book review by Robert Annis
An Unbroken Agony
Haiti, From Revolution to the
Kidnapping of a President
by Randall Robinson
Basic Civitas Books
www.zmag.org/, October 6, 2007
Randall Robinson has written the story of a great tragedy of recent
times--the violent overthrow of Haiti's elected president and
government on February 29, 2004. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From
Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President gives a blow by blow
account of the events surrounding that tragedy.
The author brings impressive credentials to the task. He helped
to found the Trans Africa Forum, one of the most established human
rights and social justice advocacy organizations in the U.S.,
dedicated to improving the lot of people of African descent. The
Forum has long fought for a fair and respectful U.S. economic
and political relationship with Haiti. His work gave him an enduring
respect for the ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and
his wife Mildred.
Robinson writes with an unapologetic passion for the Haitian people's
historic fight against slavery and colonialism. He situates the
tragic events of 2004 on the broader canvas of the racism and
imperial arrogance that has dominated the policies of the world's
big powers towards Haiti, particularly those of the U.S. and France.
Why is Haiti so poor, the uninformed observer will ask. Surely,
after 200 years of nominal independence the country could do better?
"As punishment for creating the first free republic in the
Americas (when thirteen percent of the people living in the United
States were slaves)," Robinson replies, "The new Republic
of Haiti was met with a global economic embargo imposed by the
United States and Europe."
"The Haitian economy has never recovered from the havoc France
(and America) wreaked upon it, during and after slavery."
Robinson is not trying to write a comprehensive history of Haiti.
(Paul Farmer's The Uses of Haiti fits that bill admirably.) He
does, however, provide enough historical background to explain
The author rushes the reader back and forth in time and place
in an effort to recreate the drama and tragedy of February 2004.
"It was Friday, February 27, 2004," he opens one chapter,
"the evening before the last day of Haitian democracy."
The stage for the overthrow of February 29, 2004 was set in the
national election in the year 2000. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was
elected president for a second time. The U.S., France and Canada,
the three contemporary overseers of Haiti, threw up their hands
in exasperation over the electorate's choice of a man and a political
movement dedicated to lifting the burden of their crushing poverty.
Aristide promised improvements to the lot of the desperately poor
Haitian majority, and he was a man of his word. The big powers
would have none of it. They began an embargo of aid funds to the
government, directing funds instead to parallel services operated
by "non-governmental" or charitable organizations. Soon
they would also block the government's requests to international
financial institutions for loans to finance ambitious education
and health care projects
More ominously, money and arms flowed to paramilitary forces sponsored
by the venal Haitian elite and drawn from the disbanded Haitian
army or purged Haitian National Police. The paramilitaries were
safely lodged in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Robinson
captures the gravity and drama of the periodic assaults they launched
against the institutions of the Haitian government following the
When the paramilitaries launched what became a final incursion
in early 2004, they were a small force, no more than 200. They
were feared and hated by the majority of the Haitian people. By
virtue of an overwhelming superiority of arms, they were able
to wreck government rule in cities in the north of the country.
But they didn't have a chance of taking the capital city. That
task fell to their international sponsors, and this was done on
February 28-29. The U.S., France, Canada and Chile landed troops
at strategic locations in the country.
The Aristides were taken by U.S military forces to one of the
most isolated countries in the world, the Central African Republic.
An Unbroken Agony kicks into high gear as the author tells the
story of the delegation he led on a harrowing flight to the Central
African Republic on March 14 to rescue them from a quasi-imprisonment.
The delegation included U.S. congresswoman Maxine Walters. It
had no idea of the reception it would receive from the country's
ruler, François Bozize, a client of French imperialism.
After many tense hours, Bozize gave permission to the delegation
to leave, its mission accomplished. The Aristides were granted
political exile in South Africa, where they remain to this day.
One of the myths perpetrated by supporters of the foreign intervention
in Haiti is that Jean-Bertrand Aristide was prepared to leave
the presidency and the country in the face of the mounting political
pressure against him. The Aristides accepted a U.S. offer to whisk
them out of the country, so the story goes. Robinson presents
extensive documentation to dispel the myth.
An Unbroken Agony prompted many questions in the mind of this
reader. How did the paramilitaries achieve such a devastating
impact? The Haitians who overthrew Haitian democracy in February
2004 were a tiny force-their principal leader, Guy Philippe, received
less than two percent of the vote in the 2006 presidential election.
Were there more decisive steps that the Aristide government could
have taken to defend the country and minimize the havoc they caused
following the 200 election?
And what has become of Latin American solidarity? Robinson describes
the selfless measures of the early 19th century Haitian revolutionaries
to aid the independence struggle of the South American peoples
led by Simón Bolivar. Today, the majority of the 7,100
foot soldiers of the post-2004 UN-sponsored occupation force in
Haiti are drawn from the countries of Latin America, with Brazil
- whose president is the leader of the governing "Workers
Party" - in the lead. The UN force is responsible for innumerable
killings and jailings of pro-democracy fighters following February
2004. Thankfully, substantial aid and solidarity to Haiti from
Venezuela and Cuba keeps the banner of Simón Bolivar flying
high in Haiti.
Haiti is living an unprecedented economic and social calamity
as a consequence of the coup d'etat of 2004. The violent overthrow
of its government received little attention or concern from democratic
opinion in the world. A shameful silence still reigns.
Roger Annis travelled to Haiti from August 5 to 20 as a participant
in a human rights investigative delegation. He can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read his reports from Haiti