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, mistik priest.

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 most violent.

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 with bodies:

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 voters.

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 'boring."'

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 former colonizers.

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 took place:

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 Haitian military.

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 transition....

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 on.

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 smelled gasoline.


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 for restructuring."

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 question:

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.

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