Volume 21, Number 6
Mississippi’s SB 2988
Bruce k. Gagnon
A War on Communities
Z magazine Readers
Sean Bell Verdict
Damming the Flood
Triumph of Lunacy
Dr. Wall Street
Colombia Trade Deal
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Damming the Flood
Review: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment
By Peter Hallward; Verso, 2008, 488 pp.
Of all the illegal and dishonest misadventures that the Bush administration got away with, the least criticized of all might be the 2004 overthrow of Haiti's democratically- elected government.
Peter Hallward's new book is a welcome corrective to the false impressions and historical amnesia about Haiti afflicting most of the English-speaking world. Jonathan Kozol called it, "A brilliant politically sophisticated and morally infuriating work on a shameful piece of very recent history that the U.S. press has either distorted or ignored. The most important and devastating book I've read on American betrayal of democracy in one of the most tormented nations in the world."
Hallward, a UK-based philosophy professor, was teaching a course in 2003, which involved daily reading of Le Monde and other newspapers when he noted a systematic demon- ization of President Aristide and his Laval as movement. He subsequently wrote one of the best articles about the 2004 coup ("Option Zero in Haiti," New Left Review 27, May- June 2004) shortly after it happened. Ever since, he seems to have been collecting information for a bill of indictment against the U.S., France, and Canada, the coup's principle backers. In the process he has also put together a damning critique of liberals and self-described radicals who either through intellectual laziness or lack of cross-class solidarity accepted Bush-approved PR on Haiti.
In his research, Hallward used mostly public sources. He appears to have read everything written about Haiti in the past ten years, as well as much earlier work. Interviews with principles—ranging from Aristide to several key coup players, and both pro- and anti-Aristide figures—buttress his scholarship. Hallward puts the country's recent violence in the context of 200 years of "great power" hostility toward Haitian sovereignty, beginning with the 1804 revolution, the only successful slave revolt in world history.
Hallward excels at showing the means by which Haiti's ultra-rich minority worked hand in glove with right-wingers in Washington and Paris to create a case for "regime change." After the first U.S.-backed coup against Aristide in 1991, when public opinion in the U.S. was still largely sympathetic to Lavalas, Hallward notes, "Jesse Helms spoke for much of the US political establishment when on 20 October 1993 he denounced Aristide as a ‘psychopath and grave human rights abuser.'" But "neither Helms nor anyone else could pin a single political killing on the 1991 [Aristide] administration. In the run up to the second coup, incomparably more insistent versions of the same charge would resurface at every turn."
As Hallward painstakingly shows, left of center and liberal NGOs were all too willing to accept Washington's destabilization program for Haiti. The smears and propaganda were well-funded and carried out in concert with "Democracy Enhancement" and similar programs of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other U.S. government agencies. The project recalled what the U.S. did to Nicaragua in the 1980s, as documented by political scientist William Robinson in his excellent study A Faustian Bargain.
Hallward notes that when it comes to "the supervision of human rights in the most heavily exploited parts of the planet...most of the ‘neutral,' affluent and well-connected supervisors live at an immeasurable distance from the world endured by those they supervise, and at a still greater distance from the sort of militant, unabashedly political mobilization that can alone offer any meaningful protection for truly universal rights." This helps explain the ease with which Human Rights Watch took anti-Aristide propaganda at face value, then dragged their feet (as did Amnesty International) when Aristide's government was ousted and the rightist bloodbath began in earnest.
Hallward carefully wades through the accusations of human rights violations leveled at Aristide's government. After an exhaustive examination, he can find no evidence that holds up. In many cases, he finds that the supposed abuses themselves were greatly exaggerated, if not entirely fabricated.
Damming the Flood is brilliantly written and extremely thorough in examining the players behind the 2004 assault on Haitian popular democracy and its horrific aftermath.
In the wake of the thousands killed and countless more tortured and raped, it is inevitable that many readers not versed in Haiti's past would ask, "Why?" Hallward does a fine job of answering that question, addressing fundamental structural injustices enforced by U.S. foreign policy.
Aristide emerged as a priest in the tradition of liberation theology, which promotes a "preferential option for the poor." In Hallward's words: "All through the 1980s and early 90s [U.S. army intelligence officers] recognized that ‘the most serious threat to U.S. interests was not secular Marxist-Leninism or organized labor but liberation theology.' Nowhere did the counter-insurgency measures that the US and its allies devised in order to deal with liberation theology in the 1980s and early 90s fall more heavily than they did on the Haiti of Lavalas and the ti legliz (‘little church' movement). It's no coincidence that the most notorious assassin hired to terrorize Lavalas from 1990 to 1994, Emmanuel ‘Toto' Constant, first began working for the CIA on a course designed to explain and contain the ‘extreme left-wing' implications of ‘The Theology of Liberation,‘ which Constant understood as an attempt ‘to convince the people that in the name of God everything is possible' and that, therefore, it was right for the people to kill soldiers and the rich.'"
Hallward continues, "Haiti is the only country in Latin America that had the temerity to choose a liberation theologian as its president— twice. If Aristide still remains the defining political figure in Haiti to this day it's not because he represents a utopian alternative to the economic status quo, or because he embodies a demagogic charisma that threatens to stifle the development of democracy, or because his followers believe that he made no strategic mistakes. It's because in the eyes of most people he is not a politician, precisely, but an organizer and an activist who remains dedicated to working within what he famously affirmed as ‘the parish of the poor.' It was as such an activist that Aristide disbanded the army in 1995, and it was as such an organizer that he dedicated the rest of his political life to helping the popular mobilization deal with the new threats and the old antagonisms that soon emerged as a result."
The priest turned president threatened to help Haiti's poor enough to earn the eternal enmity of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and both Republicans and Democrats. His government was denied much-needed international funds (which in a more sane world would be reparations for past injustices, not loans or aid with strings attached), and his poor followers demonized as chimeres, or "devils." Instead of looking at the structural roots of the exploitation and ecological devastation to which the country has been subjected, foreign journalists took their sound bites from English or French speaking elites at odds with Lavalas's commendable, and only moderately leftist, goal to raise the poor "from misery to poverty with dignity."
The scant media coverage of Haiti that exists tends to continue centuries-old patterns of ignoring the perspectives of the poor majority. In Hallward's words, what most English speakers get instead is repetition of "perhaps the most consistent theme of the profoundly racist first-world commentary on the island: that poor non-white people remain incapable of governing themselves."
Though the UN "peacekeeping" mission, put in place in 2004 to legitimize the most recent coup, remains in Haiti, Hallward points to ongoing resistance from the poorest neighborhoods as evidence that the story is not over. While coup forces continue to dominate most ministries of the current government, the 2006 presidential election resulting in Haiti's rulers conceding victory to Aristide's former prime minister, Rene Preval, shows the unavoidability of some concessions to pressure from the poor majority.
For those who feel a debt to the people of Haiti for inspiring resistance to U.S. slavery and for setting an example of the true potential of declarations of liberty espoused by the French Revolution, this book is an essential resource. Damming the Flood will inspire international activists to support the struggles of those Haitians who continue to stand up for their fundamental human rights. It should be widely read.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
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HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.