Who is Aristide?
from the book
The Uses of Haiti
by Paul Farmer
Just who is Aristide? In person, he is anything but imposing.
A mere 32-years-old when Duvalier fell, Aristide gives the impression
of a man who came of age in the midst of bitter struggle, a man
rendered prematurely grave. Described by some as frail, he is
really quite sturdy and strong. In conversation, he is often soft-spoken
and attentive. He is, in any case, a far cry from the "radical
flrebrand" described in U.S. embassy cables of 1987.
Aristide is indeed a radical, but not in the sense of the
dispatches to Washington: he is radically devoted to the poor.
His political inspiration comes not from any manifesto or existing
political system, but from the Bib}e and from theological documents
elaborated in Puebla and Medellin-the wellsprings of liberation
theology-as he has openly noted in his sermons.
Aristide's main inspiration comes directly from the poor themselves.
He has worked with disaffected and unemployed urban youth, and
with the street children and beggars and homeless inhabitants
of a city of well over a million people. Reflecting the harsh
conditions in which Haiti's poor live, Aristide's homilies have
always been harshly and explicitly admonitory. Take, for example,
a sermon delivered shortly before Easter of 1985, when sermons
tended to be tame: "Today we can say that a Christian who
wishes to grow in holiness must ask that the land be redistributed.
He must ask that the big landholders give land to the poor, and
that the poor work that land and make it fruitful."
Through his preaching, Aristide became known not only for
his militant stance, which he shares with other clerics, but for
his bravery. In one celebrated act of defiance, Aristide continued
a Radio Soleil broadcast from the midst of a demonstration on
which the army had opened fire. Many remember this event, which
took place in April of 1986 in front of Fort Dimanche, as one
of the early manifestations both of Aristide's unwavering support
for democracy and, some thought, of his invulnerability. Aristide
is certainly tenacious. While the disappointments of the years
after 1986 discouraged many in the vanguard of the splintered
pro-democracy movement, Aristide himself never wavered. The higher
the stakes, the more prophetic he became.
The massacre at Jean-Rabel illustrates just how high the stakes
were and just how willing Aristide was to take risks. In an area
of parched northwest Haiti, community organizers, including a
number of progressive Catholics inspired by liberation theology,
had for years pushed for meaningful land reform. On July 23, 1987,
the struggle over land erupted around the town of Jean-Rabel.
Hundreds of peasants were killed by thugs in the pay of local
landowners, one of whom proudly boasted on television that they
had "killed over 1,000 communists." Although no formal
investigation of the murders was forthcoming, military complicity
was reported by survivors and suggested by the few journalists
who dared to report on the carnage.
The massacre occurred, reported Amy Wilentz, shortly after
a visit to the region by General Namphy-"to reaffirm his
bonds with the ruling families, the region's largest landholders.
A visit by Namphy often signaled the beginning of a repressive
wave." It was Aristide who both led the cry for justice for
those killed in Jean-Rabel and unveiled the role of the military:
Aristide, perceiving what he took to be a new and tougher
line among the junta and its supporters, was talking and preaching
about Jean Rabel, day after day. You couldn't listen to the radio
without hearing his voice. While others in the opposition had
gone into informal hiding after receiving multiple death threats,
he remained adamantly visible.
Namphy and his colleagues were enraged by Aristide's daring.
Time and again, the Salesians were advised to muzzle the young
priest, or at least to remove him from Port-au-Prince. He was
a bad influence, clearly: under Aristide's leadership, youth involvement
in Saint-Jean Bosco was at its peak, and SAJ, the Haitian youth
group, could be depended on for regular commentary on all events
of national importance.
The Salesians eventually caved in. In August 1987, Aristide
received notice of his immediate assignment to a parish in the
midst of the macoute-infested Cul-de-Sac Plain. But the youth
of Saint Jean Bosco, numbering in the thousands and coming from
all parts of the capital, began a hunger strike when learned of
Aristide's transfer. The strikers occupied the national Cathedral
in dramatic fashion. The already skinny youths lay on straw mats
before the massive altar. As the days went by, more and more people
came to pray over the young men and women, who called upon the
Episcopal Conference to state in unambiguous terms its support
for the poor. Needless to say, they also called on the bishops
"to stop their harassment of Father Aristide."
The strikers refused to budge, and soon all eyes were trained
on the cathedral. People in the countryside listened to their
radios to hear news of ti moun k'ap fe greu grangou, the "kids
on the hunger strike." The bishops were unable to call for
their genteel removal by the police, and the church hierarchy-without
Ligonde, who was nowhere in evidence-was at last forced to concede.
Aristide, by now widely known as "The Prophet," joined
three bishops and thousands of city-dwellers in an impromptu prayer
of thanksgiving for the end to the crisis.
This triumph was to be fleeting, however. As Aristide's following
grew, his threat to the status quo became apparent to all. Countless
death threats had been leveled against him; I count at least four
assassination attempts. The first, in Saint-Jean Bosco, was testimony
to the newly-returned Aristide's place on the short list of Duvalier's
enemies. Another occurred shortly after the hunger strike, at
a mass commemorating the July massacre in Jean-Rabel. At a service
held on August 23 near Pont-Sonde, another macoute stronghold,
Aristide was speaking to a large crowd assembled in an abandoned
cannery-the church was too small to contain the crowd-when shots
rang through the building. After the screams died down and the
dust settled, a lone gunman, his field of view unobstructed, stood
a mere 20 paces from Aristide. His poor marksmanship was of little
interest to those in attendance, who were fleeing, but it was
later agreed that divine intervention had again spared the persecuted,
A third attempt came that very night. The Port-au-Prince contingent,
several cars full of priests and nuns, had decided to risk returning
to the capital, fearing another attack if they remained near Pont
Sonde. During an intense storm, at a town called Freycineau and
in full view of a military post, the cortege was ambushed by a
crowd of armed men. They were looking for "Aristide and the
other communists." Aristide was hidden under a blanket in
the back of one of the cars, shielded by his fellow priests. William
Smarth, a priest expelled by Papa Doc in 1969, was forced out
into the rain when his windshield was smashed. He found a machete
poised above his head. "But brother," he said, "we
are just four priests." His assailant wavered, but another
threw a large rock at Father Smarth, wounding him in the groin.
The other passengers pulled Smarth back in as the car's driver
accelerated through a hole that had opened in the barricade before
them. They disappeared into the night, rain pouring in through
the shattered windshield.
The following morning, the entire nation heard of the attacks
on every radio and television in the country. Aristide and those
with him-including William Smarth-were still missing. Since the
hunger strike in the cathedral, Aristide had come to have a national,
rather than a regional, following, and was arguably the most beloved
figure in the country. The suspense was intolerable, and it was
not until a day later when the nation learned that all had escaped
the Freycineau ambush with minor injuries.
As Aristide's own account of the ambush suggests, his relationship
with the church hierarchy became even more frosty: "And when
the four Haitian priests who had been attacked at Freycineau asked
the Haitian bishops to say a Mass of grace and thanksgiving with
us, they refused. They refused!
As Aristide's relations with the hierarchy continued to deteriorate,
his relations with the government-now a thinly disguised military
dictatorship-were beyond repair. That the generals wanted Aristide
dead was well-appreciated even before the Freycineau attack. But
the regime was under tremendous international pressure to hold
elections-they were scheduled for November-and further state-sponsored
assassination attempts were likely to lead to an interruption
of foreign aid, upon which Haitian governments have long depended.
As the November elections approached, Aristide attacked the very
notion of elections under a macoute regime. He predicted that
any meaningful result would be negated and, further, that more
blood would be spilled.
Spilling of blood was increasingly common in Haiti. In an
incisive report filed on November 4, 1987 and published in the
New York Review of Books, one journalist made the following observations:
Something strange and terrible is taking shape in Haiti.
In July hundreds of peasants agitating for land reform in a remote
rural province were massacred by a ragtag force organized by a
local landowner. The leader of one political party was hacked
to death while addressing a crowd of peasants; another was murdered
in full view of reporters while delivering a speech in front of
police headquarters. At night, death squads roam the streets of
Port-au-Prince. and bandits man roadblocks on rural thoroughfares.
Haiti, preparing for elections this month, its first real elections
in thirty years, is coming to resemble Central America at its
As in Central America, elections were deemed absolutely necessary
to lend the appearance of democracy. The "traditional politicians,"
such as former World Bank official Marc Bazin, continued a perfunctory
campaign. (Bazin had been tagged the kandida meriken-the Americans'
candidate). At the eleventh hour, the left-leaning popular sector
put up a candidate, human rights advocate Gerard Gourgue, who
had discredited the CNG by resigning from it early in 1986. Needless
to say, Gourgue was not a favorite of General Namphy.
The CNG, most assumed, was deeply embroiled in the daily escalations
of violence. As Amy Wilentz noted, "The junta that Elliott
Abrams had called Haiti's best chance for democracy was pleased
by the attacks on the electoral process, and doubtless encouraged
them.' Every morning, the streets of Port-au-Prince were littered
Usually they were nobodies knocked off at random, perhaps
killed to settle small scores. Sometimes. however, they were young
members of opposition organizations, and the nightly murders,
the daily cadavers in the street, the randomness, the unknown
killers, the whole setup was a warning to everyone associated
with the elections and with the opposition, and that included
The U.S. embassy was not interested either in investigating
these killings or in protesting the assassinations of candidates.
Kenneth Roth, then deputy director of Human Rights Watch, stated
that "When we investigated political murders in Haiti, U.S.
Ambassador McKinley refused all cooperation." When asked
why the embassy failed to protest such killings, the envoy replied,
"We have no proof of such killings." Roth and his co-workers
offered to provide proof, at which point "Ambassador McKinley
replied that he found protesting such things as political murders
The CEP, beleaguered by death threats and burned out of their
offices on the day that they applied Article 291 to the Duvalierists,
continued to insist that elections were possible. The United States,
through its embassy, predicted that the elections would proceed
as planned. "Of course we abhor all violence," said
an embassy spokesman, "especially violence that is aimed
at destabilizing a democratic election. But we are confident that
the CNG will guarantee the safety of the voters and the honesty
of the election." Aristide continued to warn of a trap:
Only if we elected a government would the cold country to
our north. and its allies-other former colonizers-send us more
money and food. Of course, that money and that food corrupt our
society: the money helps to maintain an armed force against the
people: the food helps to ruin our national economy; and both
money and food keep Haiti in a situation of dependence on the
As the elections approached, however, a great number of Haitians
continued to hope that the vote might offer an end to the carnage.
As if the public murders of two presidential candidates were not
sufficient to shatter these hopes, a gruesome massacre of voters
on November 29, 1987 once again proved Aristide chillingly prophetic.
One Port-au-Prince polling place was in a school at the end of
a cul-de-sac, and it was here that the most lurid of several massacres
A television journalist from the Dominican Republic was gunned
down after he put his hands up over his head. Under an almond
tree in the school's front yard. the attackers hacked a screaming
woman to death. Two more women were killed in the bathroom. One
family who came to vote. grandmother. daughter and granddaughter,
were all killed. Voters who piled up in a corner of the classroom
were massacred. The attackers left. then returned and bore down
on the journalists who had come to record the results of the massacre.
The army's involvement was witnessed by scores of foreign
and local journalists, some of whom were injured or killed. The
carnage at last forced the United States to cancel aid to the
Or so the White House said. In truth, the Haitian security
forces continued to receive up to $1 million a year in equipment,
training and financial support from the CIA. "The money may
have sent a mixed message," observed The New York Times some
years later, "for Congress was withholding about $1.5 million
in aid for the Haitian military regime at the same time."
In the days after the voter massacre, however, the Times was not
even willing to admit the slightest complicity on the part of
the United States. On December 1st, an editorial noted that "It
is Haitians...who are murdering other Haitians and trying to shove
the country back into the perpetual nightmare of terror and despotism."
On December 16, the pre-election polls were proved incorrect:
Aristide won even more handily than predicted. Voters turned out
in huge numbers, and the election proceeded with surprising smoothness.
As the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights would later observe,
"despite the logistical problems, virtually all observers
who monitored the voting, both international and domestic, attested
that the elections were free and fair and that voters experienced
no threats, intimidation or harassment."
That night, the city's silence was broken not by gunfire,
as in previous elections, but by shouts of joy welling up from
the poor quarters sprawled throughout Port-au-Prince. The foreign
press had begun predicting a landslide victory for Aristide, and
the Haitians had heard this on the radio. December 17 brought
an even larger explosion of joy as hundreds of thousands of Haitians-perhaps
not the "mainstream Haitians" of whom Mr. French had
written-took to the streets in the first unhindered celebration
since Duvalier's fall.
The popular democracy symbolized by the election of Aristide
was not at all the democracy expected by the powerful. "But
democracy," as journalist Michael Kamber observed, "is
a funny thing. Sometimes it gets away from its handlers. In Haiti,
the hemisphere's poorest country where 80 percent of the people
can't read and only a tiny elite have TVs, the skills of Roger
Ailes and Lee Atwater are useless. The people vote with their
hearts, they vote for justice, morality, and true democracy. It
seems a uniquely modern idea."
The elections of December 16 had given voice to the popular
will, but had done little to allay the tensions between the Haitian
people and the country's powerful. The army was restless, and
the commercial elite had never masked its horror over Aristide.
Lafontant was at large, as were other macoute heavies. But these
groups remained silent, and the Christmas holiday was one of the
most peaceful in recent memory.
The Catholic hierarchy was also silent. Days went by, and
then weeks. Radio commentators asked why the "institutional
Church" had said nothing of Aristide's election. True, Bishop
Willy Romelus had termed the day "a marvel," but what
about the rest of the Episcopal Conference? What about Rome. The
hierarchy's silence was widely interpreted as yet another manifestation
of its failure to support "the people," as the Haitian
poor term themselves. The silence was also indicative of the forces
arrayed against Aristide-now one of the most popular elected leaders
in the world, in terms of the strength of his victory.
These tensions were overtly expressed at the year's outset.
On January 1, 1991, Independence Day in Haiti, Archbishop Ligonde
presided over a traditional Te Deum at the pink and yellow cathedral
towering over the northern side of the capital. No one had spoken
much of Ugonde in the preceding months. It was as if, in the excitement,
the archbishop had been forgotten. In his homily for the heads
of the army and government and foreign diplomats, he openly attacked
Aristide as a "socio-bolshevik," and wondered whether
or not 1991 would mean the "beginning of a dictatorship."
The archbishop ended his sermon with a message of hope for those
who shared his fears: Be not afraid. This too shall pass.
Reactions to Ligonde's homily came swift and furious. Bishop
Romelus tactfully noted that, although he had not heard the address,
he saw no reason to suspect that an Aristide government would
show the tendencies predicted by the archbishop. SAJ, the large
youth group initiated by Aristide in 1985, was especially scandalized
by Ligonde's hypocrisy:
Today, Monsignor. you deplore all provocation, revenge, hate.
Monsignor. your memory is short: you have already forgotten the
indoctrination of youth through Catholic schools, parishes, and
chapels; you have already forgotten, Monsignor, the hope you crushed
throughout the archdiocese: you have already forgotten, Monsignor,
the host of brave clergy and lay persons you had arrested, tortured,
killed, exiled. Your memory is short, Monsignor....Today, Monsignor,
you are recognized as a pastor, a shepherd. We know you as the
pastor of the exploiting classes: you're the shepherd of the macoute
flock you've tended since Duvalier made you a bishop.
Monsignor the Archbishop, we have excellent memories.
Father Joachim Samedi, a very popular young parish priest
from southern Haiti, was even more acerbic. He remarked that Ligonde's
attack was quite similar to that on the Aristide rally of December
5, "except this time Electricite d'Halti augmented the current
so that the verbal grenade would hit its mark." He closed
with a Biblical allusion implying that the archbishop's attack
was entirely predictable: "A pig that has been washed goes
back to roll in the mud" (2 Peter 2:22). These denunciations
and others were followed by rumors anticipating a Vatican-blessed
coup against Aristide. As the rumors came from a newspaper in
the Dominican Republic, many did not know what to make of them.
But others suspected that Ligonde's bashing was the bowsprit for
a return to Duvalierism.
Late on the night of January 6, word spread like wildfire:
Roger Lafontant had toppled the provisional government. He soon
appeared on state television. The horrible farce of December 16,
he said, was over. The Haitian people would not have to endure
a communist dictatorship. The army and police, who he claimed
had supported his takeover, would help him to assure a peaceful
As if in answer, the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince
erupted with cries towards the heavens. This time, they were screams
of rage. Many were also beating on the tin roofs of their shacks,
adding to the strange pre-dawn din. Before sunrise, tens of thousands
of people, the poor of Port-au-Prince, headed for the palace.
They were armed with rocks,
sticks and machetes. To those thinking of the tanks and Uzis
awaiting the poorly-armed populace, it may have looked preposterous.
But others knew it to be a sign that the people were ready to
die to preserve nascent Haitian democracy. The radio stations
made it clear that in cities and towns throughout the republic
the citizens had also taken to the streets.
The Commander-in-Chief of the army said he knew nothing of
the alleged coup until the morning of the 7th, and yet it seemed
by dawn as if the entire country had revolted against Lafontant;
the slightest sign of army complicity might mean that it would
be the next target of popular fury. As armed macoutes were stalked
by unarmed crowds, guns seemed less threatening than they had
in years. The high command announced that the armed forces would
put down "the mutiny" as soon as possible.
In some ways, reactions to the Lafontont coup were a denouement
to the bitter, decades-long struggle traced in the preceding pages.
When hundreds of thousands of angry Haitians took to the streets
to dechouke Roger Lafontant, they cursed Archbishop Ligonde as
well. The destruction in the days that followed was massive, but
not random. In addition to the scores of macoutes killed outright,
there were the "accomplices" who lost their homes and
cars-Lafontant's lawyers, politicians who had supported him, merchants
who had funded him. And every building associated with Ligonde-and
some none too closely-was attacked and destroyed: the archbishop's
residence, the eighteenth-century cathedral in Bel-Air, the headquarters
of the Episcopal Conference, and the huge and lavish papal nunciature
that once sat proudly atop a hill called "Morne Calvaire."
For those with the temerity to think of Lafontant's attempted
coup as a political event, there was always the wisdom of the
U.S. press. Under the title "Haitian masses exact savage
revenge on Duvalierists after coup fails," the Associated
Press wire service offered the following news analysis:
Burned bodies, cannibalism and torched homes give an aura
of madness to the capital, but the violence in Haiti this week
was anything but random...
On Tuesday, two photographers took pictures of two men eating
the flesh of a man who had been burned as hundreds of people looked
Haitian religious experts say cannibalism has seldom occurred
in Haiti but is indirectly linked to voodoo, an African religion
exported by slaves.
'To eat a piece of flesh means the soul of the burned person
cannot return to life in any form,' said Laennec Hurbon, a Haitian
author and a renowned Caribbean religion expert. 'Burning the
bodies is done as rapidly as possible to prevent the survival
of the person.''
The challenges that faced Aristide were perhaps the most difficult
in the hemisphere. There was, first of all, an ongoing and unsubtle
resistance to his inauguration, which was to take place on February
7, 1991. A few days before the event, Lafanmi Selavi, an orphanage
Aristide had founded, was set on fire. Four children perished,
including a teenager who had been trying to evacuate the younger
children. The survivors stated that they had heard a bang and
On February 8, Aristide, perennial victim and prophet, awoke
as president of his country. The transition to ruler promised
to be a difficult one, and it was. Unsurprisingly, his opening
month was rich in rebuke. For starters, the new president declined
his $10,000 monthly salary, terming it "scandalous in a country
where most people go to bed hungry." He called on his congressional
colleagues to do with $2,000 a month rather than the $7,000 they
were requesting. Aristide was rebuffed coldly, even by members
of the coalition with which he had been affiliated.
But Aristide was not undone, in spite of the fact that, although
the majority of Haitians wanted him to succeed, his detractors
in la classe politique made themselves readily available to the
foreign press. Howard French of The New York Times continued to
misrepresent Haitian reality in striking fashion, referring to
industrialist and perennial presidential candidate Louis Dejoie
as "a veteran left-of-center politician who placed third
in the presidential race." (Mr. Dejoie, whose politics vary
with the wind, received less than eight percent of the vote).
"To me it is unbelievable that Aristide has not even called
me to ask my opinion on how the country should be run," complained
Dejoie on inauguration day. Other members of la classe politique
were equally piqued. For example, Bella Stumbo of the Los Angeles
Times interviewed Leslie Manigat ("I intend to remain quiet
for a while, until Haitians can see for themselves what they've
done"). Her favorite informant was the "idealist",
Jean-Jacques Honorat, who made it clear that Aristide was to blame
for the January violence-prior to his inauguration:
He is inciting people to riot! We have all the ingredients
here for a new fascism. Human rights violations have been as severe
in the last month as they were under Duvalier,' exploded Jean-Jacques
Honorat, head of the Haitian Center for Human Rights, one of the
few willing to go public with his complaints. As a Haitian, I
am ashamed. We have political prisoners [Lafontant and others]
who are being held incommunicado. Lawyers are afraid to defend
them. Journalists are afraid to criticize. Everybody is afraid.'
In fact, foreign journalists, though happy to continue citing
people like Honorat, were struck by the elation that pervaded
the country in the months after the inauguration. It was the traditional
elite who were griping. The rest of the country seemed to approve
of the government's program.
Three organizing principles-justice, transparency and participation-ran
through the platform of the Lavalas government that Aristide was
attempting to constitute. The members of his new cabinet were
largely technocrats, more liberal than radical, and they had quickly
identified a series of priorities, including those highlighted
in Aristide's platform documents, La chance qui passe and La chance
aprendre. The new government proceeded to attack, as it had no
choice but to do, the host of problems that defined Haiti: the
worst health indices in the hemisphere, a moribund economy, widespread
illiteracy, landlessness, the exploitation of workers, unemployment,
ecological devastation, a bloated and ineffective public administration,
and, most of all, the entrenched gangsterism and drug trafficking
closely linked to the army.
A major adult literacy program, modeled to some extent on
the one suppressed in 1986-87, was kicked off; a number of Haitians
who had been living abroad returned, vowing to help remake the
university and the rest of the public-education system. Public-health
interventions included the restructuring of the country's major
hospital and other facilities and, at the same time, the elevation
of primary health care to be the top priority of the new Ministry
of Health. Agrarian reform was a much more volatile subject, but
by early summer, Aristide announced the distribution of fallow
state lands to peasant farmers, and appointed official ombudsmen
to oversee land disputes, which had previously cost so many lives.
A program to increase small farmers' access to credit was launched
at the same time as an effort to halt erosion and decertification.
Aristide's government pushed for the improvements of workers'
rights and lobbied to increase the minimum wage from 15 to 25
gourdes per day-still less than $3.00. It announced a major public-works
program to create more jobs through improvements to roads and
other infrastructure. International aid agencies had promised
hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance; Aristide hoped
this would offset bitterness over his efforts to trim a bloated
and corrupt public administration: in his first few months in
office, over 2,000 federal jobs were eliminated. He eliminated
the Bureau of Tourism and made deep cuts into such dubious endeavors
as the "Ministry of Information," which was trimmed
by almost 50 percent. In another celebrated instance, when state
bookkeepers could not account for over one million dollars in
ostensibly collected taxes, Aristide himself showed up unannounced
in the office and politely but firmly asked to see the books.
Throughout the country, various ministries and offices were "closed
Perhaps the most significant of Aristide's undertakings involved
his anti-crime efforts. His government kept good its promises
to fight the insecurity" endemic in Haiti. By arresting key
figures in a number of crime rings, the government was able to
curb significantly the gangsterism that had made nights sleepless
for so many Haitians.
The extent of sabotage by international actors is only now
becoming known. There were covert operations to undermine Haitian
democracy, but these were not exposed until long after Aristide
was overthrown. The overt efforts, however, were not subtle. Aristide's
attempt to raise the minimum daily wage to 25 gourdes a day-about
$3.00 - did not please the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID), which had invested millions, according to a report by
the National Labor Committee, in keeping Haitian wages low: "Though
the new minimum wage under the Aristide government would have
still been less than one-eleventh of the average U.S. apparel
wage (50 cents versus $5.85 an hour), USAID opposed this increase
and orchestrated opposition to it." The report continues:
Three months before the coup d etat that toppled the democratically
elected government, USAID was musing: If Haiti's investment climate
can be returned to that which existed during the CNG or improved
beyond that and the negative attitude toward Haiti appropriately
countered, Haiti stands to experience significant growth,'
Recreating the "investment climate" enjoyed under
the CNG was not merely a business project, but part of a broader
campaign to weaken Aristide's government and the democratic movement
that had spawned it.
As one example, USAID's "democracy project' was initiated
to "strengthen democratic institutions." Former USAID
director Lawrence Harrison insists that "the United States
gave full support to Aristide following his election, and my work
on the democratization program was part of that support."
What, precisely, was this program? Amy Wilentz describes USAID's
approach as "specifically designed to fund those sectors
of the Haitian political spectrum where opposition to the Aristide
government could be encouraged." Kenneth Roth of Americas
Watch concurs, noting that substantial aid was routed to conservative
groups-such as the one run by Jean-Jacques Honorat-to serve "as
an institutional check on Aristide," and "move the country
in a rightward direction." Similar "Democracy Enhancement"
programs blossomed in Nicaragua after Somoza was overthrown.
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." Writing from Haiti, she summarizes
commentaries on Aristide's tenure as follows:
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 insufferable humiliation."
What, precisely, were these humiliations? The greatest humiliation
for the Haitian elite was the insistence that the poor majority,
previously so effectively silenced, should have some say in what
was to happen in Haiti. There was, certainly, no physical assault:
from the day that Aristide was inaugurated until the day he was
overthrown, no members of the elite had their property confiscated
or died violently. Why, then, was resistance to Aristide so implacable
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.
The jury may still be out on whether or not Aristide "understands"
politics. In an interview that appeared, curiously, on the day
of the coup, he observed that, "Sometimes they say politics
is money and guns. I believe it is force of spirit." Some
would argue that the little priest was dead wrong on that one.