Thursday, September 1, 2011

New upcoming book

My book on the Haitian war of independence is finally out!

"The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon" will cover the last years of the Haitian Revolution, starting with Toussaint Louverture's 1801 constitution, then the Leclerc-Rochambeau expedition and Haiti's 1804 independence. It is an ambitious book, based on research in more than 20 archives in France, the US, Britain, and the Caribbean. You can check out a description of the book here, or pre-purchase it here, or come to the Louisiana book festival in Baton Rouge on 29 October.

Impatient? Here is the beginning of the introduction...

(c) Philippe Girard 2011

     Cape Sámana, at the northeastern corner of the island of Hispaniola, was still a sparsely inhabited wilderness when on the 29th of January, 1802 a small group of riders arrived at full gallop.[iTheir leader rode at breakneck speed, his aides-de-camp straining to keep up. His shining high boots, rich blue and crimson uniform, and tricolor feathers made a vivid contrast with his ebony-black skin under the vertical sun of the tropics [figure 1]. He was only 5’1’’, scrawny, his prognathous chin jutting under a toothless jaw, but six decades into an eventful life he radiated purpose and authority and he bore the military bicorne with an air of august dignity.[ii] His name was Toussaint Louverture; he was a former slave; but he now governed in the name of the French Republic all of Hispaniola, the second-largest island in the Caribbean (present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic) [map 1].
As he flew toward his destination, Louverture’s thoughts probably drifted two thousand leagues across the ocean sea, to Paris and his direct superiors. Eight years before, revolutionary France had emancipated most of the slaves in its colonies, but Louverture’s increasingly autonomous rule had raised many eyebrows and he knew that his enemies were openly calling for his removal from office. Six weeks before, he had learned from Jamaica that France had just signed a peace protocol with England, an important development that now made it possible for France to send a fleet to overthrow him.[iii] The eventuality of his own demise had seemed distant at first, but when visiting the city of Santo Domingo a week before Louverture had received a report from his spies that an expedition was ready to depart from Brest.[iv] Two days later had come the news that several French warships had been sighted off Cape Sámana.[v]
The arrival of the French fleet was the reason why Louverture was now urging his horse—probably Bel Argent, his favorite mount—north and east. He had to see for himself how many troops France had sent to rein him in. If he was lucky, France had sent one lone agent onboard a lowly corvette, whom he would control as easily as he had controlled previous French envoys. But there was always the possibility that France might have used the suspension of hostilities with England to send several frigates carrying hundreds of troops. Louverture’s large army would probably dominate them, but even a few hundred of Napoléon Bonaparte’s soldiers were a force to be reckoned with.
The sight that greeted Louverture as the bay of Sámana finally came into view must have taken his breath away. Below him, lying at anchor, sailed three corvettes, eleven frigates, and ten vaisseaux (ships of the line), the largest warships of their time, each of them carrying upward of 1,000 sailors and troops. There was worse: far to the east, surging from the sea like monsters from the depths of hell, Louverture could see more vessels arriving, their sails seemingly blanketing the horizon from one end to the other. By the time these reached Sámana a few hours later, the combined fleet totaled nine transports of various kinds, nineteen frigates, twenty-two of the massive vaisseaux, and over 20,000 men and women.[vi] Only God knew how many more stragglers were still on their way—and given the magnitude of the catastrophe befalling him Louverture must have been tempted to abandon His Catholic version for the Vodou (Voodoo) bon dieu of his creole upbringing.
The fifty ships maneuvered to form three parallel lines and began ferrying hundreds of troops from one vessel to another, obviously in preparation for a landing. As night fell, each ship lighted three fires to signal its position, and the scintillating armada, reflected on the Caribbean swells, now seemed three hundred strong under the myriad flickering dots of the starlit sky.[vii] The force’s size was evidence enough of Bonaparte’s hostile intentions. “We must perish,” allegedly said Louverture. “All of France has come to Saint-Domingue. They have been deceived, and they have come to seek vengeance.”[viii]
Louverture correctly guessed that the main landing would take place more than two hundred miles to the west in Cap Français or Cap (present-day Cap Haïtien), the largest city of the colony. Reaching Cap in time to warn its commander was of the highest importance. Should Cap fall intact, the French would have sufficient resources to mount a massive, coordinated offensive throughout Saint-Domingue. Louverture’s rule, maybe even his life, would come to an end, but there was even worse to fear. Bonaparte had not sent two thirds of the French navy solely to overthrow an elderly governor. His ultimate goal, Louverture suspected, was to restore slavery. If he was right, the freedom of four hundred thousand men, women, and children was at stake.
Egging Bel Argent down the hill, Louverture began galloping toward Cap. As a young slave, he had been entrusted with the care of the plantation’s horses and he was known as the best horseman in the colony; his entire life had prepared him for this very moment. In a desperate, headlong run, he flew westto Hinche, racing the French fleet to Cap. If he won, he might successfully oppose the French landing and save both his rule and his people’s imperiled freedom; if he lost, his entire world would come crashing down. The Haitian war of independence had begun.

[i] On Toussaint Louverture’s presence in Sámana, see Louverture, Mémoires du Général Toussaint l’Ouverture écrits par lui-même, ed. St. Rémy (Paris: Pagnerre, 1853), 92; Pamphile de Lacroix, La révolution de Haïti (1819; reprint, Paris: Karthala, 1995), 283; Antonio del Monte y Tejada, Historia de Santo Domingo vol. 3 (Ciudad Trujillo: República Dominicana, 1952) , 215.

[ii] Fritz Daguillard, “The True Likeness of Toussaint Louverture,” Américas 55:4 (July-August 2003), 50;
Jacques Cauna, Toussaint Louverture et l’indépendance d’Haïti (Paris: Karthala, 2004), 41.
[iii] W. L. Whitfield to George Nugent (5 Dec. 1801), CO 137/106, BNA.
[iv] Louverture to Members of the Central Assembly (22 Jan. 1802), Reel 5, Sc. Micro R-2228, NYPL-SC.
[v] Louverture to Simon Baptiste fils (27 Jan. 1802), BB4 162, SHD-DM.
[vi] “Etat des troupes parties de France...” (c. 1806), F/5B/67, AN.
[vii] Jean-Baptiste Lemonnier-Delafosse, Seconde campagne de Saint-Domingue du 1 décembre 1803 au 15 juillet 1809 (Le Havre: Brindeau, 1846), 28.
[viii] Lacroix, La révolution de Haïti, 283.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jean-Bertrand Aristide: From Great Expectations to Hard Times and Back

(version française ci-dessous)

Born to a rural family in Port Salut, Haiti in 1953, orphaned at a young age, displaced by economic hardships to Port-au-Prince, Jean-Bertrand Aristide lived through a childhood that citizens of a richer country would describe as Dickensian (within the context of Haitian society, he was just one of the many fatherless children from the provinces who moved to the capital).

Aristide’s life could also be bookended by the titles of two of Charles Dickens’ novels: opening with Great Expectations, then moving on to Hard Times (as for Haiti itself, The Old Curiosity Shop and Bleak House would seem appropriate).

When he first came to fame in the 1980s, Aristide seemed to be Haiti’s greatest hope. Here was a highly intelligent man educated in Haiti, Europe, and Canada. Here was a black man from the provinces, proponent of the theology of liberation, priest of Port-au-Prince’s slums, advocate of the restavek, who seemed genuinely concerned about the plight of Haiti’s poor. Here was also a courageous, dedicated individual who dared to speak about the human rights abuses committed under the dictatorship of Baby Doc (1971-86) and his various reincarnations (1986-1990). When he was democratically elected president in December 1990, it seemed that Haiti had turned a corner. Great Expectations indeed.

Then came the Hard Times. Overthrown in September 1991 after just seven months in office, condemned to a three-year exile in the United States, he barely came back in time to finish his term in office (Oct. 1994-Feb. 1996). He was elected again in 2000, only to see his mandate ended again by a coup d’état, and to suffer again the agony of exile, this time in South Africa. Meanwhile, Haiti’s poor got poorer.

If we are to listen to Aristide and his supporters, his limited social achievements while in office are to be blamed on a dual set of villains, some of them domestic (the conservative Catholic Church, the bourgeois elite, the army, and the neo-Duvalierists), some of them foreign (France, the Dominican Republic, and the United States). They were the ones who overthrew him—twice—opposed his economic policies, and generally prevented him from reaching his full potential. By the end of his second term, Aristide was going as far as speaking of a “blockade” and “genocide” against himself and his country.

Blaming outside forces for one’s own limitations is a tempting strategy for a politician, however, especially in a highly nationalist country with a deep distrust of foreign exploitation. Aristide’s claims of persecution notwithstanding, many of his failures while in office were of his own doing.

Democratic limitations, first. Did he not tacitly encourage his supporters to employ dechoukaj (uprooting) and Père Lebrun (burning) against his supporters in 1990? Did he not precipitate a suicidal split among the Lavalas camp in the late 1990s, simply because he could not admit that René Préval had succeeded him as president? Did he not push to circumvent the rules in the 2000 parliamentary elections? Did he not become troublingly close to the thuggish chimères during his last term in office? Aristide never sank to the brutality of a Papa Doc or a Raoul Cédras; but neither did he rise to the forgiveness and tolerance of a Nelson Mandela.

Diplomatic limitations, second. Aristide may have faced an adverse political environment—the role played by the two Bush administrations in his 1991 and 2004 overthrows remains to be elucidated. But he also benefited from immense political support, most notably in 1994 when President Clinton spent $2 billion and much political capital bringing him back to office. Instead of cultivating international goodwill—always a necessity in a country dependent on foreign aid and trade—he attacked Haiti’s main partners just so he could score cheap political shots by evoking the memories of 1804 and 1915. Left unsaid was the fact that he had spent over $50 million lobbying the U.S. government in 1991-1993 to tighten the economic embargo against his own country, then to invade Haiti (Philippe Girard, Clinton in Haiti: The 1994 US Invasion of Haiti, Palgrave 2004, pp. 79-101)

Economic limitations, third. Aristide received a lot of foreign aid during his times in office, particularly in 1991 and after 1994, and could have employed these monies to jump-start Haiti’s long-awaited economic renaissance. He did not, choosing to focus on his political preservation above everything else. The single most troubling episode of his political career came in 1999, when he kicked out the orphans from his Lafanmi Selavi shelter and used the funds to finance his propaganda operations (J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat, Sleeping Rough in Port-au-Prince: An Ethnography of Street Children and Violence in Haiti, University of Florida Press 2006, pp. 158-175).

Such is the true story of Jean-Bertrand Aristide: not as a courageous idealist hamstrung by domestic and foreign oppressors, but as a flawed human being whose limitations were all the more frustrating because he was so intelligent and had raised so many hopes.

The question today is: will the Aristide saga, like Dickens’ serials, go on for yet another installment? The latest news (as of 16 March) is that Aristide plans on returning tomorrow, i.e. a few days before the second round of the 20 March presidential elections. If he chooses to do so, he will add another irresponsible, self-serving political chapter to his career: a transparent ploy to derail the transition from René Préval to a legitimate, democratically elected president (either Mirlande Manigat or Michel Martelly).

Please, Mr. Aristide: the last thing Haiti needs right now is yet another political convulsion. Allow the elections to go on as planned, support whichever candidate wins cleanly, then return to your homeland as a private citizen to enjoy an apolitical retirement. Who knows? Inspired by Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, you could even take up the cause of the restavek again.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide IV: L’ultime retour

Il y a dans la carrière de Jean-Bertrand Aristide un parfum d’Hollywood qui n’est pas sans rappeler ces films à rallonge  qui d'épisode en épisode deviennent de plus en plus mauvais: Star Wars, Rambo, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Vendredi 13, Superman...

Le film commence à Port Salut, en 1953, où notre héros naît dans un ménage modeste, perd son père, et part pour la capitale.

Episode 1. Star Wars : A New Hope. Aristide, éduqué en Haïti, en Europe, et au Canada, est d’une intelligence rare. C’est le prêtre des bidonvilles, partisan de la théologie de la libération, défenseur des restavek et des pauvres. C’est aussi le héros courageux qui ose s’opposer à Bébé Doc et ses successeurs au péril de sa vie. C’est le président du renouveau, élu démocratiquement en décembre 1990.

-II- Rambo : First Blood Part 2. Aristide est renversé en septembre 1991, condamné à trois ans d’exil aux Etats-Unis, puis revient juste à temps pour finir son premier mandat. Réélu en 2000, il est à nouveau renversé en 2004 et repart pour l’exil, cette fois en Afrique du Sud. Haïti, pendant ce temps, continue sa lente descente aux enfers.

-III- Star Trek: Nemesis. A en croire Aristide, s’il a échoué à adoucir la misère de ses supporteurs, c’est parce qu’il a dû faire face à une longue liste d’ennemis, soit en Haïti même (l’église catholique, la bourgeoisie, l’armée, et les néo-duvaliéristes), soit à l’étranger (la France, les Etats-Unis, et la République Dominicaine). Ce sont eux qui l’ont renversé par deux fois et ont saboté ses réformes. A la fin de son dernier mandat, Aristide allait jusqu’à parler de « blocus » et de « génocide » orchestrés contre son pays.

-IV- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Il est toujours tentant pour un politicien d’accuser d’autres personnes d’être responsables de de tous les maux, surtout dans un pays nationaliste comme Haïti, toujours si soupçonneux vis-à-vis de l’étranger. Mais bien des échecs d’Aristide ne peuvent être imputés qu’à lui-même. Echec démocratique, tout d’abord. N’est-ce pas Aristide qui incita ses supporters au dechoukaj et au père Lebrun ? N’est-ce pas Aristide qui manipula les résultats des élections parlementaires de 2000 ? N’est-ce pas Aristide qui s’allia aux chimères ?  Echec diplomatique, ensuite. Certes, Aristide a dû parfois faire face à un contexte international difficile (le rôle des administrations Bush dans les coups d’état de 1991 et 2004 reste à élucider). Mais il a aussi bénéficié de soutiens importants, particulièrement en 1994 quand Bill Clinton dépensa 2 milliards de dollars pour le ramener au pouvoir. Au lieu de cultiver de bonnes relations avec les pays étrangers (ce qui semble évident dans un pays qui vit de l’aide internationale), il s’est attaqué violemment à eux, préférant marquer des points auprès de ses électeurs en évoquant les fantômes de 1804 et 1915—tout en oubliant de leur dire qu’il avait dépensé 50 millions de dollars en 1991-1993 pour inciter les Etats-Unis à le ramener au pouvoir, par l’embargo ou l’invasion si nécessaire. Echec économique, enfin. Aristide a reçu des milliards d’aide quand il était au pouvoir mais au lieu de s’employer à développer son pays il a préféré passer son temps à des querelles politiques intestines. L’épisode le plus désolant de sa carrière politique date sans conteste de 1999, quand il jeta à la rue les orphelins du foyer Lafanmi Selavi afin d’utiliser les fonds pour financer sa propagande politique. Telle est la triste histoire de Jean-Bertrand Aristide : non celle d’un courageux héros se battant contre les forces du mal, mais celle d’un personnage tragique qui a gâché un énorme potentiel pour satisfaire son ambition.

-V- Friday the 13th : The Final Chapter – Part 4. Un nouvel épisode de la saga Aristide va-t-il bientôt sortir? Aux dernières nouvelles (16 mars 2001), Aristide doit rentrer de son exil sud-africain demain jeudi, soit trois jours avant le second tour de l’élection présidentielle du 20 mars. Un tel retour, si le fait est avéré, serait des plus irresponsables, car il risquerait de provoquer des émeutes sanglantes et d’empêcher une transition pacifique entre Préval et son successeur démocratiquement élu.

-VI- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. De grâce, monsieur Aristide: Haïti n’a pas les moyens de se permettre une autre crise politique. Laissez les élections se dérouler à leur rythme, soutenez le candidat qui en sortira vainqueur, puis, par la suite seulement, rentrez au pays. Qui sait ? Rouvrir l’orphelinat Lafanmi Selavi serait un bon moyen d’occuper une retraite paisible et apolitique.

(A suivre...)

(c) Philippe Girard 2011.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Talented Mr. Kurzban

(version française ci-dessous)

Now that René Préval’s mandate expired on 7 February, Haiti officially has no president. Unless, of course, it has five. Préval is in no hurry to leave. Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat are expected to face off in a runoff. Jean-Claude Duvalier returned in January. And, according to a recent story by Le Nouvelliste, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is now preparing to return from South Africa.

The Nouvelliste piece mentioned in passing that Aristide’s diplomatic passport would be picked up by Ira Kurzban, a U.S. lawyer based in Miami. This person is not very well known in public circles, but he has played an important role in recent Haitian politics and it is worth spending some time getting acquainted with him; the process also happens to shed much light on the way U.S.-Haitian relations truly work.

According to his firm’s web site, Kurzban has been a partner of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzeli, and Pratt in Miami for thirty years, where he specializes in immigration law. His celebratory bio goes on to say that he was “selected in Newsweek Magazine as one of 100 American Heroes for his work for refugees” and “selected by Esquire Magazine as part of America's New Leadership Class.”

Then, at the very end of his list of accomplishments, comes a tidbit of information that is more directly relevant to us: “Counsel for the Governments of Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Panama.”

US lobbyists who act on behalf of foreign governments are required to file paperwork with the “Foreign Agents Registration Unit” of the Department of Justice, where under the registration #4604 public records indeed show that Kurzban's firm received $130,000 from Aristide in 1992, over $150,000 in 1993, and over $370,000 in 1994.

$650,000 was a lot of money in 1991-1994 for Aristide, who had just been overthrown and was living in exile in the US, and more generally for the government-in-exile of the poorest country in the hemisphere. But such a sum buys you a lot of access. Kurzban was married to Magda Montiel Davis, a fellow immigration lawyer and Democrat who had run for Congress in 1992 (she lost to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for being too admiring of Fidel Castro). Kurzban himself was (and remains) a generous donor to Democratic campaigns. He was an outspoken critic of the US immigration policy in the media and was invited to testify before the US Congress on the issue. Most crucially, his FARU filings show that Kurzban had direct channels to influential insiders within the Clinton administration, including US Ambassador to Haiti William Swing, Special Envoy on Haiti Lawrence Pezzullo, and Attorney General Janet Reno. Such channels opened by Kurzban and others allowed Aristide to exert a lot of pressure on Clinton, first to tighten the economic embargo on the Cédras junta, then to intervene militarily to return Aristide to power.

Kurzban remained as a highly paid counsel of the Haitian government after Aristide’s 1994 return to Haiti. Among other things, he defended Aristide when the new Republican majority in Congress accused his regime of being complicit in the 1995 murder of Mireille Durocher-Bertin in Haiti. (1) Kurzban’s name surfaced again in 2003, when he helped Aristide put together an ambitious $21,685,155,571.48 lawsuit against France. In September 2010, the Miami Herald carried an op ed in which Kurzban complained that it was unfair for Aristide (now in exile in South Africa) not to be allowed to run in the presidential elections.

And now, as mentioned above, Kurzban is helping Aristide regain the right to return to Haiti.

Kurzban's activism is not an issue; it is of course a lawyer’s right (and duty) to defend any paying client’s case. What is more relevant here is what Kurzban’s trajectory tells us about US and Haitian politics.

Haitian taxpayers may be surprised to learn that their country, however poor, spends such large sums on foreign lobbyists. Kurzban is just one of many lobbyists Aristide and the Haitian government have hired over the years; the practice goes as far back as the Duvaliers.

The second lesson, for people interested in how US foreign policy works, is how much influence tiny Haiti can wield through private channels. The US is a country of 300 million people with a GDP of 14 trillion dollars and a defense budget so immense ($685 billion) it is almost as large as the rest of the world's defense expenditures combined. Haiti has a population of about nine million, a GDP of 6 billion dollars, and no army. And yet, by expertly lobbying contacts within US government circles with the help of Mr. Kurzban and others, Haiti has been able to obtain much leverage over the years. The billions in foreign aid are one good example, but Aristide's ability to convince the Clinton administration to send two aircraft carriers in September 1994 to help him return to office must rank as one of the most impressive foreign policy coups of all times.

It is common to see Haiti as the vulnerable little island whose politicians are manipulated, puppet-like, by the Yankee colossus to the north. But sometimes David is mightier than Goliath.

(1) “Ambassador William L. Swing to his Excellency Jean-Bertrand Aristide, 11 July 1995,” in Haiti: Human Rights and Police Issues, Hearing before the CIR, HR, 4 January 1996 (Washington, DC: USGPO, 1996), 95-96.

La grenouille qui pouvait se faire aussi grosse que le boeuf

Maintenant que le mandat de René Préval a pris fin ce 7 février, Haïti n’a plus de président (ni de palais présidentiel d’ailleurs).

Sauf qu’évidemment Haïti a cinq présidents. Préval n’est pas pressé de partir, Michel Martelly et Mirlande Manigat sont candidats au deuxième tour de l’élection présidentielle, Jean-Claude Duvalier est revenu en janvier, et Le Nouvelliste nous informe que Jean-Bertrand Aristide cherche à revenir d’Afrique du Sud.

Cet article récent mentionne le nom d’Ira Kurzban, cet avocat chargé d’obtenir un passeport diplomatique pour Aristide est un personnage qu’on rencontre souvent dans les antichambres de l’histoire haïtienne. Voici l'occasion de se pencher sur une personne peu connue, et plus généralement sur la manière dont fonctionnent les relations américano-haïtiennes.

Qui est ce monsieur Kurzban? Selon le site web de son cabinet, il est depuis 30 ans un associé chez Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzeli, et Pratt à Miami et spécialiste du droit de l’immigration. Sa biographie flatteuse nous apprend qu’il a été désigné comme l’un des “100 héros pour les réfugiés” par Newsweek, et “membre de la nouvelle classe dirigeante” par Esquire.

La liste se conclut par une phrase intéressante: “conseiller des gouvernements d’Haïti, de Cuba, du Nicaragua et de Panama.”

Les lobbyistes américains qui travaillent pour des gouvernements étrangers doivent se déclarer auprès de la “Foreign Agents Registration Unit” du ministère de la justice américain, et en effet le dossier #4604 (“Kurzban and Kurzban”) confirme que le cabinet de Kurzband reçut $130,000 d’Aristide en 1992, plus de $150,000 en 1993, et plus de $370,000 en 1994.

$650,000 représentait beaucoup d’argent en 1991-1994 pour Aristide, qui venait de se faire renverser et vivait en exil aux Etats-Unis; c’est aussi beaucoup d’argent pour le pays le plus pauvre des Amériques que de financer ainsi des avocats américains. Mais Kurzban le valait bien. Il était marié à Magda Montiel Davis, candidate démocrate au Congrès en 1992. Il donnait (et donne toujours) généreusement aux candidats démocrates. Il apparaissait souvent dans les médias et devant le Congrès pour critiquer la politique d’immigration des Etats-Unis. Et, surtout, il avait accès à des personnes fort influentes au sein de l’administration Clinton, telles que William Swing (ambassadeur à Haïti), Lawrence Pezzullo (envoyé spécial auprès d’Haïti), et Janet Reno (ministre de la justice). C’est avec l’aide de Kurzban et d'autres lobbyistes qu’Aristide put convaincre Clinton de durcir l’embargo économique contre la junte de Cédras, puis d’intervenir militairement afin de le ramener au pouvoir.

Kurzban continua son rôle de conseiller grassement payé du gouvernement haïtien après le retour d’Aristide en 1994. Entre autres, il défendit Aristide lorsqu’en 1995 le congrès américain accusa son régime de complicité dans le meurtre de Mireille Durocher-Bertin. Kurzban aida aussi Aristide à attaquer le gouvernement français en 2003 pour la somme de 21 milliards de dollars. Le Miami Herald le cite régulièrement et publia un éditorial en septembre 2010 dans lequel Kurzban se plaignait qu’Aristide n’avait pas été autorisé à se présenter aux élections présidentielles. Et, nous l'avons vu, il aide maintenant Aristide à rentrer en Haïti.

Que Kurzban ait tant aidé Aristide n'est pas la question—c'est là son métier d’avocat. Mais ses activités sont révélatrices de la façon dont les relations américano-haïtiennes fonctionnent.

Première leçon: Haïti, bien que pauvre, dépense une fortune en lobbyistes. Kurzban n’est pas le seul sur la liste, et cette pratique remonte jusqu'aux Duvaliers.

Deuxième leçon: Haïti a beau avoir l’air d’être un nain dans le terrain diplomatique, ses lobbyistes ont une grande influence sur la politique étrangère d’Haïti. Arriver à convaincre Clinton d’envoyer deux porte-avions en septembre 1994 pour le ramener au pouvoir restera à jamais comme le chef d’oeuvre politique d’Aristide. 

David est parfois plus fort que Goliath.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Who Was Toussaint Louverture?

(Version française ci-dessous)

Toussaint Louverture is undoubtedly the most famous of Haiti’s sons, but also its most misunderstood. Over the years, he has become a symbol of rebellion and is generally seen as a former slave whose lifelong goals were emancipation and independence for Haiti. Historians have uncovered many documents over the past thirty years that contradict this reputation and prove him to be a complex and fascinating figure who was ambiguous about emancipation and independence. These facts have yet to sink into public consciousness, so here is what we know so far.

There is no record documenting Louverture’s birth. That he was born in Haut du Cap is likely, but the date traditionally given for his birth (20 May 1743) is highly suspect. He is often described as the slave of the “Comte de Noé” or “Bayon de Libertat,” but Louverture actually belonged to other members of the Bréda family, Elizabeth Bodin (until 1752), then Pantaléon II Bréda (Donnadieu, Un grand seigneur et ses esclaves).

Louverture’s life as a slave was unlike any other. He was unusually well treated and eventually freed, which was exceedingly rare for a black man. As a freedman, like many other free people of color, he acquired land… and slaves. So the man usually described as an apostle of freedom actually experienced both sides of colonial life: as a slave and a slave owner (Debien / Fouchard / Menier, Toussaint Louverture avant 1789: Légendes et réalités).

Whether Louverture supported emancipation early in the Haitian Revolution is unclear. There is no mention of his role in the August 1791 slave uprising. He first surfaces in the documentary record at the end of the year, when he tried to broker an agreement with French authorities under which rebel leaders would have been freed, but their followers would have returned to work. The authenticity of a 1792 letter in which his nephew Belair advocated emancipation has been put in question. August 1793 letters by Louverture on the topic were ambiguous (Popkin, You Are All Free).

In the end, it was Félicité-Léger Sonthonax and Etienne Polverel, not Louverture, who abolished slavery in Haiti (1793), and the French Convention that confirmed it (February 1794). Louverture was at the time fighting for slave-owning Spain, and only joined the revolutionary French army later, in May-June 1794, for reasons that remain unclear (Geggus, The Volte-Face of Toussaint Louverture).

Louverture’s immense political skills allowed him to rapidly climb in the ranks of the colonial pyramid, until he became de facto leader of the colony by 1798. His rule was marked as always by ambiguity, as befitted a man who had been a slave—but not a field hand—and a slave-owner—but not an elite grand blanc. So he insisted that slavery should not be restored… but forced former slaves to remain on the plantations as serfs. He allowed white planters to return to the colony… but viewed them with deep suspicion. He was, in the words of his biographer, “a black revolutionary from the Old Regime” (Pluchon, Toussaint Louverture).

Most controversially, Louverture leaked French plans to spark a slave revolt in Jamaica so as to endear himself to the British governor. He also incited slave traders in Jamaica to ship black laborers to Haiti to help repopulate the island. He invaded Santo Domingo, but apparently did not free the slaves there (Girard, Black Talleyrand).

Smart, pragmatic, devious, tireless, womanizing, imperious, ambitious: Louverture resembled Napoléon Bonaparte in many ways. This may explain why the two found themselves on a collision course, as Louverture claimed ever greater day-to-day autonomy and Bonaparte concluded that he would have to be removed from office (Girard, Napoléon and the Emancipation Issue).

Louverture actually never declared or openly favored independence, but Bonaparte sent his brother-in-law Victoire Leclerc to overthrow him nonetheless. Leclerc and Louverture’s armies clashed, then agreed to a ceasefire. But Leclerc had Louverture arrested and exiled because he had heard (from Jean-Jacques Dessalines!) that Louverture’s submission was not sincere.

It was his captivity, in the Fort de Joux, that uncovered other layers of Louverture’s personality, deep beneath the imperious, stern historical figure: the family man, worried about the fate of his wife, sons, and godfather… the angry man, complaining that he had never been considered an equal on account of the color of his skin… the suffering man, who finally understood that he would never leave his cell alive (Louverture, Mémoires).

Louverture died of pneumonia on 7 April 1803. His body is now lost somewhere in the Fort de Joux.

Qui était Toussaint Louverture?

Toussaint Louverture est le plus célèbre des enfants d’Haïti, mais aussi le plus mal compris. Il a acquis au fil des ans la réputation d’un esclave rebelle qui dévoua sa vie à l’abolition de l’esclavage et à l’indépendance d’Haïti. Les historiens ont découvert bien des documents depuis trente ans qui prouvent que Louverture était en fait un personnage bien plus complexe et fascinant, qui adopta une attitude ambiguë quant à l’esclavage et l’indépendance. Mais ces découvertes n’ont pas encore atteint le grand public: voici l’occasion de mettre au clair ce que l’on sait de lui.

Aucun document ne mentionne la naissance de Louverture. Il est probablement né au Haut du Cap, mais la date de naissance que l’on donne généralement (20 mai 1743) est fort suspecte. On parle souvent de lui comme de l’esclave du “Comte de Noé” ou de “Bayon de Libertat,” mais il appartenait en fait à d’autres membres de la famille Bréda: Elizabeth Bodin (jusqu’en 1752), puis Pantaléon II Bréda (Donnadieu, Un grand seigneur et ses esclaves).

Louverture vécut comme nul autre esclave. Il fut bien mieux traité que la norme et même affranchi, chose rarissime pour un homme noir. Une fois libre, comme tant d’autres, il acquit de la terre… et des esclaves. L’homme que l’on décrit souvent comme apôtre de la liberté vécut donc en fait des deux côtés de la société coloniale: comme esclave et comme esclavagiste (Debien / Fouchard / Menier, Toussaint Louverture avant 1789: Légendes et réalités).

Il est difficile de dire si Louverture s’opposait à l’esclavage au début de la révolution haïtienne. Nul document ne retrace son rôle dans la révolte d’août 1791. Il n’apparaît qu’à la fin de l’année, quand il tenta d’arranger un cessez-le-feu qui aurait renvoyé les esclaves à la culture en échange de l’affranchissement de leur chefs. L’authenticité d’une lettre de 1792 de son neveu Bélair (et favorable à l’abolition) est incertaine. Les lettres de Louverture en août 1793 sur le même sujet sont ambiguës (Popkin, You Are All Free).

Au final, ce furent Félicité-Léger Sonthonax et Etienne Polverel, et non Louverture, qui abolirent l’esclavage en Haïti (1793), et la Convention qui confirma leurs proclamations (février 1794). Louverture était à l’époque au service de l’Espagne bourbonne, et ne joignit l’armée française que plus tard, en mai-juin 1794, pour des raisons encore obscures (Geggus, The Volte-Face of Toussaint Louverture).

L’immense talent politique de Louverture lui permit de grimper rapidement les échelons de la hiérarchie coloniale, jusqu’à devenir de facto gouverneur en 1798. Au pouvoir, il fut un dirigeant modéré, sans surprise pour un homme qui avait été esclave (mais esclave privilégié) et planteur (mais pas “grand blanc”). Il s’opposa donc au rétablissement de l’esclavage… mais força les anciens esclaves à rester sur leurs plantations. Il autorisa les émigrés blancs à revenir dans la colonie… mais les soupçonna constamment. Il fut, selon l’expression de son biographe, “un révolutionnaire noir d’Ancien Régime.” (Pluchon, Toussaint Louverture).

Il prit des mesures controversées. Il fit échouer une révolte d’esclaves à la Jamaïque, ceci afin d’amadouer le gouverneur de l’île. Il incita aussi les négriers anglais à importer des Africains en Haïti afin de repeupler la colonie. Il envahit Santo Domingo, sans, apparemment, y libérer les esclaves (Girard, Black Talleyrand).

Intelligent, pragmatique, menteur, travailleur, coureur de jupons, autoritaire, ambitieux: Louverture ressemblait à Napoléon Bonaparte en bien des points. Ceci explique sûrement pourquoi ces deux personnalités fortes finirent par s’opposer, quand Louverture acquit de plus en plus d’autonomie et Bonaparte conclut qu’il faudrait s’en débarrasser (Girard, Napoléon and the Emancipation Issue).

Louverture, à vrai dire, ne déclara jamais vouloir l’indépendance, mais Bonaparte envoya malgré tout son beau-frère Victoire Leclerc pour le renverser. Leurs armées entrèrent en campagne, puis acceptèrent un armistice. Mais Leclerc apprit (de Jean-Jacques Dessalines!) que la soumission de Louverture n’était pas sincère et le fit exiler.

C’est la captivité de Louverture au Fort de Joux qui révéla d’autres aspects de sa personnalité, jusqu’alors cachés sous les dehors austères de l’homme d’état: le père de famille, inquiet du sort de sa femme, de ses fils, et de son parrain… l’homme en colère, accusant Bonaparte de ne pas l’avoir traité en égal parce qu’il était noir… l’homme en souffrance, qui réalisa enfin qu’il ne quitterait jamais son cachot vivant (Louverture, Mémoires).

Louverture mourut de pneumonie le 7 avril 1803. Son corps, aujourd’hui perdu, repose quelque part au Fort de Joux.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Baby Doc: Return of the Prodigal Son

(Version française reproduite plus bas)

The surprise return on 16 January of Jean-Claude Duvalier brings to mind one of Jesus’ more famous parables: that of the Prodigal Son. The story starts when a son asks his father for an early share of his inheritance, only to waste it all and return home to beg for his father’s mercy and generosity. Much to the dismay of his other, hard-working son, the father forgives all and throws a feast for his prodigal son.

And so it was with Baby Doc: he inherited a vast wealth from his father when he became Haiti’s teenage president in 1971, squandered it all in office and during his French exile, and is now back home in Haiti asking his countrymen to forgive him for his past transgressions. “I have come to help,” he said upon arriving.

Has he? And should Haitians forgive the Prodigal Son?

At the risk of sounding cynical, Baby Doc has only come to help himself. His presidency was marked by sky-high levels of corruption (not to mention a callous disregard for Haiti’s poor and countless human rights violations). After he was forced into exile—his jet jam-packed with ill-gotten luxuries—he began a new life as a jet-setter on the French Riviera. The money must have run out, because his covetous wife Michèle Bennett soon left him and he moved to a less luxurious abode in the Paris suburbs. Why, in this context, should he want to return to Haiti, an impoverished country albeit one that offers its leaders countless opportunities to enrich themselves?

The timing, at the very least, is judicious. One year after the terrible earthquake of 12 January 2010, the country is going through one of the most traumatic periods in its history. One understands why some Haitians, desperate for a firm guiding hand, see Baby Doc as their saviour. And with the presidential election at a standstill and the country locked in one of its periodic political crises, it is relatively easy for a judicious and forceful leader to stake his claim in these troubled times.

Time has a way of softening memories; as seen from the difficult circumstances of today’s Haiti, the Duvalier years may look quiet and prosperous to nostalgists. With a median age of 20.2 years, most Haitians don’t even have any personal memories of life under Duvalier. But here is the sad, harsh reality: Duvalier’s Haiti was one of the most cruel dictatorships of its time, the era of Tontons Macoutes and Fort Dimanche torture chambers. It was also the time when the economy, ill-managed and sucked dry by Duvalier’s henchmen, began its final head spin while its president enjoyed a $3 million wedding and his cronies sold off the tracks of the Port-au-Prince – Verrettes railroad line.

So instead of the Prodigal Son, a more fitting Biblical metaphor might be the seven plagues of Egypt. In the past twelve months, Haiti has already been hit by an earthquake, a tropical storm, cholera, a rigged election, plus the usual corruption and drug trafficking. And Baby Doc makes seven.

Let’s just hope that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, lonely and bored in his South African exile, doesn’t get any ideas.

[update: on 19 Jan. 2011 Aristide asked foto return to Haiti, claiming it was medically necessary.]

Retour de l’enfant prodigue

Le retour surprise ce 16 janvier de Jean-Claude Duvalier n’est pas sans rappeler la parabole de l’enfant prodigue. L’histoire commence quand un fils demande à son père une part de l’héritage, puis s’en va le gaspiller. Une fois l’argent envolé, il s’en retourne la queue basse chez son père, qui lui pardonne tout au grand dam de son autre fils.

Ainsi fut-il de Bébé Doc: après avoir hérité de la présidence d’Haïti en 1971, il gaspilla une vaste fortune au pouvoir et en exil et retourne maintenant au pays pour supplier qu’on lui pardonne ses péchés. “Je suis venu pour aider” a-t-il dit à son arrivée.

Est-il vraiment revenu dans ce but? Les Haïtiens devraient-ils pardonner à leur Bébé prodigue?

Au risque de sembler cynique, Duvalier n’est probablement revenu que dans le but de s’aider lui-même. Sa présidence fut caractérisée par une corruption sans égale (même pour Haïti). Le dictateur déchu partit alors pour un exil doré sur la Riviera. Mais l’argent ne dura pas, Michelle Bennett partit, et Duvalier se retrouva sans le sou dans la banlieue parisienne. Pourquoi, dans ce contexte, entend-il revenir dans un pays, certes pauvre, mais où la classe dirigeante ne manque pas d’occasions de s’enrichir?

Il faut avouer que le timing de Duvalier est impeccable. Un an après le terrible tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010, le pays vit l’une des périodes les plus traumatisantes de son histoire. L’élection présidentielle ratée et la crise politique qui s’éternise sont l’occasion rêvée pour une personnalité forte qui cherche à s’imposer.

Dans les circonstances difficiles actuelles, on comprend comment certains Haïtiens voient en Bébé Doc leur sauveur. Les gens ont la mémoire courte. Certains nostalgiques se souviennent des années Duvalier comme d’une période de paix et de prospérité. Avec un âge médian de 20,2 ans, la majorité des Haïtiens n’ont jamais même vécu sous Duvalier. Mais telle est la vérité brute: l’Haïti de Duvalier était le pays des Tontons Macoutes et de Fort Dimanche, une des dictatures les plus répressives de son temps. C’est aussi l’époque où l’économie nationale, minée par l’incompétence et la corruption de ses dirigeants, commença sa chute libre pendant que Duvalier célébrait un mariage à trois millions de dollars et ses acolytes revendaient les rails de la ligne Port-au-Prince - Verrettes.

Au lieu de l’enfant prodigue, tournons-nous plutôt vers une autre métaphore de la Bible: celle des sept plaies d’Egypte. En douze mois, Haïti a déjà connu un tremblement de terre, une tempête tropicale, une élection truquée, ainsi que la corruption et le trafic de drogue. Bébé Doc ferme le ban.

Espérons seulement que Jean-Bertrand Aristide, qui doit s’ennuyer ferme dans son exil sud-africain, n’ait pas lui aussi l’idée de revenir au pays… 

[19 Janvier 2011: Le Nouvelliste annonce qu'Aristide voudrait rentrer au pays:].

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A New Declaration of Independence for Haiti

(Version française reproduite plus bas)

12 January 2011 marks the first anniversary of the tragic earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince and killed over 200,000 people in a country that already ranked the lowest in the Hemisphere for every social and economic indicator.

Why Haiti—even before the earthquake—is so poor is somewhat of a mystery given the amount of international assistance the country has received over the past four decades. International aid to Haiti first became significant under “Bébé Doc” in the 1970s and has consistently increased since. Public aid now finances sixty percent of the Haitian treasury, while an estimated 10,000 NGOs operate in the country.

And yet, despite all these efforts, Haiti is now poorer per capita than it was forty years ago.

Humanitarian efforts such as those that followed the 12 January earthquake are not in question. Every country needs disaster relief; even the United States struggled to overcome the flooding of New Orleans on its own. But, as attention moves from short-term recovery efforts in Haiti to long-term economic development, we must ask ourselves whether the default mode of offering a continuous stream of foreign monies is the best way to lift Haitians out of poverty. The historical record suggests that it might not.

Foreign aid’s limitations are well known in Haiti. Donations have a way of undermining local entrepreneurs, most notably the Haitian farmers who must compete against imported rice donated at little or no cost. Embezzlement, in a country that regularly tops Transparency International’s ranking of the world’s most corrupt countries, is also a concern. More generally, foreign generosity cannot be the solution to all of Haiti’s economic troubles because its poverty is more directly attributable to mismanagement on the part of its recent rulers than (as is commony asserted) to centuries-old colonial crimes like slavery, which shaped but did not predetermine Haiti’s destiny. Throwing money at the problem, in this context, will do no good until the Haitian political environment first transforms itself.

Most troublingly, claiming that Haiti’s renewal can only be achieved through foreign assistance implies that Haitians are fundamentally incapable of helping themselves, a notion that reeks of racist late nineteenth century imperialism. Aid workers are well intentioned, but they seem to miss the irony of blaming past western colonialism for Haiti’s troubles while bearing the “white man’s burden” into another century. Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd’s comment last January 28th that Haiti should be placed under “some sort of international receivership” to facilitate the disbursement of aid embodied the topsy-turvy thinking that has turned humanitarianism into the highest stage of imperialism.

Haitians alone, not foreigners, hold the key to their country’s future. They have, after all, formed a sovereign nation since 1804, and there is no reason, racial or otherwise, to question their ability to manage their own affairs. How would Americans react if the OAS offered to help Florida run its elections? If a French NGO set up camp to vaccinate uninsured children in Appalachia? If the UN patrolled the tougher neighborhoods of Washington, DC? If a Haitian senator offered to place the US government under receivership status?

Instead of constantly trying to “save” Haiti, the United States’ policy should be simple: to honor Haiti’s right to self-determination and support Haitians’ own efforts to develop promising sectors such as tourism, assembly work, and agriculture. Tourists: hop on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship bound for Labadie. Shoppers and businesses: buy labor-intensive products from a neighbor in need instead of distant China (most of them can be imported duty-free under the 2008 HOPE II Act). Congress: level the playing field for farmers in developing countries by eliminating U.S. subsidies for rice, sugar, and cotton.

And now for the most controversial part: phase out foreign aid to Haiti (aside from occasional disaster relief). Given the Haitian government’s current reliance on outside monies, the adaptation phase will be arduous, but Haiti’s economic potential will never be unleashed as long as Haitian politicians’ sole ambition is to appropriate the foreign windfall for themselves, and the country remains a virtual protectorate of foreign organizations whose raison d’être is Haiti’s misery.

On 1 January 1804, Haiti won its political independence from France. Let 12 January 2011 be remembered as Haiti’s declaration of economic independence.

Une nouvelle déclaration d’indépendance pour Haïti

Ce mois-ci marque le premier anniversaire du tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010, qui tua plus de 200.000 personnes en Haïti et détruisit Port-au-Prince. Triste anniversaire, mais aussi occasion de s’interroger sur les raisons pour lesquelles Haïti est le pays le plus pauvre des Amériques, et sur la meilleure manière d’éradiquer la misère qui y règne.

Il est de bon ton aujourd’hui de blâmer l’impérialisme des siècles passés (plus particulièrement français) et d’encourager les anciennes puissances coloniales à offrir une aide financière pour rembourser la “dette coloniale” et promouvoir le développement économique. C’est dans cette optique que le président Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanda en 2003 à la France la somme fantastique de 21.685.155.571 dollars (et 48 centimes) comme compensation pour les crimes de l’esclavage et comme solution au sous-développement en Haïti.

Raisonnement simple mais hélas simpliste, car il ignore deux faits importants. Tout d’abord, la classe dirigeante d’Haïti, souvent corrompue et minée par les querelles fratricides, a joué un rôle bien plus évident dans le rapide déclin économique du pays depuis les années 70 que des crimes vieux de plus de deux siècles. Deuxièmement, ces mêmes années ont vu à la fois l’aggravation de la crise économique et l’explosion de l’aide internationale, qui finance aujourd’hui 60% du budget de l’état haïtien mais s’avère incapable d’assurer un développement pérenne malgré quatre décennies d’efforts.

Haïti, contrairement aux idées reçues, dispose d’un potentiel économique important. Ce beau et attachant pays, situé au coeur d’une des régions les plus visitées au monde, pourrait aisément bénéficier d’une manne touristique considérable. Avec sa main d’oeuvre abondante, Haïti pourrait aussi exporter des produits manufacturés vers l’immense marché américain, si proche. Ce sont la stabilité politique et la bonne gouvernance, plus que l’aide internationale, qui permettront aux Haïtiens de développer ces secteurs.

Que l’on aide un pays de manière ponctuelle à rebâtir après une catastrophe naturelle est tout à fait louable; la solidarité internationale après le tremblement de terre fut remarquable à cet égard. Mais l’utilité d’une aide à long terme visant à combattre la pauvreté reste à démontrer. Un exemple parmi d’autres: la disette en Haïti tend à augmenter dans les régions où arrive l’aide alimentaire... car les paysans, incapables de faire face à la concurrence déloyale du riz étranger donné gratis, réduisent volontairement leur production.

Mais le défaut le plus grave de l’aide au développement est d’ordre moral: 
celle-ci est fondée sur le principe que les Haïtiens sont incapables de s’en sortir eux-mêmes. Ceux-là même qui, étrangement, critiquent le passé colonial et raciste de l’Occident insistent sur le fait que c’est au “blan” de sauver Haïti.  Que dirions-nous si des experts haïtiens venaient prendre en charge nos écoles et nos routes au motif que nous ne sommes pas assez évolués pour le faire nous-mêmes?

En 1825, la France reconnut l’indépendance politique d’Haïti, acquise par les armes en 1803. Il est temps que nous reconnaissions son indépendance économique en retirant nos conseillers, experts, et autres ONG (hors catastrophe naturelle) et en reconnaissant le droit des peuples à disposer d’eux-mêmes.