from the book
The Uses of Haiti
... we are the richest and most powerful country in the world,
while Haiti is at the opposite extreme of human existence: miserable,
horrifying, black, ugly. We may pity Haitians and other backward
peoples who have, unaccountably, failed to achieve our nobility
and wealth, and we may even try to lend them a helping hand, out
of humanitarian impulse. But responsibility stops there.
Many Americans resist the idea that U.S. administrations have
hastened the decline of this beleaguered little nation. This resistance
is due to many factors, not the least of which is the discomfort
born of facing ugly realities about the role of our government
in the Third World.
[A] gigantic wall is being constructed in the Third World, to
hide the reality of the poor majorities. A wall between the rich
and the poor is being built, so that poverty does not annoy the
powerful and the poor are obliged to die in the silence of history...
A wall of disinformation...is being built to casually pervert
the reality of the Third World.
Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History
"... rereading history ... means remaking history. It
means repairing it from the bottom up. And so it will be a subversive
history. History must be turned upside-down from the bottom, not
from the top."
(Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of Hispanola in 1492,
and the Arawak-speaking natives warmly welcomed Columbus, but
they did not survive long against a deadly admixture of imported
infectious disease, slavery and outright slaughter.)
The "lovable, tractable, peaceable, gentle, decorous
Indians," as Columbus had described them in letters home,
sickened and died at a rate that appalled even the Europeans.
Estimates of their number at the close of the fifteenth century
reach as high as eight million, but by 1510, only 50,000 natives
remained on the island. Less than thirty years later, the native
population could be counted in the hundreds, and the French chronicler
Moreau de Saint-Mery would later note that, late in the seventeenth
century, "there remained not a single Indian when the French
came to wrest the island from the Spanish."
The plantation machine established the Caribbean' as "an
important historico-economic sea." Soon, slave ships were
running a triangular trade, exchanging manufactured goods from
the European metropolises for slaves from the west coast of Africa,
ferrying Africans to the Caribbean and bearing the sugar and spirits
produced by slave labor back to Europe. This trade brought down
kingdoms, African and European, accelerated the development of
virtually all important European port cities, and changed forever
the populations of the new world.
Baron de Vastey, a Haitian slave
"Have they not hung up men with heads downward. drowned
them in sacks, crucified them on planks. buried them alive, crushed
them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat shit? And, after
having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive
to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes
in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown
them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup?"
U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull
"President Trujillo is one the greatest men in Central
America and in most of South America.''
It has often been remarked that Francois Duvalier was elected
in Haiti's first universal suffrage. This is incorrect. No official
observers monitored the 1957 election. Had they been present,
they might have wondered about army-organized elections that excluded
the single most popular candidate-Fignole-and featured such transparent
anomalies as were registered on the small island of La Tortue,
where 900 registered voters delivered 7,500 ballots for Duvalier.
Similar irregularities were reported throughout the republic.
Duvalier was, of course, the army's candidate, as well as that
of a number of U.S. citizens influential in Haiti.
anthropologist Robert Lawless suggests:
"Apparently, the 1971 transition from Duvalier Senior
to Duvalier Junior...was part of a deal worked out between Francois
Duvalier and the Nixon administration during Vice President Nelson
Rockefeller's trip there in 1970. The United States would support
the continuation of the Duvalier dynasty, and Jean-Claude. when
he came to power, would support a new economic program guided
by the United States, a program featuring private investments
from the United States that would be drawn to Haiti by such incentives
as no customs taxes, a minimum wage kept very low, the suppression
of labor unions, and the right of American companies to repatriate
In fact, Haiti and El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s resembled
each other more than the government of either would care to admit.
Each was poor, overcrowded, and ruled by a U.S.-backed right-wing
regime, factors all intimately related to the growth of the U.S.-backed
assembly plants: "Largely because of its cheap labor force,
extensive government repression, and denial of even minimal labor
rights, Haiti is one of the most attractive countries for both
the subcontractors and the maquilas." The misery of the Haitian
majority was not without certain benefits, according to a CIA
document from the same period: "To some extent 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."
The public-relations war continued long after Aristide was
overthrown. On October 30, 1993, British journalist Isabel Hilton
noted that, 'Today the little priest should have returned in triumph.
But the miracle didn't happen."
Isabel Hilton, British journalist October 30, 1993
On what had happened in between - in the eight months of Fr
Aristide's rule - opinions divide. For those who share his faith,
it was an age of miracles, the priest in the white palace was
their man. For those whom one US ambassador called the "morally
repugnant elite," it was a time of unsufferable humiliation."
Poet Jean-Claude Martineau recently attempted to address this
And why do the elite hate him so much? All their traditional
privileges have been questioned: the way that they make their
money, most of the time illegally: drugs, and contraband, and
abuse. All of these kinds of things have been questioned, with
a very strong possibility of changing the way the country is run:
changing the way people perceive power. Because in Haiti the power
is an absolute power.
Haitian businessman to a reporter a couple of weeks before the
1991 coup against Aristide
"Everyone who is anyone is against Aristide. Except the
In an October 8 article entitled "The White House Refuses
to Link Aristide's Return and Democracy," New York Times
diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman wrote that,
"American officials signaled privately that they were
moving away from their unequivocal support of Father Aristide
in light of concerns over his human rights record....Today, when
the White House spokesman. Marlin Fitzwater, was asked if that
was the case, he responded with a less than ringing endorsement
for the Haitian president. and suggested that Washington was most
interested in the restoration of constitutional democracy in Haiti,
not a particular individual.
San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 1991
Haiti's Richest Families Financed Coup That Toppled Aristide
In what now appears to have been a well-coordinated operation,
Haiti's small and wealthy elite provided money, food and transport
to the rebellious soldiers who took over the country late last
month in a bloody coup. Details have emerged of weapons shipments
and payments to military units before the September 30 coup, and
they implicate some of the richest and most reactionary families
Howard French, New York Times, 1992
Despite much blood on the army's hands, United States diplomats
consider it a vital counterweight to Father Aristide, whose class-struggle
rhetoric...threatened or antagonized traditional power centers
at home abroad.
"the media serve the interests of state and corporate
power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting
and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and
limiting debate and discussion accordingly."
Haiti's tragedy is less about race, more about the right of investors
to determine l the living conditions of the poor. As Amy Wilentz
has noted, "By tradition, the country was the private property
of whoever ruled it; its coffers and customs were their source
of revenue; its airstrips, ports, boats and planes theirs to use
to ship whatever was most profitable: in our day cocaine."
Drug transshipment became big business under Baby Doc; during
his tenure, the trade was said to be linked to his wife's family
(her brother was jailed in the United States on related charges).
After February 1986, the trade was assured by Casernes Dessalines,
as military headquarters are termed. One South American diplomat
explained that the military have an airstrip on a ranch by the
Dominican border. "It works like this: The big planes fly
up from Colombia, unload there, and fly back. The stuff's then
put in the little planes, and goes on its way. The fee is $30,000
a cargo. Of course, the whole operation is run out of Casernes
Aristide's anti-drug campaign thus threatened a very lucrative
enterprise. Small wonder, then, that those new Uzis and assault
rifles are said to have been paid for with drug money.
"An 'ultranationalist' regime becomes an even greater
threat if it appears to be succeeding in ways that might be meaningful
to other poor and oppressed people. In that case it is a 'virus'
that might 'infect' others, a 'rotten apple' that might 'spoil
the barrel.' It is a threat to 'stability.' Echoes of the nineteenth
century allusions to the dangerous Black Republic resound.
Aristide's ascent, then, was a message of international currency.
For the first time since 1804, the symbolic uses of Haiti included
its value as a model of justice. Aristide's election was watched
with interest throughout the rest of Latin America, as the comments
of Msgr. Jacques Gaillot, the Bishop of Evreux, France, suggest:
"Aristide's inauguration represents immense hope, not
only for the Haitian people, but also. I believe, for the people
of the Dominican Republic and all the other peoples of Latin America.
The beacon is no longer Nicaragua, it is now Haiti, and Haiti
truly has the duty and the right to succeed on behalf of all people
who desire this experience of liberation."
It is for this reason, surely, that so much was invested in
containing Aristide's ideas. Assembly plants can be moved, hastily
if need be, but it is far more difficult to quash ideas such as
the one so eloquently embedded in the notion of an "option
for the poor." And so, conservative "counterweights"
to Aristide were glutted with money from the National Endowment
for Democracy, USAID and the CIA. Did the CIA fund or encourage
the coup, as has happened elsewhere in Latin America when progressive
governments came to power? The point may be moot:
"There need not be evidence the CIA egged on the military
for this episode to inspire a re-evaluation of how the agency
does overseas business. Merely by paying thuggish military leaders
to be intelligence assets, the CIA might have caused coup plotters
to believe their assault against Aristide would not upset their
generous American friends. Predictably, with NED and CIA money,
Washington endowed not forces of democracy but of murderous oppression.
In a scholarly assessment of the Guatemalan' coup, historian
Richard Immerman describes the philosophies of Arbenz and his
predecessor, Juan Arevalo. Arbenz was a talented young military
officer; Arevalo, a major figure in Guatemalan political and educational
thought. Through them, "'Arevalism,' a romantic, pragmatic,
and neo-idealist movement that rejected historical materialism
and communism, guided Guatemala for almost a decade.
On several points, Arevalo and Arbenz resemble the young Aristide
who tried to assemble a coalition in 1991:
Each was a nationalist, somewhat of an eclectic idealist whose
philosophy could best be characterized as an amalgam of liberal
reformism, democratic socialism, and a certain tinge of anti-Yankee
sentiment. As mandated by the 1944 revolution, they vowed to modernize
Guatemala, to create the conditions necessary for the country's
self-sufficiency, and to increase the standard of living for the
majority of the population. Each outlined his programs during
his campaign for the presidency, and each adhered to his platform.
Another assessment, by historian Sheldon Liss, notes that
Arbenz was dedicated to "converting the backward economy
into a modern capitalist one, and elevating the living standards
of the masses." Although these philosophies and platforms
were far from radical, they enraged the local oligarchy, which
wished to maintain the feudal structures that guaranteed their
privileges: "Condemning government officials as inexperienced,
incompetent, and easily corrupted (and, of course, Communist),
they predicted widespread looting, rampant inflation, and social
and political chaos. '
As specious as such projections were, the Guatemalan elite
knew that it could count on the supportive echo of the government
of the United States. Communism was defined, then as now, as opposition
to U.S. interests ...
Fred Sherwood, the former president of the American Chamber of
Commerce in Guatemala, offered the following comments in September
1980: "Why should we worry about the death squads?
"They're bumping off the commies, our enemies. I'd give
them more power. Hell, I'd give them some cartridges if I could,
and everyone else would too...Why should we criticize them? The
death squad-I'm for it."
Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Reagan's ambassador to the U.N. in the 1980s,
indignant about the Salvadoran government's implication in death
" ... I think it's a terrible injustice to the [Salvadoran]
Government and the military system when you suggest that they
were somehow responsible for terrorism and assassination."
Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation
Although the privileged of this world can accept the existence
of poverty on a massive scale and not be overawed by it, problems
begin when the causes of this poverty are pointed out to them.
Once causes are determined, then there is talk of 'social injustice,'
and the privileged begin to resist. This is especially true when
to structural analysis there is added a concrete historical perspective
in which personal responsibilities come to light. But it is the
consientization and resultant organization of poor sectors that
rouse the greatest fears and the strongest resistance.
Noam Chomsky, The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
In a situation of occupation or domination, the occupier,
the dominant power, has to justify what it's doing. There is only
one way to do it - become a racist. You have to blame the victim.
Once you've become a raving racist in self-defense, you've lost
your capacity to understand what's happening.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928
The conscious and Intelligent manipulation of the organized
habits of the masses is an important element in democratic society.
Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute
an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our
1968, Noam Chomsky, an essay on "Objectivity and Liberal
If it is plausible that ideology will in general serve as
a mask for self-interest, then it is a natural presumption that
intellectuals, in interpreting history or formulating policy,
will tend to adopt an elitist position, condemning popular movements
and mass participation in decision-making, and emphasizing rather
the necessity for supervision by those who possess the knowledge
and understanding that is required (so they claim) to manage society
and control social change.
Many ... factors induce the media to conform to the requirements
of the state-corporate nexus. To confront power is costly and
difficult: high standards of evidence and argument are imposed,
and critical analysis is naturally not welcomed by those who are
in a position to react vigorously and to determine the array of
rewards and punishments. Conformity to a 'patriotic agenda,' in
contrast, imposes no such costs.
In November 1993, some 12,000 documents regarding U.S. activities
in El Salvador were declassified:
The thousands of State Department, Defense Department and
CIA documents demanded by Congress show that the Reagan White
House was fully aware of who ran, funded and protected the El
Salvador death squads of the 1980s, and planned the 1980 death
of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. The documents
were turned over the first week in November by a reluctant Clinton
White House under pressure from Congressman Joe Moakley, D-Mass.,
and Lee Hamilton, D-lnd., and other congressional signatories.
In Haiti. it is not enough to heal wounds, for every day another
wound opens up. It is not enough to give the poor food for one
day, to buy them antibiotics one day, to teach them to read a
few sentences or to write a few words. Hypocrisy. The next day
they will be starving again, feverish again, and they will never
be able to buy the books that hold the words that might deliver
a song by Manno Charlemagne, a Haitian folk singer
"International organizations are not on our side. They're
there to help the thieves rob and devour... International health
stays on the sidelines of our struggle."