Haiti: Getting the facts right

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With Aristide elected, then kidnapped, where 'we' stand is not the question: A reply to Pierre Beaudet

Comrades: We cannot, as North American progressives, fall in to a defense of the thuggery, autocracy and brutality of the Viet Cong bandits — even if we are uncomfortable with elements of the American intervention in Vietnam. Instead, we must insist on building the civil society mechanisms needed to ensure the most democratic Republic of South Vietnam possible.

Comrades: It's useless to call for the return of the strong-arm Bonapartist, Hugo Chavez. We must work within the new political context, under President Carmona, to build a viable, participatory Venezuela.

Comrades: Cuba — I mean come on. What can I say about Cuba?

With an endless list of populist, democratic, and even authoritarian third world leaders deposed in the “post”-colonial era by the wealthy countries of the North to grave ends and with disastrous consequences in the South — Mossadegh, Lumumba, Allende, Sukarno, and, yes, even the ill-conceived, vacuum-inducing ouster of the barbarous Saddam Hussein, which has set the context for decades of confessional violence in what was once Iraq — at least one lesson of history ought to be abundantly clear for the Left.

That lesson is that, even with the best of intentions, Empire-builders drunk on hubris have not built and cannot build safety, democracy or security over and against the wills of subject peoples (even if the dubious claim that this is what they're doing is taken at face value, which it oughtn't to be).

The failure to learn this lesson is the crux of the problem with the recent contribution of Pierre Beaudet to the discussion on the orientation that progressives and solidarity activists should adopt towards the situation of French-, American- and Canadian-mandated regime change Haiti; a greater problem even than his bungling of simple, basic, and straightforward facts. (Beaudet has, for instance, René Preval running as a “stand-in” for Aristide in the elections of 2000, when in actuality, the latter overwhelmingly won that election himself).

On the facts of the matter, the recently released book Canada in Haiti, written by Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton, rigorously exposes Ottawa's financial, political and military role in the February 29, 2004 coup d'état and subsequent occupation, as well as the facts on the ground in Haiti.

Beaudet gives scant attention to these matters, preferring to recycle unsubstantiated (and un-cited) blanket assertions of “rigged elections” under Aristide. In fact, rather than explicitly addressing the Left's and his own organization's position on Haiti, Beaudet sets up a familiar and unconvincing straw-man: That those actively involved in opposing the occupation of Haiti and calling for the return of constitutional order are uncritical apologists for Aristide and the shortcomings of his government.

The facetious, hypothetical polemics advanced at the opening of this essay with regard to Vietnam, Venezuela and Cuba, are meant as more than simply cheeky rhetorical devices; we are trying, instead, to highlight the absurdity of a debate which ought to have been easily resolved with common sense, but instead consumes the Left on issues such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti.

Put simply: It is a sad, dangerous day when the imperatives and priorities of “first world” NGOs, churches, trade unions or other associations (no matter how well-meaning or benign) come to override the sovereignty of elected and, even, unelected “third world” governments. Beaudet's analogizing Aristide to Hussein and Noriega is mendacious and absurd, but, in the end, moot; even in those horrific cases, progressive, internationalist principles dictate the opposition to destabilization, regime change from outside, and foreign intervention.

The overriding fact of the matter is: The recognized and sovereign nation of Haiti carried out legal elections in the year 2000, a process more decisive and perhaps closer to ideal than elections carried out in another former slave republic of the Americas that same year. In the midst of his term, the legitimate president was kidnapped by historically hostile interlopers who ferried him into an exile from which he has been unable to carry out his mandate. The clock stopped then for Haitian democracy; it starts again when he comes back.

With America pretending to control over Iraq, many “progressives” in the United States are trying to make the best of a “bad” situation; at least one sectarian socialist newspaper has called for Iraqis to make use of the “civic space” opened up by the occupation. But whether it's Christopher Hitchens supporting the Iraqi occupation to advance secularism and Kurdish rights, or Pierre Beaudet supporting the NGOs backing Aristide's ouster for whatever “democratic” rationales, their fundamental validations of the imperial project are untenable and unjust.

After over 200 years of intimidation, debt slavery and foreign invasion, the Haitian people deserve the freedom to create their own national destiny — replete with glories and mistakes. This is where solidarity activists should stand: behind the Haitian people, and the organized expression of their own free will.

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