Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ian M. MacIsaac: Fear and loathing across Haiti: then, too, but especially now

  I have an article on Michele Bachmann to write, but occasionally one’s sense of justice can be so violated that a joke run for president just doesn’t seem important enough to write about at the moment.

  One of these moments came for me this week. Wikileaks released a series of U.S. diplomatic cables concerning the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The lion’s share of the cables concerned the US-backed 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s perhaps first truly honest leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the leftist Haitian political party, Fanmi Lavalas, which Aristide founded almost thirty years ago and led for many years. In particular the cables concerned the recent exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas from the country’s April presidential election this year, an event which brought the weakness of Haitian electoral democracy to the forefront once again in what U.S. ambassadors called "emasculation of the [Haitian] opposition."

  The country faces a triptych of past and ongoing crises. An unfortunate national history of colonization, subjugation, and corruption; an early 2010 earthquake that captured the world’s attention when it left huge swaths of the country devastated; and a sham presidential election in which the United Nations, and particularly the United States, Canada, and France, allowed corrupt establishment Haitian elites to ensure that the only candidates with any chance of winning would be faithful to the interests of the country’s wealthy elite and their economic ties to elites in North America and Europe. Haiti is in bad shape.


  Haiti has experienced a four-hundred year series of unfortunate events, a Shakespearean tragedy of a national history. Beginning with colonization by the Spanish and French due to its perfect climate for growing sugar, soon 90% of Haiti’s population was made up of enslaved Africans. This violent social experiment eventually culminated in a brutal slave revolt in 1798 and an successful war for independence against Napoleon’s France, won in 1804.

  Haiti’s two-hundred year history of independence since then has been wracked by many of the worst trappings of foreign domination. Enslavement was replaced by endemic political corruption. This culminated in the twin dictatorships of physician and farmer turned black nationalist Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who served as self-proclaimed ‘President for Life’ from 1957 until his death in 1971. The regime continued under his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who took over for his father and served as strongman himself until a military coup ousted him in 1986.

  Politically, things have not gotten much better for Haiti in the quarter century since. The same ‘every man for himself’ attitude prevails into the 21st century among both the common people as well the elites and politicians.


  The only real exception to this is Fanmi Lavalas. It is the nation’s largest political party, and the party by far the most popular among the poor dark-skinned urban dwellers who make up the vast majority of Haiti’s population but yet possess but a tiny sliver of its wealth.

  But in a decision made late last year Haiti’s electoral council, dominated by the country’s elite in one of the most economically unequal nations on earth, banned Fanmi Lavalas from putting a candidate forth in the presidential election to take place in April 2011.

  The party of the people was excluded in favor of allowing two right-wing parties to bicker over issues that didn’t really matter in a rigged charade that landed a neo-fascist pop singer known as “Sweet Micky” in the presidential seat. Hardly a leader of the caliber Haiti needs right now.

  His opponent was perhaps even more unsavory: Haitian First Lady Mirlande Manigat, wife of former military dictator Leslie Manigat. The Manigats were supporters of the aforementioned 1957-1986 Duvalier regime which was responsible for the execution of more than 250,000 political dissidents using Hitleresque death squads that roamed the streets of Haiti’s towns at night with lists of names.

  When the sham election results came in, Martelly had won—but barely one in ten Haitians had actually voted for him. Not even one in four citizens—only 23%, to be exact—even bothered to cast a vote. It was the lowest recorded rate of participation in a ‘free and fair’ election in the western hemisphere in a hundred years. And even a country as bad-off as Haiti has always historically done better than one in four.


  It is hard to imagine a more disappointing result--especially in the context of a nation facing its first presidential election since perhaps the most catastrophic earthquake in the entire last century in terms of relative structural and geological damage to the affected area, which struck not far outside of the country’s capital and largest city Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010.

  The country’s presidential palace, parliament, and most of the embassies and the historic district in Port-au-Prince were completely demolished, including the Catholic country’s largest cathedral, built over a century ago. In addition, it is estimated that almost one in ten Haitians and practically one of every three residents of Port-au-Prince—a city of almost two million people in a country of almost ten million—was made homeless or otherwise financially destitute by the quake.

  Facing these kinds of conditions, Haitians deserved as many political opportunities for reform and reconstruction as possible. But instead, the very few Haitians who are benefiting from the status quo have aligned themselves with insidious economic neo-imperialism in working to undermine the ability of the country’s oppressed blacks to liberate themselves from economic dependence on those elites and their friends in the 21st century’s neo-empires.


  In the end, though, the sad truth of Haiti is that, despite the constant intrusions by North American and European nations, Haiti needs no help digging its hole deeper. It is undeniably true that no outside nation or organization forced the Haitian government to exclude Lavalas—the decision was reached by Haiti’s independent electoral council.

  This does not absolve the West of responsibility for the failure of democracy in Haiti this year. Although Haitians themselves (albeit elite, rich Haitians) alone excluded the party that would have otherwise won the election, nations like the United States and France could have intervened and said ‘no way.’

  Just as these world powers have meddled in Haiti’s affairs so many times before, this time they could have done the same thing—but this time for the right reason—by refusing on behalf of the international community to accept the subjugation of democracy to the status quo once again in Haiti.

  Instead, the United Nations’ recognition of the council’s exclusion of the country’s largest political party as legitimate—along with the vocal support given to the election by the governments of the United States, Canada, and France—made the diversion of democracy inevitable.

  The simple fact is that elite greed, in Haiti as well as in the United States and in France and in Canada and in many places, worked to ensure that the people of Haiti felt they did not have a voice that spoke to or for them in their election. The US, nor France, nor Canada, nor the UN, forced a sham election upon Haiti, but if any one of them had voiced strong opposition to such an injustice, the decision would likely have been overturned by the electoral council.

  But it was not. And the people of Haiti did not vote. Only the richest 1%--almost uniformly the lightest-skinned 1% of Haitians as well, not including the black nationalist allies of the Duvaliers who continue to live comfortably in many cases inside and outside of Haiti, including Baby Doc himself—passed 50% voter participation.


  Haiti deserves better. Its historical cycle of corruption and inequality continues to roll on unabated. More than a year after the most devastating earthquake many in the world can remember, little has been rebuilt: even the completely wrecked presidential palace’s demolition continues to be put off and rescheduled.

  And big, rich, colossally powerful nations and empires with interests opposed to those of the people of small, formerly colonized countries of darker-skinned people like Haiti—although these sorts of modest nations are located all over the world—are making sure that no one who plans to do anything against their interests will ever see his way into a powerful political position in the country.

  In the 20th century, the U.S. tolerated the brutal, unelected Duvaliers because they promised firm anti-communism. In the 21st, the U.S. overthrew the peaceful and legitimately elected Aristide when he began to veer too away from the richest parts of the western world and too closely to his own people. And so although we should not expect anything different from the U.S., France, etc. in the future, at the very least we can make sure they can’t get away with it without us all screaming to high hell about it.

  About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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