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Echoes of the Past in Haiti?

March 2004

Last week we expressed our hope that the armed groups that both supported and opposed President Aristide would quickly disappear from the Haitian scene. Now that hope has moved into the category of an urgent necessity.

During the past week there have been many reports of threats and killings, the majority involving attacks on supporters of the deposed president. Then, today, armed men–apparently Aristide supporters–visciously attacked a demonstration of the ex-President’s opponents, killing six and injuring many more.

Clearly, there is a need for the peacekeeping force to take immediate action to help the Haitian National Police disarm all illegal armed groups in Haiti. That includes those gangs armed by the Lavalas government and the rebel groups that took arms against Aristide.

Given that most of the members of the multinational force are U.S. Marines, it is difficult to call on those Marines to take on a more active role, but we see no alternative in the present circumstances. Human rights groups have demanded that the peacekeeping forces to arrest all of those Haitians with a proven record of human rights violations.

As part of my own attempt to understand what happened with the Aristide government and how Haiti might find a way forward out of this crisis, I have been rereading the book Haiti: State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism, by Michel-Rolph Trouillot. That book, written in the period after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, cautions those who might think that escaping Haiti’s authoritarian past was only a matter of replacing Baby Doc with a more enlightened leader. Much of Trouillot’s analysis of Haiti’s structural problems continues to seem prophetic in view of current events in Haiti. I recommend the book to anyone who can find it. Since it is out of print, I’ll try to summarize some of its conclusions in the next entry here.

I caused a lot of confusion in my last entry with my sloppy description of the implications of structural adjustment in Haiti. I meant to say that the international community’s insistence on conditioning aid to Haiti on progress in the “adjustment” of the economy makes it very difficult for any government to gain long-term legitimacy with the country’s poor majority. That only feeds the endless cycle of worsening poverty, human rights abuses and efforts to remove the government.

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