIA. The combination of macoute and CIA here is known as labwatwa, the laboratory. The whole place reeks of the laboratory’s concoctions today. I can’t help remembering that it waited eight months to poison the last Aristide presidency, but there is an urgency crackling in the air around the centers of reaction here.
Aristide gives his inauguration speech in four languages. It’s a masterful performance. Aristide reiterates his commitment to kowtow to the eight-point plan, and as much as swears fealty to neoliberalism. Joe Kennedy is the sole U.S. representative, so he quotes JFK. “Ask not what your country can do for you…” In an orgy of obsequiousness, he calls for brotherhood with the Dominicans. He promises dialogue with his “opposition.” He promises countless kilometers of roads, new schools, hospitals, bread. He is setting up his own fall with that remarkable religious naivete.
Over a hundred thousand people clamor in the street for him. They are energized by their deathless hope. Convergence decided, wisely, to withdraw its plan for counter-demonstration. Their last demonstration netted fewer than 200 people.
Paul Denis of Convergence resorts to archaic demagogy: “We refuse to see a totalitarian hegemonic regime installed, founded on violence and constructed on anarchy, assassinations, crime, and generalized, daily, constant violence.” This from a man who consorts now with Duvalierists. When the last coup happened, Aristide took refuge in his home, and 8,000 people surrounded his house, putting themselves between him and the military’s guns. The mighty latency of this people has carried him through yet another crisis and checked his enemies. Even as he sets them up for a fall. The people have a right to be wrong.
Convergence withdraws to lick their wounds and confer with blan. The Dominicans check out of the hotel. On the border they begin to stand down.
Here in Cap Haitien, where I now sit, one can see the mountains folded, layer upon receding layer along the northern coast. No people understand the principle of protracted struggle better than Haitians. Deye mon, gen mon. Beyond every mountain, is a mountain. Their rebellion has been punished, from home and abroad, for 197 years. When these resilient masses finally see through the fog of these internecine battles for privilege, position, and power, there will be hell to pay.
Another day: Two peasants lead us now on a foot tour of the region around Marmelade. My age catches up with me, and I beg for the mercy of a halt. If this country were flattened out, it would be the size of Texas, I think. The word Haiti is Arawak for mountain. And some 5 or 6 million wills are daily forged on these breathless slopes.
Aristide, the conciliator, may go the way of Toussaint L’Overture, or perhaps he will find the spirit of Dessalines. Plenty of people here still name their children Dessalines. Dessalines’ own DNA has by now been broadcast throughout his nation. New Year’s Day, 2004, is the Revolutionary Bicentennial, and it’s in people’s heads–the work left undone.
There is a new saying on the street here. Why should we be afraid of one Bush, when we are 8 million bouches? Bring it on. We can take anything.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the revolution will not be televised…”
Back to 2004: All warnings that the finger would give way to the hand are coming to pass. Hopefully the Aristide government will take all action necessary to secure the nation, and if they do they will be vilified by the US press. That’s why we need to get this story out there now, so there is at least some perspective to help the left avoid heading down the wrong path. Aristide needs to wage a ruthless fight to retake each of those towns in turn, to acknowledge that the macouto-bourgeoisie is waging a civil war, and to state that this is war, openly, in order to do what is necessary. If not, then the right-wing paramilitaries will maintain the initiative, they will operate within the logic of war, and they will topple Aristide’s government and clamp down yet again on popular sovereignty, with assistance from the hegemon to the north.
I have no doubt that by-and-by the heroic people of Haiti will fight back if it becomes necessary, but for now their fight is to root out this imperial infection.
The question has been called in Haiti. Sovereignty or subjugation. This is the stark choice, and the time for conciliation is past. Now it is time for Dessalines.
To stay abreast of developments in Haiti without relying on the capitalist press, go to the English section of www.haiti-progres.com.
STAN GOFF is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and of the upcoming book “Full Spectrum Disorder” (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier. Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goff can be reached at: email@example.com