Sunday, January 24, 2010

More Than 150,000 Buried in Haiti

The initial reports that Haiti's death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands seemed fantastic, but here's this from the New York Times, "More Than 150,000 Have Been Buried, Haiti Says."

Actually, I've been waiting to read a little more of a big-picture scholarly take on Haiti (even from a leftist bent), and we have a little of that with Charles Simic's piece at the New York Review, "
Witness to Horror":

Beginning with the 1987 election that was supposed to bring democracy to Haiti after the bloody reign of the Duvaliers, and which resulted in another bloodbath, Mark Danner chronicles the even more violent conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia in the early 1990s, the post-invasion violence in Iraq, the torture in our secret prisons around the world, and the various policy decisions in Washington that had either a dire or beneficial impact on the people of those countries. These lengthy, well-researched, and well-written pieces, many of which appeared in these pages, combine political analysis, historical background, and Danner's eyewitness reporting to convey the vast human suffering behind events that can often seem remote.

The title of the book comes from the former Haitian president Leslie Manigat, who took power from Duvalierist officers after they brutally aborted the 1987 election. He told Danner that political violence "strips bare the social body," allowing us to see beneath the surface to the real workings of a society. That is what makes this collection so fascinating to read. At the same time as we are being educated about these countries beset by violence, we are witnessing Danner's own education, his deepening understanding of the limits and unintended consequences of our military interventions.

Haiti was Danner's initiation. He arrived to cover the country's "transition to democracy" for The New Yorker in 1986, just after François "Papa Doc" Duvalier's son was flown to luxurious exile in France in an American military jet, courtesy of the Reagan administration. Danner naively expected, as he himself admits, that a freely held election and the popular government it would produce could break the cycle of military coups and dictators, in which a shy country doctor becomes a homicidal monster, a general with a stutter a drunken Caligula. He came to realize that
Violence is the motor of Haiti's politics, the means of regime change, the method of succession. The struggle for power is ongoing and endless, permeating all aspects of life and implicating any Haitian of wealth and reputation. "If a man does not go into politics," says the former president who gave me this book's title, "then politics itself comes to him." A professor, intellectual, and writer from an illustrious political family, he attained power thanks to the military after a bloody, aborted election, and lost it a few months later in a tumultuous coup d'etat.
History repeats itself in unhappy countries. The absence of respected institutions and well-established laws that a person can count on to protect him condemns these societies to reenact the same conflicts, make the same mistakes more than once, and bear the same horrific consequences of these acts. In Haiti, as a former finance minister told Danner, "The whole bloody business of repression, torture, and killing was developed to stay in office, in order to make money."

There are plenty of other places where this has been true and continues to be true, but such corruption is usually better concealed behind the veneer of law and order. In impoverished Haiti, with its sharp split between a small, educated ruling class that speaks French and the rest of the population who are illiterate and speak Creole (so they often do not understand what their president says to them), these harsh realities are, indeed, laid bare. The elder Duvalier, who ruled between 1957 and his death in 1971, believed there should be no boundaries in administering terror. One ought to kill not only one's enemies but also their friends, and in as spectacular and brutal a fashion as possible ...
RTWT at the link.

Benign Intervention."