Damning the Flood:
Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment"
by Joe Emersberger
"Damning the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of
Containment" Peter Hallward meticulously explains how, on February
29 of 2004, the US managed to "topple one of the most popular
governments in Latin America but it managed to topple it in a manner
that wasn't widely criticized or even recognized as a coup at all."
Imperial powers do not reinvent the wheel when it comes to
undermining democracy in poor countries. Hallward identifies
valuable lessons for people who wish to limit the damage that
powerful countries inflict on the weak.
The narrative he presents is not complicated, but to present it he
must expose countless lies and half truths and brilliantly explore
many simple questions that corporate journalists invariably failed
The story the corporate press and even some alternative media
presented to the world, when it was coherent at all, is roughly what
Aristide was elected Haiti's president in 1990 in the country's
first free and fair election. He was overthrown in 1991 by the
Haiti's army at the behest of Haiti's elite who feared that he may
lift the poor out of poverty and powerlessness.
The US, despite some misgivings, restored him to power in 1994 after
economic sanctions failed to budge the military junta that replaced
him. He stood aside while his close ally, Rene Preval, occupied the
presidency for several years. In 2000 Aristide was brought to power
through rigged elections.
By the end of 2003 Aristide had lost popular support and important
allies due to corruption and violence. He could only keep power
because he had armed gangs in the slums.
In February of 2004, faced not only with a broad based political
opposition, but by armed rebels and gangs who had turned against
him, Aristide resigned and asked the US to fly him to safety as the
rebels were about to overrun the capital.
Hallward shows that barely anything about the widely accepted
narrative above is true.
The US was behind the first coup that ousted Aristide in 1991, and
supplied the junta through a selectively porous embargo. It restored
Aristide in 1994 because the political price of playing along with
the junta had become exorbitant.
After he was restored, the US made sure that Haiti's security forces
were infiltrated by henchmen of the military regime, and leaned on
Aristide to implement unpopular economic policies - far beyond what
he had agreed to as a condition for being restored. He resisted US
pressure for further concessions on economic policy, and disbanded
the Haitian army over strong US objections.
In response, the US spent 70 million dollars between 1994 and 2002
directly on strengthening Aristide's political opponents. Over these
years many of Aristide's allies among the "cosmopolitan elite", as
Hallwards calls them, became bitter enemies.
Often their resentment stemmed from being passed over by Aristide
for jobs or political endorsement in favour of grassroots activists
from the Lavalas movement. Some defectors from Aristide's camp, like
Evans Paul, had impressive track records in the fight against
pre-1990 dictatorships and against the 1991 coup, but by 2000 most
had joined a coalition with the far right (known as Democratic
Convergence) which was cobbled together with US money.
Invariably, these former Aristide allies lost almost all popular
support after defecting to the US camp. However they were well
connected with foreign NGOs and the international press. The
elections of 2000 were not only free and fair, but the results
completely in line with what secret US commissioned polls had
predicted. Aristide's opponents were trounced but successfully sold
the lie that the 2000 elections were fraudulent.
The US (joined by the EU and Canada) blocked hundreds of millions of
aid from Aristide's government. An unsuccessful coup attempt by far
right paramilitaies took place in 2001. Other deadly attacks on
Lavalas partisans took place during Aristide's second term, but went
largely unnoticed by the international press and NGOs. In contrast,
reprisals on Aristide's opponents were widely reported.
By late February of 2004 both the political and armed opposition
were in danger of being exposed as frauds. US destabilization
efforts, though successful in many ways, had failed to produce an
electable opposition to Aristide and his Famni Lavalas party.
The rebels, whose collusion with the political opposition was
becoming difficult for the corporate press to ignore, were in no
position to take Port-au-Prince. Hence, the US moved in to complete
the coup themselves (with crucial assistance from France and Canada)
and not through Haitian proxies as they had in 1991.
There does not yet exist, if it ever will, the kind of detailed
internal record that exists for U.S. backed coups in Chile and
Argentina during the 1970s. Though important fragments have been
uncovered by researchers like Anthony Fenton, Yves Engler, Isabel
Macdonald and Jeb Sprague, Peter Hallward makes his case by
carefully gathering uncontroversial facts (like the presidential
election results of 2006 in which the pro-coup politicians were
crushed) and then applying logic and common sense.
Hallward might have gone into more detail about how Aristide kept
most Haitians on his side in the face of such a relentless onslaught
from such powerful enemies. The social programs Aristide's
government implemented, the inclusive and participatory nature of
the Famni Lavalas Party were certainly mentioned in the book but
they should have been elaborated on. There are crucial lessons to be
learned there for people's movements around the world..
Hallward is accurate in describing his book as "an exercise in
anti-demonization, not deification." He wrote that if Aristide
"shares some of the responsibility for the debacle of 2004 it is
because it occasionally failed to act with the sort of vigor and
determination its most vulnerable supporters were entitled to
Hallward says a certain amount of complacency took hold in Fanmni
Lavalas due to its popularity, and that it was sometimes slow to
recognize enemies and opportunists within its ranks, but Hallward
should have placed more emphasis on his concluding point that the
renewal of Haitian democracy "will require the renewal of
emancipatory politics within the imperial nations themselves." It is
mainly we, within the imperial nations, who need to do the soul
searching and analysis of what we should have done better.. Aristide
hinted at this crucial point in his interview with Hallward:
"The real problem isn't really a Haitian one, it isn't located
within Haiti. It is a problem for Haiti that is located outside
Joe Emersberger contributes to HaitiAnalysis.com
posted February 20, 2008, from Caribbean Net News