"The power is real and it is what animates the way forward"

complete references/quotations from the book that were used in the article
The following is a list of quotations from Damming the Flood by Peter Hallward. They are here to show the full context of the quotations used in the pamphlet. There may be typing errors and spelling mistakes.


Although Haiti is routinely described as "the poorest country in the western hemisphere," most such descriptions neglect to point out that this poverty is the product of a long and deliberate history. As Aristide never tired of explaining, Haiti's exceptional poverty is the result of an exceptional history, one that extracted an equally exceptional wealth. "Haiti is poor because of the rich," he pointed out in 1988, and it's a point that he had to keep on making. In a typical speech during his last year in office he reminded his listeners that "poverty today is the result of a 200-year plot [. . .]. In 1803 and in 2003, this is the same plot. Do you understand my message?"(1)

Life in Haiti

The message isn't complicated. Throughout both its colonial and post-colonial history, all significant social and economic power in Haiti has been concentrated in its tiny ruling class. No other country in the western hemisphere is structured along such dramatically polarized lines. Haiti isn't only the poorest country in the Latin American region, its distribution of wealth is also the most unequal in a region that is itself the most unequal in the world.(2) Just 1 percent of Haiti's population controls more than half of its wealth, while the great majority of the people endure harrowing levels of poverty. The most recent study concludes that "three quarters of the population live on less than $2 per day and over half (56 percent) - four and a half million people - live on less than $1 per day."(3) Around 75 percent of the arable land is held by just 5 percent of its inhabitants.(4) A tiny transnational clique of wealthy and well-connected families continues to dominate the economy the media, the universities and professions, along with what remains of the state. They alone dispose of the country's disposable income. They speak French and often English, in a country where the vast majority speak only Kreyol. They have university degrees in a country where most children have little chance of getting to a secondary school. They travel and often live abroad, in a country where most can move only as far as they can walk. They are mindful and protective of their human rights, in a country where most people have virtually no rights at all. They tend to live in well-guarded villas in heights above Haiti's crowded slums, in exclusive neighbourhoods like upper Petionville or Morne Calvaire. They have more in common with their corporate, diplomatic or intellectual colleagues in France and North America than they do with their compatriots in the countryside or the slums.

Today, the official minimum wage in Haiti (in the few places where any sort of minimum is enforced at all) amounts to no more than $1.80 a day. People lucky enough to have regular jobs in the factories, schools or hospitals of Haiti's cities now survive on the brink of destitution. One of the longer-serving employees of the state hospital in the capital's Cite Soleil, for instance, is a laundrywoman called Marie Joseph. Her situation is typical. She has worked full-time in the hospital for 25 years, and still livers with her eight children in a flimsy two-room tin shack with mud floors and no furniture, no electricity and no running water.(23) The great majority of her neighbours have no wages at all. Without the remittances that Haitian emigrants send back to their families (currently worth a full third of Haiti's GDP), the only option open to most people living in place like Cite Soleil would be starvation or crime. As of 2006, says the IMF, 55 percent of Haitian households survive on daily income equal to 44 American cents.(24)
As for Haiti's government, around 70 percent of its operating budget (and fully 90 percent of its capital projects budget) comes from foreign aid and loans.(25) Aristide was simply stating the obvious when he recognized that "If the international community is not for us, one thing is sure: we will fail."(26) As Aristide would discover in 2001 when he became president for the second time, the withholding of foreign revenues can have a catastrophic effect. The conditional disbursement of these grants gives Haiti's international donors enormous if not irresistible leverage - even the governments of wealthy nations, needless to say, cannot easily accommodate the loss of around half of their available income. Left to its own devices, the Haitian government can hardly begin t meet the basic needs of its people. As of 1999 per capita annual health spending was only $21, compared with $38 in sub-Saharan frica.(27) Only around 35 percent of students are able to complete primary school, and just 4 percent graduate from secondary school. More than on in twenty people are HIV-positive, and perhaps one in five children die before their sixth birthday; the rate of child mortality is four times higher than it is in the Latin American and Caribbean region as a whole.(28) More than a third of the population has no regular access to safe drinking water, and a similar proportion of children suffer from what the UN World Food Program describes as "chronic malnutrition."(29) Most of Haiti's people live in conditions that are hardly more comfortable than the slavery they escaped two centuries ago, gleaning subsistence crops from tiny plots of land on hillsides long devestated by deforestation, soil erosion and over-use.

Eighteen months after Aristide's return, an analyst at the US Army War College was impressed by both the "lack of large-scale revenge-motivated violence" and the "extraordinary flowering of political participation." Around the same time the New York Times recorded that ordinary Haitians "say they are living without fear for the first time in decades. 'We walk feely,' said Amson Jean-Pierre, 35, an unemplyed father of five children who joined a pro-Aristide rally today in front of the National Palace. 'We sleep quietly. There are no men who come for us in the night'" (70)

Although reluctant to accept any increase in the minimum wage and insistent that the government maintain a three-year public sector wage freeze, the IMF observed with satisfaction that even the new 36 gourde rate agreed in May 1995 "falls short of the real and US dollar equivalent minimum wage of ten years ago, and should not affect the good prospects for the export sector." (105) (In any case, noted the campaign for Labor Rights in 1998, "more than half of the approximately 50 assembly plants producing in Haiti for the US market pay less than the legal minimum wage".) (106)

As of 2006, Apaid's main factory exploys several thousand workers on the edge of Cite Soleil, mostly women who sew T-shirts and jeans for companies like Gildan Active-wear, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom; they also make military uniforms for the US. According to journalists who interviewed several dozen Apaid emplyees, the women generall work 11-hour shifts, making anything between $1.50 to £3 a day; needless to say they can be fired without notice, have no meaningful trade union representation and are not eligible for any overtime-, maternity-, sick-, or vacation-pay. (44)

Education provides the main means of escaping the socio-economic penitentiary in which most Haitian people live. Between them, Preval and Aristide built some 195 new primary schools, together with 104 new secondary schools (building on an initial total of just 34). Haiti's public school operate free of charge but remain few and far between, and fees for books and uniforms still serve as an effective barrier to wider participation; as a stopgap, Lavalas also provided thousands of scholarships to allow children to attend private or church-run schools, and between 2001 and 2004, primary school enrolment rates rose slightly, 68 percent to 72 percent. Hundreds of thousands of children benefited from a school-lunch program. Hundreds of thousands of adults, meanwhile, benefited from a major literacy campaign, launched in May 2001. Millions of literacy booklets were printed and many hundreds of literacy centers were established. Most classes were taught, after-hours, on local school premises. A total of perhaps 300,000 people attended such classes, many of them travelling to and from class in specially designated buses. Although estimates vary, between 1990 and 2003 illiteracy probably fell from something like 65 percent to something closer to 45 percent. Aristide himself took particular pride in the establishment of a new university in Tabarre, one of the largest in the country. Designed and staffed with Cuban assistance, Tabarre's medical school was a major new investment in equitable healthcare: unlike the state university, Tabarre offered students scholarships and room and board in exchange for a commitment to work for several years in remote parts of the country. (The university was shit down after the coup, and the complex was appropriated as a base for US troops; as of 2007 it remains closed and partly occupied by MINUSTAH soldiers, forcing the staff to relocate te medical training to Cuba itself.)
When Aristide came to power in 1990, health care in urban areas remained extremely limited, and in many rural areas - i.e. in most of the country - it was more or less non-existent. Aristide's second administration built or renovated a number of health clinics and hospitals, including, in Port-au-Prince, the substantial Hopital de Delmas 33 and major clinics based in Bel-Air and at Lafanmi Selavi. (After February 2004, the Lafanmi complex was gutted, and material from Delmas 33 was stolen and distributed to private health clinics.) Cooperative ventures with Zanmi Lasante (a remarkable international healthcare programmefounded in the early 1980s by the American doctor Paul Farmer) led to major improvements of government facilities in several parts of the country. Parallel cooperation with Cuba enabled that country to send some 800 doctors and nurses to Haiti, a country with less than 1000 doctos of its own. Significant steps were taken to improve maternity wards and ante-natal programs. New programs were launched to combat infectious diseases like tuberculosis and HIV, and were so successful that Haiti was one of the first three countries to win grants from the new UN Global Fund for AIDS, TB and malaria. During the 1990s, the rate of HIV infection - a legacy from the sex tourism industry of the 1970s and '80s - was frozen and then slightly reduced to a level of 5 percent. As the Catholic Institute for International Relations recognized in 2004, the "incredible feat of slowing the rate of new infections in Haiti has been achieved despite the lack of international aid to the Haitian government, and despite the notable lack of resources faced by those working in the health field."(9) Under the Lavalas administration, says Laura Flynn, "infant mortality declined from 125 deaths per 1000 to 110, and the percentage of underweight newborns dropped from 28 percent to 19 percent."(10)

In the wake of the army's dissolution in 1995, more general respect for basic political freedoms like speech, association and assembly rose to unprecedented levels. Between 1996 nd 2003, around 100 judges and prosecutors were trained at a new school for magistrates. Significant measures were adopted to limit the widespread exploitation of children, including a 2003 law designed to end the often dramatic abuse of the estimated 400,000 thousand [sic] restaveks (children sent, mainly from the countryside, to work as unpaid servants in wealthier homes). Breaking from a long and shameful history, under Aristide children began to receive meaningful legal protection. Special children's courts were established, and a dedicated child protection unit was attached to the national police. Thanks to the creation of the extraordinary child-run station Radio Timoun at the Lafanmi Selavi center for street kids that Aristide founded in the late 1980s, children and children's issues gained access to the public sphere for the first time.(12) Also for the first time, women were named to the posts of prime minister, finance minister and foreign affairs minister, and chief of police, and unprecedented numbers of women were elected to parliament. A new Ministry of Women's Affairs was created in 1995, to coordinate policy on issues like violence against women, pre-natal care, post-natal education, condition of work, and so on.

Here we reach the crowning achievement of the disinformation campaign, a propaganda coup as brazen and astonishing as anything yet accomplished by the IRI and its acolytes anywhere in the world. Remember the basic numbers: perhaps 50,000 dead under the Duvaliers (1957-86), perhaps 700 to 1,000 dead under Namphy/Avril (1986-90), 4,000 dead under Cedras (1991-94) and then at least 3,000 killed under Latortue (2004-06). And under Aristide? What sort of numbers might warrant claims of "continuity" or even "deterioration"> After the first coup, 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 although after Lafontant's failed coup attempt of January 1991 some macoutes were indeed lynched in popular reprisals, neither Helms nor anyone else could pin a single political killing on the 1991 administration. In the run-up to the second coup, incomparably more insistent versions of the same charge would resurface at every turn, but even the long years of economic aggressions and FLRN provocation failed to goad FL "bandits" into taking the sort of retaliatory measures their enemies seemed to expect, if not desire.. Of course, under Aristide there was gang violence in places like Cite Soleil and Raboteau, as there was before Aristide and after Aristide (more on this in the next section). But if reports from Amnesty International can be trusted - and it is telling that as far as I know neither AI nore and human rights organization has yet risked an estimate of the total numbers of people killed under Aristide - then from 2001 to 2004 perhaps thirty political killings can be attributed to the PNH (whose political affiliation was often anti-government) or to groups with (often tenuous) links to FL.(53) Less or differently biased analysts like Ronald Saint-Jean, Kim Ives and Laura Flynn put the real total closer to 10.(54)

Pressure of neo-liberal reforms, aid

The second basic fact of Haitian political life is inextricably bound up with the first. Pending a dramatic revolution in the global economy, pending in particular a revolution in the wealthy nations that alone can have the power to influence this economy, there is very little that any Haitian government can do to address local inequalities and injustices in directly economic terms. At least for the foreseeable future, Haiti is deeply and unavoidably dependent on foreign aid and investment. This means that it is dependent on financial flows and policies designed to turn the country into the sort of place that international investors tend to like - a place with low costs, high yields, few rules and no long-term commitments. In Haiti as in most other heavily exploited parts of the world, international aid is meant to develop a space open to foreign penetration and manipulation, a place free from intrusive government regulations, a place where people are prepared to work for starvation wages, a place where private property and profits receive well-armed protection but where domestic markets, state assets and public services do not. As several well-documented studies show, the development of such a place has been the explicit goal of the foreign donors (the US, the EU, the IMF and other unaccountable international financial institutions) who have usurped much of Haiti's sovereignty over the past thirty five years.(14)

As a result of these and related economic reforms, gross domestic product per capita fell from around £750 in the 1960s to $617 in 1990 (before plummeting, as a result of the embargo imposed during the first coup, to just $470 by 1994).(19) Agricultural production fell from around 50 percent GDP in the late 1970s to just 25 percent in the late 1990s. By driving wages down from an average of around $3 or $4 a day in the early 1980s to a mere $1 or $2 a day in the early 2000s, structural adjustment was supposed to compensate for this agrarian collapse with increases in the light manufacturing and assembly sector. For a little while, the lowest wages in the hemisphere (combined with a virtual ban on trade unions) encouraged mainly American companies or contracts to employ around 80,000 people in this sector, and through to the mid-1990s companies like K-Mart and Walt Disney continued (via local subcontractors) to pay Haitian workers around 11 cents an hour to make pyjamas and T-shirts.(20) These companies, Charles Arthur notes, benefit from tax exemptions lasting "for up to 15 years and are free to repatriate all profits; the nature of assembly operations also means that as a rule there is no significant investment in machinery, plant, or infrastructure."(21) Nevertheless, despite the steady decline in Haitian wages over the 1980s and '90s, still more profitable rates of exploitation encouraged many of these companies to relocate to places like China and Bangladesh.

Now the notion that a Haitian politician could be "for or against neo-liberalism" in the 1990s is even more abstract than similar questions addressed to the politicians who came to power during these same years in significantly less dependent countries like Jamaica or South Africa, to nothing of countries like France or the UK. Although US officials and newspapers might routinely decry Aristide as a "fiery leftist" to this day, in reality he always understood that given the current balance of forces, no Haitian government can afford to adopt anything like an openly socialist set of priorities.(76) Better than many of hist critics, he knows that a country like Haiti cannot afford to "plan a political economy that would turn the entire world against it."(77) As things stand, Haiti is confronted with a "choice between death and death: either we enter a global economic system in which we know we cannot survive, or, we refuse, and face death by slow starvation." The only alternative is slowly to open up "some room to maneuver, some open space simply to survive."(78) Arisitide understands as well as anyone that "neo-liberalization is a kind of colonialism," that the "neo-liberal strategy is to weaken the state in order to have the private sector replace it."(79) But acceptance of basic neo-liberal rules is for the time being part of the air that every human Haitian politician is obliged to breathe, and the power to change this does not lie within Haiti itself.
Anyone concerned with public welfare, let alone popular empowerment, can only be outraged by the effects neo-liberalism has had in Haiti, as in most other heavily exploited countries - but to blame these effects on the victims who suffer them is not helpful. As UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi candidly explained on Haitian Radio in 1996, there was never any question that either the US or the UN would tolerate even limited attempts to dilute the elite's monopoly of economic power.(80) The only pertinent question political question to ask about enforcement of IFI dictates in Haiti in the mid-1990s was simply this: should the government accept unconditional compliance with IFI requirements, or insist on a combination of compliance and compensation? Aristide and his supporters (the hroup that would soon establish the organization Fanmi Lavalas) chose the second path; his prime minister Smarck Michel, Paul Denis, Gerard Pierre-Charles, (the group that would soon rename their faction the Organisation de Peuple en Lutte) chose the first, as did virtually all other members of the liberal elite and its traditional political class. It doesn't require much in-depth knowledge of Haitian political life to guess which group came to receive enthusiastic backing of the US and its allies. According to the only appropriate frome of reference, far from being too subservient to the US Aristide was as independent as he could feasibly be -"He was the only politician with any actual responsibility," Bobby Duval recognizes, "who stood up to the US."(81) It's this stubborn independence that would eventually condemn Lavalas to absolute international isolation.

It's undeniably true that the 1994 Paris Plan forced Aristide to make some very painful decisions. In exchange for some $770 million in promised aid and loans, the list of concessions appears calamitous: tariffs were to be "drastically" reduced, wages frozen, around half of the civil service to be laid off, and all nine of Haiti's remaining public utilities (telephone, electricity, port, airport, cement, flour, a cooking oil plant and two state banks) were to be sold off.

Two further developments shaped the course of 1995. One the one hand, US pressure on privatization and other forms of structural adjustment intensified, a renewal of old USAID priorities with a newly humanitarian face. Following fast on the heels of what Jane Regan accurately described as a "more permanent, less reversible invasion" - the IFIs, USAID, the US National Endowment for Democracy and a plethora of liberally funded technocrats and NGOs. All these divergent agencies were authorized by their donors to bypass the elected government and to invest directly in a wide range of development projects designed "to impose a neo-liberal economic agenda, to undermine grassroots participatory democracy, to create political stability conducive to a good business climate, and to bring Haiti into the new world order appendaged to the US as a source for markets and cheap labor. As in other countries, this democracy promotion industry will support those projects and people willing to go along with its agenda and will mold them into a center. In the cruse old days, grassroots organizers unwilling to be co-opted would have been tortured or killed. Now they will simply be marginalized by poverty and lack of political clout.(99)
In this way, most of the international money that Aristide had fought so hard to secure during his Washington exile was in fact used in 1994-95 to undermine his government and much of what it sought to achieve. Most of it went straight to pro-elite, pro-US, pro-business private sector groups whose political opposition to Lavalas was already explicit.

In early 1995, Clinton's Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot explained his government's basic strategy: "Even after our [military] exit in February 1996 we will remain in charge by means of the USAID and the private sector."(101) This defined the context in which Aristide had to negotiate even for very modest components of his social program, for instance to increase a minimum wage that had remained frozen at around 15 gourdes (around $1) a day since 1983. Aristide pressed for a 45 gourde rate; USAID official Brian Atwood was adamant that Haiti's economy wasn't "ready to consider" an increase at all.(102)

Haiti's past - struggle for independence

The structural basis both of Haiti's social polarization and its economic vulnerability is a direct legacy of colonial slavery and its aftermath. Recognized as a French territory from the late seventeenth century, by the 1780s Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was then called) had become far and away the most profitable colony in the world. "On the eve of the American Revolution," Paul Farmer writes, "Saint-Domingue - roughly the size of the modern state of Maryland - generated more revenue than all thirteen North American colonies combined." On the eve of the French Revolution it had become the world's single largest producer of coffee and the source for around 75 percent of its sugar.(37) This exceptional productivity was the result of an exceptional cruel plantation economy. Haiti's slaves were worked to death so quickly that even rapid expansion of the transatlantic trade over these same years was unable to keep up with the demand. "Slaves in Haiti," William Robinson observes, "were kept down by perhaps the most extreme and arbitrary terror known in modern history."(38) Eric Williams suggests that by 1789 this "pearl of the Caribbean" had become, for the vast majority of its inhabitants, "the worst hell on earth."(39)
Rapid economic growth put significant strains on the colony's social structure. Coercive power was divided between three increasingly antagonistic groups - the white plantation-owning elite, the representatives of French imperial power on the island, and an ever more prosperous but politically powerless group of former slaves (affranchis) and mulattos. With the outbreak of the French Revolution in the summer of 1789, tensions between these factions of the colonial ruling class led to open conflict and when a massive and well-organized slave rebellion began in August 1791 the regime was unable to cope. Sent to restore order, the French commissioner Leger Sonthonax was soon confronted by another rebellion, that of the white planters seeking greater independence from republican France and withdrawal of the civic rights granted to the island's affranchis. He only managed to deal with the planters by offering permantent freedom to the slave armies who still controlled the countryside, in exchange for their support. Over the next few years, the army of emancipated slaves led by Toussaint L'Ouverure slowly gained control of the colony. In a series of brilliant military campaign, Toussaint defeated the planters, the Spanish, the British, and his own rivals among the black and mulatto militias. By the turn of the century he had become the effective ruler of Saint-Domingue.
Toussaint never wavered in his public declarations of loyalty to republican France, but was determined above all to ensure that the abolition of slavery remained permanent. "The same hand which has broken our chains," he warned the French Directory in November 1797, "will never enslave us anew. "(40) Four years later Toussaint felt secure enough to enshrine abolition in a new constitution for the island. France's own revolution, however, had since taken a very different course. Influenced by the post-Thermidor revival of the powerful colonial lobby, in late 1801 Napolean dispatched the largest expeditionary force that had ever yet crossed the Atlantic, ostensibly to strengthen the colonies' defenses in case of further foreign attack, actually to deport Toussaint and restore slavery.
By September 1802, already dying of the yellow fever that would kill off many of his soldiers, Leclerc told Napolean that only "a war of extermination" could break his opponent's resistance.(41) After a further year of gruesome fighting the French gave up; like Pitt before him, Napolean lost more than 50,000 troops in his campaign to return the people of Saint-Domingue to slavery.(42) As C.L.R. James wrote in his classic account of Haiti's revolution, "for self-sacrifice and heroism, the men, women and children who drove out the French stand second to no fighters for independence in any place or time. And the reason was simple. They had seen at last that without independence they could not maintain their liberty."(43)

Arguably, there is no single event in the whole of modern history whose implications were more threatening to the dominant global order of things. The mere existence of an independent Haiti was a reproach to the slave-trading nations of Europe, a dangerous example to the slave-owning US, and an inspiration for successive African and Latin American liberation movements. Much of Haiti;s subsequent history has been shaped by efforts, both internal and external, to stifle the implications of this event and to preserve the essential legacy of slavery and colonialism - that spectacularly unjust distribution of labor, wealth and power which has characterized the whole of the island's post-Columbian history.(46)

The deeply subversve success of Haiti's revolution provoked at home and abroad a counter-revolution that in many ways continues to this day. Outside Haiti the slave-owning world immediately closed ranks and locked the island in a state of economic isolation from which it has never recovered. "The existence of a Negro people in arms, occupying a country it has soiled by the most criminal acts," the French foreign minister Charles Talleyrand wrote to US Secretary of Sate James Madison in 1805, "is a horrible spectacle for all white nations."(47) An understandably horrified US government refused to recognise the country until after it finally began to address the status of its own slaves half a century later, in 1861. France initially contented itself by preserving a crippling embargo on its ruined ex-colony, and by maintaining a level of hostility sufficient to induce Haiti's new leaders to devote much of their limited resources to building a series of extravagant fortresses in anticipation of further assault. France only re-established the trade and diplomatic relations essential to the new country's survival after Haiti agreed, in 1825 (and under the watchful gaze of the entire French Atlantic fleet), to pay its old colonial master a "compensation" of some 150 million francs for the loss of its slaves - an amount roughly equivalent to the French annual budget at the time. The signing of this agreement, Paul Farmer recognizes, "was to prove the beginning of the end for any hope of autonomy."(48) With its economy still shattered by the colonial wars, Haiti could only begin paying this debt by borrowing , at extortionate rates of interest, 24 million francs from private banks. Though the French demand was eventually cut from 150 to 90 million francs, by the end of the nineteenth century Haiti's payments to France still consumed 80 percent of the national budget. France received the last instalment in 1947. Haitians have thus had to pay their original oppressors three times over 0 through the slaves' initial labor, through compensation for the French loss of the labor, and then in the interest on the payment of this compensation. No other single factor played so important a role in establishing Haiti as a systematically indebted country, a condition which in turn served to justify a long and debilitating series of international raids on the Haitian treasury.(49) (The prescient reader may be able to guess at the consequences of Aristide's decision, in April 2003, to ask France to give this money back . . .)

So impotent an elite and so dispersed a population could offer little resistance to the foreign raids on the Haitian economy  that became more common towards the ends of the nineteenth century, at a time when the imperial ambitions of countries like Germany, France and the US were expanding fast. The most consequential of these raids was launched by Woodrow Wilson in 1915, as a counterpart to his punitive assaults on the Mexican Revolution. The US occupation lasted for nearly twenty years, and it helped to shape the course of much of Haiti's subsequent political history. The American military regime proceeded to institute a kind of structural adjustment programme avant la lettre: they abolished an "undemocratic" clause in the constitution that had barred foreigners from owning property in Haiti, took over the National Bank, reorganized the economy to ensure more regular payments of foreign debt, expropriated land to create new plantations, and trained a brutal military force designed to fight against one and only one enemy - Haiti's own domestic population. With the enthusiastic support of the media back home, rebellions against the occupation and the land appropriations and forced labor that accompanied it (in particular the revolt led by Charlemagne Peralte during the early years of the occupation) were savagely repressed. By the time they pulled out in 1934, US troops had gone a long way to discouraging peasant resistance to what was only the first of repeated doses of such imported "modernization," killing anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000 people in the process.(54) In suggestive anticipation of their future commitment to Haitian democracy, the US validated their occupation through a plebiscite that apparently won 99.2 percent of the vote.
The army the US had modernized became the dominant power after the marines departed, keeping both the population and the politicians in check. As the US Department of Justice acknowledged in 1993, "Nothing in a Haitian soldier's background prepares him to respoect the rule of law."(55) When they felt threatened (as they did following the election of a mildly progressive government led by Dumarsais Estime in 1946) there was little to stop the generals from taking over the presidency for themselves. Coup followed upon coup. It was both to counter and then to complement the influence of the army that the amateur anthropologist and country-doctor Francois Duvalier organized his own murderous militia, the Tontons Macoutes, after winning a rigged presidential election in 1957. Building on the network of hundreds of army barracks and outposts established by US Marines, Duvalier granted more than 10,000 petty thugs, organized in some 500 regional "sections" (the smallest administrative unit in Haiti), the right to extract a living from the local population in return for preserving its docility. For the next fourteen years as "Papa Doc" declared himself the divine incarnation of the Haitian nation, his Macoutes and his chefs de sections held the country in an iron grip. Perhaps 50,000 people were killed.(56) Along with the peasantry and the urban poor, the liberal wing of the elite also suffered. The seminaries were closed, the press muzzled, dissidents murdered, jailed or forced into exile. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith estimates that by the mid-1960s around 80 percent of Haiti's professional and political class had left the country.(57) At all levels, political life was drowned in a mixture of superstition and fear.
Initially wary of his vaudouiste nationalism, the US soon embraced Duvalier's staunchly anti-communist regime. When Francois Divalier died in 1971, his son Jean-Francois ("Baby Doc") was declared Haiti's new President for Life and enjoyed still more enthusiastic US support, in exchange for providing the sort of investment climate his patrons had come to expect - minimal taxes, a virtual ban on trade unions, the preservation of starvation wages, the removal of any restrictions on the repatriation of profits. In the mid-1980s these measures were supplemented by the beginnings of the structural adjustment that would soon reduce Haiti's public sector to a bare-boned shell while stripping its markets of protective tariffs. There were just seven foreign firms in the light assembly sector in 1967; twelve years later there were 51, and by 1986 there were over 300 US corporations working in Haiti. In real terms, average wages fell by around 50 percent between 1980and 1990, and as import controls were removed, the value of US agricultural exports to Haiti almost tripled during the last years of the decade.(58)
In order for the US/IMF's structural adjustment plan for Haiti to work properly, however, its authors required a government capable of managing its unavoidable social effects. Then as now, the donors needed a client government capable of dealing with the transition from mere poverty to abject misery in ways that reduced the potential risks to the few who stood to profit from this transition. By the mid-1980s the Duvalier regime could no longer provide the international community with the kind of security it required. The undiluted brutality and venality provoked a political movement that not even the Macoutes could contain. Resistance to Duvalier's predatory thugs grew steadily over the 1980s, nurtured by small, informal organizations - organisations populaires - which emerged to defend their communities and to help arrange some of the basic social services that the state was unwilling or unable to provide. Many hundreds of these vibrant organizations developed in tandem with new community-based church groups, the ti legliz - groups which, via the inspirations of liberation theology, began in the late 1970s to break with the traditional conservatism of the Catholic Church. Charismatic priests like Father Antoine Adrien, Father Jean-Marie Vincent, Father Jean Bertrande Aristide, and Bishop Willy Romelus openly denounced the regime and demanded social justice. Millions of Haitian people rallied to their call. Crucially, so did some sections of Haiti's liberal elite - exiled politicians, journalists, academic, entrepreneurs, students. As street protests that began in the town of Gonaives grew in scope and intensity over the course of 1985, leading members of the army also came to share the conclusion already reached by the US embassy, the Church hierarchy and the business community: Jean-Claude had become more of a liability than an asset.

Above all, Aristide emerged as the crystallization of Haitian demands for social transformation because he managed to combine a concrete strategy for acquiring practical political power with the uncompromising inspiration of liberation theology. This is a crucial though often neglected aspect of the Lavalas story, and its neglect isn't accidental. Liberation theology is entirely organised around the active self-liberation of the oppressed; grounded in a refusal to tolerate the scandalous "iniquity" of poverty and injustice, it "emerges as the strategy of the poor themselves, confident in themselves and in their instruments of struggle."(69) As Chomsky points out, liberation theology marked "a very significant change in modern history. For most of its history, the Catholic church had been the church of the wealthy, the church of the oppressors. There was a very dramatic change in the 1960s and the 1970s, when large segments of the church committed themselves to working for the needs and interests of the vast majority of the population who are impoverished and suffering, and living in semi-slavery. And that had big effects, it led to very significant organizing efforts, led by people of real nobility."(70) In the words of its leading proponent, Gustavo Gutierrez, liberation theology combined a critique of dependency and merely reformist "development" with a transitional drive for "social revolution."(71) Fidel Castro is not alone in considering liberation theology "one of the most important events of modern times."(72)

Aristide's first sermon as an ordained priest, in 1982, set a pattern that continues to this day. "We must end this regime where the donkeys do all the work and horses prance in the sunshine, a regime of misery imposed on us by the people in charge. They are voracious and insatiable dogs, who go their own way, each one looking out for himself."(91) Three years later, Aristide took the unprecedented step of openly denouncing the Duvalier regime in the capital's cathedral: "The path of those Haitians who reject the regime is the path of righteousness and love, and that is what the Lord requires."(92) His cry of 2 January 1986, "Va-t'en Satan!" needed no decoding. Three years and four assassination attempts later he issued another warning to Duvalier's military replacement of the day, Prosper Avril. "General Avril," he said on radio in November 1988, "the people's court is right: your government is guilty and powerless [. . .]. The matter is in your hands. The people will write their own fate. The blessing of God is upon them. Thus grace will descend until the flood brings down all Duvalierists, all Macoutes, all criminals."(93) Though he would learn to be more careful and diplomatic once he was elected president - he had become less "candid," he said in 1994, after "years of dealing with certain sharks and vultures" - Aristide never stopped believing that the "deadly economic infection called capitalism" was the source of profound social harm, if not a "mortal sin."(94) Though his experience of the concrete obstacles to social change made him more cautious, he never lost his conviction that the political revolution which began in 1990 could only continue through its extension into a "social revolution."(95)

Haiti's current struggle for independence in context of aid

A tiny and paranoid minority of Haiti's population, the rich dominate the poor through a combination of direct military coercion and transnational economic power, in close collaboration with parallel interests in the US. The priveleges of the rich, and the exploitation of the poor, can persist only so long as the rich maintain and unchallenged grip on the available instruments of violent coercion. Aristide challenged that grip. "Whether they like it or not," he warned in his inaugural speech of 7 February 1991, "the [comfortable] stones in the water will come to know the pain of the [impoverished] stones in the sun."(17)

Haiti's poverty , together with its alleged lack of natural resources and strategic significance, is often cited by analysts who prefer to understand US intervention in Haiti along more altruistic lines. Why would the US or France want to intervene in such apparently barren and unprofitable place? It's quite true that economic issues played less of a motivating role in Haiti 1991 or 2004 than they did in Chile 1973 or Iraq 2003. A manufacturing sector in which sweatshop wages hover around $2 a day has obvious transnational uses, but the preservation of such a place is not by itself enough to warrant such assiduous imperial attention. The prospect of a social revolution that might look west to Cuba for inspiration and then spread east into the rather more profitable canefields and hotels of the Dominican Republic is perhaps another matter, especially for a government that is beholden to the South Florida lobby. Combine the prospect of such a revolution with the peculiar legacy of militant anto-slavery and the radical promise of liberation theology - arguably the greatest single challenge to US strategic interests in Latin America in the entire post-war period - and as far as the American empire is concerned you are talking about a specter that warrants exorcism by any and all available means. Throw in Aristide's unsettling request that France should help Haiti celebrate its bicentennial in 2004 by repaying the enormous amount of money that it extorted from its old slave colony during the nineteenth century, and you are dealing with little less than a menace to postcolonial civilization itself.

Since the early 1970s and especially since the mid-1980s, every Haitian government has been constrained, with variable degrees of enthusiasm or reluctance, to adhere to the neo-liberal economic orientation that locals tend to deride as the "American plan" or "death plan." Successive structural adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF and other international financial institutions (IFIs) have forced dramatic cuts in wages and in the size of the public sector workforce, along with the elimination of import tarrifs. The ongoing privatization of public utilities and state assets and the reorientation of domestic production in favor of cash crops popular in North American supermarkets. In both theory and practice, the effect of these programs is to undermine the public sector, to do away with institutions and policies that might empower the poor majority, and to consolidate at all levels the grip on the economy of the dominant transnational class. Before trade liberalization began in the early 1980s, Haiti could meet most of its own food needs; today around half the food that Haitians eat is imported, mostly from the US.

As for Haiti's government, around 70 percent of its operating budget (and fully 90 percent of its capital projects budget) comes from foreign aid and loans.(25) Aristide was simply stating the obvious when he recognized that "If the international community is not for us, one thing is sure: we will fail."(26) As Aristide would discover in 2001 when he became president for the second time, the withholding of foreign revenues can have a catastrophic effect. The conditional disbursement of these grants gives Haiti's international donors enormous if not irresistible leverage - even the governments of wealthy nations, needless to say, cannot easily accommodate the loss of around half of their available income. Left to its own devices, the Haitian government can hardly begin t meet the basic needs of its people. As of 1999 per capita annual health spending was only $21, compared with $38 in sub-Saharan frica.(27) Only around 35 percent of students are able to complete primary school, and just 4 percent graduate from secondary school. More than on in twenty people are HIV-positive, and perhaps one in five children die before their sixth birthday; the rate of child mortality is four times higher than it is in the Latin American and Caribbean region as a whole.(28) More than a third of the population has no regular access to safe drinking water, and a similar proportion of children suffer from what the UN World Food Program describes as "chronic malnutrition."(29) Most of Haiti's people live in conditions that are hardly more comfortable than the slavery they escaped two centuries ago, gleaning subsistence crops from tiny plots of land on hillsides long devestated by deforestation, soil erosion and over-use.

As things stand, simple financial necessity means that "no Haitian government can survive without American support."(31) As things stand, insists Aristide's 2002-2004 prime minister Yvon Neptune, "No responsible Haitian leader can afford to alienate the US. We have to work with the world as it is, and deal with the balance of forces as they are, not as we would like them to be."(32) Equally simple imperatives encourage many if not most Haitian politicians to exploit their limited access to state revenues for their own personal gain. Under current conditions, the development of what Robert Fatton and Alex Dupuy describe as a structurally corrupt and "predatory" form of democracy will be very difficult to reverse.(33) The cumulative effective neo-liberal structural  adjustments policies, Lisa McGowan, has been to lock the Haitian national economy in a "financial straightjacket" that benefits "a few creditors, some foreign investors and consumers, and a small class of Haitian elites," all at the expense of the Haitian people themselves.(34) Too many powerful interests - international lenders and entrepreneurs, US agribusiness, charitable NGOs, the employers who exploit thousands of desperate Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic, Florida, New York, Montreal, Paris . . . - have a stake in Haitian poverty to allow it to change any time soon.
The fact is, in short, that Haiti's economy is too poor and its government too fragile to afford much frontal resistance to its donors's demands. The fact is that "Haiti's material well being is utterly dependent on the whims of the world economy and the demands of foreign financial organizations."(35) Pending a revolution in first-world priorities, this is a reality that any politician in Haiti is more or less obliged to accept. Without foreign aid and assistance, as Zanmi Lasante's Paul Farmer knowns from long experience, Haiti's "misery will just increase, and thousands will die of AIDS, malaria and other diseases without any hope of treatment. Those who say the aid is not worth what Haiti has to do to get it do not live daily with the reality of poverty and suffering."(36) Indignant talk about the (uncontroversial) economic evils of neo-liberalism amounts in this context to little more than hot air. As we shall see, the real question, the divisive question, concerns thepolitical empowerment of the people who for the time being are doomed to suffer their effects.

It is perfectly clear that, as far as its architects were concerned, this new US occupation was designed to disarm not Haiti's army but its people. After speaking to a range of high level military planners, Allan Nairn reached the unavoidable conclusion that the main purpose for the occupation was "to prevent the Haitian population from taking politics into its own hands and to forestall the danger of radical mass mobilization [. . .]. The United States intends to contain Haiti's popular movement, by force if necessary. The objective, in the words of one US Army Psychological Operations official, is to see to it that Haitians 'don't get the idea that they can do whatever they want.'"(63) According to Captain Lawrence Rockwood (who was later court-martialed for violating orders instructing US soldiers to ignore the plight of Haitian political prisoners), all US intelligence officersand reports "were very much anti-Aristide [. . .]. We only received anti-Aristide information."(64).
No more than the election victory of 1990, such an outcome was not at all part of the IC's plan for Haitian democracy. For obvious reasons, both the domestic elite and its foreign patrons have a vested interest in the weakness of the state and the instability of its government. A weak government means minimal taxes or tariffs, minimal regulations, minimal interference in the exploitation of labor, trade or contraband. "As soon as any poor country begins to win a struggle for real autonomy," notes FL deputy Ramilus Bolivar, "the imperial nations immediately do everything they can to undermine it."(8) In 2000, in the last month of the Clinton administration, US policy-makers were entitled to worry that all the good work they had accomplished in 1993-94 might now start to come unstuck.
In the immediate aftermath of their defeat, local anti-Aristide politicians could do little more than wring their hands in the face of what they denounced as an "electoral coup d'etat." The OPL immediately called for the "entire electoral process to be annulled,"(9) and CD spokesman Professor Micha Gaillard declared that "We will never, ever accept the results of these elections."(10) But nor did he need to: since the results were obviously unacceptable, France and the US never accepted them either. In what must rank as one of the most impressive and improbable propaganda exercises in contemporary politics an alliance of Aristide's foreign and domestic enemies soon managed to persuade most of the independent media to present the government elected in 2000 as undemocratic and illegitimate. The awkward fact that this government had an electoral mandate incomparably more powerful than that enjoyed by leaders like Bush or Chirac was never allowed to interfere with the essential point: in 2000 as in 1990, the Haitian people had again misunderstood the true meaning of democracy.

The International Republican Institute (IRI) embraced an almost identical set of tactics and priorities, with a distinctive neo-con twist. A front for establishment interests in the US, the IRI's work in Haiti is characterized by what COHA describes as its "consistent backing for the most regressive, elitist, pro-military factions in Haitian politics and its steadfast alliance with the elite opposition coalitions Group 184 and Democratic Convergence, which from the day of their inception devoted themselves entirely to derailing the administration of President Aristide."(18) The IRI is an affiliate of the Republican Party, and receives much of its funding from the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. Reagan launched the NED in 1983, and some of the people who helped set it up would later make no secret of the fact that "a lot of what [it] does today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."(19) The NED funds programs in strategically sensitive countries all over the world.

A brief exchange in early March on the BBC's flagship news program further illustrates the impressively flexible stance adopted by the world's media during the second coup. After a short interview with the now-exiled Aristide, in which he repeated his claim that he had been forced out of office under US pressure, the program anchor turned to BBC correspondent Daniel Lak in Port-au-Prince to sort out the confusion. "So it's not completely made up, Aristide does have people who support him, it's not just a handful of thugs who are paid by him?" Lak replied: "Oh absolutely. The people who support him are the poor of this country, the vast majority. There 8 million Haitians, and probably 95 percent of them are desperately poor. It's the rich and the small middle class who support Aristide's opponents, and the poor who generally support Aristide." What then about the conflicting explanations of Aristide's departure: was it effectively a coup, or a voluntary resignation? "Is it possible to peer through and establish any truth about this," asked the anchor, "or is it just too difficult, from where you're standing?" Lak's answer speaks volumes. "I think it's just too difficult, um . . . The two options are pretty stark. But it's clear that the Americans did want to see the back of Mr. Aristide."(83)

As we have seen, no more than the ANC in South Africa or Michael Manley's last administration in Jamaica - no more, in fact, than any government of any impoverished country during the 1990s - the Lavalas governments were not in a position to pursue anything like socialist forms of redistribution or economic policy.(13) Although the ongoing effects of the structural adjustment plan imposed on Haiti after 1994 led inexorably to increased hardship for the poor majority, still the Lavalas governments did what they could to soften the blow. They maintained subsidies for sensitive consumer goods. They pushed through some limited land reform in the country's most fertile region, the Artibonite valley, with around 1500 peasant families each receiving access to a couple of new acres of land. A major road linking the capital to towns in the hitherto remote south-western part of the country was built, irrigation infrastructure was repaired, and thousands of new Caribbean pigs were reintroduced to the country, undoing some of the damage caused by the 1982 extermination program. Under Aristide, for the first time the Haitian government began to participate in regular discussions with Venezuela, Cuba and other Caribbean islands in order to develop economic strategies for limiting US influence in the region, including hemispheric trading agreements to offset the neo-liberal effects of the FTAA and other hegemonic initiatives.(14)

Few things are more urgently needed for a better understanding of contemporary Haitian politics than a detailed analysis of the precise economic and ideological role of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that now play such a big part in the administration of the country. There's no space for such an analysis here, but it is well worth drawing some attention to the most salient aspects of the question.
First of all, there are a lot of NGOs in Haiti. According to several estimates, there are more NGOs per capita in Haiti than anywhere in the world. In 1998, the World Bank guessed that there are anything between 10,000 and 20,000 NGOs working in the country.(5) Something like 80 percent of public services (the provision of water, health care, education, sanitation, food distribution . . .) are undertaken by NGOs; the largest organisations have budgets bigger than those of their corresponding government departments.(6) The vast majority of the $1.2 billion promised to Haiti's post-coup regime by international donors as part of the 2004 Interim Cooperative Framework was pledged via USAID, USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, or more independent-seeming NGOs, rather than to government agencies. Usually managed by well-connected members of the elite in conjunction with international parent companies or partners, much of what they do is effectively independent of government scrutiny.

The mainstream press has a ready explanation for the recent growth in NGO funding. "The United States is Haiti's largest donor," observed a Washington Post editorial in January 2004, "and to ensure that assistance gets to those Haitians most in need, it is channeled principally through nongovernmental organizations."(8) No further explanation is required. There is another reason, though, why the vast majority of aid money flows through non-governmental rather than governmental organizations: it's easier that way for the people giving the money to take it back. USAID itself "boasts that 84 cents of every dollar of its funding in Haiti goes back to the US in the form of salaries, supplies, consultant fees, and services."(9) The international donors set strict political and economic conditions for the charity they provide. As we have seen, the bulk of USAID money that goes to Haiti and to other countries in the region is explicitly designated to pursure US interests - the promotion of a secure investment climate, the nurturing of links with local business elites, the preservation of a docile and low-wage labor force, and so on.(10) Only a tiny fraction (perhaps five percent of the total) of aid money is aimed where it is most needed - towards a lasting reinvigoration of Haitian agriculture and the rural economy.(11) Rather than strengthen Haiti's capacity to resist foreign manipulation of its economy, USAID initiatives like PIRED or the Pan-American Development Foundation combine with IMF driven structural adjustment to enhance US penetration of the local market to reinforce the economic basic of Haiti's rigid class structure. Some of the more devastating consequences of suc policies are then softened (but also exacerbated) by secondary initiatives like the distribution of food through agencies like CARE or aggressively pro-US evangelical churches like the Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. Distribution of this "free" food further undercuts domestic agricultural production and creates new cycles of economic and ideological dependency.
Since a minimum of around 70 percent of NGO funding is distributed by USAID and its sibling organizations in client states (notably Canada's CIDA), NGOs would in many respects be better  described not as non-governmental but as other-governmental - the government that funds and directs most of what they do is not the government of Haiti but that of its benevolent neighbour to the north. NGOs provide rich countries a morally respectable way of subcontracting the sovereignty of the nations they exploit.(12) Some indication of the impact of USAID policies in Haiti is provided by the organization's assessment of its own Democracy and Governance Program:"In 2001, USAID and its partners trained nearly 11,000 people in almost 1,000 organizations with total memberships exceeding 200,000 people throughout the country. As a result of this training, civil society organizations made over 500 attempts to engage government and advocate their interests or defend their rights. Well over one-third of these attempts were successful in leveraging assistance, resources, or services from the government."(13) There are good reasons why many Haitians see the privision of democratization funds, development grants and food aid as part of a more general process of subversion, facets of a single integrated programme that has long been denounced as the "American plan" or the "death plan" (see above, page 5).
A third and related problem with many NGO programs is that they tend to disrupt and then disempower the lives of the people they are supposed to support. Many programs are run on a short-term basis, and provide relatively well-paid but temporary employment. This has the perverse effect of luring farmers and agricultural workers away from their fields, thereby reducing the amount of food harvested, of land cultivated and of time spent on the collective work projects (kombits) which are integral to the rural economy; when the development scheme then comes to an end there is nothing to take up the slack, and the ex-employees are soon worse off than before.(14) The same thing can happen in urban areas, when NGOs like Medicins Sans Frontiers or the International Organization for Migration sweep into an area, double the wafes of a few local people for several months and then move on, without leaving permanent programs or facilities in their wake.(15) Again there are some exceptions - Oxfam's work with coffee-growing cooperatives in norther Haiti may be a case in point - but given the priorities of their own donors, charity-oriented NGOs are generally less interested in helping to enhance what may be strong and assertive in Haitian society than in offering services to vulnerable and the weak. As a rule, NGOs do not provide resources to strengthen government initiatives like the FL literacy program of 2001-2003, let alone to help empower or organize a militant popular movement. They prefer to help look after the ill, the orphaned, or the under-nourished. While such services are indeed urgently needed, they way that they are provided reinforces the prevailing balance of political power. The great majority of those few North Americans who visit Haiti travel as part of carefully supervised religious missions, and engage in a sort of charity-tourism. Compared even to very basic state investment in say education or public health, many NGO programs have very little to show for the millions they spend (other than the very considerable proportion that they lavish on themselves). The poorest region of Haiti, the North-West department, is also the zone most intensely penetrated by NGOs. "The NGOs need the situation to continue," the director of the Cite Soleil hospital points out, "since otherwise they have no reason to be here."(16) As for its ideological impact, the provision of white enlightened charity to destitute and allegedly "superstitious" blacks is part and parcel of an all too familiar neo-colonial pattern. Wealthy nations have an obvious interest in preserving the image of poorer nations as "failed states" that need generous outside help to survive, just as the charities have an interest in preserving the structural conditions of Haitian poverty, while raising money to alleviate a few of its most unsightly effects.

Rather than the army or state bureaucracies, NGOs now provide the main institutional and ideological mechanism for the reproduction of Haiti's ruling class. As even the casual visitor to Port-au-Prince will immediately gather, foreign aid-workers and their local colleagues, like other members of their class, have access to vehicles, houses and meeting-places that set them sharply apart from the great majority of the population.(19) Many NGO employees or consultants tend to treat the country they're working in as enemy territory.(20) The people who work for elite advocacy groups like PAPDA and SOFA come from much the same affluent, well-educated, French- and/or English-speaking milieu as does the rest of the political set. Rather than organize with and among the people, rather than work in the places and on the terms where the people themselves are strong, groups like PAPDA, SOFA and NCHR organize trivial made-for-media demonstrations against things like the uncontroversial evils of neo-liberalism or the high cost of living.(21) Such protests are usually attended by tiny groups of 30 or 40 people - which is to say, by nobody outside the organizers' own inter-connected circles.

Anyone unsure of the actual ideological function of the charitable NGOs should look closely at the way they responded to events in Haiti in early 2004. Christian Aid is a representative example. A recipient of UK and Canadian government development money, Christian Aid is the main financial backer of Charles Arthur's Haiti Support Group, shares the perspective of conservative G184 intellectuals like Lyonel Trouillot, and has long-standing links with CD politicians like Suzy Castor. A couple of days after the coup, Christian Aid's Helen Spraos spoke for most of the international-charitable NGOs when rather than call for the restoration of the elected government, or even for new elections, or even for an inquiry into the circumstances of Aristide's abduction, she claimed instead that Aristide had got what he deserved. He was no "champion of the poor. Instead, his regime was little different from Haiti's other rulers when power was exercised in the person interests of previous presidents. Christian Aid's Haitian partner organizations have ample evidence of serious human rights abuses and misrule committed by Aristide and his supporters."(22) Together with these independent partners (NCHR, PAPDA, GARR, SOFA . . .), Christian Aid when on to repeat the US/CD version of the sequence that led to Aristide's departure nore or less word for work. "An intractable crisis has marked the political landscape for several years, because of human rights' and civil liberties' abuses, and a dispute about the validity of the electoral process in 2000. It is this that has led, in recent months, to the political and civil unrest that has become increasingly violent."(23) After endorsing opposition claims about "the destruction wrought by Aristide's foot soldiers, the chime," on 4 March Helen Spraos went on to note without further comment that these "chime are now being pursued for their own brutality." Happily the path towards reconciliation is clear. "Now that the former Haitian president Aristide has left Port-au-Prince," she writes, "the voice of the poor needs to be heard if Haiti is to find peace and prosperity."(24) There was no need to enquire into the circumstances of his leaving or to listen to what the poor had already said in the own voices and with their own votes, because like the IRI and the CD, Christian Aid and its partners already knew what so many of these poor people didn't seem to know - that Aristide has "become a tyrant," that together with Duvalier, Namphy, and Cedras he had trapped the country in a continuous "cycle of terror and misrule," and that the "armed insurrection" which somehow emerged in February 2004 was simply an extension of popular "protests" against Aristide's corruption and his "repression of dissent."(25)

Fanmi Lavalas

Rather like the ANC in South Africa, by 2000 Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas organization could present itself as Haiti's natural party of government. Ordinary Haitian people were beginning to get a sense of their collective political strength; as Aristide's ally Father Gerard Jean-Juste put it in November of that year, "The Haitian people have finally realized that the voting card is power."(18) Lavalas activists were finally in a position to oversee sustained and durable political change. In May 2000 they won overwhelming and unprecedented majorities in both houses of parliament and at all levels of government, gaining on average more than 75 percent of the vote.

Presented by George Bush, Jacques Chirac and Paul Martin as a "new day for democracy" in Haiti, in reality the coup that removed Aristide in 2004 marked the beginning of one of the most violent and disastrous periods in recent Haitian history. The repression that followed the second coup was almost as intense as that which followed the first (and on a par, in several respects, with that which accompanied the coup in Chile in 1973). The veteran Lavalas activist Patrick Elie is not the only person who will remember 2004-2006 as "the most difficult and terrible years for the country I've ever seen."(21) The coup of 2004 did not simply disrupt the Lavalas organisation and kill thousands of its supporters. It was also intended to complete a task that began back in 1991: the task of reversing Lavalas' achievements and of inverting their significance. It didn't serve merely to put an end to the "threat of a good example," but also to discredit it beyond repair. Haiti's mobilization had proved that "the poorest people in the hemisphere", Elie goes on, "can know more about democracy than the people who are pretending to be the beacons of civilization [. . .]. The movements that are sweeping away the traditional political parties, that also started in a way in Haiti. For the US, Haiti is an example that must be crushed, that must be made to fail."(22)

Haitian political activists have always known that l'union fait la force, and there is perhaps no better summary of Aristide;s basic political strategy than the mantra of his 1990 election campaign: "Alone we are weak, together we are strong; all together we are Lavalas, the flood [yon sel nou feb, ansanm nou fo, ansanm ansanm nou se Lavalas]." It is no accident, likewise, that the counter-mobilization that has weakened Lavalas over the past decade can be best described as an exercise in division and disintegration, a process marked among other things by the multiplication of disjointed NGOs, evangelical churches, political parties, media outlets, private security forces, and so on, along with the relentless demonization of the one individual who to this day remains most capable of uniting the popular movement: Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

If you ask residents of the poorer neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince why they still support Aristide today they are far from uncritical. They readily admit that his government made mistakes. They accept that he was too reluctant to crack down on reactionary dissent and too tolerant of the corrupt opportunists who forced their way into his entourage. Aristide was not a saint, nor should he be assessed as one.(42) But they also insist that no other political leader had or has anything like his respect for the people themselves. Aristide was the first politician to stand alongside people from the quartiers populaires, to share the dangers they faced to affirm their language, their religion and their values, to affirm them as genuinely political actors. He was the only prominent politician of his time to address the realities of class struggle and injustice in terms that made compelling sense to those who suffer their effects. Aristide helped us to organize ourselves, his supporters say: of course his own freedom of movement was limited, but he helped us to gain the measure of our strength. Again and again, they will tell you that they believed in Aristide less as a leader or "saviour" than as a representative orspokesman. Aristide provided them with a voice to assert their own dignity and equality. If in 2007 you ask ordinary people why they still respect Aristide, they are likely to tell you what they told Amy Wilentz almost two decades ago: rather than the usual blah-blah-blah we expect of politicians, "He tells the truth [. . .]. Father Aristide says aloud in front of everyone what we have the courage to say only among ourselves.

Five themes characterize what Aristide said and did during these years.
First and foremost, Aristide's approach is affirmative and egalitarian, based on the self-evident but explosive principle that tout moun se moun. Everyone counts as one, every person is endowed with the same essential dignity. That Aristide prefers to assert this principle in primarily theological terms is an indication of its unconditional quality, not of its dependence on any sort of supernatural domain. What he calls "God" is simply a name for an uncompromising commitment to equality and justice. "There is no force superior to humankind" and "There is no Messiah other than the people"(76) Theology as Aristide conceives it is nothing other than " a liberating force which pushes toward a better world," and "what the Haitian people call God is a force of resistance, resistance against Macoutes and against all evils."(77) It is "better not to believe than to believe in a miracle from heaven." The only sort of miracle that Aristide is prepared to accept occurs when collectively "women and men take control of their own future."(78) Such is the lesson that Aristide retains from Freire and Boff: "The essential point is that the poor themselves should be the actors."(79) In perhaps the most famous of his many speeches, an address broadcast on Radio Haiti-Inter on 22 November 1988, Aristide proclaimed his basic message in quise-apocalyptic terms:
"Alone we are weak, together we are strong, together we are the flood [Lavalas]. Let the flood descend, the flood of poor peasants and poor soldiers, the flood of the poor jobless multitudes [. . .]. And then God will descend and put down the mighty and send them away, and He will raise up the lowly and place them on high."(80)
The second theme is in line with the first. The only agent or actor adequate to the declaration tout moun se moun are the people themselves - the people united in a collective project of social transformation. Haiti's history isn't short of material that illustrates the national motto l'union fait la force. Aristide had an exceptionally keen understanding of this principle, in line with the liberationist assumption that unity is never given in advance but remains a task to be achieved - unity, as Gutierrez explains, is a "task and a victory that we win in history," through the concrete struggle of the oppressed.(81) "We have the steering wheel of Haiti's history in our hands," Aristide told a packed Port-au_prince Cathedral on 20 August 1987, "and we must make a turn to the left. We must build a socialist Haiti," and we can only build it together.(82) Arisited always understood that "the political strategy of our enemies favors the multiplication of diverse political tendencies" in order to divide and rule the electorate, and that "the only solution is unity: the unity of all those who say no to the Macoutes and yes to democracy."(83)

The year 2000, in other words, is the pivotal moment of the Lavalas project sequence to date. It's the year that Aristide was finally in a position to harness his principles and popularity to a systematic program of significant social change. It's also the year that it became clear to the enemies of the Lavalas movement that narrow parliamentary maneuverings would no longer suffice to divide and divert it. By 2000, Aristide's opponents both in Haiti and abroad realized they needed to develop a new and more active program of destabilization and counter-mobilization. In keeping with a familiar formula)

According to Charles Arthur - one of FL's most forceful critics - FL won these elections because it was the only party to propose a details an "coherent political program" (improvements in infrastructure, health and education, investment in micro-financing and peasant cooperatives) and to wage an active campaign based on the "mobilizing efforts of young party activists across the country."(6) It was also now the only party that could benefit from Aristide's largely undiminished popularity among the poor. Apart from the MPP (which turned out several thousand people for an anti-FL rally at Hinche in September 2000), none of the political groups or parties opposed to Lavalas in 2000 made any effort to organizemass meetings or demonstrations.(7) If Haitian elections were run according to a first-past-the-post system like those used in the US or the UK then in May 2000 Fanmi Lavalas would have won more than 95 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament.

Some of this initial excitement wore off rather quickly. US foreign policy makers have long known, of course, that the most efficient means of containing even limited forms of popular empowerment are economic. Like most of the other components of the anti-Lavalas campaign, in 2001 these means would involve less a break with than a refinement of Cold War tactics: back in the 1970s the CIA already knew that "the incredibly low standard of living and the backwardness of the Haitian masses work against communist exploitation, in that most Haitians are so completely downtrodden as to be politically inert."(26) The downtreading had already increased dramatically all through the 1990s, starting with the 1991-94 embargo, and some of the desired inertia followed in due course. Lavalas was contained, first and foremost, by one of the most concerted campaigns of deliberate impoverishment of recent years. By 2003, annual per capita incomes in Haiti had fallen less than half of those in Bolivia, Latin America's next poorest country.
Rather like the Palestinians when they voted for an inappropriate party in January 2006, the Haitian people were straight away forced to pay a high price for their failure to elect a suitably moderate and broad-based government. The US seized on the OAS accusation of fraudulent elections to justify a crippling embargo on all further foreign aid. The US hadn't seemed particularly concerned about democratic legitimacy when it funneled millions of dollars to the Duvaliers and the juntas which followed them (to say nothing of the much larger sums it continues to invest in the authoritarian regimes of countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Columbia).


"At every turn," notes Amy Wilentz, this "US-backed opposition tried to bring political life under Aristide to a halt."(44) The US used its leverage in the OAS to ensure that any solution to the so-called electoral crisis would depend on the CD's approval, thereby handing a minority group supported by a small fraction of the population effective veto over the elected government.(45) Between June 2000 and February 2004, the Democratic Convergence would reject each and every FL offer of new elections and of new forms of power-sharing. Max Blumenthal estimates that by the end of its second year in existence, the Democratic Convergence had already rejected "over twenty internationally sanctioned power sharing agreements"(46)

In an article written on the day of Arisitide's expulsion in 2004, Jeffrey Sachs was one of few people with access to the mainstream press who recognized what had really happened:
"By saying that aid would be frozen until Aristide and the political opposition reached an agreement, the Bush administration provided Haiti's unelected opposition with an open-ended veto. Aristide's foes merely had to refuse to bargain in order to plunge Haiti into chaos. That chaos has now come. It is sad to hear rampaging students on BBC and CNN saying that Aristide "lied" because he didn't improve the country's social conditions. Yes, Haiti's economic collapse is fuelling rioting and deaths, but the lies were no Aristide's The lies came from Washington."(59)

A brief exchange in early March on the BBC's flagship news program further illustrates the impressively flexible stance adopted by the world's media during the second coup. After a short interview with the now-exiled Aristide, in which he repeated his claim that he had been forced out of office under US pressure, the program anchor turned to BBC correspondent Daniel Lak in Port-au-Prince to sort out the confusion. "So it's not completely made up, Aristide does have people who support him, it's not just a handful of thugs who are paid by him?" Lak replied: "Oh absolutely. The people who support him are the poor of this country, the vast majority. There 8 million Haitians, and probably 95 percent of them are desperately poor. It's the rich and the small middle class who support Aristide's opponents, and the poor who generally support Aristide." What then about the conflicting explanations of Aristide's departure: was it effectively a coup, or a voluntary resignation? "Is it possible to peer through and establish any truth about this," asked the anchor, "or is it just too difficult, from where you're standing?" Lak's answer speaks volumes. "I think it's just too difficult, um . . . The two options are pretty stark. But it's clear that the Americans did want to see the back of Mr. Aristide."(83)

The Aristide and Preval years were an exceptional period by every pertinent standard. For the first time in history, Haiti's people were ruled by a government of their choosing, one that adopted their priorities as their own. There are good reasons why so many of its supporters remain unwilling to this day to abandon their calls for Aristide's return, why they refuse USE and NGO calls simply to "move forward" and "look ahead" to a future that the international community has chosen for it. More than its concrete achievements, perhaps the most important reason why a majority of the Haitian poor remains sympathetic to Lavalas in general and to Aristide in particular is the fact that, despite its limitations and mistakes, they could affirm them as vehicles for their ownempowerment. "Everyone who is anyone is against Aristide," a Haitian businessman told a reporter shortly before the September 1991 coup, "except the people."(16) In 1991 as in 2001 (and in all likelihood as in 2011), it is the peuple, the people who traditionally have been treated not as anyone but as no-one, who have always stubbornly supported Aristide. If you ask FL activists like Jean-Marie Samedy or John Joseph Jorel why they still support him, the first thing they say is, "He was close to the people from the poorer neighbourhoods, and he always worked alongside us"; "He gave us a lot of respect, he was the only politician ever to treat us with dignity, to value us, to help us confront the obstacles that we face."(17)

Popular support for Aristide, in other words, is anything but passive. Much of this support has for more than two decades now been channeled through the informal but resilient network of organisations populaires (OPs), which have played a central role in the collective mobilization since the demise of Jean-Claude Duvalier (if not, as many OP members will tell you, since the development of mass resistance to the US occupation 1915-34). In a country in which state services are so weak and intermittent, OPs provide an instrument for all kinds of social programs - schooling construction, youth projects, cultural projects, sports and athletic facilities, street cleaning and waste management, and so on. Leaders like Gerard Jean-Juste and Jean-Marie Samedy are good examples of the way Lavalas authority emerges from local commitment: they owe their prominence as political spokesmen primarily for their constancy as social activists and advocates for the poor inhabitants of the neighbourhoods where they live.

Most of the older OPs developed out of the pro-democracy movement of the mid-1980s, at a time when poor neighbourhoods also formed comites de vigilance to defend themselves against the military's increasingly regular incursions. Following the transformative mobilization around Aristide's first election in 1990, many of these committees later evolved in tandem with the grassroots organization of Fanmi Lavalas. Fanmi Lavalas is derided by its critics as little more than an ad hoc association ambitious and unprincipled schemers, grouped submissively around their charismatic chief. Many opportunists certainly did worm their way into the organization, once it became clear that it offered an almost guaranteed pathway to political power; I'll come back to this point in the following chapter. Critics of FL who harp on about the scoundrels that jumped on its electoral bandwagon downplay, however, the genuine popular force that lends this wagon its momentum in the first place. As Ramilus Bolivar (a rural activist elected as a FL deputy in May 2000) puts it "Fanmi Lavalas is the only political organization that has ever tried systematically to formulate and implement the people's demands, and to do this in direct confrontation with Haiti's old imperial enemies. This is why I'd guess that around 75 percent of the peasantry still support Fanmi Lavalas."(22)
On the model of the ti legliz and the organisations populaires before it, FL draws its power from the many hundreds of local cellules or ti fanmis, small groups of dedicated, grassroots militants. This national network ofmilitants de base - the baz, for short - is what distinguishes FL from any other Haitian political party or organization. As things stand, FL is by far the most inclusive and participative of Haitian political organizations. Its organization is cohesive enough to win a national election, but elastic enough to stretch over a diffuse network of semi-autonomous groups. Each neighbourhood or district  has its own informal committee whose members meet regularly to discuss local issues, engage with the local problems, maintain the integrity of the local organization, and agree on feedback to be communicated to the wider regional cell. This cell is further represented at the municipal and national levels through participation in steering committees like the Cellule de Reflexion Nationale, and the Cellule Nationale de Base de Fanmi Lavalas. Unlike the great majority of Haitian politicians, the leading figures in the FL grassroots - people like Jean-Charles Moise, Jean-Marie Samedy, John Joseph Jorel, Gerard Jean-Juste, Samba Boukman - are people who have acquired political influence (and in some cases political salaries) not through manipulation of a few elite connections but through their daily work in the midst of the people.(23) They have emerged through the mobilzation of a particular neighbourhood or region, through an endless series of meetingsm demonstrations, encounters with the police, occasional discussions with the media, and if they attain a certain prominence it is because they retain broad approval as spokesmen, precisely, for the particular district.
For the time being, at least, Fanmi Lavalas remains the single most important organized political force in the country. Its leaders may decide to adopt a different name and formal configuration, but as things stand it remains Haiti's central political actor. Fanmi Lavalas is the main obstacle to the elite's political agenda. More than any other political organization or institution, it stands in the way of elite attempts to turn the clock back, to undo the revolution of 1990. Rather than Aristide per se it was this organizations enduring strength in the poorer neighbourhoods that was the real target of pro-coup forces in and after 2004.

For all its faults, the fact is that to this day Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas remains the most significant force for popular mobilization in Haiti. It is the only group that can mobilize large numbers of demonstrators and voters via well-organized cells located in every part of the country. It is often said that over time Aristide managed to alienate most of his initial supporters. This isn't true. Most of the fellow-travelers and tactical allied fell away, certainly, but the commited local activists - Gerard Jean-Juste, John Joseph Jorel, Jean-Charles Moise, Belizaire Printemps, Samba Boukman, Rea Dol . . . - have remained loyal to Aristide from the beginning.
So have, by every available indicator,  large majority of the Haitian people. By 2003-04 relentless destabilization and FL mistakes had taken their toll on support for FL, but as the most details - and by no means uncritical - study of the recent period concludes, there was no doubt that Aristide still enjoyed "undisputed and overwhelming popularity" among the mass of Haitians.(108) In a US commissioned Gallup poll of October 2000, FL was thirteen times more popular than its closest competitor, and over half of those polled identified Aristide as their most trusted leader. According to the last "neutral" measure before the 2004 coup, a further Gallup poll conducted in March 2002, FL remained four times more popular than all its significant competitors combined; 60 percent of respondents again picked Aristide as the leader they trusted most, while his nearest rival, Convergence leader Gerard Gourgue, won the backing of just 3.7 percent of respondents.(109)


Last question of interview.