Haiti has almost always been governed by leaders whose personal or sectarian interests supersede those of the majority. From the assassination of the Independence leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines to the subsequent coups d’état (including the most recent, in 2004) those who pay the ultimate price of that violence are the citizens of the majority class.
In his book, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Jeb Sprague focuses on the last two coups against a democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Sprague demonstrates point-by-point how that violence mostly benefits the few who sponsor it. Even when recognizing potential critics’ accusation of bias against this document for ideological bias, the facts recounted by Jeb are irrefutable.
Reading the book, one may feel transported to that era as Jeb meticulously accounts the facts that were the prelude to the eventual removal from power of a popularly elected President. One is almost compelled to ask the obvious question, “Why?”
Was Aristide so atrocious a politician that he could not have served his terms in office? Were there systematic mass murders during his artificially shortened terms? Was he so provocative in his acts that no amount of political legitimacy could have justified him completing either of his two terms? How was he such a threat to the traditional elite that they vehemently disliked his policies? Finally, what were these policies?
Jeb aptly explains in his book how those who accused Aristide of violence either initiated or used violence after removing him from power. It fact, violence became a sort of policy following each coup, managed by infamous organizations such as the one following the 1991 coup, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haitians (FRAPH). Although no organization of FRAPH’s stature was visible after the 2004 coup d’état, the tactics were as effective and the same. The victims were always of the same kind: poor and powerless.
It is clear upon reading Jeb Sprague’s recounting of the last 20 years in Haiti that the violence had the consistent purpose of weakening the popular movement in its aspirations. The demands are nevertheless the same, and will so remain until such time when there is genuine economic and cultural integration in Haiti.
As long as poverty remains structurally entrenched, so will political violence. If anything, Jeb’s book is a reminder of Haiti’s delicate nature, like a powder keg ready to explode at any minute. He reminds us that, unless the majority’s concerns are also on the list of policymakers’ priorities, Haiti will remain unstable.
Hyppolite Pierre is a Haitian-American consultant and adjunct faculty of American Government and Politics at American Military University. He also works independently as French and Haitian languages interpreter and translator. His book, Haiti, Rising Flames from Burning Ashes, was published in 2006 by University Press of America.