Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Upholding a coup: Haiti’s New Dictatorship

Haiti’s New Dictatorship by Justin Podur, reviewed by James O’Nions

May 30, 2013
5 min read


James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.


  share     tweet  

In 2004, the elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was kidnapped by US marines and flown to the Central African Republic. It was a coup of the kind tried unsuccessfully in Venezuela two years earlier and successfully in Honduras in 2009. The institutional structures put in place by the coup regime, including the UN troops occupying the country, still remain despite several elections.

Why did all this happen with relatively little international fuss? Podur’s book explains in forensic detail the role of international media, NGOs, the UN and other actors in misrepresenting Aristide’s government and upholding the coup and subsequent dictatorship. It’s an important book not just for Haiti itself, but also because it illustrates how modern imperialism works. Parts of the narrative find echoes all over the world, from the coup in Guatemala in 1954 to Iraq post-2003.

Aristide is a Catholic priest and exponent of liberation theology. From his parish in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince he became a focal point for the democracy movement under the Duvalier dictatorship. He later founded Lavalas, a progressive political organisation that gained widespread support in Haiti’s poor neighbourhoods. His disinclination to follow the neoliberal dictats emanating from Washington was all the excuse the US needed to support his removal.

By 2004, Haiti was experiencing a low-level war between Aristide’s government and paramilitary groups made up of former members of the Haitian army (which Aristide abolished) and Duvalier’s informal death squads, tacitly backed by Haiti’s business elite. Allegations of human rights abuses and corruption against Aristide, spread but never substantiated by the international media, helped muddy the water when the US actually removed him. Human rights organisations funded by USAID also played their part in creating a climate where few Latin American countries challenged the coup and a UN mission, MINUSTAH, was quickly brought in with a mandate to use lethal force.

By 2007 MINUSTAH was still taking part in attacks on Cité Soleil, the poor neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince alongside a Haitian police force now with paramilitaries incorporated. Ostensibly the assaults, complete with tanks and indiscriminate killings, were to control gangs, but it was no coincidence that this was a Lavalas stronghold. Lavalas activists are arrested and imprisoned indefinitely on trumped up charges (such as the pacifist priest accused of gun-running). Lavalas was excluded from elections.

Then the earthquake of 2010 hit. The usual assertions that the death toll was more about poverty than geology, while true, are less interesting here than the impact of the ‘new dictatorship’ on disaster response. With the Haitian government left without the capacity to respond, help had to come from the US. The US military took over Port-au-Prince airport and gave priority to its own operations over, for instance, medical supplies. Shortly after the initial rescue effort the US took the opportunity to negotiate control of Haiti’s ports, airports and roads. Of every $100 of US reconstruction contracts awarded, only $1.60 went to Haitian firms.

In the immediate aftermath, reported one horrified French physician, US doctors made excessive use of careless amputations, sometimes for problems as treatable as fractures. Compare their response to the careful work of Cuban doctors at the same time and the racism that permeates western responses to Haiti becomes clear.

Many leftists who have been engaged in a sustained way in Haiti are highly critical of NGOs. This can seem baffling to people in the UK who are conditioned to understand NGOs generally as an expression of the selflessness that often motivates people to donate to them. Yet Podur’s narrative makes clear how the actions of some NGOs have both justified the coup (or at least muted and confused opposition), as well as failing to deliver effective disaster relief. While some NGOs have done excellent work, Podur doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to the likes of the Red Cross leaving vast sums of donated money sitting in bank accounts and operating with zero accountability to Haitian people.

The carefully documented detail is an undoubted strength of this book, and it is animated throughout by a clear anger at the injustice perpetrated against Haitians. But I couldn’t help but feel the subject matter deserved an even more popular format. The section on why Latin America’s left-leaning governments didn’t oppose the coup also felt a little thin, with Brazil’s angling for a permanent place on the UN security council mentioned only in passing. Similarly, more on the economic aspects of imperial domination would have been welcome, including western aspirations to make Haiti a sweatshop economy (backed by ‘friend of Haiti’ Bill Clinton) and the role of debt in curtailing Haiti’s independence.

However, Podur has done us a real service in documenting Haiti’s past decade. It’s a more complex story than can be summarised here, but the kind of ‘complexity’ that is actually constructed to obscure the realities of empire is neatly sliced away in Podur’s account, leaving bare the contours of a deep and ongoing injustice.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.


Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency


14