Thursday, January 19, 2012

Aristide and the Endless Revolution

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, president of Haiti, was
oustered from office by a rebel coup-d'etat in 2004

Last week, on the two-year anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake, I mentioned a documentary called Aristide and the Endless RevolutionI finally watched it last night.

The "Aristide" of the film is Jean-Bertrand Aristide, president of Haiti from 1991-1996 and 2001-2004. The majority of his first presidency was spent in exile, being ousted from office by a coup-d'etat a mere six months after his election and returning to to serve from 1994-1996. His second presidency in 2001 ended three years later in yet another coup-d'etat let by a rebel army made up of gangs armed with military weapons. The film explores the events leading up to and after both coup-d'etats.

Whatever the cover may say about Aristide and the Endless Revolution being a "well-balanced" look into the events surround Aristide's two ousters, this film does not paint the US or France in a favorable light. It suggests, among other things, that the gangs that tore violently through northern Haiti in 2004 were Haitians trained in the Dominican army and armed by the US military. Prior to this, in 1994, almost all foreign aid was cut off from the Haitian government which made it nearly impossible to maintain any kind of stable infrastructure and many people, including members of the United States government, claim that it was this instability that made the 2004 coup possible. Additionally, interim leaders during the coup were linked back to the US CIA. Aristide even describes his flight from Port-au-Prince as a "kidnapping," claiming that US and French officials threatened continued violence and the death of Haitian citizens if the president did not leave the country.

Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly
was elected president of Haiti in April of 2011
This is all disturbing and puzzling to me. Make no mistake, I love this country. I cannot imagine a better, more privileged life than the one I lead here. Still, I am intensely aware that the US's intervention in the political processes of other struggling countries often results in questionable actions. I know that we have made decisions that have damaged other nations in order to protect our own interests; whether or not this is justified is an ethical dilemma that every US citizen must face.
But regardless of whether or not these allegations are true, the reality is that, until Haiti can internally stabilize it's democratic process and eliminate the influence rebels and gangs pose to the government, it will always be subject to the interests of foreign governments. Though it may be recognized as an independent republic, Haiti continues to be seen by the international community as a broken country.

The real issue here is not aid, it is respect, and I don't know what it will take for Haiti to crawl out of the shadow cast by two centuries of tumult.

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