Monday, March 7, 2005 at 12:00 PM
Last week, Haiti erupted in unwieldy political violence and demonstrated, once again, that law and order remain elusive in that infernal paradise – despite (unfulfilled) UN peacekeeping mandates and (promises of) American economic assistance.
Haiti was the first independent black nation in the new world. Therefore, one might have expected the celebration of its Bicentennial last year to be a festive occasion complete with a proud procession of international dignitaries to burnish their political bona fides. Instead, this momentous date in black history was marked with all of the protocol and excitement of an ordinary Creole dirge. And, the only dignitaries of note who even bothered to attend were U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, the Congressional Black Caucus member who is renowned for her political histrionics, and Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa who has earned international derision as a doting godfather to unrepentant black dictators.
So, how could Haiti be so marginalized and disrespected with impunity by international leaders?
Well, perhaps Haiti is fated to loom amidst the islands of the Caribbean just as Africa is amidst the continents of the world – as a dark, destitute, diseased, desperate, disenfranchised, dishonest, disorganized, disassociated, dangerous and, ultimately, dysfunctional mess. And, like Africa’s intractable maladies, Haiti’s blight has become so toxic that no pragmatic politician wants his clout emasculated by being associated with it in any way whatsoever. . (Clearly this is why so few prominent Heads of State or other dignitaries even bothered to attend its historic Bicentennial celebrations.)
Meanwhile, Haitians are living a nightmare. And, even though white foreign faces appear as evil forces from time to time, black indigenous faces (like those of the Tonton Macoutes, FRAPH and even Catholic Lavalas devotees) are the constant, central and catalytic characters in Haiti’s purgatory.
It is easy to forget how promising Haiti’s future seemed when Jean Betrand Aristide was elected 1990. But, after 14 years of providing more political drama than national development, Aristide was escorted into exile on the paternal wings of the U.S. Marines last year. He claims that the American government and local businessmen (mostly mulatto bourgeois Europhiles calling themselves “the Group of 184”) orchestrated a coup d’état because they felt his policies focused too much on poor family farmers at the expense of their international financial interests. Of course, the Americans and their Haitian cohorts deny his claims as the delusions of a messianic priest with destabilizing Stalinist predilections.
Whatever the case, there are no saints (or even moral actors) in this ongoing nightmare. But the facts do indicate that it was Aristide’s successor in 1996, Andre Preval, who initiated land and social reforms to help the poor. And, incidentally, if he were reelected (if presidential elections are ever held), Preval would clearly offer Haitians their best hope for relief and redemption. Although it should be noted that Preval was summarily and, perhaps, irreparably discredited as a captive of business interests by Aristide who discontinued these reforms when he replaced Preval as president for a second time in 2000. So this too might prove an opportunity lost for Haiti.
A far more interesting observation, however, is that from the outset of his reelection, Aristide’s policies and behaviour alienated even his most sympathetic and powerful supporter – U.S. President Bill Clinton. And, given Aristide’s claim of U.S. involvement in his eventual downfall, one cannot discount the fact that America’s boot prints have been conspicuously evident at every step along the trail of Haiti’s historical and continuing descent into a political, economic and social hell.
Therefore, it redounds to America’s eternal shame that despite its prevailing influence, Haiti has never been salvaged from the political strife and unconscionable poverty, hunger and disease that earn it the perennial dishonor as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And, America does not seem disposed to allocate any more of its time and resources to help Haiti treat these chronic ills. But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez might see this as an opportunity to use his petrodollars to fund a socialist revolution in Haiti the way America has been funding democratic revolutions throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Alas, hope springs eternal…
Meanwhile, it is painfully evident that America’s latest protégé Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, has done little to restore law and order or to improve the economic and social conditions of his people. But to add levity to Haiti’s woes, Aristide’s Lavalas family members are now calling for Latotue’s immediate resignation to clear the path for the fourth coming of their black messiah.
Note: Even as Haiti wallows in chaos and violence, almost every nation in the Caribbean is busy rounding up Haitian refugees, on a daily basis, to return them to their rightful place.